I Bet I Could Get You to Believe Anything

I bet I could get you to believe that the world was flat.

At least I’m pretty sure that I could get you to shove aside everything that you’ve ever learned or read about the round earth–I could get you to deny your own experience and the expertise of every expert on this round planet–and fully embrace a flat earth.

All I’d need to do is get into your social media apps, search up “flat earth real” and click on 3 or 4 posts that support this preposterous assertion.

By clicking on these few posts, the algorithm that decides what you see (and what you don’t see) on social media would be changed, and all but your most closely held opinions and beliefs would change in a few short months.  You’d gradually see more posts about the flat earth, and if you read them, you’d find “proofs” that you will, at first, doubt, but eventually you would wonder, “Could this be true?” These carefully curated posts would mock the ridiculous round Earthers and debunk their so-called “science.”  In about 6 months, you’d be a fundamentalist flat earther.

A year ago, I never would have made such a bet.  I didn’t believe it was possible. But from what I’ve seen in the last few months, I have lost all faith in humanities ability to maintain a grip on reality in the Tik Tok/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram saturated world.

I should have known.  I’ve read Othello.  (Why would I ever think that Shakespeare was just writing some fun fiction when he wrote Othello?)  Othello is a great soldier who’s has the best, most faithful wife a guy could ever have.  Her name is Desi.  Iago, one of Othello’s attendants, gets into Othello’s social media, changes the algorithm, and Othello ends up strangling Desi on their bed because he thinks, no he knows, that she’s been unfaithful.  He knows until she’s dead.  Then he finds out the truth.  Too late. Tragedy.

When I was a kid there was a lot of concern about cults.  Our parents were worried that when went off to college, there was a 50/50 chance of us becoming bourgeois or joining a cult.  They hoped for the first, and feared the latter.  I remember being a little freaked out by the Moonies myself.  I knew they got you, somehow, by making you lose all grip on reality.  This worried me because somehow they got you without you even knowing they were doing it.  The fear really kicked in with Jim Jones, who coerced his followers to commit mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978.  How do rational people end up in that mess?  A few years after that, I was at a party and there were these young people all wearing red: red pants, red shirts, red socks, the whole deal.  I asked them, “What’s with all the red?” and they told me that they were followers of a spiritual teacher named Rajneesh.   Look him up on Wikipedia, interesting stuff–these dudes were in a cult, and some of them would end up badly.  As young people, we were often warned about the brainwashing that was a part of this fervent, irrational loyalty toward cult leaders.

I did some research about brainwashing when I started wondering about the “Two-Minute Hate” in 1984 by George Orwell.  It turns out there are a few common factors in the recruitment practices of cults to attract the kind of followers that would deny their past, reject their family, and abandon all reason.

Here’s how they brainwash you:

  1. They create stress so that the target becomes emotionally vulnerable.  It doesn’t matter what kind of stress, physical, emotional, spiritual–there just needed to be stress.
  2. They make the target feel loved, special or unique.
  3. They isolate the target–they can’t have access to family or newspapers–those things offer perspective because perspective can wreck everything.
  4. They keep the disciple caught between fear and belonging.   The fear creates enemies of the world, enemies of the family.  Fear drives you back into the loving arms of the cult for the reassurance of belonging.

After the early 80s, I hadn’t thought too much about cults.  But somewhere around 2015, we started to see people begin to believe all sorts of ridiculous things.  Now in the Covid-19 pandemic, the lunacy has gone off the charts.  I think I know why.  The pandemic coupled with social media has created the same conditions necessary for brainwashing.

  1. The pandemic and associated lockdowns created stress.  We don’t need a cult leader anymore–social media provides everything that a cult leader would.
  2. It provided the consistent message that “You are special and unique.”
  3. A cult would confiscate your phone to cut all contact from the outside world, but what if the phone becomes the very thing that isolates your from those who could actually bring you back to reality?  Because of the isolation of the lockdowns and social distancing, our main contact with the world was mediated by social media and the algorithms decided what we wanted, what we needed.  We were isolated from reality, we lost all sense of perspective and everything and everyone in the outside world became the enemy.
  4. This created the necessary fear.   Fear creates enemies of those who would see us thrive.  Social media news, politicians and talk show hosts wanting to increase supporters and viewers by exploiting the fear, they offer the solace of belonging.

