The libertarian magazine, Reason ventured into the intersection of Christianity and politics, and came out sounding a lot like David French. Utilizing a famous line and the horn effect of the notorious HBO show Game of Thrones Stephanie Slade argues that Christians should refuse to see politics as a winner takes all zero sum game. In an article titled, “Against Game of Thrones Christianity,” she manages to get both religion and politics wrong, ultimately arguing if it’s us or them, we should unilaterally disarm and accept our fate in the gulags, in order to preserve our witness. The article begins with a correct understanding of the opposing view.
For many members of the so-called New Right, one thing is clear: Classical liberal principles are not getting the job done.
The left, after all, has no compunction about using the state to go after conservatives. As far as those illiberal progressives are concerned, Catholic hospitals should be forced by law to perform abortions, and social media companies should be threatened with regulatory action if they don’t agree to scrub their platforms of ideas and information unfavorable to the Democratic Party.
So instead of a principled commitment to limited government and individual liberty, the argument goes, conservatives who “know what time it is” should be willing to use public power to attack their foes. Anything less amounts to unilateral disarmament or even suicide.
Already we see that Stephanie Slade does not understand the role of government from a biblical perspective. In Romans 13 we clearly learn that the government’s role is to punish evil and reward good. They have a sword in which to execute this tasks. Therefore, the government has a sword. The question is who has the sword and how are they going to use it. The Democrats have made clear that they intend to use the sword of government to reward evil and punish good. They are evil after all. So therefore, why would it not be biblical to use the sword of government to punish liberals?
The stakes, in this telling, are existential. It’s not uncommon to hear that a future of Soviet-style persecution awaits those who refuse to embrace a sufficiently “muscular” response. A New Right influencer once told me that the liberalism of the American founding, by making conservatives squeamish about fighting fire with fire, was apt to land her in a gulag. Like the famous maxim from Game of Thrones, it’s a vision of politics as a literal war in which you win or you die.
But how like Westeros is the United States? Are American leftists really plotting to round up religious traditionalists and Republican voters? If they were, would they stand a chance of getting away with it under the American system as it exists?
Slade uses the Game of Thrones quote casually, yet it’s incorporated in the headline for clicks. But she fails to understand the context of the quote and more importantly how the context wrecks her argument. In the book and show, Cersei Lannister says to Ned Stark, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Ned Stark famously dies in A Game of Thrones. And the reason why Ned Stark dies is because he’s the David French of Game of Thrones. Ned Stark refused to use the sword of government despite being second only to the king, with power that included the title “Protector of the Realm” which entitled him to raise armies. Once Ned Stark found out the most open secret about his political enemies, he refuses to understand “what time it is” and gets swallowed up by the lady who said “you win or you die.” Now David French might see that as dying the hero, but Stark’s leadership ultimately led to his family’s ruin.
The irony is that the approach to politics outlined by these new, militant conservatives is flatly at odds with authentic Christian virtue. The New Right implies that religious traditionalists have a choice: They can either be the ones inside the gulag, or they can make sure their enemies are. Jesus never would have accepted that bargain.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'” he says in the Gospel of Matthew. “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” These are probably the most radical words in the Bible and almost certainly the hardest to live by. Yet the very heart of Christian teaching (if not necessarily the heart of Christian practice) has always been self-sacrifice, self-emptying, “taking up your cross,” and “laying down your life for your friends.”
Stephanie Slade, David Frenchism as a whole, confuse categories. If you read the Old Testament, specifically Exodus and Leviticus, Jesus is not truly being radical. The Old Testament law places a duty of care on people in which an enemy is not an exemption. Jesus speaks of private grudges and feuds, not of governance. Thus, this is a major category error in which the category of private vengeance is conflated with public governance. This conflation misapplies the words of Christ who by the way is the one who keeps us out of the gulag known as hell. Slade concludes:
To truly care about virtue is to recognize that it matters how you win: Ends don’t justify means. If conservatives ever did have to choose which side of the barbed wire to be on—as the gulag inmate accepting persecution or the victor carrying it out—there would be only one right answer from a Christian perspective. It isn’t the New Right’s.