How Today's Liberals Are Like the Puritans and Pharisees of Old

Wallace Henley Portrait
Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist. |

Reformation and annihilation are not the same thing. Sadly, many of the young tigers who have deluded themselves into believing they are social reformers and their aging establishment sycophants don't know it.

In the passion to sanitize society, the fierce cleansers are not using soap but acid. Freedom is annihilated in the name of sanitation. They are razing, not renewing; scouring, not polishing; devastating, not developing.

They leave us not with the fresh smell of a cleansed stream but the stringent odor of a harsh solvent.

Today's puritanical hordes are as incapable of discerning true value as Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge minions who once raged through Cambodian libraries burning Buddhist classics that had been at the root of their culture.

Or the Chinese Red Guard fanatics who slaughtered their teachers and annihilated the tiny embryos of liberty trying to grow in the womb of their society.

Or the Nazi thugs who tried to exterminate a race who had given the world the Ten Commandments, the very foundation of true civilization.

Or the furious jihadists and artistic nihilists now who rip down the elegant monuments of once-great nations.

Or the classroom intellectual marauders who annihilate historical fact.

Or the White House and Supreme Court who support the annihilation of the sacred boundary of gender, healthy sexuality and family.

Or the Louisiana legislators who recently ranted against a bill requiring the teaching of the Declaration of Independence in that state's schools because they regarded it as racist (a charge with which neither Frederick Douglas nor Martin Luther King would have agreed) and "offensive."

Or secularist crusaders who recently forced an Ohio high school to ban the 70-year practice of featuring music by Beethoven and Handel at graduation because those composers included religious content in their great works.

Or the disgruntled person who got 79 crosses in a Hiram, Georgia, Memorial Day display honoring veterans taken down (they were later restored).

The list could go on and on.

Perhaps not since seventeenth century New England have we seen such puritanical rage in the land. Not even in the indignation of the 1960s faux-tattered scions of indulgent upper-class families have we seen such a passion to cleanse the culture.

The real problem of contemporary puritanical zealots is that many — most — of its devotees don't understand the difference between reformation and annihilation. The Hippie generation dreamt of the Age of Aquarius (one wishes they had aspired to a greater Age — that of God's Kingdom), but the present reformers see only a wilderness.

Theirs is the religion of what the Hebrew text of Genesis calls tohu-bohu — deconstruction and utter barrenness. It is that dark mission described in Isaiah to "destroy cities" (the polis, the ordered community) and make the world "a wilderness."

If this "new religion exploding on the campuses of American universities and colleges … isn't stopped, it might be better just to shut them all down in the next 10 or 20 years," said NYU professor Jonathan Haidt, as reported recently in The Christian Post. "There is no nuance," Professor Haidt said, "you cannot trade off any goods with it."

The new non-nuanced annihilators are, to themselves, exceptional while embracing the notion of multicultural equivalency propounded on their campuses. They are absolutists regarding their beliefs though many also bow at the altars of social and cultural relativism. They are grimly closed-minded in their demand that those outside their ideological fortress be open-minded. Thus their frightening inability to discern the difference between reformation and annihilation.

Puritanism and Pharisaism get a bad rap. Both movements actually began with noble intentions. The Puritan movement in early New England and the Pharisee movement in the Inter-biblical period both wanted to defend the purity of value, principle, and truth. The values they sought to defend were civilizing and contributive to social order while allowing true advance.

It was when the Pharisees in their age and the Puritans in theirs lost the distinction between reformation and annihilation that they confused reform with repression and became menaces to the societies they were trying to save.

The causes that concern today's cultural warriors are important — like the care of the environment, human rights, and social justice. But when the distinctions are lost, especially between reformation and annihilation, the would-be reformers make the great causes cartoonish, mere caricatures of serious things.

We need the gadflies. Every prophet is a reformer. Woe to the prophetless culture, for it has no one to tell it when it's headed to destruction, and guide it back to safety.

But woe to the nation whose prophets become myopic fanatics, whose would-be reformers become buffoons, and whose needed reformations become annihilations.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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