I have seen people who I know to be devout Christians, abandoning the central tenants of our faith and defending ideas that are blatantly contrary to the teachings of Jesus.  All in the name of Jesus.  They are denying past experience, previously held religious beliefs, family, and reason.  Like cult followers, we don’t think how everyone else thinks.  We reject all other voices that might counter the lies and half-truths we’ve been consuming–close friends and family members can’t even talk any sense to us.  We think they are the deluded ones.  Any doubts we have, send us back to our leader, social media, for reassurance.

Brainwashing.

Social media has that much power.

That’s why I am so confident that I can get you to believe in absolutely anything if I can get your social media to tell it to you.

So what can we do?

  1. Be curious.  Don’t accept what pops up on your feed even if you completely agree with it.  Be curious.
  2. Then take your curiosity to the right place.  Look to the peer-reviewed medical journals.  Look at the websites that are reliant on the data and don’t have a political agenda.
  3. Don’t get your news from social media.  Social media is for sharing pics of your dinner plate or selfies or your holiday shots, not news.
  4. Where to get your news?   Consider this chart:

https://adfontesmedia.com/

There is a reason that as you move to the center, the adherence to the facts increases as well.

If you want to know what is actually going on, what is actually true, go to the places close to the middle of this chart.  If you think that the places in the middle are far more left, or far more right than this chart suggests, it might be an indication of how far you’ve drifted from reality because of social-media-algorithmic-brainwashing.

Still, if you take immediate action, you can reverse this process.

 

 

 

How Christians Might Oppose Vaccine Mandates

Now that we’ve looked at some things that Christians ought not to do, let’s turn to what we can do to argue against vaccine passports and mandates.

Do

Listen to the Experts 

Generally, don’t use an argument that runs contrary to the general consensus of experts.  We might not like what they are saying, but if 95% of the engineers say a bridge is unsafe to use, it’s probably unsafe to use, no matter how much I want to use it.   You can always find another expert who disagrees with the general consensus.  Where the interpretation of the data is more contentious, you can make one side or the other our own, but don’t declare it to be Truth–admit that there is still disagreement among the experts.  Read articles from more neutral sources that offer both sides of the issue.  If, after time and more data, your position eventually ends up going against the consensus of the experts, let it go.

Don’t get your information about anything from articles in your social media feeds.

Be honest with your use of statistics

In their argument against restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated, a group of Christian students used statistics to argue that the vaccines are more deadly than Covid-19.

This is of course a ridiculous assertion, but they were convinced of the veracity of this claim and offered the following statistics.

  • There have been Canadian 67 deaths from Covid-19 among 20-29 year-olds between March 2020 and August 20, 2021.   
  • There have been 48 deaths among “university-age students” between December 2020-July 16, 2021.  This data came from “Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) from December 2020-July 16, 2021 which [also] records: 620 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis (heart inflammation), 88 heart attacks, 263 reports of blood clotting disorders.”

It doesn’t take a degree in statistical analysis to see the problems with these statistics offered by the students.  First, they compare the Covid deaths across 5 months with vaccine deaths is across 8 months. The time frame needs to be the same for a fair comparison.  Second,  the Covid-19 deaths involve victims falling within a ten-year age range, but supposed vaccination deaths involve the ambiguous “university-age students” which, in my mind is only a 4 or 5-year range.   As bad as these errors are, this is just the beginning,  The numbers for Covid-19 deaths come from Canada, the vaccine deaths from the USA.  Given that the USA has a population 10 times the size of Canada, all things being equal, their numbers are probably off by a factor of 10.

But there’s an even bigger problem here.  The VAERS is set up to help the CDC in the US to monitor any possible adverse side effects from all vaccines.  Anyone and everyone is encouraged to report everything to the CDC.  Doctors are required to report.  So, if someone got vaccinated and three days later they drowned in a lake, the family doctor is required to report it to the VAERS.  If someone has a heart attack, the doctor must report it to the VAERS.  This does not mean that the drowning death or heart attack was caused by the vaccination.  The CDC wants this data as a tool to uncover side effects.  Anything that might be statistically significant is tested to see if there is a connection with the vaccine. This is exactly how the blood clotting questions came out. This reporting gave out numbers that prompted the testing of one of the vaccines and discovered that clotting occurs more frequently in those who catch covid than those who are vaccinated. The system worked.

