''Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.'' Isaiah 1: 7-9
So what's with the name? Well, in truth the name "Remnant" had already been taken by Jonah Goldberg's enjoyable podcast and the Seventh Day Adventist church...but I like Remainder as well. To me, it implies a reactionary worldview without reactionary politics. That is, a commitment to antiquated morals and traditions without an attendant desire to enforce these on the broader society. I believe this approach is supported not only in my own theology (Christianity) but is a theme in the three great Abrahamic faiths. The Jews, as the chosen people, are a natural minority in an exclusive covenant with God. In Christianity, only the return of Jesus Christ can reorder the world in God's original design. In Islam, companion of the Prophet Mohammed Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet had said: ''Islam began as something strange and it will return to being strange,'' meaning the number of the true adherents of the faith would never be very large.
In addition to these religious connotations, there are other things I find evocative about this sort of word. Synonyms appear in all sorts of things I love. The Leftovers is one of my favorite books and TV shows, and to use a line from Nora on that show, "I want to believe I am not surrounded by the abandoned ruin of a dead civilization." I already mentioned Jonah Goldberg's podcast and the religious connotations. I am also working on a science fiction short story of the same title, which will focus on humans who decide to remain on earth and face death after all other humans have uploaded their consciousnesses to a massive computer on a spaceship in orbit, where they can theoretically live forever. The story would track the children of these remainers, who are obviously pissed off to have been forced into mortality by bad luck. Despite speculation, I make no reference to Brexit ;)
Speaking of science fiction, my original interest in Christian history was sparked by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep author Philip K. Dick, who had a series of religious visions following surgery. Dick described realizing that we were living in a modern-day version of Rome, and that Christians had to hide and only reveal themselves to one another.
The girl was a secret Christian and so was I. We lived in fear of detection by the Romans. We had to communicate with cryptic signs. She had just told me all this, and it was true. For a short time, as hard as this is to believe or explain, I saw fading into view the black, prisonlike contours of hateful Rome. But, of much more importance, I remembered Jesus, who had just recently been with us, and had gone temporarily away, and would very soon return. My emotion was one of joy. We were secretly preparing to welcome Him back. It would not be long. And the Romans did not know. They thought He was dead, forever dead. That was our great secret, our joyous knowledge. Despite all appearances, Christ was going to return, and our delight and anticipation were boundless.
I'm not sure if I believe in the return of Christ as literally described, nor have I ever had visions like Dicks. Nevertheless, I am extremely attracted to the idea that a commitment to an antiquated and irrational morality is a sort of secret club. Currently, membership in this club has not come with Roman style persecution, but there are major conflicts between religious and secular forms of life that it is not clear liberal democracy can grapple with. At the moment, for example, almost every major religious tradition has a binary formulation of sex and gender. While in the past these ideas might be isolated to a Sunday service, cellphones and social media allow any forward thinking parishioner to out their spiritual leader to the broader society. Technology will make surveillance of religious communities infinitely easier, but in most cases, the communities will simply expose themselves by using the same social media platforms as everyone else.
Andrew Breitbart said that "politics is downstream of culture." I think he was correct, but I also think in many important ways culture is downstream of technology. Consider the following example, as political activists on both sides hyperventilate about the formation of the Supreme Court and how it might impact Roe, scientists have quietly been expanding non surgical options for terminating pregnancy. The current version of the so-called "abortion pill" can be taken up to 70 days into a pregnancy, and there is no reason to assume this range won't be expanded by further medical innovation. I am against abortion as a moral matter, but I see no reasonable path to the prohibition of such medication, or the prevention of further innovation in the field. In the unlikely event that the United States passed legislation to ban such technology, we would succeed only in making Canadian or Chinese pharmacists very rich.
Morality cannot contend with the modern world. For another example, think of the appearance, spread and current ubiquity of graphic and violent pornography. It seems important to stipulate here that I am a hypocrite and a sinner and consume pornography (I'm working on it), but I think it is unlikely that I ever would have if the process for accessing the stuff were more complicated than logging on to a website. In a society driven by consumer desire, the expansion of pornography cannot even be stopped by scientific evidence of its damaging effect, let alone the moral horror of the industry. Keep in mind, here I am only referencing industry porn and not even addressing the fact that a huge percentage of porn is now of the so-called 'revenge' variety where men post videos of sexual acts with their exes that were either filmed surreptitiously or shared without their permission.
Again, I think the moral perspective on pornography is clear, but I have no desire or plan to remove it from society. Internet connections will become faster and moral regulation will become looser. Technology in a consumer society only moves in the direction of desire. There are other horrors that technology will unleash, but they are too many to mention. One that sticks out in my mind, however, is the prospect that 3-d printers will one-day be able to produce potent synthetic drugs from commonly available precursors. How, exactly, do you legislate against that? Even if you do, will other countries have effective prohibition regimes?
All of this is to say I think the pursuit of moral life is something that must be dealt with at the community rather than societal level. The society has its desire driven logic, and this structure is so profitable and dynamic that it seems unlikely anyone will come up with something more seductive no matter how bad Sohrab Ahmari wants it.
So I reject the illiberal tendency in modern religious and social conservatives. Their path leads to a society where the jails are full of chronic masturbators, but everyone still watches porn. If anyone has articulated a future of morality I can buy into, it is Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option, which suggests contemporary Christians follow the example of earlier Christians living in depraved societies and take to the hills.
However, I was raised Unitarian, started my political life as a liberal and am still mostly a squish. As such, I will have to make a slightly more universalist appeal. I suggest that in the United States, where religious liberty is enshrined in law and irrational belief has a proud rate of survival (compared to other rich white countries) communities of faith should be more engaged with one another about how to protect their little corner of the world. This means Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and whoever else is worried that the ACLU might one day make them bake a cake should talk.
In America, Godly people are unlikely to remain the majority, and perhaps we shouldn't aspire to be. There is joy and grace in being the remainder.
PS I am looking for non-Christian, religious writers to contribute to this blog. If you are such a person or know one, please email firstname.lastname@example.org