Time and time again David Gelernter, a national fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and professor of computer science at Yale, speaks precisely to something that I have been thinking about for some time. It was David Gelernter who argued, in the pages of The Weekly Standard about three years ago, that America needed another great awakening on the college campus and that it just might actually happen. He spoke of the typical campus as “biblically illiterate” and thus a veritable “tinder-box” for a spiritual fire if the Bible were to become relevant again to students. I pray daily that he is right and I work to this end with all that is inside of me.
Well, David Gelernter did it again in a recent (October 6) article in The Weekly Standard. In an article titled: “Obama in Leftland,” Gelernter writes:
"Barack Obama is America’s first major party candidate to have come of age after the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 70s. Americans who reached adulthood before or during the Cultural Revolution often differ over the big events of recent history. Americans who came of age afterward, on the other hand, don’t necessarily know any recent history. And what they do know is often wrong [emphasis mine]."
This is the very same point that I have attempted to make on this blog several times in recent weeks. I last made this point regarding the agenda of planned parenthood and the issue of abortion. I referred to how little clarity the younger generation possesses about the history of this ethical and moral issue.
Let me be clear about this. I am not saying that younger Christians do not have moral convictions. Nor am I saying that they do not care about life and death ethical issues. I think they care, and in some ways, they care far more than my generation cared, at least in terms of deeply held feelings about issues and causes. (Their numbers are considerably smaller, and this means that whatever their views are on such issues they will have less cultural and political impact in the end.)
What I am saying is this—this is the first generation entirely shaped by my generation, the one that lived through the Cultural Revolution (CR) of the late 1960s and 70s.
David Gelernter says that we knew what to expect in generation CR. If you grew up in families with strong moral values and a grasp of tradition, patriotism and reality, you held to moral and ethical absolutes. But if not then you tended to have very fuzzy views of history. Thus these new adults:
"[Have an] unconditional belief in tolerance and diplomacy, and contempt for the military and war-making. Their patriotism (such as it is) tends to focus on the 'global community' or 'the planet' or some other large, meaningless object. (Beyond a certain point, patriotic devotion spread too thin simply evaporates—which is a good way to get rid of it if you are, say, an English intellectual trusting to the European Union to eradicate this primitive emotion.)"
Consider what makes Barack Obama so much like previous leaders in the CR generation that I came of age in when I was in college. Senator George McGovern, who had rock star status with the far-left in the CR, was an affable, moral, sincere and well-spoken gentleman. I can still recall attending one of his campaign stops in 1972 when he spoke at Edman Chapel at Wheaton College. The atmosphere was electric and many young evangelicals swooned, much as they do at Obama rallies today. Like Obama, Senator McGovern also opposed an unpopular war and saw how government could solve major generational issues.
And like George McGovern, Barack Obama is not at all sure where the military fits into our future. In July he listed several past crises that America had faced and referred to “the bomb (sic) that fell on Pearl Harbor.” He spoke also of our “constantly evolving danger” but never of our “enemies.” This, notes David Gelernter, is “a prime specimen of gen-CR thinking.” I think he nails it.
Obama’s announcement that he would met Mahmoud Ahmadinejab without preconditions shows exactly why a president must not merely know history, but have a decently nuanced view of the same. Was it right for Chamberlain to meet with Hitler? Or was it right for John F. Kennedy to meet with Khrushchev? No. I submit history shows that it was not right because the meetings were used to promote anything but peace. Was it right for Begin to meet with Sadat and for Churchill to make long and dangerous journeys to meet with Stalin? I submit that it was, given the nuance of the issues and the historical sensibilities of the moment.
Senator Joe Biden, speaking about Obama’s international notions, said during the primary season: “World leaders should not meet with other world leaders unless they know that the agenda is, so you don’t end up being used.” The point is clear—do not invest American prestige and energy in meeting with culture-leaders who misrepresent history and tell us things like the Holocaust never happened or that they wish to destroy Israel and the United States.
Members of the CR generation who bought into the ideology were trained well, since they had no deep roots to protect them. The majority of teachers from the 1970s onward proudly acknowledged their deep political bias against America and its ideals. They were to the left and they happily admitted it. This is a simple truth. But what makes today’s new left so different is that they do not even know how far left they have actually moved. Gelernter rightly concludes: “As far as they know their ideas are innocuous and mainstream—just like the New York Times!”
Think about the resignation of Harvard’s president Lawrence Summers in 2006. What was his crime? He said that the fact that there were a greater number of male scientists females might have something to do with gender differences. After numerous apologies his administration was finished, and he still resigned. (And Lawrence Summers is no conservative!) Gelernter notes that “In the gen-CR now approaching, such embarrassing accidents will no longer happen. Forbidden ideas simply won’t occur to the Harvard presidents of the future.” Bulls-eye!
Thus Barack Obama is the perfect role-model for this generation. He would make a great Harvard president. He looks back at the nation’s history and sees things very differently than I do. He is sincere, honest and shaped by a different worldview. What makes him even more appealing to young Christians is that he has faith and speaks of his relationship with Christ, a relationship I have never questioned (to the chagrin of my more conservative friends). He knows how to approach issues from several angles and how to see various shades of opinion. (There is much here to like in contrast to hard-nosed, opinionated wing-nuts on the right!)
Gelernter concludes: “America’s future has been intellectually housebroken.” Yes, it surely has. What is tragic is that intellectual and moral turpitude has become mainstream in the modern church. The results are nothing less than catastrophic when it comes to moral clarity and our collective future. I am much more concerned for the church than for America. (The church is to act as salt, and if we lose our saltiness we have no proper role remaining in the wider culture.) I think we have lost our nerve and the consequences call for a massive reformation of morals and doctrine inside the typical American church.
Younger Christians move me, to my depths, with their commitment to missional thinking and practice. But many of them miss the historical realities of how we got here and where we should be going, as a result of learning their lessons from teachers who were shaped by my CR generation.
We do need a “new kind of Christian” but the one we need looks a lot more like a mix between the missional present, which I celebrate, and the moral and social past, which saw truth as truth and historical facts as facts.