The numbers from the VAERS do not indicate vaccination events.  The numbers in the VAERS data, as used above, suggests drowning deaths as Covid deaths.  They suggest all heart attacks after vaccination was caused by vaccination.  I’m sure the students didn’t intend to claim this, but they inadvertently did.  Use stats.  But remember, like the Bible, they can be made to say anything you want.

Anticipate the Biblical arguments of the Christians you disagree with

Assume that Christians with whom you disagree have come to their position, not because they are suddenly in league with the devil, but because they have considered what scripture says and they believe that their conclusions are faithful to our Lord’s wishes.

On social media we find people using what is called the “strawman argument.”  It’s when one presents the opposing argument in its weakest or most ridiculous form.  This and similar approaches are off-limits for Christians.  We need to contend for the truth with integrity.

To argue with integrity you need to honestly present the position of the opposition in its strongest form and then counter it with your superior argument.  For instance: Christian leaders may be grounding their compliance with government rules on Romans 13:3-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14.  You need to explain the strength of this argument and then argue why these verses do not apply in the current situation.  (I will do just this in the next section.)

It’s a bad idea to ignore this argument and it’s even worse to demean it.

Appeal to God’s Law is a higher law.

Having said all that, this is my main point.  It is the one instance in which we can directly ignore or challenge the riles and restrictions of earthly authorities, the one instance in which we can demand our Christian leaders to take another way.

We are commanded to obey earthly authorities.  That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that there are four exceptions found in the Bible:

You can defy those in authority over us if

  • they instruct you not to pray (Daniel 6).
  • they instruct you to stop sharing the gospel (Acts 4:17-20; 5:27-29; 5:40-42).
  • they instruct you to kill someone (Exodus 1:15-21).
  • they instruct you to engage in the worship of idols (Daniel 3).

If the authorities demand you stop praying, pray anyway.  If they demand you to stop sharing the gospel, keep on sharing.  If the authorities tell you to kill someone, just don’t.   In these three situations, there is no need for public protests, or petitions, or even nasty emails.

However, for the last exception, there might be a possible legitimate reason for a public expression of indignation and disobedience.  As discussed earlier, idol worship is common in our society.  If we can show that government policies and restrictions are grounded in the worship of an idol, we can legitimately resist and disobey.   Idol worship degrades the creatures made in God’s image as a good thing takes a higher position than the human being.  If we are being asked to bow down to an idol, as we see in Daniel 3, we have a justification for our protests and petitions.

So, in the case of vaccine passports, etc., are we being asked to bow down to an idol?

If the answer is yes, we are on the right track.  If the answer is no, we should either get the vaccine or decline the vaccination and accept the consequences.

Is the government saying that Freedom or Rights are more important than human lives in the case of vaccine passports?   Is the government saying that the Economy is more important than human lives when they restrict unvaccinated students’ full participation in campus life?  Is Pleasure more important than people?  If the answer to these, or any question like them, is yes, then we can resist.

A big problem in making a case for this exception is that we are in the middle of a pandemic in which human lives are threatened.  Asking, “Is the health of human beings being placed above human beings?” does not reveal an idol.  The greatest of all dehumanizers is death so the case can be made that loving our neighbour means doing whatever we can to prevent them from catching the virus, even if that means we might have to make sacrifices.  Sacrifices like getting vaccinated, or if not, like giving up our right to live in the dorms, go to a movie, or participate in sports.

Still, there might be something here to justify defiance, but unless there is an idol involved, it’s possible that we are being called to risk our lives (or, temporarily, our access to movies, restaurants, and student housing) out of love for other people.

If the vaccine passports and related restrictions don’t turn out to be unbiblical, don’t fret.  There are plenty of other directions toward which we can direct our passions in fighting against injustices that may actually be idolatrous.   The abortion issue has some possibilities.  Perhaps helping fearful expectant mothers who feel they have no realistic alternatives to abortion.  Racism is idolatrous at its core–we could direct our energy there.  We could help people understand that the system where I get to buy a $10 t-shirt is propped up by a lot of people working for low wages under terrible conditions.  If you are American, you can easily point out the dehumanization that has resulted in such high incarceration rates, or the idols that make it so difficult to put any limits on firearms.

