Mark Steyn

In praise of ‘Jesusland’

Whatever their faults, says Mark Steyn, America’s Christian fundamentalists are a lot smarter than Eutopian secularists

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Whatever their faults, says Mark Steyn, America’s Christian fundamentalists are a lot smarter than Eutopian secularists

New Hampshire

As in previous years, Planned Parenthood has been selling greetings cards for abortion proponents filled with seasonal cheer to send to each other: ‘Choice On Earth’, they proclaim. I can just about understand being a proponent of abortion; I find it harder to fathom someone whose obsession with the subject extends to sending out holiday cards on the theme. Especially as, insofar as the Christmas story is relevant to this question, it’s a season to reflect on the potential of every new life.

Two thousand years ago, if a betrothed woman such as Mary became pregnant by a man other than her intended, she was guilty of adultery and liable to stoning. But Joseph, St Matthew tells us, ‘being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily’ — i.e., a quiet divorce. Given the prevailing social climate back then, had they had ‘Choice On Earth’ — abortion on demand — Jesus would have been first in line for it. There would have been no Christ, no Christmas, no New Testament, no lines about ‘peace on earth’ for abortion fetishists to riff off for their holiday slogan.

Scripturally derivative even in its repudiation thereof, ‘Choice On Earth’ seems an apt summation of the muddled state of Christendom at the dawn of its third millennium. These days we don’t say ‘Christendom’, of course, except in an ironic way. We say ‘the Muslim world’ all the time, without thinking — ‘The Iraq invasion enraged the entire Muslim world,’ declares the Democrats’ website. The notion of a ‘Muslim world’ is acceptable to the progressive mind. ‘The Christian world’ is a more problematic concept.

But it’s still out there, just about, and 2004 was a good year for Jesus. He had the big box-office smash of the past 12 months with The Passion of The Christ, scorned by Hollywood but popularised by word of mouth, or word of tongues. And, a couple of days after His man won the US election, a couple of Democrat wags, in a widely disseminated Internet cartoon, renamed a big swath of the North American continent after Him — ‘Jesusland’, stretching across the vast southern interior and pushing up along the Rockies to the 49th parallel. The godless coastal fringes, meanwhile, were joined with Her Majesty’s Northern Dominion and rechristened (if you’ll pardon the expression) the United States of Canada, a fate I wouldn’t wish even on Democrats. And, while the thought of joining their own shrivelled redoubts in a grand union with the biggest ‘blue state’ of all evidently cheers them up, they may be overestimating the blueness of the Great White North: large chunks of Alberta and the British Columbia hinterland would be happy to sign up with the Bible-thumpers, if only for the non-confiscatory tax rates. So Jesusland could well be even larger than its disparagers suggest.

Jesusland isn’t exactly Christendom: the latter evokes Rome, bishops, cathedrals, bells, incense, oratorios; the former is evangelicals, pastors, church suppers, ‘WWJD’ buttons (‘What Would Jesus Do?’), ‘Christian rock’. Some Democrats in the beleaguered fleshpots advocate accommodation with the God-fearing rednecks: for a week or so after the election, Nancy Pelosi, the Dems’ leader in the House of Representatives, was quoting Scripture in every soundbite, albeit the wimpy social-workerish bits. But most of her party has no desire to go down the straight-and-narrow, even as a rhetorical feint: the other day I found myself motoring along behind some Vermont feminist whose faded ‘I’m Pro-Choice and I Vote’ bumper sticker was now accompanied by another one demanding grumpily, ‘Instead Of Being Born Again, Why Not Grow Up?’

The Jesusland meme is so discombobulating to the secular elites of the western world that within a week it had become the prism through which they view every event in the great republic — even lousy movies. For as the Independent’s headline put it, ‘Alexander the (Not So) Great Fails To Conquer America’s Homophobes’. I don’t think you have to be a homophobe to find Alexander a stinker; its stinker status does not primarily derive from its mild gayness, so much as from Oliver Stone’s incoherent storytelling and a dull central performance by some Irish bloke whose efforts at characterisation start and end with bellowing every line. But, if the world’s media want to conjure visions of stump-toothed backwoods knuckle-draggers stomping out of the Jesusland multiplex firing off verses from Leviticus as they demand a full refund, why get in the way of their illusions? The Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash, just back from a tour of America’s blue states, says that they’re crying out for Europe’s help: ‘Hands need to be joined across the sea in an old cause: the defence of the Enlightenment,’ he writes, and adopts as his rallying cry a subtle modification of Le Monde’s famous 12 September headline, ‘We are all blue Americans now’. Europeans need to ally with blue staters and Canadians and so forth and draw a cordon bleu, as John Kerry would say, around George W. Bush’s Jesusland, throttling it in its manger.

Well, good luck with that. I doubt whether a Euro-blue-state alliance is in any position to defend the Enlightenment. Even if one accepts that the modern Euro-Canadian secular state is the rightful heir to the Enlightenment, it would seem obvious that it’s got a lot less enlightened, at least in the sense of ‘freeing from superstition’. The ludicrous over-reaction by the elites to the US election results is at least as superstitious and irrational as anything the Bible Belt believes. And there’s nothing very rational or scientific about refusing to engage with your opponents’ arguments and instead dismissing them as mere ‘phobias’ — homophobia, Islamophobia, Chiracophobia.... Whatever else may be said about the evangelicals, they don’t sneer ‘theophobia’ whenever they’re criticised, even though in that case the lame trope may be almost plausible — when it comes to abnormal psychological fear of the unknown, blue staters’ theophobia is more pervasive than red staters’ homophobia.

