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Culture War Roundup for the week of March 4, 2024

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Christian Nationalism

Within my own circles this is rather a hot topic, but I've yet to see it discussed in this forum. Christian evangelicalism has had its own version of the culture war; to whit, how involved and in what manner should Christians (both individually and the Church) be engaged in society and politics. There are factions of "Big Eva" who seem to be moving more Left (see the recent "He gets us" commercial in the Super Bowl). There are those who think that the "third-way"ism of Tim Keller (taking a high road that transcends politics and culture war) is still relevant in these days (from my perspective, with echos of Martin Niemoller). And there are those who are actively seeking a more aggressive and explicitly Christian approach to governance and policy. For those interested, a useful taxonomy provided by the Gospel Coalition describes to a reasonable first approximation the different approaches that Christians have to our current moment.

I have had my own journey in the direction of Christian Nationalism (though I wouldn't...yet...apply that label to myself). While in college I was a pro-life Ron Paul libertarian, over the years I've become less individualistic as I've grown in my faith. I used to think of religion as a private exercise. I know recognize the centrality of community. I even have begun to entertain the idea that there may be salvific consequences for those who are under the authority of a Christian leader. If the unbelieving spouse can be sanctified by his or her believing counterpart, and an entire house can be baptized when the head of the house believes, could there not be salvation extended to a nation whose head of state is an orthodox Christian and whose government practices the precepts of the Word? (If you are interested in more of my ramblings on this topic, and

Christianity in America has enjoyed centuries of being a dominant culture. Many Christians, having grown up in a culture that was at least outwardly compatible with Christianity, have slipped into casual acceptance of cultural norms. They are in the world, and of the world. In many cases self-proclaimed Christians are functionally agnostic, with no significant lifestyle differences from Atheists. Do we really believe Christ is Lord or do we not? Do we not believe in divine judgement and divine mercy? Is Church a weekly therapeutic exercise or is it a place where we meet the transcendent and drink of the body and the blood? Christian Nationalism, at its core, recognizes the reality and consequence of a world in which Christ is Lord. There is no "third way", there is only God's way. (For a somewhat related essay on the reality of God, see

There is a common assumption among Christians that all sin is equally damning. Man can never follow the Law, and Jesus even makes it clear that the Law didn't go far enough (the Law allows divorce, and does not explicitly proscribe lust). At the individual level, this assumption is correct. Outside the atonement found in Jesus, we all stand condemned. Yet at the societal level, there are varying levels of alignment with God's will. Every single person in Nazi Germany was a sinner. Every single person in 1941 USA was a sinner. Yet it would be an unusual Christian who would argue that 1941 USA was not more aligned with God's will than Nazi Germany. Not all societies are created equal, and there are varying degrees of misalignment. If I look at a woman in lust, I am clearly sinning and am condemned; but at least my desires are in alignment with God's ideal. It is only the object of my desires that is inappropriate, as being attracted to my wife is not only not a sin, but is a key part of a relationship that is a representation of Christ's love for the Church. Same-sex attraction is more disordered as both the object and the desire itself are misaligned. Transgenderism is completely disordered: the object, desire, and self are all misaligned. Societies that venerate increasingly disordered behavior will inevitably sink into corruption and decay. Christian Nationalism, perhaps alone among contemporary strands of Christian thought, fully acknowledges these implications.

I'll probably be censured for this, because for some reason--- religion, despite ZERO proof, needs to be respected on this forum. This is pure fantasy and shouldn't even be brought up as a serious topic. It is like watching Harry Potter fans argue over what fanfic should be cannon. It is made up out of whole cloth and shouldn't be in a rational adjacent forum.

  • -18

The vast majority of this forum is atheist/agnostic. Some are Christian. But the numbers have to be seen to be believed

Source: Tracingwoodgrains's First Annual Survey, N = 885

Agnostic: 23%

Other Atheist 13.6%

Atheist Humanist 27.8%

Atheist Antitheist 12.7%

Making the total non-believer population round nicely to 77%. A little bit more if you include those who put down things like "catholic but lazy, not really believing" or "Taoist".