These and causes like them, lack some of the natural appeals of affecting us directly, but channeling our passions and energies toward these has the advantage of not making us look so self-serving.

How Not to Use the Bible to Argue Against Vaccines

Photo by Lukas on Unsplash

It looks like vaccine passports are becoming a reality in many jurisdictions.  The British Columbia government is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access activities like ticketed sporting events, dining in restaurants, fitness centres, and conferences.  On post-secondary campuses,  proof of vaccination will be required to participate in sports and clubs and to live in student housing.

And some people are upset by this. 

Among the upset are Christians.  On the news, I saw protestors carrying signs with Bible verses.  Stories are popping up on my social media feeds of students at Christian colleges and universities who are upset because their plans for the fall have been disrupted by vaccine requirements.  Their frustrations are supported by biblical texts.  One group of Christian students started a petition demanding the school’s leadership reject government rules on biblical grounds. 

Many of these attempts to use biblical texts and principles to challenge vaccine passports are quite weak.  But, under certain circumstances, it is possible to find a biblical justification for disobedience.  Here is my list of do’s and don’ts to help Christians use the Bible to present a strong challenge to government rules and restrictions, not just for vaccine passports, but for a wide variety of situations in which it is appropriate to actively challenge and even disobey earthly authorities.

For Christians, winning the argument and getting what we want isn’t the ultimate prize.  My assumption in compiling this list assumed that integrity in pursuit of the truth is our concern.

Don’ts

Don’t argue using the principle of Unity

Christian unity is very important.  After all, Jesus prayed for one thing and that was for unity amongst his disciples (John 17:11, 21-23).  Some Christians are using the unity argument to justify their position on all sorts of Covid-19 measures from masks to vaccination requirements.   This is ill-advised.  The problem is that both sides can use the unity argument.  And since the significant majority of British Columbians are vaccinated, some may argue that it falls on the minority to submit to the majority in order to preserve unity.  

Don’t argue that their motives are nefarious

This argument is out there, but Christians ought only to use it if there is, in fact, some sort of plot or power grab by the government and, by extension, Christian leaders who are adhering to government requirements.  I read one post that accused Christian leaders of following government guidelines “under the guise of protecting our community.”  Under other circumstances, this might be an effective argument, but in this case, the government’s actions can easily be viewed as motivated solely on protecting the community.   

Here is the line of reasoning that the government and its supporters follow to arrive at vaccine passports and other limitations:

  1. They think we are in the middle of a pandemic–the virus is contagious and it kills people.
  2. They believe that it is the government’s responsibility, among other things, to protect people. 
  3. They trust science and so they believe that there are two main ways to protect people in a pandemic–a lockdown or an effective vaccination. 
  4. They trust the data and believe that the vaccine is effective.
  5. They think that it is important that we respect people’s rights to not receive a vaccination.
  6. They think that another lockdown would be very bad for a lot of people–lots of businesses would fold, education would be compromised, and mental health would suffer, to name a few.
  7. They conclude a hybrid system (whereby the vaccinated can go to a movie, and the unvaccinated can’t) is the best way to both protect people’s rights to refuse the vaccine and protect other people from dying, while, at the same time, avoiding the negative effects of a full lockdown.

Because this line of argument makes sense, these people will not take seriously an accusation that there is an ulterior motive at work.  

If you still want to accuse the powers that be of some sinister motive,  you need to be specific and the sinister motive must be, at least, plausible.  

Don’t be careless with the Bible  

Some people will believe that the very presence of a Bible verse makes our position biblical.   But we need to be careful.  The Bible is the Word of God, so it goes without saying that it needs to be treated accordingly.  We can’t just Google “Bible verses about freedom” and then argue that they all support our freedom to attend a basketball game without two doses.  For instance, John 8:36 (“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”) does not say that no one has a right to limit my freedom in any way.  Used in this way, one can manipulate the Bible to justify anything.  

Scripture is authoritative in the life of a Chrisitan, so we must have Biblical support for our position, but the Bible must be used responsibly.   I’m not saying that you need to be a Bible scholar to quote the Bible, but you can’t just toss verses in here and there.  You have to do a little bit of thinking in order to line up what you want the Bible to say and what it actually says.

Don’t be too quick to cry “Discrimination!”:

Discrimination is a powerful word these days.  I understand the desire to harness such power for our side, but its power should be used simply as a rhetorical tool–this demeans actual discrimination. 

