Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:1–6).
Over at First Things, theologian R. R. Reno shared some reflections regarding his recent journey through the Midwestern states. During his trip, he conversed with a number of people to get a sense of how everyone was feeling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of George Floyd, along with the protests that came in its wake. He summarized the mood of the people he encountered this way: “Nearly everyone I spoke with expressed frustration, anxiety, disquiet, despair. And anger, especially anger.”
While people are angry for different reasons, Reno noted that everyone is angry at the mainstream media—everyone. They’re angry that everything has become political; they’re tired of identity politics, the BLM marches, and much more.
All this reminds me of a book I read recently—Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity. Throughout the course of the book, Murray unpacks why people are angry, frustrated, confused, and fear whether the West can overcome its social unrest.
In what follows, I share some of the book’s highlights and offer some brief concluding reflections on how Christians can respond.
Living in the current cultural moment involves traversing a bewildering forest of ideas. And in this book Murray barrels into four of the most controversial head-on. What makes his take unique, however, is that he’s a social liberal unafraid to disagree with his tribe. The book consists of four chapters: 1) Gay, 2) Women, 3) Race, and 4) Trans. In addition, three interludes briefly discuss 1) the Marxist foundations inherent in the critical theory/intersectional/social justice/identity politics world, 2) the impact of technology and the space it provides for virtue signaling and shaming to flourish, and finally 3) how faultfinding has encoded itself deep into our cultural psyche.
Life lesson: Humans are liturgical beings, which means at our core we are worshipers—we can’t not worship. We will regard something as ultimate. Consequently, denying the transcendent results in absolutizing the temporal.
Though he’s not a Christian, Murray, who identifies as a homosexual, joins Peggy Noonan and philosopher James K. A. Smith in their observation that politics has become a religion. In the contemporary world, people find meaning by engaging in battles with those they regard as Repugnant Cultural Others—to borrow Alan Jacobs’s phrase. Currently, Repugnant Cultural Others are homophobes, transphobes, racists, and sexists—and that’s just the short list. But as Murray sees it, even though the critical theory/intersectional/social justice/identity politics movement functions as a religion, its adherents selectively apply their standards (see below). And unlike other religions, there is no forgiveness. Try as you might, placating the deities—Foucault’s epigones, it seems—is impossible. Even denizens of the oppressed class must fall in line completely with the prevailing cultural narratives or risk excommunication. For example, Murray notes that being gay is not enough. After all, Peter Thiel, a gay man, was “reprimanded for wrong-think” (46) when he supported Donald Trump, leading eventually to his excommunication. Why such a harsh reaction?
Murray himself falls into this category. Although he’s a liberal, when he strays from the pack intellectually, the Twitterati have an apoplectic fit and dismiss him as a rebarbative right-winger. Why all the hostility?
In the chapter on women, the enemies are identified as male privilege, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity (104). But Murray wonders aloud: Are there any female counterparts to this or are only men to blame? Furthermore, what is the solution to defeating these enemies? Is there a plan to help men or is the goal merely to heap shame upon them? Given two recent hashtags—“men are trash,” and “kill all men”—the answer seems obvious (98, 101). Still, women participating in the struggle for equal rights must watch their steps, lest they stumble over the tripwire of the transgender narrative. The high priests in the critical theory/intersectional/social justice/identity politics religion now require women to defend the rights of men claiming to be women. Indeed, they even scorn well-known feminists who refuse to get on board (think Germaine Greer).
The race issue is confusing as well, according to Murray. Just as Peter Thiel was booted from the gay community for supporting Trump, black people become white if they stray from the party line. Four examples suffice: Kanye West, Candace Owens, Thomas Sowell, and Clarence Thomas—all are regarded as white because they either support Trump or identify as conservatives (155–156). Contrariwise, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, gets to be black because she’s a liberal (156).
And, no, you don’t get to complain about diversity of thought. If you do, you’re a racist. Writing for the black community magazine The Root, Michael Harriot set the matter straight when he kindly pointed out that “diversity of thought” is just a euphemism for “white supremacy” (135). Is this a helpful way to advance the discussion? Will this posture lead toward unity?
In his final chapter on transgender issues, Murray opines that it’s a “stampede in one direction” (202). Those hesitant about giving puberty blockers to children are swiftly labeled “transphobe.” Daring to mention science, chromosomes, and bodily differences makes you a bigot. No questions allowed, nothing to see here, get in line, stay quiet, and support the cause.
But I do wonder if there will be a decrease in female to male transitions going forward, since transitioning to male entails “gaining privilege” (240). Laith Ashley, a prominent female to male transgender model, said as much in his interview with Cathy Newman. To compound the problem, he is also light-skinned, which affects his ranking in the hierarchy of oppression.
What do we do with this?
Stay informed. The daily barrage of howls of indignation in my newsfeed and the omnipresent twaddle dripping from the mouths of self-appointed influencers makes me want to ugly cry. Still, retreating is not an option. Find reputable cultural commentators, do your own research, and devote time to silence, solitude, prayer, and reflection.
Engage winsomely. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” the Apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians (4:5). “Reasonableness” can also be rendered “gentleness,” “graciousness,” “consideration,” or—and this is my personal favorite—“magnanimity.” Our culture would do well to bring this word back into its vocabulary. Noonan calls upon both Democrats and Republicans to “[s]how some largeness. We’re dying of smallness.” I agree.
Pray continually. Petition the Lord to fill you with his peace, big-heartedness, and inner calm. Our conversations with friends, family members, and co-workers must spring from a place of rest, a posture of sanctified ambivalence, and an unwavering trust in God. Hence my final point.
Trust God. Our sovereign Shepherd-King who leads us by still waters rules from his throne, enjoying a tranquil reign at the Father’s right hand. We look to him, hope in him, surrender our lives to him, and pine for his return.
Some time ago a friend posted on Facebook, “Different day, same people complaining.” If we’re not careful our everyday small talk can easily slide into nothing more than grumbling and complaining (cf. Phil. 2:14). Likewise, if we fail to guard our lips—as the Scriptures admonish us (Ps. 141:3)—our political discussions become nothing more than exercises in windbaggery, as we pummel our friends and coworkers with whom we disagree—all behind a thin veneer of valor, of course.
Christians must eschew this kind of behavior. Instead, may we be known for our sanctified rather than sanctimonious language. May we head Paul’s words: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).
 Peggy Noonan, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 50–51; James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 22. Murray does not cite these authors. This is my own observation.
 Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (New York: Currency, 2017), 26–27.
 Peggy Noonan, “Defuse America’s Explosive Politics,” Wall Street Journal (October 27–28, 2018): A13.