The first law of subversion is letter simple: it’s always the other guy who is the subversive. When people speak reproachfully of subversion, their judgment is always cast up against a value-laden background, however strenuously they protest neutrality. Anything working against our perceptions of how things should be is inherently subversive. Since people have opposing positions on how things should be, it is not surprising that charges of subversion fly across the rhetorical landscape, fueled no doubt by the pejorative connotations the term has accumulated over time. As a label, divorced from context, subversion is a loaded weasel word.
It is no surprise to find that Christians are being accused of subversion, now that the populace has been taught to adopt statist conceptions as the accepted frame of reference. In short, one way to subvert Christianity is to charge it with subversion. Merely making the charge of subversion against Christianity automatically elevates its accusers to the office of guardian of treasured values because of what the term subversion connotes.
Blunder or Wonder?
Humanists are very much distressed by the release of Ann Coulter’s new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism.1 The level of distress is easy to discern: it’s proportional to the outrage selected parts of the book have provoked (parts that Coulter is not averse to amplifying in front of a microphone).
Coulter goes into considerable detail on the worldview of what she calls the official state religion of the United States (liberalism), illustrating that this religion is replete with its own “sacraments (abortion), its holy writ (Roe v. Wade), its martyrs..., its clergy (public school teachers ...), its doctrine of infallibility ... and its cosmology.”2
The book is ably written and documented. The last third documents the case against evolution by way of a fascinating exposé of the interaction between the proponents of Intelligent Design and the keepers of the Darwinian flame. This part of the book is problematic from the humanistic point of view primarily because Coulter has already enjoyed New York Times bestseller status with four previous books: if this new book joins that influential circle, the exposure that Intelligent Design would enjoy would be, well, unacceptable. So the strategy is to vilify Coulter on other grounds, thereby discrediting and neutralizing the impact of her book.
Walt Handelsman’s editorial cartoon for Newsday is quick to paint the desired picture.3 The placard advertises “Ann Coulter heads out on her latest book tour ...” but the cartoon image is of a witch flying on her broom. The Houston Chronicle editorial of June 9, 2006, “Trading in hate,” accuses Coulter of extremism, stretching the limits of acceptable expression, and proving that “selling hate and resentment in today’s poisoned political atmosphere can be lucrative.” This time out, Coulter was not sufficiently selective about the targets she had “vilified, slandered and lied about.” “Rarely, though, have the targets included victims of a national disaster” (i.e., the New Jersey widows who helped create the 9/11 Commission). The editorial concludes that self-obsessed Coulter, not the widows, is “exploiting tragedy and reveling in millionaire celebrity” and that the Coulter model is “a model Americans must now reject.”4
“What need we any further witnesses?” (Mark 14:63).
Columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., is equally aghast at Coulter’s book and is just as determined to do nothing that might contribute to its possible rise to bestseller status, starting with a pointed refusal to even identify the work: “In her latest book, whose title you won’t read here, she savages the widows ...”5 An implicit blackout is being promoted.
Now, either Coulter went over the line, or she didn’t. That’s probably immaterial if the primary intent is to discredit her and her book (which the Houston Chronicle certainly implies: “Americans must now reject”). If she was injudicious in dealing with the widows, few will give her a fair reading on topics like Intelligent Design.
The outrage over Coulter’s comments, ironically, proves her point. You would not know it from her critics’ selective quotations, but the offending section occurs in the chapter entitled “Liberals’ Doctrine of Infallibility: Sobbing Hysterical Women.” Coulter identifies a new “ingenious strategy”: to “choose only messengers whom we’re not allowed to reply to ... You can’t respond to them because that would be questioning the authenticity of their suffering. Liberals haven’t changed the message, just the messenger. All the most prominent liberal spokesmen are people with ‘absolute moral authority’—Democrats with a dead husband, a dead child, a wife who works at the CIA, a war record, a terminal illness ...”6 The position was invariably taken “that the spokesperson immunized the message from criticism, no matter how vicious or insane it was.”7 Infallibility is reposed in such spokespersons: they become untouchables. Coulter proved this by touching them, and the reaction was as she predicted.
