How to Win the Culture War: Dr. Peter Kreeft (Transcript)

Full text of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s talk titled “How to Win the Culture War” at Franciscan University.

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Dr. Peter Kreeft – Professor of Philosophy at Boston College

I hate to disappoint you. I can’t live up to that. But there is a deeper reason I will disappoint you. I’m not Peter Kreeft. I only look like Peter Kreeft. I am really Screwtape, C.S. Lewis’s famous senior demon from the Screwtape Letters.

I look like a human being, don’t I? My disguise is pretty good. My business is to give advice to Wormwood, my junior associate and student, about how to win the culture war. So if you’re overhearing this, this is how you can lose the culture war.

So my topic is not how to win the culture war, it’s how to lose it. Especially, I’m going to tell Wormwood how to tempt the Catholic Church, which is the only thing that stands in the way of the total collapse of Western civilization into a swirl of garbage down the drain.

I suppose I should remind you that it might be a little confusing for you to try to follow my line of thinking as Screwtape, because for you everything will be upside down. For instance, whenever I refer to the being you call God, I use the name the Enemy. So maybe you should stand on your head while you listen to this lecture, at least mentally.

Ah, Wormwood, my sweetly bitter, beautifully ugly, and virtuously vicious demon. I give you today, from my superior and successful demonic wisdom, seven basic ideas which you must keep planting in the unconscious minds of American Catholics, especially their theologians and their bishops. Always remember Judas Iscariot was a bishop, the first bishop to accept a government grant. I believe it was 30 pieces of silver. They’ve upped the ante nowadays, though.

So that they can continue to lose the culture wars that they have been losing quite spectacularly for the last five decades.

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The SEVEN IDEAS are, in a single word each: One, POLITICIZING, politicizing their faith. Secondly, PRATTLING CONTINUOUS HAPPY TALK, even as they swirl down the drain. Thirdly, THE WORSHIP OF ORGANIZATION and treating religion as a business. Four, THE WORSHIP OF FADS AND FASHIONS, the worship of the new, or neo-worship. Five, THE ABOLITION OF EXCELLENCE and the worship of egalitarianism, especially sexual egalitarianism. Six, THE WORSHIP OF MAMMON, consumerism, worldliness, materialism, or yuppiedom. And seven, TURNING SANCTITY INTO SPIRITUALITY.

Now you can remember these seven ideas by the acronym PHONEYS… P-H-O-N-E-Y-S: politicization, happy talk, organizationalism, neo-worship, egalitarianism, yuppiedom, and spirituality. Seven roads from the real to the phoney, from being to non-being, from heaven to hell.

The whole strategy of hell, of course, is to get these human souls out of the real, the authentic, the true, and into the unreal, the phoney, the false. Our enemy is being, being itself, for that is ultimately what God is: perfect, infinite, unlimited being.

Fortunately, there are many roads from the heavenly heights of being down to the hellish depths of non-being, and those who travel on those roads become more and more unreal, in other words, phonies. So here are seven ways to turn Catholics into phonies. These seven are not the only roads, of course, but they are seven that have worked very well for us in the last 50 years. They are part of our master plan. Of course, you must take care not to let our secret out, not to let any troublemaker reveal what we’ve been actually doing to them, namely convincing them to embrace seven ways to gradually commit spiritual suicide.

I will present to you these seven ways in no particular order except that of the easily remembered acronym, phoneys, P-H-O-N-E-Y-S.

So we start with P… POLITICIZATION. We have persuaded most Americans to treat their religion as a kind of politics, and their politics as a kind of religion. In the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, the Catholic church used to be defined as the Democratic Party at prayer. In Iowa, it’s the Republican Party at prayer. Treating politics religiously is, of course, a form of idolatry, and all forms of idolatry are deeply gratifying to us. So it doesn’t matter to us whether they worship the donkey or the elephant, as long as they don’t worship the enemy.

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You see, they have to absolutize politics because they relativize religion. Everybody needs an absolute somewhere. So we have persuaded many of them to judge their faith by the standard of political correctness, rather than vice versa. To relativize everything supernatural and absolute, and to absolutize something natural and political. Any one particular political agenda will do. And if they do fight an important culture war, like abortion, or homosexual marriage, or contraception, or the sexual revolution, even the traditionalists can often be tempted to use their religion to justify their political goals, to reverse the means in the end. The trick is to get them to focus all their energies on political success regarding their favorite issue, and have them to treat the rest of the faith as a mere means to that end.

The most wonderful thing about politicization is that it makes them sacrifice concrete persons to abstract, impersonal causes. They can even come to think that they’re saints and heroes of charity, because their hearts bleed for people they’ve never met in some faraway place, even while they’re neglecting the people closest to them, usually their own family. In other words, it’s surprisingly easy to get them to fall in love with humanity instead of their neighbors.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get them to that state of mind where they are genuinely shocked if someone points out to them that not once does the Bible ever tell them to love humanity, that glimmering, glorious, abstract cloud of idealism, but always their neighbor, that humdrum, inconvenient, unspectacular idiot they live with. We have to get them to practice what Charles Dickens called telescopic philanthropy, as if they were looking at the world through the wrong end of a telescope, seeing the things that are near us as far away, and things that are far away as near, so that the farther away a thing is, the more passionately concerned they are about it, and the nearer it is, the less they focus on it.

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Above all, keep them focused on what other people ought to do. Don’t let any of them make themselves the object of their own passion. Don’t let them demand of themselves that they become saints. Suggest to them that it would be selfishness to work passionately for their own sanctification. Of course, that’s the biggest lie in the world, since the essence of sainthood and sanctification is unselfishness.

But as one of our most successful disciples, Adolf Hitler, so brilliantly taught, they can often be suckered in by the big lie more easily than by little lies.

The second principle is HAPPY TALK. Let them always talk up the achievements, the successes, the progress that the church has made in the last 50 years. Insist that they insist that the church in America is healthy, even though the statistics are devastating. Keep them at this relentlessly nose to the grindstone, 24/7, especially the Bishops. Keep that bland smile on their faces. Make them forget that they’re supposed to be prophets. And if they remember, make them think that it’s socially profitable to be a prophet. Of course, that’s another really obvious big lie. That’s what makes it so delightful to us.

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