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Why The Left Has Not Won The Culture War

The culture war, by its very nature, cannot be won or lost. Culture is inherently dialectic. The buzzer never sounds.


There have been many declarations lately that the game has been called on the culture war and the Left won. (Here and here are two thoughtful examples.) It wasn’t long ago key leaders in the evangelical community were insisting definitively that the battle for the culture will be forever won or lost in the next few years.

Both are wrong. The truth is the culture war, by its very nature, cannot be won or lost. Culture is inherently dialectic. The buzzer never sounds. The rotund lady never rises to sing. When the clock does indeed run out at the eschaton, it will be evident and none of us will be calling the game for any side. But until then, the state of the so-called culture war is a measure of yards gained and lost on varied fields at a given moment in time. It ebbs and flows at various levels, in constant motion this way and that, and has been doing so ever since cultural morals and practices were first argued about in the original human community. That’s what culture is.

Consider Same-Sex Marriage

Given this, various quarters are often winning and losing at the same time, sometimes simultaneously experiencing both on a single issue. Let’s look at two recent white-hot examples of this.

Did religious conservatives lose at Obergefell? Indeed. We also lost at Roe v. Wade. The game over same-sex marriage is no more over than it was at Roe. Such things are not static. Since 1973, there has been a vibrant, growing, and very influential pro-life movement in every major community around the country giving witness to the value of all life.

Planned Parenthood had been rocked on its heels requiring they play defense long before this year’s infamous undercover videos revealing it is deep in the baby-parts trade. Abortion clinics continue to close at dramatic rates, and restrictions on abortions have been gaining favor and legal passage. The trend lines on who identifies as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” over the last ten years demonstrate this dialectic dramatically as they cross each other with regular frequency and pro-life identity increasing wholesale since 1995.

The same-sex family experiment—just like the abortion-on-demand experiment—has clearly won itself a dominant place on the field. It will, however, have to demonstrate its worth and longevity in the lives of the couples, the children they obtain, and their family’s impact on their communities. Only the experience that can be gained through time will determine whether this marriage redefinition retains its public support and winning position. Dramatic overreaches such as the unabashed bulldozing of individual religious liberty rights and the right to dissent as well as the LGBT advocacy’s hair-trigger use of “Jim Crow” will quickly displace this issue’s new car smell.

This is already happening on the bathroom issue in no small way. Beyond general public outrage from armies of momma bears, even in generally liberal communities, the New York Times and New Yorker have printed surprising substantial critiques by Yale and Harvard Law School professors of the president’s mandate that all public schools no longer segregate their restrooms and locker room showers by sex. The LGBT is winning and losing at the same time.

Take a Look at Feminism

Consider a longer historical look at the culture war. Does radical feminism have the influence it did 30 years ago? Hardly. Sheryl Sandberg’s moderate “Lean In” is certainly not Betty Friedan’s torching “Feminine Mystique.” Many of Friedan’s readers raised highly educated, skilled daughters with nearly unlimited professional opportunities, but many of them are choosing to put bulk of their weekly energy into motherhood over careers. Those who are not yet mothers deeply desire to be.

Looking even further back, the twentieth century was to have concluded with the absolute extermination of that vile opiate of the masses. Science, naturalism, and logical positivism were to have cleansed us of our reliance on all religious superstitions, or perhaps just Christianity. Many believers, then as today, accept this as the case. But Rodney Stark demonstrates in “The Triumph of Faith” that the world is not merely as religious as it ever has been, but “in important ways, it is much more intensely religious than ever before; indeed, it is far more churched.”

So it is. For as long as citizens hold passionate public convictions and the voice to communicate them, the culture war will always remain in play, marked by evolving setbacks and advances by all sides on numerous issues and often at the very same time.

This dialectic never consists of just two sides—“us versus them.” There are significant, ever-shifting, and competing sub-factions at play. That is the very nature and complexity of culture, precisely what makes it so curious and difficult to predict.