There is a pretty well-known book that was published in 2018 titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind” which detailed and analyzed the fragility culture that has swept through the American education system, particularly colleges and universities. It observes that the youth of America have been overprotected, not just physically but emotionally and intellectually, and the consequences have been disastrous. They lay the blame principally on the educators who for various reasons created a safetyism culture that sheltered children from hardship, reasoning, and opposition and instead pandered to positive rights, feelings, and affirmation. The disastrous consequence is a generation of youth of whom many are emotionally and intellectually incapable of coping with the brutal realities of the world around them, and of whom the remainder cravenly affect constant offense as the most economical way to achieve their own self-interest. The authors point to a number of factors that contributed to the incipience of this recent phenomena, including political polarization among others.
No doubt there is a lot of truth to their analysis. However, it is also typical of many similar post-mortem autopsies I have read recently on various social failings; for instance the disintegration of free speech and, ironically, the pervasiveness of hateful speech. In each of these examples, the moralizers share several humorous traits: First, they all are quite impressed with themselves for discovering the stinking, decomposed corpse. Second, they all are either unaware or feign ignorance of centuries of warnings that death was in the pot. And third, they all brilliantly conclude that the cause of death was “Natural Causes”.
Christianity has been inoculating the world for two millennia with a very sophisticated doctrinal compound of equal parts indomitableness and harmlessness. And they have consistently warned all along that the continual assault on the foundations of the Christian faith would result in the total collapse of the entire moral system that those foundations undergird. Now, after 100 years of eye-rolling and snickering, and 50 years of outright mocking Christians for being too ‘corny’ and sentimental and at the same time too intolerant and insensitive, the same haughty, sneering intellectuals are decrying the fragility of the modern mind and the coarseness of the modern society. To all this Christians say, “We told you so.”
It turns out that Jesus was right: You will give an account for every idle word that proceeds out of your mouth. And Paul was spot on when he warned that some sins are revealed in judgment, but some sins are exposed beforehand. To the surprise and chagrin of the modern intellectual, it turns out that filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting really aren’t convenient. Apparently, comedy isn’t the ultimate expression of truth; but rather truth spoken in love and kindness is the ultimate value. Christians were quite avant-garde two thousand years ago when they declared that while all things were lawful to them and they enjoyed complete freedom of action and of speech, it would not be expedient to indulge in anything that could result in addiction or offense, and that instead we should doggedly pursue only those things which edify. Chrisitian mothers proved to be quite prescient when they taught their children the strange paradox of “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you” alongside “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Christianity was right all along, and try as they might, the postmodernists will never catch up. As with all other facets of the naturalist religion, they simply don’t have sufficient material to build the ramparts and they don’t have the right type of material to build the foundations. They are desperately attempting to lay foundations above ground with the clay bricks of materialism because they refuse to admit that there is a dimension to the world that is deeper than what they can see. Christians were wisely and properly founded on the Divine teaching of the Lord who said:
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in my name receives me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” — Matthew 18
Behold the perfect balance between having a warrior’s mind but a child’s spirit; between drinking offense like water but pouring out only kindness from our cups. Jesus is both demanding and nurturing at once. This is not only the right parts, and the right balance of those parts, but also the right parts in the right places. This is not easy. Without a clarion eschatology of a heavenly kingdom, it is impractical and grossly immoral to suggest that one should simultaneously accept abuse and think nothing of it. The naturalists theorize that the historical implementation of this mindset was a product of Enlightenment liberalism; and they marvel that classical and modern liberalism—allegedly the pillar and ground of open mindedness, free speech, critical inquiry, and spirited debate—is now a giant, padded safespace full of whining, fragile infants. Well… infants in maturity but monsters in willingness and capacity to inflict damage on those they ironically deem intolerant. This view is patently revisionist and self-serving. Liberals are tolerant and lovers of free speech when they are in the minority; just as conservatives have now become the lions of civil rights, now that the tables have turned. But more pointedly, it is only Bible believing Chrisitians who have consistently allowed for dissent and disagreement; regardless of their power or lack thereof.
Many examples of intolerant, censorious Christians can be highlighted; this is true. However, even if we stipulate all those examples without discriminating between those who merely professed Christianity and those who actually believed the Scriptures, it is still and underwhelming minority. What more need of evidence to this claim is needed than to point out that the principle of allowing evil men to do evil things to oneself is the very essence of Christianity? Christ, the God of glory, disrobing himself of all his power and prerogative and offering himself to the vicious fist of mankind. Christ was neither violent nor fragile. And his ethos was not a love of liberty, but a love of man; and that was born of a more fundamental love of God. As the Apostle John brilliantly explains in his first Epistle, we know we love God when we love our brother; we can love our brother when we first love God; we love God after he first loved us.
The Apostle Peter, in his first Epistle lays out this same eschatologically deduced ‘rigorous tolerance’ in even greater detail. To summarize his broader point, he explains that we can suffer courageously and joyfully because we are heirs of an unfathomable heavenly kingdom. Our faith and hope in God’s Kingdom strengthens our mind and affords us control over our personal feelings about the injustice and spitefulness we will encounter in this world. He encourages us to see ourselves as crown princes of that majestic kingdom, and to contextualize our current suffering as a vital part of our training, as well as an irreplaceable opportunity to earn reward and rank. And finally he stirs us up to walk upright, head high as the royal Sons of God that we truly are, regarding all earthly suffering and persecution as only a fleeting nuisance whose only lasting effect is to purify, deepen, and solidify our faith and its eternal reward.
This “mind that was also in Christ Jesus” is the real source of the West’s past toughness and kindness, not some romanticized ‘liberal epiphany’. Christians raised tough, polite children. Tough, polite modernists raised spoiled, selfish kids. Spoiled, selfish kids gave birth to hateful, fragile, infantile, postmodernist tyrants. However, unlike the faulty inference from the famous G. Michael Hopf quote from his postapocalyptic novel (“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”) the actual backsliding of humanity from Christianity to infantile tyrants is not a cyclical process. It is a one way downgrade that does not end in an Echersesque return to the beginning of the cycle. In reality, hard times don’t create Christians. Christ creates Christians, in good times, bad times, in-between times, and in all times.
It is this persuasion that directed the church to grow through conversion rather than procreation. As far as I can tell, it is the first, and still only, religion to do so. And that is because the Christian faith is inherently optimistic and impervious to the fluctuating ECG graph of the world’s unstable heart. We neither withdraw from the world into monkish isolation nor do we despairing give in to the world. We have no illusions of saving the world but at the same time are incredibly sanguine about the power of the Gospel, not only to save many from the world, but also to salt its inevitable decay.