A World of Idols: a Review of 'Dark Agenda' by David Horowitz
How the Left's crusade against Christianity subverts American values.
[To purchase "Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America" by David Horowitz, click here.]
Several years ago, the Christian evangelical Larry Taunton wrote a book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, that stirred up a minor firestorm among a group of true believers.
It was not the evangelical right, so long-defamed as intolerant by its liberal/left critics, that exploded in disgust because one of their own had supped with and befriended Hitchens, a notorious and profane atheist (however brilliant and provocative).
No, it was Hitchens’ fellow non-believers who were deeply offended that Taunton had dared to suggest that Hitchens might have actually taken seriously, albeit privately, the faith that Taunton and millions of Christians embrace.
Larry Krauss, David Frum and many others felt the need to attack Taunton for allegedly making false claims about Hitchens rethinking his atheistic assumptions or for daring to criticize him, as if Hitchens, who relished crossing polemical swords, would have wanted their defense. In fact, Taunton mainly reported that he found Hitchens surprisingly open minded and curious (and, yes, wounded in some deep ways) as they spent time together before and after debates on faith. Hitchens had been pleasantly surprised to find that the so-called “intolerant” religious right communities were engaged and truly hospitable.
This episode, which David Horowitz briefly mentions in his recent book, Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, underscores a larger thematic point. Those who have made traditional religious culture a hated enemy are doing so not because they hope to advance tolerance and understanding in a pluralistic society, as they so often publicly claim.
On the contrary, Horowitz suggests, they are determined to advance a Utopian vision (scientifically founded, in their minds) that Horowitz traces back to 4th century Pelagianism but that found its fuel in the modern era first as part of the Marxist movement and then in this nation most disruptively during the 1960s. The Marxist agenda, in a post-Soviet world, now parades behind the banner of social justice, Horowitz argues. Christianity, founded on a polar opposite belief system (endorsed by St. Augustine) that human beings are born fallen and imperfect, has thus become a primary target as its critics seek to unmake traditional America.
That this radical agenda has found supporters among mainstream media, intellectuals and public officials, including on the Supreme Court, only speaks to the power of the utopian temptation that human beings can create heaven on earth by remaking the world in their own ideological image. Inevitably this has become a war against Christianity as a foundational, shaping force in America.
As Horowitz writes:
“In America, the war against Christians is not merely a war against an embattled religion. It is a war against an imperiled nation – a war against this nation and its founding principles: the equality of individuals and individual freedom. For these principles are indisputably Christian in origin. They are under siege because they are insurmountable obstacles to radicals’ totalitarian ambition to create a new world in their image.”
Horowitz is hardly alone in reaching such conclusions, though today he is arguably the most vigilant intellectual engaged in sustained opposition against this assault. A young William F. Buckley Jr., in his book God and Man at Yale, declared in the early 1950s: “…the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.”
A half dozen of the world’s great intellectuals took on the leftist vision in the now famous book, The God that Failed. Later, John Diggins, the noted historian, suggested that the left, having lost the political battles of the late 1960s and early 1970s, took to the classroom to indoctrinate students and advance their agenda there. Horowitz saw this happening decades ago when he and Peter Collier launched Heterodoxy magazine in an effort to document the politically correct excesses rampant on college campuses.
More recently, Roger Kimball, in The Long March, noted that those on the left advance their causes in the name of freedom – but as defined by the left: “’Free’ in other words, from the very things that underwrite freedom, that give it content, that prevent it from collapsing into that merely rhetorical freedom that always turns out to be another name for servitude.”
Servitude to what, one might ask?
Horowitz is full frontal in outlining the agenda of the various groups or individual that have played a role in radically transforming the legal and cultural landscape of this nation over the past half century or so. He walks the reader through a series of legal/political controversies that began most feverishly with the landmark school prayer case, Engel vs. Vitale, which was orchestrated by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Later cases/situations further enflamed public controversy, including privacy cases such as Griswald vs. Connecticut and Roe vs. Wade, the Bork Supreme Court nomination, which was driven largely by the broad cultural issues Horowitz identifies, and a radical gay movement that contributed to the deaths of thousands of gay men by advocating a sexually irresponsible lifestyle.
These issues led up to the final and seemingly irreversible subjugation of any moderate voice in the Democratic Party as the Obama administration took office, Horowitz contends, with Obama himself demonstrating a studied indifference, if not outright hostility, toward traditional Christianity and the foundational values of the nation.