Coulter’s book, with only 281 pages of text, was brief enough for critics to plow through quickly. Although more time-consuming, poring through thousands of pages of R. J. Rushdoony’s published works to mine for isolated quotes to discredit him may also have the potential to become a growth industry. Rushdoony long ago addressed the underlying issue in his monograph, Infallibility: An Inescapable Concept,8 an essay that also opens his two-volume Systematic Theology. One chapter asks the question, “Who Speaks The Word,” namely, the infallible Word?9 Coulter has independently put her finger on the new twenty-first century answer to that question.
A Deeper Perspective
Did Coulter go too far in her depictions? Let’s assume that she did. Is her contribution doomed to be irredeemably tainted? That depends.
Consider the case of the Church of England’s Edward B. Pusey (1800–1882) through the lens of B. B. Warfield, as the latter cites a review of Liddon’s Life of Pusey by G. A. Simcox. Warfield states:
Nothing is more remarkable, indeed, than the prosperity of Dr. Pusey’s leadership ... The secret of it is not to be found, however, in any “tact” which he may be supposed to have exercised ... Dr. Pusey had as great a capacity for blundering as any man who ever lived; and one wonders how his cause could survive his repeated and gross errors of judgment. “What strikes us rather,” says Mr. Simcox truly, “is how many false moves he made, and how little harm they did him.” The secret of it is found in his intensity, steadfastness, and single-hearted devotion to what he believed to be divine truth. The mere tactician has always ultimately failed, since the world began. The blunderer who lays himself a willing sacrifice upon the altar of what he believes to be the truth of God has never wholly failed.10
There is, in other words, a supernatural component to whether or not Coulter’s positive impact will outstrip the attempts to pull her down, whether or not she has blundered. We should remember that the determining factors in both Pusey’s and Coulter’s cases are removed from the human plane entirely.
Pusey himself explained the grounds for his success (blunders notwithstanding) under two heads, as Warfield puts it: “the steadfast, consistent proclamation of an ‘entire system of faith,’ strong, positive, objective, which people are required to believe on the simple ground that it is true; and the foundation of this system upon an external authority, an ‘authority out of one’s self.’” Warfield being Warfield, he also lets us in on the bigger issue: “What is ominous in the present-day drift of religious thought is the sustained effort that is being made to break down just these two principles: the principle of a systematized body of doctrines as the matter to be believed, and the principle of an external authority as the basis of belief.” Warfield charts the campaign to achieve this end:
It begins by rejecting the authority of the Bible for minor matters only—in the “minima,” in “circumstantials,” and “by-passages,” and “incidental remarks,” and the like. The next step is to reject its authority for everything except “matters of faith and practice.” Then comes unwillingness to bow to all its doctrinal deliverances and ethical precepts ... then the circle is completed by setting aside the whole Bible as authority.11
The intent is to arrive at a point “when every shred of ‘external authority’ in religion is discarded, and appeal is made to what is frankly recognized as purely human reason.”12
“The Rationalists of Germany were the descendants not of the unbelievers of former controversies, but of the ‘defenders’ of Christianity. The method of concession was tried, and that was the result. The so-called ‘defenders’ were found in the camp of the enemy.”13 This is the form that subversion of Christianity will often take—because it is effective in the same way the world’s first subversion (Gen. 3:5) was effective. This “sustained effort,” as Warfield calls it, tirelessly works toward subversion while retaining the trappings of genuine Christianity, from whence it sprang. Could it be that Coulter has put her finger on the same pulse a century later?
