I am not anti-Christian. I’m a Lutheran,” says Hunter Wallace, an alt-right blogger cited in Matthew Rose’s essay from our March issue, “The Anti-Christian Alt-Right.” Wallace’s objection is representative of many of the responses we’ve received to Rose’s essay. He may have misunderstood the author’s intention: not to argue that everyone associated with the alt-right is explicitly anti-Christian, but to point out that their intellectual sources and ideas are anti-Christian at heart. Yet Wallace hardly makes a convincing case for his own orthodoxy (if he ever intended it), and in failing to do so he corroborates the essay’s thesis that those who ascribe the achievements of Western culture to race rather than providence have chosen Faust over Christ.
Wallace declares that “race realism”—the unifying confession of the alt-right movement—is compatible with Christianity rightly understood. “If you are Alt-Right,” he says, reciting a formula of Richard Spencer’s, “you believe that race exists, race matters and race is the foundation of identity. There are Alt-Right atheists, Alt-Right agnostics, Alt-Right pagans and Alt-Right Christians.” Only liberalized “modern Christianity” is “inherently incompatible with White identity.” The problem with American society, Wallace opines, is that Jews have “dethroned [Christianity] as the dominant culture” through “the universities and the mass media,” which they “hijacked” some time in “the early twentieth century.”
One might wonder how Wallace’s racialized Christianity could possibly account for the New Testament, among other notorious sticking points of the faith. But to assert orthodox doctrine against Wallace’s heresies would be useless. His private dialectic, congregation of one, has transcended the old creeds. Wallace wants to show that Christianity and the alt-right are compatible, not by declaring a new racist orthodoxy, but by denying that Christian faith is incompatible with anything at all.
In Wallace’s view, Christianity always follows the dominant culture. The mainline American churches once accepted slavery and segregation, but now they denounce them. They once rejected abortion, divorce, and homosexuality, but now they accept them. Wallace’s conclusion: “The churches accommodate and echo whatever is the political mainstream.” For the moment, they “are conforming to political correctness in condemning the Alt-Right as uniquely evil,” but in the long run, “the Alt-Right shouldn’t get hung up on being anti-Christian because Christianity is infinitely malleable.”
There is tremendous irony here. Wallace appears to believe that Christianity lacks any truth conditions whatsoever—that it is devoid of content, a mere vessel of empty signs and symbols, to be filled with foreign substances and remolded to suit them. It’s an old wineskin, the civil religion of the Enlightenment, to be filled with the new wine of identity politics. Wallace thus places himself in the same camp as progressive evangelicals, sex-positive Episcopalians, and every other liberal Protestant who preaches a liquid creed. For all of them, there is nothing stable at the heart of Christian faith, no set of propositions that must be judged true or false, no substrate of apostolic tradition or spiritual authority sustaining the Church through the ages; there is only that fickle goddess History, leading a perpetual process of discernment and evolution according to the self-loving demands of the “present.” Whether one uses this “infinitely malleable” Christianity to serve a liberal or a reactionary agenda is largely beside the point.
Wallace is certainly not a covert liberal—or is he? It is his mistaken assumption that all theology is liberal theology which allows him to maintain in good faith—which I grant for the sake of argument, though the alt-right is known for its trolls—that he is both a “Christian” and a “race realist.” It’s an old phenomenon, perhaps best understood by Hans Kerrl, Nazi Reichminister for Church Affairs during the 1930s. In 1937, as the resistance of the Confessing Church grew bolder, Kerrl made a speech to loyalist clergy:
The Party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and Positive Christianity is National Socialism. . . . [Lutheran clergyman] Dr. Zoellner and [Catholic Bishop of Münster] Count Galen have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the son of God. That makes me laugh. . . . No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed. . . . True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now called by the party and especially the Führer to a real Christianity. . . . The Führer is the herald of a new revelation.
That potent German concoction we call liberal theology—historical criticism, Enlightened reason, fellow-feeling, and Hegelian dreams—was far more susceptible to ideological manipulation by the Nazis than were the traditional dogmas of Roman Catholics or evangelical Lutherans. Wallace would like to believe that liberal Protestants are the enemy, yet his need to dismiss the historic Christian tradition as politicized play-acting places him squarely within the liberal Protestant consensus. Wallace likes to flaunt his Nietzschean bona fides, but clearly he’s stuck on Bultmann. If he and his allies are to win any converts from the bosom of the Church, as even the Nazis understood, they must find them among theological liberals. For Christianity in its original and most animating form is fundamentally incompatible with the Faustian ethic and race-based mythos of the alt-right, just as it is incompatible with the equivocations of liberalism. Orthodoxy is its own mythos—a true one.
The contradictions of Hunter Wallace’s worldview are shared by others who consider themselves “Alt-Right Christians.” But those contradictions may prove their salvation, for they suggest that Wallace and his ilk have not yet decisively chosen Faust over Christ. Eventually they must face the Nietzschean questions that their anti-Christian peers, in their dreadful consistency, have avoided: If Christianity is infinitely malleable, is it really necessary? If its metaphysics and morality are ultimately false, is it not contrary to life to serve them? If the grammar of divine revelation does not accord with human experience, should not darker spirits prevail?
If God were dead, we would be right to be rid of him.
Connor Grubaugh is assistant editor of First Things.