For many people, discrimination is real, not an abstract concept.   When we use the term in this diminished sense, it diminishes the very real experience of others.   You see, unlike discrimination by gender, race, sexual orientation, or even socioeconomic position, the category of unvaccinated is not rigid.   An unvaccinated person can move to the vaccinated category very easily.  And as soon as the pandemic is over, so too will be the vaccine restrictions.  By the strictest definition of the term, there is discrimination (like when I discriminate ripeness of avocados in the grocery store) going on here, but because the categories are not rigid and temporary, applying it to ourselves in this instance, is inappropriate.

One of the most frequently used, or misused, Bible verses that is brought to bear against the “discrimination” in vaccine passports is Galatians 3:28.

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

If we read one verse further we realize that this verse is about unity in Christ transcending ethnic, social, and gender distinctions. It does not mean that no Christians should ever be treated differently than any other Christian.  As a matter of fact, Jesus excludes some from the alter (Matthew 5:23) and Paul excludes some Christians from Communion (1 Corinthians 11: 27-34).

Don’t appeal to Pagan Idols

By pagan, I mean “unlit by the light of the gospel.”  In essence, pagans worship idols.  What is an idol?  I am riffing off Tim Keller here: Christians believe that God created everything and he called it all good.  So we have the ultimate thing, God, and a bunch of good things.   When God made people, he made them “in his image” (Genesis 1:26-27).  We are above the good things.  We are to enjoy the good things, worship God, and love our neighbour.   Idolatry is when we worship a good thing instead of God.  This inversion always results in dehumanization and often in human sacrifice.  This is why idol worship is, in God’s view, a detestable practice.  In the ancient world, when we made fertility the ultimate thing, children end up on the altars of the fertility gods. 

A good thing, fertility, replaced God as the ultimate thing, and people suffered.   Our culture has largely abandoned the worship of the true God and replaced him with many different idols.  Wealth, success, beauty, fame, and pleasure are some of the common ones. The worship of each of these has resulted in a wake of human suffering and misery.  Perhaps the most important deity in our society today is individual autonomy, aka “Freedom” or “Rights.”  These are good things–they can’t be the main thing.  When they are, people are sacrificed.  (Watch my video on this subject here.)

Christians ought not to invoke the names of these pagan gods to challenge the government or its policies.  For one thing, these gods have no authority over Christians.  But more importantly, if we allow these false gods to force the opening up of the dorms, restaurants, and sports teams to both vaccinated and unvaccinated, human lives would necessarily be sacrificed on the alters to these pagan gods.  God will find this detestable. 

So when making your placards, Instagram posts, and petitions, be very careful that you do not invoke the names of these good things as if they were the ultimate things. 

This is my list of “Don’ts.”

In my next post, I offer some things we can do and conclude with the one biblical exemption that permits Christians to resist the authorities God has placed over us.  (Read it here.

Why Does the Bible Compare Us to Sheep?

The Bible is full of references to sheep and shepherds, and while I didn’t raise sheep in the Holy Land, sheep are still sheep, and my experiences have helped me to understand the parallels that the biblical authors draw between sheep and his people. And let me tell you, the comparison is not always complimentary.

Going Back to Church with “Those” People

Soon, we will be returning to in-person church services.

As is often the case, in my church, there were differences of opinions over the wearing of masks and the safety of vaccines.  There was more disagreement over the appropriate Christian response to the governmental closures of religious gatherings and quite a bit of controversy over the use of our church building as a vaccination site.

Since last March, I have been researching the Covid-19 pandemic.  I’ve read all kinds of articles from various perspectives, and I have read whole books on the subject.  I went to a Liberal Arts university, so I have some ability to understand science and as I digested all this material, I developed opinions that I believe are the right ones–they are grounded in my analytical skills and my expertise in the evaluation of sources; they are built upon my understanding of human nature and culture derived from a lot of experience and more than a little reading; they rest upon the foundation of 40 years of deeply reading and studying the Bible.  And lastly, conversations with experts.

So I am confused, frustrated, and sometimes angered by those who do not share my opinions on the Christian response to the various issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

I can’t believe they could be so dumb and so unfaithful to the general themes of scripture, the teachings of Jesus Christ our Lord, and the instructions of Paul to the early church.

