Book Review

Reflections on ‘The Fractured Republic’

September 15, 2016

The future is uncertain and life is unstable. At regular intervals, I find myself in conversations with fellow Christians who are anxious about America’s future. As a conservative evangelical, I lament both the speed and trajectory of the social change in our nation. In the name of progress, our culture has cast aside traditional beliefs about marriage, gender, sexuality, and personhood in order to achieve the highest of liberal virtues, egalitarianism and autonomy. This is devastating. But perhaps even worse, we must accept that there is no long-awaited hero poised to sweep in and turn the tide. America is changing, and it would be a fool’s errand to expect solutions from on high—that is to say, solutions from Washington or Hollywood. Even still, we should not despair.

Recently, I spent several weeks grappling with the contents of The Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin. (The book is magnificent and I commend it to you in the strongest possible terms.) Reading The Fractured Republic, I came away with several important conclusions. Chief among the lessons learned is the comforting truth that the sky is not falling. Though I, and many others like me, am deeply concerned about the near-cataclysmic shifts in the direction of our nation’s cultural mores and social policy, Levin’s reasoning brought me to the realization that even this does not necessarily signify impending doom.

Our society is complex and the trends of liberalization actually aren’t new at all. As Levin sets forth in the book, since the end of World War II, America has been on a “trajectory of increasing individualism, diversity, dynamism, and liberalization (2).” And this is both bad and good. While conservatives eagerly acknowledge that these trends have, perhaps greatly, negatively affected the “mediating institutions” of our culture—those middle layers of society such as family, church, community, work, and the marketplace—we readily accept the single greatest outcome this economic dynamism and increased specialization has produced, namely the inestimable increase to our own standards of living. And at the same time, many progressives applaud the advances wrought through our social liberalization while bemoaning the inequalities that accompany economic diffusion. Simply put, the America of midcentury is not the America of today. All of this to echo the words of Levin’s opening line, “Life in America is always getting better and worse at the same time” (1).

But as Christians, the most pressing issue we face today concerns faithfulness in the City of Man. For many decades, we have relentlessly engaged in a culture war that it appears we are destined to lose. We have sought to undo the evils of cultural liberalization, fought against an aggressive and ugly abortion movement, and worked to preserve America’s moral foundations through political action. All to no avail. Despite decades of activism and monumental efforts to elect government officials to every level of political office, we have, at best, only forestalled the inevitable. This wave of liberalization and diffusion will simply run its course. But we are the people of God, ambassadors of the eternal kingdom of Christ, and withdrawal is not an option.

It is in this way that the message of The Fractured Republic is most helpful for Christians like myself. In this age of individualism, Americans are distrustful of all things institutional. In fact, as our nation has diversified, the traditional elements and institutions which defined American life for so long have also been weakened by “the rise of expressive individualism.” Our common culture is no longer driven by a small number of cable outlets, major newspapers, elite universities, or giant corporations. Instead, we have experienced a “profusion of narrow grooves of cultural experience” yielding many more options for communicating, obtaining information, finding entertainment, and participating in public life. Through the culture wars of the past we have labored unsuccessfully—though admirably, at times—for dominance in the broader culture. But rather than continue in this effort, we should recognize that at this point, there is “barely a mainstream culture at all” (149). And in its place stands a diversity of subcultures. This is the silver lining for Christians.

Believers in the United States have always held that social liberalization would come at an enormous cost. And though we were right to assume that the Judeo-Christian worldview was in large part responsible for the “cohesion and success of American society,” it turns out that the populace is no longer united in this “general agreement about the virtues and benefits” our traditional beliefs (161). We can no longer boast of a consensus in our beliefs nor marshal the resources to enforce our objectives beyond our own circles. Thus, whatever the consequences of America’s liberal social policy, our remonstrations will do little to curtail its advance.

But this represents, for believers, a significant opportunity. For Christ has commanded his people to bear witness (Acts 1:8). As Levin suggests, perhaps our best opportunity to maintain our public witness is by “building thriving subcultures” (165). He writes, “Especially when we are in no position to enforce or enact our ideals as national norms, social conservatives need to emphasize and prioritize such modeling of alternatives—illustrating the possibility of a more appealing form of modern life by living it” (164). Here we see an alternative to the struggle for control of mainstream institutions that are surely passing away. Instead of those external battles, Christians and churches must see our primary means of cultural engagement as the faithful embodiment of our core beliefs.

Pursuing this course is not withdrawal. It is not retreat. If anything, it is to return to the incarnational and revolutionary message of Jesus. As Christians, we should redouble our efforts to ensure that our churches are filled with true believers committed to the gospel and faithful obedience to Christ. And we should pray to this end. If our local churches were recognized as places of hope, healing, and mercy; if our churches brought light to the darkness of their communities; if our churches were compelling expressions of the redemption found only in Christ; then with full integrity, our voice would resound as one crying out in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3).

Beyond the heartache of seeing American culture reflect the horrors of Babylon, is the obvious truth that Christ has not called us to save America, but to bear witness. The true beauty of seeing the moral veneer of our culture slip away is the opportunity it offers the true bride of Christ to stand ready, shining in the darkness, to testify about the Light. I am grateful to Yuval Levin for the many insights I discovered in The Fractured Republic. And I am prayerful that Christians in America will take heed to maintain our prophetic voice, minority or otherwise.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24