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O’Reilly, Letterman, and the Culture War

By Rick Pearcey

Jan. 20, 2006 -- America today is fighting a two-front war for survival.  On the one hand, there is the war on terror -- or the war against Islamofascism, as some call it.  This aspect of the war is brought home daily via news from Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and so on.  We also see it inside our borders, after 9/11, played out in tactical give and take between political parties and talking heads debating issues such as homeland security, NSA wiretaps, civil liberties, and so on.  In an age of nuclear and biological mass destruction, losing the war -- or even being less than vigilant -- can mean the deaths of millions of men, women, and children.   

On the other hand, Americans are in the midst of a culture war.  As the recent Christmas-Winter Solstice Season shows, there is even a war about whether there is a culture war. 

On one side of the culture war are people who understand that this nation is founded upon the governing principle of independence under God.  This position is clearly set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which is based on a framework in which there is a Creator from whom all human beings, by virtue of creation, are endowed with inalienable rights.  This particular worldview orientation is what dramatically sets the American experiment apart from ancient Greece, classical Rome, the French Revolution, National Socialism, Marxism, and the anti-Christian secularism that rose up in America in the 1960s. 

On the other side of the culture war are people who reject this founding framework in favor of a concept of independence apart from God.  This view emerged on the Western political landscape during the French Revolution.  Instead of a Creator God as the basis for human rights, people on this side of the struggle have come to see humanity as the product of an impersonal nature that has produced autonomous human beings who look to themselves (their choice, power, genes) or their groups (race, class, gender, party) or the impersonal natural order itself as the final reference point for human rights and identity. 

Observers such as Bill O’Reilly, who was recently challenged by David Letterman on the Late Show, see the struggle as one between traditionalists and secular progressives.  In O'Reilly's lexicon, traditionalists are people “who believe the country was well founded, does mostly good things, and has become the most powerful nation on earth by adhering to Judeo-Christian principles like generosity, justice, and self-sacrifice.” O’Reilly defines “secular progressives” as people who “believe that the USA is fundamentally a flawed country, which has caused considerable misery both within and outside our borders. The S-P's want drastic change and a new direction for America.” 

It is tempting to see these two fronts as separate struggles -- the war on terror over there, and the culture war over here.  But there is a unity: Ultimately the war on terror and the culture war are struggles against Western Civilization as rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview.  Thinking of the struggle in this way, neither secularism nor Islamofascism can win without liquidating the Judeo-Christian worldview -- or, at a minimum, removing it as a legitimate voice in public life. 

The Islamofascist worldview is correct in understanding that nature by itself is an insufficient integration point of explanation for reality. For however much naturalistic philosophy masquerades as science in some quarters of academia, human beings absolutely rebel every second of their lives against the notion that they are merely more advanced, complex forms of animal life derived by evolutionary processes from an impersonal nature.  When human beings really act like animals, we put them in cages and search our souls to see where we might have failed those poor creatures.  The naturalistic theory of evolutionary man is falsified existentially by the everyday behavior of humane man.  Even the inhumanity of man undermines Darwin because it elicits a moral judgment that has no rational point of origin in an ethically silent, impersonal cosmos. 

An Islamofascist is not wrong in trying to apply his worldview to reality.  After all, this is what all humans try to do, whether they be religious, atheist, agnostic, young, old, rich, poor, Westerner, Easterner, and so on. To be an integrated, healthy person, one must experience a unity between one’s inner thoughtworld and one’s outer life.  One of the marks of a schizophrenic person and society is alienation between the internal and external realities, and yet the fashionable view in some circles today is that somehow one’s deepest nonsecularized thoughts about reality are supposed to be locked away in dark closets somewhere, separated from any substantive external expression.  But the secular closet is too small for man, and living in there is not healthy.

An area where the Islamofascist worldview is weak is that it does not have a basis for diversity within unity. Islam rejects God as a personal being expressed in trinity -- three persons in unity, a tri-unity -- and some may think this rejection is an advance over Christianity.  The real-world result, however, is not an advance.  It is rather a unity without diversity that ends up destroying diversity in society. Women cannot be women but must be covered up.  People must not think for themselves and question authority, but their questions must be covered up, lest thinking people reach unapproved answers.  The Koran must be recited but not necessarily understood.  The state must not be separated from Mosque lest the will of Allah remains undone on earth. 

In contrast to this stands the Judeo-Christian worldview.  Because -- as the Declaration of Independence recognizes -- there is a Creator, suddenly human beings have a reasonable and adequate basis for affirming the value and dignity of man made as male and female in the image of God.  This is diversity without chaos in balance and goodness from the beginning.  Freedom is affirmed as living within the norms of creation so that when I use my legs to push away from the ground I can enjoy going for a rebound in basketball or jumping and shouting after my favorite football team scores a touchdown to win the game.  Freedom, whether we are talking about biology or spacewalks or social behavior, only works within a form.  Absolute liberty is a god that destroys the secular faithful.  Go on a spacewalk free of oxygen and you will be liberated from biological continuity with life. 

