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FIRST-PERSON: 9/11 & original sin

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Since 9/11, romanticism has taken a beating. Good. The ignoble Rousseau (1712-1778) tried to tell us that man was essentially noble, and a lot of people bought it. They still do. The problem is, we keep running into Adam’s fall.

In the February 25, 1973, New York Times Magazine (“On Original Sin and Conservatives”), Andrew Hacker said, “Conservatism has always had a straightforward theory of human nature. ‘History,’ wrote Edmund Burke, ‘consists for the greater part of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy and all the trains of disorderly appetites which shake the public.’ A shorter way to say this asserts that man is infected by the virus of Original Sin…. Adam’s fall, whether an article of faith or a figurative metaphor, underlies every conservative conclusion. It implies that man is prone to perversity; that the best-intentioned plans will have self-defeating consequences; that no society can every attain consensus.”

In contrast, romanticism holds that man is, down deep, right decent. I call it romanticism rather than liberalism, for liberalism originally stood for liberty and free speech. Today, so-called liberals wage war on liberty and free speech. Sensitivity bullying, political correctness, moral relativism and power politics (not the bracing clash of honest and earnest arguers and arguments) are their enthusiasms. Liberals were the original checks-and-balances folks, the enemies of potentates, but they’ve raised up potentates of their own — utopian judges, regulatory zealots, campus thought police and special interest demagogues.

The conservative/romantic divide is, of course, at play in the church. The romanticists say that the church would enjoy a great leap forward if only it could be more winsome, more demographically studious and more positive. After all, folks are aching on account of their God-shaped vacuum, cosmic insecurity and the bumps of the world. They’re yearning for the Savior and Lord, and woe to us if, by our negativity and cultural awkwardness, we vex “the little children who want to come unto him.”

The conservative agrees that we should thoughtfully seek the lost, while maintaining that none of them really seeks Christ and that few of them will find the narrow way. Though “bedside manner” is important, it can never substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Alas, many will go to quacks, but real doctors mustn’t emulate the quacks to build their practice.

That said, let’s go back to the year just passing. One dramatic feature is the decline of once-hearty corporate stocks. But there’s also been a happy market decline in romantic stocks. Here are 10 that have taken a beating:

1. Religious pluralism. It’s hard to hail all world religions as honorable ventures when countless Muslims cheer while men hopped up on hate and orgiastic visions of the afterlife incinerate Little League coaches with aviation fuel and force secretaries to jump 100 stories to a mutilating death on the pavement below.

2. The cult of victimhood. About the time you’ve selected a downtrodden Palestinian poster family, the son ignites a bomb filled with nails, which lacerate grandmothers and schoolchildren to death, and the family celebrates.

3. The cult of pluck. Those who idolize entrepreneurial savvy and the no-nonsense business ethos have had to cope with the humiliation of Andersen, Enron, WorldCom and Adelphia.

4. The New York Times. The “paper of record” has disgraced itself by running homosexual “wedding” announcements without irony or indignation. Far be it from this bastion of romanticism to question anything that might bubble up from the fever swamp of darling mankind’s consensual sexual preferences.

5. Establishment religion. “Today on Oprah: Pedophile Priests and the Bishops Who Enable Them.”

6. Benign evangelicalism: The bland leading the bland. Franklin Graham and Jerry Vines are exceptions that prove the rule.

7. Public education. The Supreme Court’s June ruling in the Zelman case assured Cleveland families that they could take their vouchers and run away from the public schools to “sectarian” schools. You can’t put the teachers’ union’s soiled Band-aid on the wounds from fractured homes and a godless culture and get educational health.

8. The reparations movement. Did you see the D.C. rally on C-SPAN? It was a debacle for those who make their living by leading blacks to blame their woes on everyone else, even those who’ve been dead for 150 years. It’s patronizing, and thinking blacks are sick of it.

9. The liberal broadcast media. The Anna Nicole Smith Show is an outstanding new example of the fact you cannot underestimate the turpitude of media executives and the depths to which “the talent” and their publics will sink.

10. Sports. For those who go teary over “the Olympic ideal” and who would give up five years of their life for one inning of play on a major league team, you have the figure skating scandal and impending baseball strike.

It’s enough to drop a broken romanticist to his knees. And just as a financial collapse spurred the prayer revival of 1857, maybe collapse of enthusiasm for the secular human spirit will magnify the work of the Holy Spirit.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church.

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  • Mark Coppenger