Information Asymmetry as a Strategy
Coulter’s book documents the liberal effort to impose information blackouts on a host of issues (her chapters on Intelligent Design are eye-opening in this regard). The monopolization of information conduits and suppression of unsanctioned content comprise important aspects of modern humanism’s war against Christendom. In fact, it is a universal strategy within unregenerate humanity, and as University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt points out, it has a name: information asymmetry.14 What you don’t know can hurt you, or be used against you in ways hitherto unimagined, starting at the economic level:
Armed with information, experts can exert a gigantic, if unspoken, leverage: fear. Fear that your children will find you dead on the bathroom floor of a heart attack if you do not have angioplasty surgery. Fear that a cheap casket will expose your grandmother to a terrible underground fate. Fear that a $25,000 car will crumple like a toy in an accident, whereas a $50,000 car will wrap your loved ones in a cocoon of impregnable steel.15
Such information asymmetries have been partially mitigated by the Internet, as Levitt notes:
Information asymmetries everywhere have in fact been mortally wounded by the Internet ... Information is the currency of the Internet. As a medium, the Internet is brilliantly efficient at shifting information from the hands of those who have it into the hands of those who do not ... The Internet has accomplished what no consumer advocate could: it has vastly shrunk the gap between the experts and the public.16
Even so, the Internet has its limits in the war against information asymmetry:
The Internet, powerful as it is, has hardly slain the beast that is information asymmetry. Consider the so-called corporate scandals of the early 2000s ... Though extraordinarily diverse, these crimes all have a common trait: they were sins of information. Most of them involved an expert, or a gang of experts, promoting false information or hiding true information; in each case the experts were trying to keep the information asymmetry as asymmetrical as possible.17
Mark that last sentence about “trying to keep the information asymmetry as asymmetrical as possible.” Meanwhile, the idea of an information crime comes to brutally vivid life under Levitt’s pointed analysis:
Consider the Enron tapes, the secretly recorded conversations of Enron employees that surfaced after the company imploded. During a phone conversation on August 5, 2000, two traders chatted about how a wildfire in California would allow Enron to jack up its electricity prices. “The magical word of the day,” one trader said, “is Burn, Baby, Burn.” A few months later, a pair of Enron traders named Kevin and Tom [sic] talked about how California officials wanted to make Enron refund the profits of its price gouging.
Kevin: “They’re f*** taking all the money back from you guys? All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmas in California?”
Bob: “Yeah, Grandma Millie, man.”
Kevin: “Yeah, now she wants her f*** money back for all the power you jammed right up her *** for f**** $250 a megawatt hour.”
If you were to assume that many experts use their information to your detriment, you’d be right.18
We will return to information asymmetry later, to examine the means to confront and defeat it.
The Taproot of Subversion
R. J. Rushdoony examines how words and language become a primary battlefield in which subversion takes root and spreads:
Few things are more readily and easily subverted than words: the subversion of words is accordingly a major factor in all subversive activity ... The word love has been re-interpreted to mean revolutionary action and the subsidizing of all kinds of evil, and Christians are told they are not showing Biblical love if they fail to support Marxist social action. But perhaps the most subverted word of all is God ... [which is] widely used in order to nullify the gap between Biblical and non-Biblical religions, between Christianity and humanism ... These revolutionists are out to destroy not only God but all language, since language still reflects the idea of a right and wrong. Friedrich Nietzsche called for a “new language” to express this new faith.19
Language scholar Robert Erwin corroborates Rushdoony’s view of Nietzsche’s goals, illustrating how Nietzsche spent time developing “grand theories designed to seize control of explanation itself.”20 Subversion involves what T. A. Hollihan describes as “the conversion of ideas into social levers.”21 We should not be surprised when Alan Davies affirms that “language planning is a state concern.”22 Richard Mitchell explains why:
The great masters of social manipulation ... know ... that the establishment of a flexible and subtle language for the ruling classes is only half of what’s needed. The other half is the perpetuation of an ineffective and minimal language among the subjects.23
If you find it hard to believe that language subversion such as Samuel Blumenfeld or John Taylor Gatto have described is genuinely occurring, that could either be because they’re wrong—or because they’re already right.
