This past Saturday we witnessed the horrible spectacle of a riot in Charlottesville, VA between white nationalists and counter-protesters. The riot was precipitated by a rally planned by a variety of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis to protest the pending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville. Counter-protesters showed up and the ensuing confrontation turned violent. At least one was killed when someone drove his car into a crowd of protesters.
Ironically on the very same day the Wall Street Journal published an article in its Saturday Review section entitled “The Liberal Crack-Up” by Mark Lilla, who considers himself to be a liberal. In the article, which is adapted from his forthcoming book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, Mr. Lilla bemoans the fact that the liberal agenda of fifty years ago has been replaced by the identity politics of today. Liberal used to think of justice for all, of advancing the common good. Today the left is splintered into a variety of special interest groups, each trying to advance its own agenda, sometimes at the expense of the rest: African-Americans, Feminists, the LGBT community. It is no longer about the common good; it is now identity politics.
This had the effect of alienating the Democratic Party from much of its traditional base – white, working class Americans who in the last election turned out to vote for Trump. The elitism of the party leaders could be seen in Hillary Clinton’s infamous remark during the campaign that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.” But many of these people traditionally voted Democratic in past elections. Now they are considered “deplorables.”
It was only a matter of time before there would be a reaction on the right. The right wing now has its own version of identity politics: white nationalism – the Alt Right, Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and hence the riot in Charlottesville.
The Alt Right would like to see itself as fighting to preserve the cultural heritage of Americans of European descent. But is it really? Western Civilization was built on a Judeo-Christian foundation. American democracy in particular is based on the premise that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But the Alt Right offers us a secularized version of American culture – one that is not based on a system of shared values and moral absolutes. Instead it appeals to a sense of racial superiority. It is no longer God, but “blood and earth.” It is no longer justice for all, but us against them.
But each of us as human beings, left or right, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, must ask the same basic questions about ultimate reality: does God exits? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What makes the difference between right and wrong?
Long ago the apostle Paul challenged the philosophers of Athens with these very questions. In his celebrated address on Mars’ Hill (Areopagus) recorded for us in Acts 17, Paul pointed out that God is the Creator and that “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . .” (v. 26: NKJV). Here he points us to the essential unity of the human race – we all descended from a common pair of ancestors. Evolutionists may question or deny this; but the fact remains that when you scratch beneath the surface we are all remarkably alike. We laugh and cry. We hope and fear. We struggle to survive. And we all share a common human nature that is prone to vice. It all points to a common ancestry.
But why did God create us in the first place? This points to the meaning and purpose of life. According to Paul it was “that they should seek the Lord, in hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (v. 27). We are here on this planet for a reason and purpose, that is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” in the famous words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Paul concluded his remarks on Mars’ Hill with a sober reminder that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness . . .” (vv. 30,31). This points to the existence of a universal moral law. The entire human race is ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, and His will and purposed are final. As His creatures we are obligated to conform to His will.
As human beings we all feel a need for self-esteem, for a sense of meaning and purpose in life, for a sense of self-worth. God intended us to find that in Him. But in our Post-Modern, secularized society, when we have excluded God from our thinking, there is a psychological void that we will try to fill with something else. That is what drives identity politics. It provides us with a sense of belonging to some larger group or movement. The Alt Right is a false conservatism. It does not seek to return America to its Judeo-Christian roots. Rather it lays the foundation for the arrival of a demagogue and dictator. Will it be another Hitler? Or the Antichrist himself?