Magazines 2018 May - Jun Surviving the culture wars

Surviving the culture wars

29 May 2018 By James A. Beverley

What to do as factions become more strident

Despite recent books and articles arguing the culture wars are over, nothing could be further from the truth. Cultural battles within our society which reached a new level of aggression and refusal to listen to the other side in the 1990s have not ceased. Denying them is myopic and naïve, despite the intellectual acumen of various thinkers (Rod Dreher, Philip Gorski and Andrew Hartman, for example) who defend the viewpoint.

Whether we are aware or not, cultural wars are greatly damaging our society. Think of the following topics, and ask yourself whether you see movement toward conciliation or polarization: immigration, gender identity, climate change, gay marriage, #Me Too, Intelligent Design, Black Lives Matter, Islam, white men, abortion, Indigenous rights, Israel and BDS (the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement), feminism, gun ownership, euthanasia, free speech and comic books. Yes, even Marvel Comics is facing harassment for diversifying some of its heroes (a Muslim teen Ms. Marvel and a black-Hispanic Spider-Man, for example). Some of the comic creators have received death threats, according to Joshua Ostroffin Maclean’s.

Any leading social or political thinker involved in the culture wars today knows that nasty side, whether left or right. Think of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter in the U.S., Douglas Murray and Pat Condell in the U.K., and in Canada Justin Trudeau, Kathleen Wynne, Doug Ford and Jordan Peterson.

Cultural wars are here to stay and, of course, some issues and personalities are worth fighting over.

However, this is no excuse for the immoral, unjust and vindictive methods used in these conflicts. Anyone who stops to think will see how endorsing such methods in external battles leads to their adoption by factions within organizations, leading to self-destructive infighting. For example, feminists such as Michelle Goldberg and Margaret Atwood have lamented this trend. Or google Jonathan Chait’s 2015 essay "Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say."


Ideology easily blinds political leaders to the harm done to their own citizens. So Julie Payette, newly appointed as Governor General of Canada, mocked the faith of millions in her attack on creationists last November. (Thankfully, she had the wisdom to praise religious traditions a week later.) How could the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau make its pro-abortion stance a litmus test for getting a summer grant? How could President Trump be so careless in his Twitter attacks on his own Republican team?

Competing cultures and ideologies have produced an Age of Anger, to use the title of a book by Indian writer Pankaj Mishra (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017). What can be done to restore some calm, to help moderation "find a passion of its own," to quote Michael Gerson of The Washington Post?

1. Bite your tongue unless you truly know what you’re talking about. Do you really understand Islam? Are you sure about climate change? Is abortion always wrong? Is the #MeToo movement dangerous? On these particular topics I know Islam well and have studied the abortion issue carefully. I have about one minute’s knowledge of climate change (if I talk slowly) and about five minutes on the #MeToo movement. What about you?

2. Give your ideological enemies some benefit of the doubt. I’m amazed how some people attack Jordan Peterson. Have they not seen him shed tears over the young men he has helped? Do his critics not know he stays for hours after his public talks to counsel people?

3. Match alarm to reality. No, letting girls wear costumes of Elsa or Moana (Disney characters) will not destroy Western civilization. Abortion will, however, stop a beating heart.

4. Learn to have nuance and avoid thinking there is always only one right position on an issue. So we can say immigration is good (as Pope Francis argues) without seeing concern over open boundaries as automatic proof of racism (see Douglas Murray). Saying nice things about some white men or Western culture (see Rachel Fulton Brown) does not mean all white men are saints or Western culture is flawless. False accusations of sexual harassment do not negate true accounts.

If these tips don’t sound spiritual enough, here’s a verse to anchor them: "Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love" (2 Peter 1:5–7).


James A. Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary. Find more of his columns at His research on Jordan Peterson is available at