Evidence often streams from the pen of prominent humanists themselves. H. L. Mencken bemoans how the term “liberal” has been hijacked and subverted in the course of examining the praise heaped on then–Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:
The hopeful Liberals of the 20s ... concluded that he was a sworn advocate of the rights of man. But all the while, if I do not misread his words, he was actually no more than an advocate of the rights of law-makers ... He held, it would seem, that violating the Bill of Rights is a rare and difficult business, possible only by summoning up deliberate malice, and that it is the chief business of the Supreme Court to keep the Constitution loose and elastic, so that blasting holes through it may not be too onerous ... If what he said in some of those opinions were accepted literally there would be scarcely any brake at all upon lawmaking, and the Bill of Rights would have no more significance than the Code of Manu.24
The subversion of words is foundational to the cultural acceptance of moral inversion: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). We live in such an era as Isaiah described, where moving “the ancient landmark” (Prov. 22:28) is standard operating procedure to facilitate the paganization of our culture, the substitution of a new humanistic creed for Christianity.
The Human Father of Subversion
While the first subversion occurred at Genesis 3:5, the pattern to be played out in political history takes its concrete shape at Genesis 4:17, as Rushdoony expounds it:
Cain had a son, whom he named Enoch; he then built a city and named it after his son ... The comparison to Eden is very obvious. First of all, Enoch was not the first city; Eden was, and Enoch was an obvious attempt to replace and supplant it ... Thus, Cain’s city was an imitation Eden, not the first city but the second ... The city thus, although an imitation of God’s city, was built in defiance of God, as an aggressive act against God, and as a new beginning designed to supplant God’s beginning in Eden. At this point, Ellul is right; the “secular” city has an anti-God character; it is built as man’s work and as man’s order as against God’s work and order. Cain’s city and the modern city have been built to keep out God, to replace God’s law and predestination with man’s law, planning, and control.
Van Til has written of “the Cainitic wish” that “there is no God.” Those possessed by this “Cain-complex” worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, and all fallen, unregenerate men “hate God and are possessed of the Cain-complex.” Being possessed of the Cainitic wish that there be no God, the sons of Cain, his spiritual heirs, seek to eliminate every trace of God from reality.25
The walls of the city named Enoch were to keep God out (inasmuch as Cain was divinely protected against mortal enemies). Today’s nations invariably follow Cain’s pattern with lockstep precision, systematically eliminating “every trace of God from reality.” But such actions come with a built-in price.
Subversion against God Subverts Itself
R. J. Rushdoony exposes the ironic consequences of subverting divine authority within a culture in pointed terms:
The state has denied all absolutes; it has denied God, and it has sought to make itself the new god, and its purposes the new absolutes. Statist trained youth have learned their lesson well, however, and the result is that they are as rebellious against the state as against God, and even more so! By destroying the principle of authority, the state and its schools have destroyed their own authority. By exalting rebellion and revolution into the only virtues, the state and its schools have created a world programmed for perpetual revolution.26
The subversion of God’s authority causes human authority to implode. At the heart of modern statecraft is a desperate centralization of power tied to stout assertions of sovereignty. But the statists “imagine a vain thing” (Ps. 2:1) when they seek to confound God because it is He that “increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again” (Job 12:23). To operate in willful neglect of this fact, to regard man as relevant while God is not, ironically insures both man’s irrelevance and God’s judgment.
What Coulter Got Unequivocally Right
If nothing else, Coulter’s book is dead-on accurate in depicting the scope of the battle: it rages across multiple dimensions of culture, media, the arts, economics, and the sciences: in short, it is a comprehensive multi-front war. The most damaging place for an asymmetry to arise is in our Christian response. Without a fully orbed, multi-front Biblical worldview confronting every single aspect of humanism’s entrenched positions, there can be little meaningful progress in “the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:4) that we are called to.
