A group of young evangelicals is trying to reframe our polarized political debate. Good for them. Unfortunately, the frame they’re using is a fallacy. It’s a false dilemma.
A friend of mine recently wrote that this past election does not portend a promising political future for our country. I agree. So I appreciate how a group of young evangelicals is trying to reframe the debate. It’s called the And Campaign. And as in Christians should be conservative and progressive (watch the promo). Sounds like a good idea but it’s actually a false dilemma.
A false dilemma is a fallacy of limiting the options to two (ex: conservative and progressive) when in fact there are more, or the two options are in fact not good options. This is the case in conservative and progressive, for progressivism is based on a false frame or picture.
The false picture is a linear approach to history. Progressivism is premised on the notion that history is linear, going forward in a straight line. We don’t look back at dusty old traditions and return to them. Elsewhere C. S. Lewis called this chronological snobbery.
It’s snobbish because return is central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. History is depicted as cyclical, not linear. God calls his people to return back to what they ought to be. The Jewish political philosopher Leo Strauss understood this. In 1952, he wrote “the contemporary crisis in Western civilization” is simple: the Judeo-Christian spherical frame could not be assimilated with progressivism’s linear thinking. In the progressive frame, return is “barbarism, stupidity.” It’s backward.
It’s astonishing that few Christians recognize this. In The Discarded Image, C. S. Lewis reminds readers that God is a sphere. The heavens and the earth are spheres. History is spherical, cyclical. That’s why Lewis poked fun at progressivism in his book, The Case for Christianity.
“We all want progress. But if you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
But there’s a second reason why progressivism is a false frame. It’s premised on the notion that we have a changeable nature. The Judeo-Christian faith says No. The essential structure of human nature is unchangeable. We’re made in God’s image. The direction however can be changed, but it mainly requires God and self-governance to return to what we ought to be. Progressivism holds that government is mainly responsible for improving human nature.
I find the And Campaign is yet another example of why Christians are generally not taken seriously in the wider world. Jonathan Haidt is. Haidt defines himself as a liberal atheist. In his book, The Righteous Mind, as well as his TED Talk, he frames the debate as conservative and liberal. He correctly notes that liberals score higher on “openness to experience” and change. Conservatives are higher on sticking with what’s tried and true – boundaries and traditions.
In the Judeo-Christian, both are necessary for human flourishing. Look at circumcision in the early church (Acts 11). Most of the new believers were Jewish. They felt circumcision was required. It took an openness to change to open their eyes to the fact that it no longer was.
But liberalism doesn’t mean openness to anything. Conservatives score higher on thinking institutionally, recognizing institutions are reality defining, boundary forming. Some things never change, like Jesus being fully God, fully man. Period.
The And Campaign is one more instance of Christians being well-intended but overlooking the power of cultures. Regardless of how the election shakes out, progressives will control the commanding heights of nearly every American elite institution: Congress, the administrative state, Hollywood, the arts, universities, nonprofits, Silicon Valley and nearly all of the media. Young evangelicals often seem blithely unaware of this, evident in the fact that they frame the solution to our polarized political debate as conservative and progressive.
It’s not. It’s conservative and liberal. Christians should be both.
 Leo Strauss, “Progress or Return? The Contemporary Crisis in Western Civilization” Modern Judaism, Vol. 1, No. 1, Oxford University Press, May, 1981, 17-45.
 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Vintage, 2003), 172.