The Rising of the Political Nones

We are living in unprecedented times. There seems to be a general world wide malaise affecting everyone concerned about the coronavirus. It’s all what people talk about. In a week’s time we went from smiling at silly memes like “Throwback Thursdays” to pandemonium as if the world was coming to an end. Wherever one may be in that spectrum, one thing is for sure: the world will never be the same.

For now, the frenzied strategy of protecting lives, especially the vulnerable which includes seniors and those with existing health issues is paramount. But before too long we will witness a barrage of acerbic exchanges between the political left and right about whose fault it was that the U.S. was ill-equipped to handle this global health crisis. Even right now there is social pressure to avoid using the politically incorrect term “Chinese virus” in referring to the coronavirus responsible for the disease COVID-19 rampaging the world. Welcome to identity politics.

Francis Fukuyama, author of Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment does a brilliant job of tracing the origins of our current political landscape which is mired in identity politics. Fukuyama argues that our political sense is ultimately grounded in the inner self being recognized. Society, he theorizes, will align themselves around groups which can mutually recognize and affirm one another’s identity.1 This identity, according to Fukuyama, is rooted in Emmanuel Kant’s understanding of one’s ability to make choices based on reason. Couple this with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of identity being premised on suppressed personal feelings and experiences, then one’s political aim becomes the “recovery of the authentic inner being, and society’s recognition of the potential that resided in each of its members.”2 Given human nature, Fukuyama thinks there simply is no avoiding identity politics.3 But it does not necessarily mean it’s a bad thing so long as citizens diligently work to preserve mutual respect for each other.

Political pundits in the United States may have to start rethinking the predominant attitude of voting along party lines. The recent rise of nationalist leaders, U.K. leaving the EU and the election of Donald Trump are disturbing the political status quo and may be a harbinger for the way an entire generation views politics. Take for example Trump’s political ascent to become the 45th president of the United States in 2016. Hardly anyone expected that outcome. What is even more surprising was the demographic that played a key role in swaying the election in Trump’s favor: 18 - 29-year olds; and they are now a larger percentage of voters than those over 65.4 How did this happen? According to GenZ expert Jean Twenge, one has to answer this question: What do Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have in common? The answer: both are political independents.5 Twenge has observed party affiliation among GenZers is falling by the wayside and instead describe themselves as liberal, moderate or conservative. In the end Trump won over Hillary because members of GenZ thought his policies fit their worldview better.

Fukuyama is certainly correct in concluding that “identity can be used to divide, but it can and has also been used to integrate.”6 For a new generation it’s an identity that returns to the individual that is reluctant to affiliate with factions and follow their rules. They are weary about traditional partisan politics and the widening polarization in America. What they long for is authenticity and transparency in our institutions and government. I am no prophet but I have an optimistic feeling members of GenZ will make great attempts at changing the world for the better, and many will succeed.

A New Kind of Apologist

Rebecca McLaughlin’s book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion is a breath of fresh air in the world of Christian Apologetics. It is refreshing in many ways but particularly for two reasons: (1) it is a written by a female; (2) with close ties to the UK Evangelical context. These reasons cannot be overstated in our current cultural milieu. In a YouTube interview McLaughlin mentioned the popular virtue today that says “who you are determines what you’re allowed to say.”1 Having struggled herself with same-sex attraction, this opens doors for her to be able to defend the truth claims of Christianity in settings typically dominated by straight white male. Conservatives, both politically and theologically might not appreciate the mitigation of these traditional blind spots. However, for those she is trying to reach with the Gospel, and its defense, this is an absolute game changer. Experts like McLaughlin and others such as the speaking team at Women in Apologetics2 will revolutionize the apologetics landscape of our churches in the coming years, especially when one considers the fact that more women than men claim to be church attenders and engage in other religious activities.3
The second reason McLaughlin’s contribution to apologetics is welcomed has to do with her background growing up in London. For decades the church has been told by academics that the UK and the rest of Europe is hopelessly secular. They would routinely remind us that secularization begins in the UK, travels to Canada, then the U.S. and then to the rest of the world, perhaps finally landing in the global south. McLaughlin is an outlier here and may be on to something. Perhaps the origins and bastions of secularization within the intellectual centers of Europe is abating and her book just might reveal a hopeful reversal.
McLaughlin’s most controversial4 chapter titled “Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?” is a gem because she writes from excellent primary sources, as well as her own personal struggles with same-sex attraction. There are plenty of experts who can pontificate about the perils, both from nature and Scripture, of the self-harm brought about by homosexual practices, but few can address this with insightful authority and provide practical knowledge on the matter.
One of the best heuristic takeaways from the chapter is the way she uses subversion to frame and deal with the question of homosexuality. She starts by saying:
“People sometimes say that the Bible condemns same-sex relationships. It does not. The Bible commands same-sex relationships at a level of intimacy that Christians seldom reach.”5
Stating it this way not only grabs one’s attention, it forces the reader to consider intently what God has to say about relationships in general and sexual ones specifically. To be clear McLaughlin believes the Bible unequivocally teaches that sexual intimacy belongs exclusively to heterosexual marriage. However, for those who have a different view, she invites them to consider the idea and benefits of boundaries which are not uncommon concepts in everyday life. While she herself is happily married with kids, she confesses that there is no guarantee that God could change her natural instinct to be drawn toward women. Apparently, sexual fluidity is more prevalent than initially thought and may persist over time in both men and women. Deploying new discoveries such as this helps lessen the stigma for whom homosexual tendencies is a struggle, allowing space for open dialog, transparency and counseling. This is helpful especially among 13 to 18 year-olds, only half of whom believe one’s sex at birth defines one’s gender; and one third says gender is “what a person feels like.”6
It is easy and regrettably far too common for Christians to judge homosexuals and cast their sin in some distinct dispensation meriting a special place in hell. It’s not true, it’s not biblical and serves to only besmirch the Christian witness. As Christian leaders we must continually remind ourselves that “heterosexuality is not the goal of the Christian life: Jesus is.”7