Christians have too often been counseled to retreat from everything but deeply personal spiritual concerns, thereby becoming flavorless salt (Matt. 5:13). This wholesale withdrawal, the primary consequence of pietism, has worsened the asymmetry by arguing for the non-application of the faith. Pietism is subversive insofar as it labels unfaithfulness as true faith and bids men walk according to its reined-in parameters. This compromising “counsel of Balaam” (Num. 31:16) causes many to stumble.
Pietism offers no meaningful response to secular subversion because it has co-opted the secularist position. It bears all the marks of the subversive campaign that Warfield refers to: the eroding of the authority of Scripture being orchestrated by Christians themselves. Forfeiture and faith have thus become confused. Pietism surely inures to Satan’s benefit, not Christ’s, and the fact that saying so invariably ignites controversy is alarming proof of how far faithfulness has decayed.
The Bible and Information Asymmetry
Recall Professor Levitt’s earlier comment about “trying to keep the information asymmetry as asymmetrical as possible.” This is one key to understanding the difference between Biblical faith and humanism. In humanism, power is concentrated and centralized in the hands of the few by securing and extending such information asymmetries (e.g., statist monopolization of education, suppression of anti-humanist contributions in refereed technical journals, “perpetuation of an ineffective and minimal language among the subjects,” etc.). It is from this tower that humanists hurl claims that Christians are the ones subverting culture.
Across the chasm, discerning Christians charge humanism as the actual agent of subversion.
Whom to believe?
Such mutual antagonism compels us to examine the distinctive differences between the claimants. And one difference lies in the response of each to information asymmetry: humanism promotes it, while Biblical Christianity undermines it. The reason that Christianity is the solvent of all institutions not based on itself stems from the corrosive action of divine truth against falsehood. It cannot be otherwise.
Christianity seeks to maximize the dissemination of truth to such an extreme that the need for further dissemination becomes unnecessary: “And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11), “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). The endgame in Scripture includes information symmetry, when Zion “shall see eye to eye” (Isa. 52:8).27
The “information crimes” described by Levitt become impossible to perpetrate when the Messianic promises of Isaiah 32:1–8 are realized on the earth. George Adam Smith stresses that the “capacity to discriminate character” lies at the heart of Isaiah’s prophecy. “The explosion of social lies” and the advent of “social truthfulness” are explicitly predicted. “In those magic days the heart shall come to the lips, and its effects be unmistakable.”28 John Calvin insists that Isaiah teaches the exposure of “hidden wickedness,” to the end that the wicked “may no longer deceive or impose upon any one.”29 The reprehensible dialogue of Enron’s Kevin and Bob cited by Professor Levitt would become a thing of the past, Scripture itself bearing witness. This is the direction to which all creation is tending under His providential, determining government. The power of God, not the Internet, is mighty to secure the intended ultimate end.
Perhaps humanists know there’s something to Hosea’s lament that the “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). Humanists, in effect, leverage the societal dimension of holding down “the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) because “they received not the love of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). Humanism thrives on cover-ups, on information asymmetry, on politically correct boycotts and academic shunning, so much so that William Randolph Hearst’s campaign to suppress the movie Citizen Kane looks like innocent child’s play in comparison.
A Religious, Not Political, Matter
Rushdoony illustrates the limits of political conservatism when it confronts something on the order of Coulter’s church of liberalism, which is creedally anchored:
Every social order has an implicit creed, and this creed defines the order and informs it. When a social order begins to crumble, it is because the basic faith, its creed, has been undermined. But the political defense of that order is usually made the first line of defense: it becomes the conservative position. But, because the defense is politically rather than creedally informed, it is a superficial defense and crumbles steadily under a highly doctrinaire and creedal opposition ... The success of the subversives rests on their attack on the creed of the establishment, and its replacement by a new creed.30
What Coulter has done is strip the contemporary façade from the implicit creed that Rushdoony refers to. That liberalism denies being a religion is a disinformation tactic that Coulter says protects its government funding: “Separation of church and state means separation of YOUR church from the state, but total unity between their church and the state.”31 What remains to be seen is whether a creedal or political response arises out of the smoke of ideological battle. To see liberalism/humanism as a Trojan horse is only half the battle.32 To confront that Trojan horse with the right weapon is the other half.