A census of what percent of the US is atheistic is difficult to pinpoint. An atheistic secular Jew may decide when asked on a polling question that his religion as ethno-religion is more important then a discreet theological claim and thus when the pollster asks "what religion are you" he answers Jewish. Even though when later asked 'do you believe in a God" he responds with a clear no. So too may the no longer believing Catholic who raises their kid in the church and keeps their thoughts to themselves because their Catholicism is too intertwined with their ethnicity to be unwoven. There is no contradiction here, just note that how big or small you want atheists to appear does depend on what precisely you are asking.

But for the simple "what religion are you" question. "Atheist" got 2% in 2007 and 4% in 2023. Source: Pew Research 2023 National Public Opinion Survey

What makes this forum so outrageously non-representative compared to the US population as a whole is not only that 4% vs 77% number, but also that the First Annual Motte survey also asked "what religion were you raised in". 30% were raised broadly non-religious. Meaning the average Motteizen isn't just non-religious, they are someone who was immersed and walked away. They say there's no zealot like a convert and I think this applies just as well to deconversion.

So if this forum has 3x as many explicitly anti-theists as the atheist population of the US as a whole and population here is more atheistic by literally 15x as much then your question transforms into something a little bit different. It's not just 'why does this forum broadly...' but rather 'why is a forum of this specific belief breakdown treating religion with such respect'

And for that I return us to perhaps the source. In favor of Niceness, Community, And Civilization, by Scott Alexander

I seek out people who signal that they want to discuss things honestly and rationally. Then I try to discuss things honestly and rationally with those people. I try to concentrate as much of my social interaction there as possible.

So far this project is going pretty well. My friends are nice, my romantic relationships are low-drama, my debates are productive and I am learning so, so much.

And people think “Hm, I could hang out at 4Chan and be called a ‘fag’. Or I could hang out at Slate Star Codex and discuss things rationally and learn a lot. And if I want to be allowed in, all I have to do is not be an intellectually dishonest jerk.”

And so our community grows. And all over the world, the mysterious divine forces favoring honest and kind equilibria gain a little bit more power over the mysterious divine forces favoring lying and malicious equilibria.

Andrew thinks I am trying to fight all the evils of the world, and doing so in a stupid way. But sometimes I just want to cultivate my garden.

Or as Our Own Tracingwoodgrains brought up iwhen trying to explain this place in On Mottes and Mythologies

It’s pretty simple. I remember the kid I was, born into and seriously committed to a set of beliefs that I would need to seriously examine and step away from later in life. I remember just how rare it was to have a candid, good-faith discussion with people on the other side. I remember just how damaging the Arthur Chus both in and against my community were, how much unnecessary pain they caused. And if there’s any chance in an increasingly polarized world to build a space that allows that kid to honestly discuss his most controversial, difficult opinions and get sincere engagement and pushback instead of being shut down or mocked?

I will drag myself across broken glass to maintain that space, and all the Arthur Chus in the world aren’t enough to convince me otherwise.

That’s The Motte for you. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t always live up to the ideals Scott Alexander and others have championed. But it comes closer to being a working discussion ground for people who hold dramatically different beliefs than anywhere else I’ve found, and that’s just not the sort of thing you give up on.

What we've all participated in constructing here is a precious little creature. I take seriously the horrific implications of why treat them with respect at all.

The Thirty Years War became the benchmark to measure all later wars. The inhabitants of eastern France interpreted each subsequent invasion int he light of stories told about the Swedes and Croats who devastated their region in the 1630s. Soldiers fighting in the trenches along the eastern front of the First World War believed they were experiencing horrors not seen in three centuries. In his radio broadcast on 4 May 1945, Hitler's architect and armaments minister, Albert Speer, announced 'the destruction that has been inflicted on Germany can only be compared to that of the Thirty Years War. The decimation of our people through hunger and deprivation must not be allowed to reach the proportion of that epoch' For this reason, he went on, Hitler's successor, Admiral Donitz, had given the order to lay down arms. Public opinion surveys carried out in the 1960's revealed that Germans placed the Thirty Years War as their country's greatest disaster ahead of both World Wars, the Holocaust, and the Black Death. - Peter Wilson, The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy, pg 5-6

I find this forum to be a civilizational candle in the dark in these ircivilizational times. And that means taking the religious among us here seriously. If we are excessively demure to them then that is only a reason to expand that sensibility to others, not to deny them that environment in the first place. There is enough vitriol on every other website and in every other which side are you on boy shibboleth seeking interrogation-conversation. If you J'accuse this place of taking people who hold unsubstantiated beliefs ridiculed in greater rat-dom and engaging with them with seriousness of tone and tenderness of heart then I take your accusation in stride.