A year or two back, I attended a lunch for a minister from California who was applying for a pastor’s gig at a New Hampshire Congregational church. My friend, the aptly named Faith, cut to the chase and asked the minister whether she believed the Bible was the literal truth. ‘Well,’ she said, somewhat condescendingly, ‘I believe these are useful narratives that we tell each other.’ Even if that’s so, is it helpful to give the game away? As it turned out, the minister was a lesbian who’d been joined in what she called ‘Holy Union’ with her partner back at their church in Berkeley, since when she’d become an enthusiastic marrier of gay couples across the Bay area. Proclaiming the Bible a series of ‘useful narratives’ is invariably a first step towards proclaiming many of them useless — the relevant portions of Romans, etc.

But if the Bible is merely a ‘useful narrative’, it’s an immaculately conceived one, beginning with the decision to root the divinity of Christ in the miracle of His birth. The promise of new life on earth prefigures the promise of new life in heaven. Once you cease believing in the latter, the former soon follows. Steve Sailer pointed out in the American Conservative the other week that George W. Bush won 25 of the 26 states with the highest fertility rate. On the other hand, Jo hn Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest. If I were a Democrat looking 20 years down the road, I’d be very alarmed by this trend.

But then not many Democrats do look 20 years down the road: radical secular individualism is a present-tense culture, in America as in Europe. ‘In the long run we are all dead,’ as Keynes said. There speaks a childless homosexual. Those Old Testament big begetters knew better: a celestial afterlife is something we have to take on faith, but our afterlife on earth is the children we beget and the children they in turn beget. ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ scoffed Stalin. Demographically speaking, Jesusland has more divisions than Eutopia. Pace Timothy Garton Ash, you can’t defend the Enlightenment if you’re too enlightened to breed. Americans remain mystified about one of the landmark events of this year: the terrorist bloodbath in Madrid that changed the result of the country’s election. Why, they wonder on this side of the Atlantic, wouldn’t the Spaniards stand firm? But what’s to stand firm for? To fight for king and country is to fight for the future, and a nation with Spain’s fertility rate — 1.1 children per couple or about half ‘replacement rate’ — has no future.

In that sense, the Bible, beginning with God’s injunction to go forth and multiply, is a lot more rational than the allegedly rational types at Planned Parenthood. I’m not an absolutist in these matters. I’m a red stater when it comes to God and guns, but I like European art-house movies where Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Huppert take their kit off. It’s a question of balance. And comparing Jesusland with present-tense Eutopia, it seems obvious which is more out of whack. What Timothy Garton Ash calls ‘the Enlightenment’ has degenerated under its present trustees into a doomsday cult with all the coerciveness of the old state religion and none of the eternal truths.

For example, for as long as I can remember, the pre-eminent eco-doom-monger on Canadian TV has been a chap called David Suzuki, who, in a poignant comment on the state of my country, recently made the ‘Top Ten Greatest Canadians Of All Time’ list. A while back, Suzuki wrote a column called ‘We Are All Animals Here’, beginning as follows:

‘The sign in the shopping mall said, “No animals allowed.” As I read it, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It reflected a failure to admit or unwillingness to acknowledge our biological nature. We are animals and have a taxonomic classification: Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Class: Mammalia; Order: Primates; Family: Hominidae; Genus: Homo; Species: sapiens.

‘Our reluctance to acknowledge our animal nature is indicated in our attitude to other animals. If we call someone a worm, snake, pig, chicken, mule or ape, it is an insult. Indeed, to accuse someone of being a “wild animal” at a party is a terrible insult.’

But apparently not at his pad; Suzuki, even at a sober wine-and-cheese do, is literally a party animal. This kind of standard ecoblather certainly has animal qualities if only in the sense that it’s barking. Everyone knows what the sign in the mall means. It may be distressing to Suzuki, but the world we live in is defined not by what we have in common with worms, snakes and pigs, but by what separates us. For the purposes of comparison, consider the Eighth Psalm:

‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him...? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea.’

Now you can say that’s a lot of Judaeo-Christian hooey. But the Psalmist, regardless of whether he got it from God or winged it off the top of his head, has characterised the reality of our existence better than the environmentalists and scientists. The Eighth Psalm describes the central fact of our world — our dominion over the sheep and oxen, yea, and all the party animals. It was a lot less plausible when it was written, when man’s domain stretched barely to the horizon, when ravenous beasts lurked in the undergrowth, when the oceans were uncharted and the maps dribbled away with the words ‘Here be dragons...’. But, over the millennia, the Eighth Psalm has held up, which is more than you can say for the average 1970s bestseller predicting the oil would run out by 1998 and the Maldives would be obliterated by global warming.

It’s easy, in an otherwise wholly secular West, to mock the religiosity of Jesusland. But if eternal salvation remains unproved, the suspension of disbelief required of Eutopian secularists grows daily. If you were one of those ‘redneck Christian fundamentalists’ the world’s media are always warning about, you might think the Continent’s in for what looks awfully like the Four Horsemen of the Euro-Apocalypse: Famine — the end of the lavishly funded statist good times; Death — the self-extinction of European races too selfish to breed; War — the decline into bloody civil unrest that these economic and demographic factors will bring; and Conquest — the recolonisation of Europe by Islam.

But it goes without saying that Europeans are far too rational and enlightened to believe in such outmoded notions as apocalyptic equestrians. If there is ‘choice on earth’, I’ll bet on Jesusland. Happy holidays.