While it’s important to identify and understand the strategies of subversion active in our time, it’s even more important to respond to them in Biblical, not political, terms. To respond in political terms is to affirm the creed of our opponents, to promote a faith in horses and chariots, to trust in the arm of flesh. Jeremiah 17:5 declares that all who think this way are cursed. We must rather respond in creedal terms and let the political implications fall where they may. God’s Kingdom is too big to fit into the tiny boxes allotted for it by today’s political parties or ideological camps. For us to press His Kingdom into such boxes is to insult our Maker.
1. Ann Coulter, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (New York: Crown Forum, 2006).
2. Ibid. This summary appears on the inside left flap of the book’s dust jacket.
3. As reprinted in the Houston Chronicle Friday, June 9, 2006. B9.
4. Houston Chronicle Friday, June 9, 2006. B8.
5. Reprinted in the Houston Chronicle Monday, June 12, 2006. E7.
6. Coulter, 101.
7. Ibid., 102.
8. Rousas John Rushdoony, Infallibility: An Inescapable Concept (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, 1978).
9. Ibid., 42.
10. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Studies in Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003, reprint of 1932 Oxford University Press edition), 585–586.
11. Ibid., 589.
14. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 68.
15. Ibid., 70.
16. Ibid., 68–69.
17. Ibid., 69.
19. Rousas John Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, 1991), 587.
20. Robert Erwin, The Great Language Panic and Other Essays in Cultural History (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 69.
21. Thomas A. Hollihan and Patricia Riley, “Rediscovering Ideology” Western Journal of Communication 57 (1993), 272.
22. Alan Davies, “How Language Planning Theory Can Assist First-Language Teaching,” The Relation of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, edited by Olga Miseska Tomic and Roger W. Shuy (New York: Plenum Press, 1987), 158.
23. Quoted in Erwin, The Great Language Panic, 76.
24. H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (Franklin Center, PA: The Franklin Library, 1980), 286–287.
25. Rousas John Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity: A Biblical Psychology of Man (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1977), 91–92.
26. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction, 886.
27. The abolition of asymmetry is signified in the exalting of the valleys and the bringing low of the mountains (Isa. 40:4), in Christians being called “kings and priests unto God and his Father” (Rev. 1:6), in fulfillment of Jeremiah 33:22’s prediction that sons of David and sons of Levi would one day be utterly innumerable, and in Joel’s prophecy that God would ultimately pour His Spirit out on all flesh, which would fulfill the asymmetry-busting outcry of Moses recorded in Numbers 11:29: “[W]ould God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”
28. W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible. 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982 , vol. 3), 678–682. See note 29.
29. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries. 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979). The position documented in this and the previous note was already argued by the present author in his article “Reconstructing Postmillennialism,” published in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. XV, 1998, 160–61.
30. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1978), 225–226.
31. Coulter makes this comment in her autologous review of her book on her website. She has little reason to trust anyone else to review her book accurately, but is honest enough not to resort to a pseudonym in writing the review. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
32. Rushdoony states that “[t]he conservatives therefore become fact-finders: they try to oppose the humanists by documenting their cruelty, corruption, and abuse of office” (Foundations of Social Order). Rushdoony further illustrates the inadequacy of this approach. Unless Coulter goes beyond this analytic stage, Rushdoony’s criticism would remain applicable to her efforts as well, even though her new book is reportedly the top-selling book in America, as Coulter stated on June 14, 2006. That such efforts, left in the analytic starting gate, are ultimately impotent is made abundantly clear in Rushdoony’s works. That Coulter takes note of the creedal component of modern liberalism is nonetheless a step in the right direction. She’s taken a step where Rushdoony had already trod decades earlier—will she stay the course or veer into political solutions?
- Martin G. Selbrede
Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.