A couple of weeks ago, I attended a public lecture by Dr. Jordan Peterson at the University of Western Ontario. For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Peterson has found himself the target of transgender activists, some of whom actually claim that his refusal to use recently-invented “transgender pronouns” constituted violence. Labeling someone a perpetrator of violence for refusing to use the words you just made up, of course, also allows you to begin perpetrating real violence in response, and this has resulted in Peterson’s lectures being shut down by angry mobs.
After the lecture, one student asked Peterson an interesting question.
You’ve articulated at great length the dangers of post-modernism and political correctness, the student pointed out. But why this issue? Why choose transgender pronouns as the proverbial hill to die on?
Peterson’s response was striking. “Why not?” he replied.
When you’re fighting a war, there’s very rarely a compelling reason to die for the next yard of soil – but that’s how wars are won, and that is how the line is held – yard by yard. You have to pick something, and this is what I chose.
His response reminded me of something I wrote about at length in my own book The Culture War: the tendency of Christians to count the cost and decide to opt out of fighting.
Secular progressives are willing to fight a bloody war of attrition for every crimson inch of soil, from prayers at city council meetings to nativity scenes in public to launching cyber-lynch mobs on little old ladies who don’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings.
Christians, on the other hand, often cave at the first sign of pressure. Douglas Wilson commented wryly on this habit on his blog in 2015:
Whenever we get to that elusive and ever-receding “hill to die on,” we will discover, upon our arrival there, that it only looked like a hill to die on from a distance. Up close, when the possible dying is also up close, it kind of looks like every other hill. All of a sudden it looks like a hill to stay alive on, covered over with topsoil that looks suspiciously like common ground. So it turns out that surrendering hills is not the best way to train for defending the most important ones. Retreat is habit-forming.
Now granted, as I’ve written before, Christians are often too busy raising their families and trying to live their lives to take a stand in the culture wars. For every baker or florist who gets targeted by gay rights activists, you can bet there are hundreds of others who quietly knuckled under to avoid becoming the center of a noisy lawsuit. But we need more men like Dr. Jordan Peterson. He may not be a Christian, but he is, as one writer so eloquently put it, “the frog that wouldn’t boil.” Each yard of ground we give up without a fight is another step closer to being backed into a corner. Dr. Peterson was willing to take a stand. He was willing to stop, look around, and say “Here. This is where I fight.”
Each of us will have to make that decision sometime in the near future. And better now than later – it is easier to defend territory than it is to reclaim it.
Jonathon Van Maren is the author of The Culture War and blogs at The theBridgehead.ca