A Christian View on the Alt-Right

February 23, 2017

I confess that there are certain things worth admiring about the loose association of far right-wing provocateurs popularly known as the “alt-right.”  They’re right to expose the intolerance of many on the left, especially in academia, where conservative students and faculty face ongoing challenges to their right to free speech and academic freedom. [1]  They’re correct in arguing that you can’t successfully refute an argument by throwing a tantrum and calling your opponent a bigot.  I once considered myself a leftist (with very important qualifications), but now it’s admittedly a struggle not to feel anger towards the contemporary left.

But the problem with the alt-right—or the movement’s more prominent voices, at any rate—is that they don’t believe that this is a struggle worth engaging in. They don’t seek the strength to overcome the passions, but rather delight in their weakness and foolishly call it strength. They don’t resist anger; they indulge in it. Consider how one [2] refers to Muslim immigrants as “uncivilized” or “primitive” people coming from “sh-thole” countries.  Observe how another denounces his opponents as “f—king idiots” [3], or how he emphatically utters the words “F—k the Pope” [4] with an almost euphoric delight. 

Although there is occasionally truth to what alt-right-wingers say, Christians ought to find the manner in which they customarily express it deeply troubling.  As a believer, I can certainly find merit in their denunciation of a radical feminist’s contemptible views on marriage, but my faith and moral intuition will not allow me to join them in mocking her physical appearance and calling her a “bridge troll.” [5]  Treasures can be found in a trash heap, but we must take care not to leave with a stench after uncovering them. 

Now, I’m neither familiar with, nor particularly interested in, the religious beliefs of these particular alt-right representatives.  But those Christians who adopt the unbridled anger and vicious tone of this movement must face the reality that they’re in open defiance of St. Paul's command to rid themselves of “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from [their] lips” (Col 3:8), and thereby blaspheme God, who is Love (1 John 4:8). They preach freedom from political correctness, all the while enslaving themselves to the passions.

And while it’s true that not all of them have succumbed to the sin of racism (and we should be careful not to level this accusation too liberally for political gain, for it might have the effect of desensitizing people to actual cases of it) all of them are always, at a minimum, one step away from it, as many of their prominent proponents have at least flirted with it. Those who have helped lay the “intellectual” foundation of this movement argue that “culture is inseparable from race,” and that “some degree of separation between peoples is necessary.”  Yet the Scriptures remind us that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor . . . male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

Perhaps I’m just being a “snowflake” (to use one of the alt-right’s favorite epithets) for lamenting the decline of civility.  If so, then we’re evidently in the midst of a blizzard, as over 90 percent of all generations surveyed in the 2014 Civility in America [6] poll agreed that civility is a problem in the U.S. and that “incivility has reached crisis proportions.”  These concerns seem warranted. A 2015 study [7] argues that “incivility in online political communication limits the deliberative potential of online interactions,” and finds that such conduct can be contagious.  An earlier paper [8] found that incivility in political discourse negatively affects political trust.

Be that as it may, a leading figure in the alt-right movement treats civility and honesty as mutually exclusive [9], proudly favoring the latter.  This attitude, so characteristic of the movement as a whole, is lamentable, not only because of the aforesaid dangers of incivility, but also because there’s simply no need to choose between the two virtues.  On occasions when we are asked to defend our faith—or, I would add, anything we believe to be true—the Bible says that it is possible and necessary to do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).  A tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:43), and the fruit of the Spirit consists not only of faithfulness, but also of forbearance and kindness, among other qualities (Gal 5:22).

Political order and the spiritual health of our current and future generations depend on our willingness to challenge the mainstreaming of incivility, for which the alt-right bears partial responsibility.  Let’s remember that the Way of Christ is to not only speak the truth, but to also do so “in love” (Eph 4:15).

Amir Azarvan
    Georgia Gwinnett College

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