Yes. It is.

I'd definitely be interested in seeing how demographics have changed since then.

Very noble sentiments. But it is equivalent to deeply discussing bigfoot or high fantasy novels as if they were true with a capital T. It seems like a waste of time and I feel as though a lot of good conversations have been hijacked recently by zealots air dropping faith based arguments all over the place. If one more solution to the world's ills or fractious politics is proposed as "have you heard the good news about our lord an savior JC" I'm going to scream.

Shoot, 100ProofTollBooth managed to shoehorn an entire sermon on the benefits of following Christ into an entirely unrelated thread about drug use in Portland Oregon.

  • -11

This meme raises the question succinctly. The bald bipeds beasts that bestride the Earth in 2024 are really into lying, scheming, manipulating, and cheating.

They are clever, and have won great victories in the competition of Man against Nature. They are clever, and have created terrible weapons in the competition of Man against Man.

The rationalist project is that science and reason get used to build utopia. Are we actually headed towards global thermonuclear war, or towards a Lebanese style multicultural kakistocracy? The rationalist project has failed because it refused to engage with human greed, selfishness, and delusion.

The discussion moves on to the theory of second best. What is possible within the limits of human nature? If space aliens turn up and their space ship is an ant heap with monoclonal genetics, they will diagnose our problems easily enough. The scientist who values truth and refuses to sell out, is a nerd and doesn't get the girl. The scientist who monetizes "truth" and sells it to the richest corporation marries and has a mistress and propagates his anti-science-and-reason genes into the next generation. That is the diagnosis, but it offers no treatment.

One idea is bringing up children to believe in God. A God who commands scrupulous honesty and always is watching, even when all humans present are in on the scam and bought or compromised.

That probably gives the interstellar ants a good laugh. Humans have such a complicated relationship with self-awareness. What happens when the children brought up to believe in God work out that God is a pro-social myth? Some of them retain the honesty in worldly affairs that they were brought up with, and work to promote and preserve the pro-social myth. This involves an attitude adjustment from telling the truth because God commands it, to participating in the lie and the cover-up because society depends on the prosocial myth. But that is rare. Most fall into these two camps. Those who blurt out the truth in front of the children, as though the God they no longer believe in was watching, ready to punish them for telling the lie that He exists. Those who revert to instinct and seek reproductive success by lying, scheming, manipulating, and cheating, while also believing that they are choosing a variety of behaviours for themselves, not simply following their genetic programming.

Do you have an alternative idea? The rationalist project implicitly assumes that man was created by God with a divinely granted capacity for good. The rationalist project implicitly denies that man is an evolved creature, whose self-defeating duplicity is enforced and created by human genetics. The rationalist project, in as much as it ignores the true horror of being an evolved creature, is just another high fantasy. What is there left to discuss?

There was plenty of lying, scheming, manipulating, and cheating in times and places when theistic faith was most ascendant. Do you think Renaissance Italy, the Holy Roman Empire, the Abbasid Caliphate, and the Ottoman Empire had none of that? Members of the Sicilian Mafia all consider themselves scrupulous Catholics. You may say they are not, in fact, good Catholics (and I would agree, and AFAIK so does the chief of the Catholic Church), but convincing them that God is watching them would not stop their crimes, because they already believe that. People usually think their behavior is either righteous or at least justified by the circumstances; the thought does not become "I better not not burn down that store, God would punish me"; it becomes "Let's burn down that store, it's what anybody would do in my place, actually it's a pretty good idea, God will be happy I'm not a pushover".

The rationalist project has failed because it refused to engage with human greed, selfishness, and delusion

This is just not true, they have engaged a lot with human "greed" and "selfishness" (coordination failures), and "delusion" (bias, politics mind killer). Maybe they're wrong, but they're definitely engaging with it.