Defenders of these ideas have not remained quiet: e.g. the silent majority, the Moral Majority, the Tea Party and, of course, the election of Donald Trump. Horowitz concedes that on occasion the reaction from the right could be as tone deaf and extreme as that found on the left, but he argues convincingly that the today’s polarized politics exists largely because of the left’s strident push to impose its values on the country at large. That the Supreme Court has so often advanced these ideological agendas, circumventing democratic process in doing so, has elevated the stakes, which is why Supreme Court nominations – once almost pro-forma approvals – are now as hotly contested as our presidential races.
The issues aside, a larger purpose is at work. Those who have helped bring about these radical shifts have insisted that traditional culture and norms must be torn out root and branch from our public discourse. Replaced by what? By post-modern theories and ideologies, and by radical social justice and political agendas (identity politics, new sexual and social norms, anti-free speech movements, and attempts to rewrite the Constitution).
Jill Lepore, in a recent book, This America, underscored this perspective. Those pushing “a people’s history” do so with just cause, she argues. The stories of those victimized by the American experiment – slaves, Native Americans, immigrant workers, women, working class labor, etc. – have a right to be heard on the pages of history. This is, of course, quite right.
What is not right, as Horowitz argues in this book and several others, is their attempt to distort history by creating an ideological caricature in which certain groups are always heroic victims and other groups – mainly, those who founded the country and have sustained its prosperity and culture – are always evil and self-serving. History is far more complicated (and richer as a result) than either the cartoon version of our past written by certain traditionalists or the cynical versions offered by today’s leftist controlled academia.
Those endlessly demanding more rights relentlessly narrow the corridors of freedom for the majority of citizens. After all, the right to be an atheist in today’s world means denying a school child the right to utter even a private prayer around other classmates; the right to choose an abortion means denying human beings of the right to live or other citizens of the right to question that decision; the right to express our authentic selves, however heartfelt, can also mean denying others their right to feel safe or to be comfortable in a public restroom; the right to immigrate illegally (a new right recently discovered by Trump haters), puts at risk the rights of legal immigrants and law-abiding citizens who bear the cost and burden of those demands; voting without validation or proper checks puts at risk the votes of millions of Americans who go to the polls willing to submit to controls on corruption or voter malfeasance.
Perhaps even more to the point, the crusade against Christianity has been part of an ongoing political effort aimed at disempowering and discrediting a significant part of our population, many of whom are now routinely charged with racism, elitism, bigotry, and intolerance simply for embracing ideas that have shaped this nation throughout its history. Yet those very ideas – rule of law, balance of power, constitutional frameworks, meritocracy, non-race based or religious-based privileges – are what has enabled America over the past 75 years to make great progress precisely in those areas that once mobilized progressives, including the desire for working class prosperity, civil rights for minorities and women, equal justice, voting rights, etc.
Yet, the wreckage and disaster caused by the left and those who have advanced their causes is virtually ignored as the assault on America continues. The failures of socialism, including mass genocides and finally the collapse of the Soviet bloc, has apparently not led many on the American left to abandon their ideas; it only forced them to camouflage their agenda in the forests of social justice and post-modern jargon (see, for example, The Killing of History by Keith Windschuttle).
Socialism is now proudly touted by the mainstream Democratic Party, and the goal remains the same – to overturn the existing order, including rule of law, and to renegotiate the civil contract at the expense of those long-cherished values, however imperfectly exercised, that have advanced human freedom.
Horowitz argues it is no accident that religion, and particularly Christianity, is seen by the revolutionary left as a target, even as the religious Christian community itself has advanced social justice and other leftist causes – see Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King Jr.. But Christianity, rooted in the value of the individual, is particularly offensive to the left. (Horowitz rightly notes the utter hypocrisy of their attitudes toward practitioners of faiths like Islam, which has hardly been friendly through history to the Western experiment of pluralism and religious rights.)
The goal of the radical left is power, not justice, pluralism or freedom. David Horowitz as much as any intellectual of the past half century has ably documented the various ways this war against freedom-inspired values has unfolded. Those values, some of us believe, are founded on the Judeo-Christian worldview and the notion that each human being is made in the image of God. G. K. Chesterton once observed:
“If it were true that by leaving the temple we walked out into a world of truths, the question would be answered, but it is not true. By leaving the temple, we walk into a world of idols…”
The world of idols Chesterton had in mind included the all-powerful state and a marketplace un-tempered by those principles articulated by the founder of Christianity 2000 years ago. Those who seek to center our world on science, or the human capacity for rational thought, or absolute justice or equality or earthly power, usually wind up constructing another idol, only one that is lifeless and hopeless and deeply oppressive; that is their right, one supposes, but why should it surprise them that the rest of us refuse to bow down and worship with them?
Horowitz, for one, refuses to do so and urges those who support a thoughtful constitutional order to be on guard – and ready to wage the battle of ideas necessary to turn back those who seek to permanently alter our way of life.
This review originally appeared at The Intellectual Conservative.