There is intellectual freedom as well.  Rationality based on the Biblical information is affirmed because a reasonable Creator made human beings in His image.  In this view, mental life is a fundamentally good thing (as opposed to a Darwinian view, where reason is a product of irrational forces and has survival value but not truth value).  This is why the Biblical worldview challenges individuals to think, solve problems, develop skills, till the soil, create civilizations, ask questions, question authority, investigate nature, understand and care for the animals, and so on.  Secularists and not a few Christians seem not to realize that the Creator expects from humanity no leap of faith but rather the conscious choice of the entire person based on “good and sufficient reasons” (as Francis Schaeffer used to say). 

And then there is political freedom, and not because Christianity has no role in public life.  In fact, quite the opposite.  From their experience, and from information from the Creator in the Bible, the Founders knew that human beings are no longer pristine creations from the hand of God.  Hence, individuals and groups should not be trusted with monopolistic, unchecked power in any area of life, including government, including church. The Founders, therefore, wanted to separate not Christianity from government (for Christianity was at the heart of their thinking), but rather the federal government as an institution from the churches as institutions.  The Founders especially did not want to create a National State Church, because that would drop too much power into the hands of too few people.  In fact, the idea was to limit the Congress (“Congress shall make no law,” says the 1st Amendment) so that people could express freely and consistently across the whole of life, including political life, the kind of authentic creativity the Creator intends even in a less than perfect world. 

Secular orthodoxy, however, requires as little public display of God or religion as possible.  Or if it must be displayed (for the time being), let it be domesticated.  For secularists -- but not for the Biblical framework -- God is not a public figure and Christianity has no valid role to play in public life.  Some even say that allowing Christianity to play such a role is a threat to our freedoms, as virtually any bit of information from the ACLU will let you know.     

No one should be surprised that secularists are tying to recreate America in their image.  This kind of effort is a human phenomenon.  True enough, some secularists may be mean-spirited, and others, such as Lenin, are violent if not bloodthirsty.  And, to be fair, there are liars and thieves and fakes among those who call themselves Christians.  Some may even be household names.  But it is important to understand that many secularists who reject the founding American framework are simply expressing their worldview (even if they have not consciously chosen it).  This move on their part is unavoidable, not because they are complex sets of particles that emerged by chance from the cosmic void, but because they are human beings created by a personal God to live integrated and full lives in community with the Creator and in harmony with each other and with nature.  Human beings necessarily mobilize their presuppositions.     

It is also important to understand that even nice secularists can become part of the problem, as it were, because the more consistent they are with their inadequate worldview, the less humane they will be in their societal interactions and politics.  Thus, otherwise reasonable people can become the social equivalent of destructive fanatics insofar as they are committed to, or in the grasp of, an unfortunate vision of life.  Those secularists who have imbibed their worldview from the surrounding naturalistic consensus will nevertheless find themselves drifting downstream with the current of the culture.  And they may not like what they see drifting along with them in the water. 

Abortion on demand, for example, may be fascist, but it is utterly consistent with a secular worldview where choice is king, power is good in the service of me or my group, nature offers no judgment (or else excuses everything), God is private or insignificant, any other form of critique is an attempt to enslave me, government exists to protect me or my kind from the consequences of my behavior, and no other gods control my body except me.  The PR for this approach is utterly positive on campus and in Hollywood, but privatized spirituality is also what liberates nice people so they can sing Christmas carols and gas the Jews during the Winter Solstice, the most wonderful time of the year.     

This brings us to O’Reilly’s January 3 appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, which was probably good for Bill but not for Dave (at least in the short term).  In the space of minutes Letterman said he didn’t think there was much of a Christmas controversy; that O’Reilly’s show is not objective, fair, or balanced; that anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan lost a son in Iraq and therefore her views on the war should not be criticized; that about 60% of what O’Reilly says on his show is “crap”; but there’s also Letterman's admission to O’Reilly: “I don’t watch your show.”

Letterman managed to do this while looking like an upset lemongater led out into the deep water where he couldn’t swim, yet somehow also seeming pleased that he defended elite New York opinion on the hip, secular Late Show.  By turning the Late Show into a war zone, Letterman gave viewers a look at the culture war in a nutshell: Normally nice-guy if a bit edgy Dave became a know-nothing expert bravely defending the secular faith against hordes of facts and other kinds of barbarism known to be lurking in unenlightened lands beyond the city limits.  He displayed momentarily the kind of snide bigotry that sometimes only elitist ignorance allows.  “It was a rare display of the culture war on television,” O’Reilly later said in a column. “I told Dave I respected his views and he should respect mine.” 

It is true that America is divided along cultural lines.  But underneath the cultural lines are antithetical worldview divisions that we would do well to attend to.  Islamofascism is not secularism is not the Judeo-Christian worldview.  The more Americans understand the thoughtforms upon which their historic freedoms are founded, a verifiable worldview with the Creator at the center as opposed to an inadequate secularism or a kind of religio-fascism, the better prepared all will be to meet the challenges that already confront America early in the 21st century.  Chances of survival seem better if Americans remember who they are and how they got that way. 

Rick Pearcey is editor and publisher of
The Pearcey Report.

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