Opening with a forwards from grandma style meme that wouldn't look out of place in a kevin sorbo movie is not a good start to this ramble to nowhere.

"The rationalist project implicitly assumes that man was created by God with a divinely granted capacity for good. The rationalist project implicitly denies that man is an evolved creature, whose self-defeating duplicity is enforced and created by human genetics" * Citation Badly Needed*

I'm sorry you have such a low opinion of the human race. Hopefully you'll live long enough to see that we're still on the upswing. Although for many believers--- the apocalypse is always delayed, never canceled.

The rationalist project has failed because it refused to engage with human greed, selfishness, and delusion.

What on earth are you talking about? Have you even browsed the Sequences?

You can minimize threads and move on if you don’t want to talk about religion, like I do with the endless circlejerking about artificial-not-very-intelligence.

I think if an idea or ideology is put forward on a public forum, and it has no basis in reality, it should be challenged rather than ignored or accepted. This is how good theories and ideas push out the incorrect ones, since clear demonstrable practical application responsible for all of the scientific miracles of the 500 years isn't enough.

The reason people circlejerk about AI is that it is going to be the defining feature of our lives going forward. It actually exists and is getting more powerful by the day.

I share your assessment of religion, but as others have already alluded to, I come here to see views I won’t hear anywhere else. If that means reading some % of what I think is obviously on its face nonsense then so be it.

You’ve said many times that pushback is not allowed—do you have some examples in mind?

If the criterion is “don’t post in a rat-adjacent forum views you aren’t prepared to change” then I think religion is far from the sole offender.

I've personally been advised by mods and others that pointing out that religion has no proof and makes no sense is "boring and played out", and "this isn't the place for militant atheist rhetoric ", "we don't want to relitigate the new atheist wars of 20 years ago here" when I merely point out the absolute absurdity of it all.

Meanwhile people proudly declare they are Christian Orthodox and write entire screeds of facile navel gazing nonsense, presented with nothing interesting or actionable, zero proof except their own personal feelings. Great works detailing their personal journey of early indoctrination, loss of faith, and reawakening even stronger over and over again on this forum.

What do you want to happen? It seems obvious to me it can’t be easily singled out as “the bad thing you aren’t allowed to post about” so posts like that will crop up.

You want to just freely reply that religion is nonsense over and over? To me that’s as tedious as someone posting “but that’s sexist” or something every time someone on the forum is sexist. It might be true but it doesn’t really add anything to the discussion. My suspicion would be that’s what mods mean when they say “it’s tired and played out.”

If people were writing nothing more than “Jesus is Lord” then sure but what I see is people writing fairly lengthy and thought out posts. I may disagree strongly but that’s why I’m here. And I would hope someone responding has more to say than “but there’s no evidence tho.”

Curiosity goes a long way. You mention it makes no sense on a rationalist adjacent forum, but I wonder what some of these people would say if you genuinely asked if (a) they generally consider themselves rationalists and (b) if so how do they think about that in the context of religion.

If, as I think, the point of this place is to have discussions you can’t have anywhere else, that line of conversation seems more in keeping with this place than rehashing the Great War.

More comments

If "discussing bigfoot or high fantasy novels as if they were true with a capital T" prevented a continent from being bled dry for three decades....

Well, but at the same time it's a pretty common pattern for adherents of a larger and milder ideology to be defensive of a narrower circle of extremists: you'd be hard-pressed to get Muslims to oppose Islamic extremists, FOSS adherents to denounce Stallman, normie medieval Christians to shun anchorites, or standard leftists to shun Antifa. There are many reasons for this - extremists provide an ideal to aspire to (if you were willing to dedicate everything to the idea, this is how far you could go, isn't it romantic?), show that your ideology is feasible even when taken to the extreme, make your own version of it look like a reasonable compromise (and if everyone more extreme than you is cut off, then eventually you will be the extremist), and serve as an important counterweight to the outgroup's dangerous extremists ("A monster, but our monster"). I figure that outspoken Christians can serve as this for our much larger set of secular rightists - they probably are united in thinking that the West was better off back when everyone was unified in Christian morality, and so they look up to the religious with admiration even as they lament that in their own blackened hearts they can no longer muster genuine belief.