Rod Dreher is an often gloomy conservative blogger and author who believes that America is heading toward a time of “soft totalitarianism” where conservatives, especially religious conservatives, will be largely excluded from public life through the use of technology and social pressure. This coming totalitarianism is “soft” because while it may not result in outright physical persecution, like being sent to a Gulag in the totalitarian USSR, it seeks to remove conservatives from the shaping of American culture.
Dreher foresees a day when some kind of “social credit system” is implemented in the United States like it has been implement in China. A social credit system makes it easier to participate in the economic and cultural life of a country if a citizen in acting in a way that those controlling the system deem appropriate. For example, supporting LGBTQ+ causes would boost your score and allow you to participate in more of cultural life (say, get a line of credit with a high enough score), while holding to orthodox Christian views on sexuality, and especially that homosexuality is sinful, will reduce your score, thereby making it impossible to participant in the cultural life of America in certain ways.
Is Dreher right? Is America heading for some kind of woke dictatorship as he fears?
Not according to Anne Helen Petersen. Petersen is an often gloomy blogger and author on the political left. She rose to prominence through an article on why Millennials have become the burnout generation, which she later expanded into a book. The interesting thing with Petersen is that she is observing the same time period of American history as Dreher is but coming to the exact opposite conclusions! Her fear is that Christian conservatives hold all the political power in the country and are seeking to impose a Christian nationalist utopia. She has found more fodder for her fears with the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
So who’s right? Dreher or Petersen? Is America going to become a woke dictatorship or a Christian Nationalist Theocracy?
Maybe it’s neither. Maybe they’re both wrong.
I mean, the plain fact is that predicting the future is hard. And I think that it’s especially hard in complex, digitally connected, networked world that we live in. Things are shifting and changing constantly, and small, seemingly insignificant things can have a disproportionally large impact. So I would say that no “narrative” of either the Right or the Left is foregone conclusion. History is only inevitable to the Lord because he wrote the outcome already (see Revelation, Book of). But from our limited, human perspective, the future is always open, contingent, and unformed.
My problem with both writers is not exactly about the narrative they’re trying to support. There’s definite to merit to some of their claims. But my biggest problem is the constant catatrophizing. If you read their work consistently for any length of time, you’d think the world is ending. And maybe it is. Maybe it actually is ending. But it just doesn’t seem like a healthy way to interact both with politics and with the world.
Scripture gives us a markedly different posture for facing the world. The apostle Peter gives some pretty surprising instructions in how to exist in the world in his letter to Christians who had been dispersed from the land of Israel. Peter writes, “The end of all things is near.” (1 Peter 4:7). Talk about the end of the world! What Peter means is that the last chapter of God’s redemptive story has been written. Jesus came, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and then poured his Spirit upon the church. It is now the church’s job to minister the gospel before Jesus comes back a second time.
Yet in the face of the “end of all things,” Peter does not exude the same kind of pessimism as Peterson or Dreher. He does not really encourage any kind of apocalyptic thinking. So what does he advocate for exactly? He writes this:
“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:7-10).
Are these the kind of dispositions that you would assume people should have in the face of the end? Probably not, if we listen to some contemporary writers. But Peter presents his markedly different vision for the church. As Christians, we should keep our heads (“be of sound judgment”) and have a sobermindedness about us so that we continue to pray despite the difficulties. Above all, we must love. Love is the antidote to despair or any kind of cynicism because love “bears all things, believes all things, hope all things, and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Finally, Peter tells us to be hospitable. So his advice in light of the end is to keep your head, pray a lot, love well, and open your home to others.
The reason why the church can press on with such ordinary behaviors in the face of great difficulties is because are following in the footsteps of our Lord. Jesus has already laid down a path of suffering for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). We will, inevitably, have to follow in it. But when Jesus went through his suffering, he faced it with calm resolve and a trust in the Lord that carried him through it (1 Peter 2:22-23). So maybe our world is ending. Maybe America is doomed and there’s no future here either. But from a certain perspective, Jesus’ life was doomed as well. And we all know how that turned out.