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Something New is Being Born
What a strange feeling there is in the air—the feeling of two worlds on parallel tracks. Use whichever metaphor you like: we are living in two Americas, watching two different movies, or else some of us have woken up and realized we are living in the Matrix. For me it seems as if there is an old world—definite and imposing, but brittle and frail—and a new world—vital and dynamic, but fledgling and uncertain. There is something dying, and something being born.
The old world runs the country and has taken over its rickety institutions. Kamala Harris lurches through an impotent speech for a bunch of bewildered Guatemalans, fumbling to catch up with the disastrous crisis she and Biden have unleashed at the Mexican border. Princeton’s classics department crumbles from the rot within, and Yale's medical students sit politely while a racist maniac harangues them with her homicidal fantasies. An endless feedback loop of sadistic aggression and predictable disaster.
The new world lives on the ground, and in the DMs. County leaders make serious bids to wrench rural sovereignty back from progressive urbanites. Legislatures and governors in red states, often following the lead of Based Ron out in Florida, take measures to protect their constituents from federal predation. Young men and young women reach out to each other on Signal or Telegram, supporting one another in the only kind of renewal that will last: the kind that begins in the soul. Parenting tips, lifting hacks, prayer groups: the language of a revolution in embryo.
All this puts me in mind of the Prophet Isaiah, and the story of another world in decay. There is a certain brand of conservatism that likes to compare itself with the famous “remnant” from the Biblical Book of Isaiah, those few Israelites whom God chose to preserve while Jerusalem’s kingdom was brought to its knees by foreign nations. By this, these conservatives seem to mean that they will cling to the old ways and die out with them if needs must. Like the remnant, they will “stand athwart history yelling stop,” nobly holding out to the last as the world passes them by.
Well, I recently finished a translation of Isaiah from the Hebrew, and let me say: all that is hogwash. The defining feature of the “remnant” is not that they cling to something old, but that they represent the birth of something new. True: by their enduring faith, they preserve God’s eternal truths. After a time of tribulation and cataclysm, it is foretold that they will use this ancient wisdom to rebuild.
But what will they rebuild? Not the political structures of the recent past, or some comfortable lifestyle they remember from their childhood through a haze of nostalgia. No, the remnant are preserved precisely because even as God wipes away all that is corrupted and stale, he is preparing in them the seeds of some new thing whose outline only he can see.
“God will drive humanity miles away, and the deserted territory will yawn wide in the heart of the Earth. And if there’s still a tenth left, then that again will be devoured in flame—like a terebinth tree, like an oak. When they are toppled, their stump remains. Their stump is the sacred seed” (emphasis added). So says Isaiah at the moment of his commission, foretelling a kind of disaster which—crucially—prepares the ground for something new to grow (Isaiah 6). In the more ecstatic sections of the Book, God seems already to be delighted with this new creation, even though the nature of it remains obscure to us: “Look: see me making something new, now; it bursts into bloom. Don’t you know? Oh, yes, I lay forth a path in the wasteland; and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43).
In this I discern not only the spirit of Saint Paul, who heard the groans of all creation in the pains of childbirth, but also the spirit of our age. You may call me a cock-eyed optimist, and remind me that exile in Babylon was no picnic: Israel had to suffer terribly for the sins of its corrupt elite before it could be made new. I answer: true enough, but even then, at the same time, it was already being made new.
So scoff if you like at the buyers of dogecoin, the dreamers in the group chat, the wild-eyed visionaries who are sure they will make a new world—even if they can’t say exactly how. But I have faith. I have faith we will work out the details as we go, and most of all I am exceptionally glad that we are trying something. As I read my Bible, a suspicion begins to sneak over me that we will have help.