Charlottesville is the kind of America that identity politics is calling into being. It’s time for straight talk about that.
On the Right, the story is fairly straightforward. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and their ilk have to be condemned in no uncertain terms, and marginalized. The president’s coy rhetoric, dancing around these people for fear of alienating them, has to end. (I don’t expect it to end, but others on the Right need to speak up to condemn him.)
It is not enough for conservative politicians and thought leaders to condemn these incidents. In their rhetoric, they need to start criticizing the principles of identity politics, across the board. They should emphasize what unites us as Americans. And this: pastors and other leaders within the church have to start teaching clearly and directly on this front. More than that, they have to recognize that racial tribalism is a strong god — a false one, but a strong one. The mild, therapeutic God that they preach, teach, and proclaim is weak in the face of it. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not talking about the actual God of the Bible. I’m talking about the way our priests, pastors, religious teachers, and families present Him to their flocks — especially their young men.
There’s a great book coming out in November — oh, how I wish it were available now! — called God Is Not Nice, by the Catholic theologian and college professor Ulrich Lehner. It’s a shocking title, but it’s meant to be: Lehner wants to wake up the church. It’s a broadside against Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and the way every institution in our culture — including many churches and families — think of God (“as some kind of divine therapist … a psychiatrist who treats each of his patients the same way, a friend whom we can call in times of need”).
“Why change your life for such a God?” Lehner asks. “He makes no demands.”
Lehner writes that “we all need the vaccine of knowing the true…