How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, by Peter Kreeft, InterVarsity Press, $11.00, 120 pages, paperback original.
It won't ruin your experience of reading this terrific new book by Peter Kreeft if I give away his answer of how we will win the culture war. It won't ruin it, because the answer is hard. We will win the war through saints who live the faith.
But that's where the hard point comes in. We're supposed to be the saints, or the saints-in-the-making, or those striving after sanctity. But are we? Are we willing to pay the price, to accept that "condition of complete simplicity/Costing not less than/Everything," as T. S. Eliot put it?
Kreeft cites a "wonderful and terrifying" passage from William Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. "If you will look into your own heart in utter honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not, even now, as saintly as the primitive Christians: you do not wholly want to be."
There we stand convicted — of a personal failing; and failing also to be the leaven in Western Culture that Catholics must be.
Kreeft says his new book is "loud and crude, and I'm not sorry. For it is written on a battlefield, in the heat of battle. It is written for soldiers or potential soldiers, enlistees. It is therefore not a carefully researched, beautifully nuanced, politely academic argument. It is not a sweet violin; it is an ugly blaring trumpet. On a battlefield, a trumpet works better than a violin." Salutary sentiments all — for they underline other reasons why Christians are weak in the world. Common human failings undo us: prissiness, a failure to make common cause with the imperfect, and a lamentable human trope of preferring to be the critic (a form of egocentric individualism) rather than the partisan or the producer or the actor.
Kreeft's book is brilliantly shot through with wit and insight. Consider this: "America does not know the difference between sex and money. It treats sex like money because it treats sex as a medium of exchange, and it treats money like sex because it expects its money to get pregnant and reproduce."
He is also a clever reporter, tracking down a speech of Satan's that puts the Devil on the record on all sorts of issues, highlighting his strategy for conquering the world. Among Satan's choice observations is one on the "Feminists" who "demand ordination to the priesthood — guess why? For u2018empowerment.' I kid you not. That's what they say. I wonder when they'll start demanding martyrdom for u2018empowerment.'"
Has the bankruptcy of "liberal" Christianity ever been better captured than this?
Or consider this peroration of Satan's, which could likely be repeated in slightly different form as the personal credo of most of your neighbors: "the very essence of hell's philosophy [is] absolute relativism. This was the philosophy behind my original glorious rebellion against the Enemy, when I refused to let him define reality or truth or goodness for me."
Satan is the friend of self-actualization, personal empowerment, and self-esteem. In fact, there are probably seminars on how to be more like him at your local church.
Satan has found man's weak point: sex. As he says, "They don't deny objective truth when it comes to sticks and stones…. They don't defend rape or pillage or slavery or oppression or theft or nuclear war or embezzlement or racism — or even smoking! But they defend divorce and fornication and masturbation and contraception and abortion and sodomy and bestiality and bisexuality and cross-dressing. u2018Anything goes' is their morality if and only if it has anything to do with sex." As Kreeft himself points out, sex has become the focal point of Western culture's dominant alternative religion to authentic Christianity. That's why Chesterton predicted that the "madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow but in Manhattan."
Kreeft's book is short — delightfully short, enlightening and entertaining. And it is a call to action — one that America's Catholic bishops should read with particular care. Without addressing them directly, Kreeft nevertheless puts his finger on the fundamental misunderstanding about God that has led far too many bishops, as God's shepherds on earth, to so gruesomely fail their flocks.
"God is a lover, not a warrior, right? No, God is a lover who is a warrior. The question fails to understand what love is — what the love that God is, is. Love is at war with hate and betrayal and selfishness and all love's enemies. Love fights. Ask any parent. Yuppie love, like puppy love, may be merely u2018compassion,' but mother love and father love is war."
We need more warriors with bishops' mitres and clerical collars. But the war is not for them alone. It is time to arm ourselves for the battle — for this is our war, and Peter Kreeft has done us the tremendous service of showing us how we can — and how we will — win it.
July 20, 2002
H. W. Crocker III [send him mail] is the author of the newly published Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, A 2,000-Year History (Random House). His prize-winning novel, The Old Limey, has just been reissued in paperback.