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Breaking the Cultural Wars Cycle: Commending & Critiquing Huckabee’s Shootings Comments

by Carson T. Clark on December 17, 2012

It’s happening like clockwork. First a national tragedy happens. Then a conservative Christian ties the event to the decline of the Judeo-Christian worldview, which in this case came from Governor Mike Huckabee. Then progressive and moderate Christians, many of whom who are embittered former fundamentalists, decry the perspective as insensitive and stupid. Then the conservatives rally to the cause, lashing out with full rancor against their ideological adversaries. And thus the culture wars are perpetuated. My modest intention here to help break that cycle of faux thinking and imprecision baptized with emotional fervor and self-righteous piety coming from either side.

Let me preface my perspective by acknowledging limitations. I’m neither a logician nor a cultural anthropologist. Though I’ve studied both, clearly I’m an expert in neither. Therefore, I hope for constructive if critical feedback from scholars in those field and encourage all others to read my comments with a grain of salt. That being said, many critics of Governor Huckabee’s seem to be interpreting his reasoning as follows:

A: God was allowed in American schools.
B: School shootings didn’t happen.

If A, then B.
Therefore, ¬B.

This is the propositional fallacy of denying the antecedent and many conservative Christians are saying precisely that. The trouble is, that’s not what Huckabee asserted. Today he clarified, “I’m not suggesting by any stretch that if we had prayer in schools regularly as we once did that this wouldn’t have happened, because you can’t have that kind of cause and effect. But we’ve created an atmosphere in this country where the only time you want to invoke God’s name is after the tragedy.” As a hardlining moderate, I agree with his literal words if not his larger tenor.

To be clear, I’m not bemoaning the loss of a Judeo-Christian background nor condemning our present cultural wellspring of pluralism. In fact, this is creating some profound opportunities for Christians. In my opinion, that’s what we should be focusing on. What I am saying is that, from an anthropological perspective, it’s true that we are facing the loss of a shared narrative providing cohesion, identity, purpose, and, yes, moral consensus. The institutions and belief systems that once bound us together are fading or being cast off. So far as I can tell, true pluralism is a virtually unprecedented reality in human history, and what little precedent exists isn’t encouraging.

As I said in a recent blog post, I suspect there are numerous factors leading to this rise in tragic, senseless public shootings. That’s why I’m insistent we look at these events as multicausal rather than monocausal. We must begin to think with greater precision if we’re to overcome this bypass in the culture wars. Within that complex schema Huckabee’s comments have merit. The key is to see them as representing one strand in that multicausal rope instead of the reason. If you interpret his comments that way, he’s not off his rocker. The trouble is the Chicken Little syndrome so common among conservatives that permeates his perspective and clouds the message’s reception.

Lastly, I’m going to prod my fellow christian bloggers a bit. Many of you profess to loathe the culture wars all the while inadvertently participating in their proliferation. All too often your public venting lacks the sort of humble civility, principled convictions, and communicative precision that’s necessary to break the cycle of culture wars. While having long made a diligent effort not to fall prey to these vices, I confess my own occasional guilt. Too often we tell people what they want to hear in order to get page views rather than serve as the prophetic voice and faithful alternative that we ought. My challenge to you is to model a better way; actually blog like a follower of Christ.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    A few comments:

    1. Yes.

    2. Though always a dangerous endeavor, I’ll quote Doug Wilson here on the issue of using moral language after tragedy:

    “It is not possible to build a culture around a denial of God-given standards, and then arbitrarily reintroduce those standards at your convenience, whenever you need a word like evil to describe what has just happened. Those words cannot just be whistled up. If we have banished them, and their definitions, and every possible support for them, we need to reckon with the fact that they are now gone. Cultural unbelief, which leads inexorably to cultural nihilism and despair, is utterly incapable of responding appropriately to things like this, while remaining fully capable of creating them. In the prophetic words of C.S. Lewis, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

    This shooting was horrendous, but far worse is the fact that our blind seers have no idea what to say about it. The horror happened, and it was immediately followed by the horror of countless individuals saying wildly inappropriate things about it. We have monsters in our midst, and vapidity in our highest council chambers, not to mention the monsters there too, and all of them want to slouch toward Bethlehem. God have mercy.”

    Now, I don’t agree with everything else he has to say, but I found the quote interesting and you may want to examine the rest of the blog:

    3. Finally, as another blogger, I’m curious what you think of this piece:

    I generally don’t comment on public events much, but this was a stab at one tiny piece of it.

  • Leo Staley

    I mentioned this before on another post: the worst school attack in american history was the bath school tragedy in 1927. there was prayer at that school. (interestingly, the attack was done by someone who was broke because of healthcare debt (Tuberculosis) and blamed it on a tax increase used to pay for the school, which is why he blew it up.)

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  • Morgan Guyton

    Here’s the thing though. Huckabee was out of line regardless of whether he was misinterpreted or not. That needs to be stated. He shouldn’t have jumped on an opportunity to get his talking points out before those bodies were cold. There’s such a desperate race to snap current events into our tribes’ metanarrative before the other tribes get to it. We don’t know why this guy did what he did. It’s pretty ignorant to assert that it’s because he didn’t have a sense of moral consequences without having any context for saying that. It’s just a parading of talking points, probably in order to preempt the gun control talking points and the mental health talking points so that the Fox News viewers won’t be out of ammo (pun intended) when their facebook friends attack them.

    Here’s how I would re-narrate your predictable progression of events:
    1) Tragedy
    2) Conservative proves he’s got brass by giving a speech about God’s wrath
    3) Progressive proves that she’s not like “those Christians” by denouncing the conservative speech
    4) Moderate proves that he’s “reasonable” by criticizing the progressive reaction

    Dude, everyone’s got an agenda and something to prove. I’ve been in all 3 of the positions in that chain by the way. I think the best we can do is strive for the “humble civility, principled convictions, and communicative precision” as you say. It’s very hard because frankly that doesn’t get the hits. So you compromise and say well I’ll be humbly civil when they get to my real argument but maybe I can hook them with a provocative title and/or a provocative lead.

    • DanutM

      I tend to agree with Morgan’s comment. Huckabee was clearly out of line, in both instances. I simply do not understand why these fundamentalists cannot simply shut up for a while, when such tragedies happen.
      No, it’s not a ‘cultural war’, whatever that means; its’ war on common sense (which, if they had, they would not be fundamentalists).

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