And soon, I will be sitting in the pew next to these people with whom I have disagreed.  One’s whose views I believe are totally wrong.  And we will together be worshiping our Lord and King.   So how is that supposed to work?

I am frustrated by those who do not share my opinions on the Christian response to the issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. And soon, I will be sitting in the pew next to these people. And we will together be worshiping our Lord. How?Click To Tweet

The Screwtape Letters (1942) by C. S. Lewis offers us some help here.     In The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon named Screwtape provides advice to a novice tempter, his nephew Wormwood, about how best to lead his human ”patient” to damnation.  “Our Father,” then is Satan, and “the Enemy” is Jesus Christ.  Screwtape’s letters give a pretty clear indication as to how the demons plan to use the disagreements about WWII to weaken the church and thwart any of the purposes that God might have through the turmoil.   These demonic intentions are no different in our current situation and it is clear from Lewis’s book that we will either be agents of heaven or the instruments of hell as we encounter events like Covid-19.  Indeed, we already have been.

I have found in these letters three insights that will make it possible for me to come together in worship next to those with whom I disagree on all the issues around the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Best We Knew

In the fifth letter, Screwtape talks about the Second World War.   Obviously, this was a big deal for the original audience of Lewis’s book; it was a time of tremendous turmoil and uncertainty.  He explains to Wormwood,

But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

As you can see from this excerpt, in times of turmoil and uncertainty, the demons want to exacerbate division by turning my focus on the rightness of my own position and the wrongness of those who disagree with me.

This is exactly what has happened during the pandemic.  We’ve taken opposing opinions about masks and vaccines and church closures and using the church as a vaccination site.   I am right, obviously.  If you can’t see that, you are obviously wrong.  So how can we get along?  Well, we can’t because not only are you wrong, you are ignorant and probably not even really a Christian.  Have you thought this?  It’s exactly what the demons want, and exactly what God does not.

The amazing thing about this passage is that all our passion about masks, or vaccines, or church closures might be completely misplaced.  And God’s OK with that.  As long as we are looking to values and causes higher than the self.  God wants us to look beyond ourselves–to principles that we believe to be important because we believe we are being faithful to his will.

So there is a lot of soul searching required.  How much of my passion is about serving the self?  Be honest, some of it is.  If you think you are 100% focused on the good of the Kingdom, you don’t know yourself very well.

Let’s get back to the point: How can I get along with people on the opposite side of the issues?  They held their views because they thought they were the right ones.  God doesn’t care very much if they were wrong.  And neither should I.

And be honest, there is a possibility that you were the one who was wrong.  Take comfort in the truth that God likes it that you were trying to be faithful.

How can I get along with people on the opposite side of the issues? They care about the issue and they think they are right. God cares more that they care than that they are right.Click To Tweet

Don’t be Extreme

If you still wonder if you can go back to church with those people, here’s a second insight.  In the seventh letter, Screwtape returns to a subject he refers to in an earlier letter.  Again, in the context of the Second World War, Christians obviously took opposing positions regarding the appropriate Christian response to the war.  Some were in favour of the war and others opposed it.   I’m sure that there was a lot of division within the church, and strong feelings, and broken relationships–and behaviours akin to unfollowing someone on Facebook.  Even without social media, there were arguments about which side was faithful, and which was in league with the forces of hell.

So here’s what the demons are up to.  Screwtape says,

I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. [The current age is] unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame [it].

It’s like Lewis has written these words for today, not just for 80 years ago.  Did you notice what side the devils are on?  Neither!  The side doesn’t matter, they just want the extremes.  Extremes are emotional and unstable, and they create divisions that are difficult to overcome–because of the damage they create; people on the extremes can’t listen, they can only shout.  I watch the exchanges on Twitter.  If you have a Twitter account, you know exactly what I am talking about.  Extreme this, versus extreme that.  They talk as if those with whom they disagree are in league with the devil.  What they don’t understand is the devil isn’t on one side or the other.  The devil is behind the demonizing of others regardless of the side.

The divisions in our culture are getting more and more extreme–liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.  And Covid-19 created new issues with new extremes.  The issues are in the church, but we need to keep the extremes out.  In the States, many politicians and much of the media know better but are using the extremes, both sides, for their own political ends.  This, whether liberal or conservative, whether mask or no mask, is what makes the devils dance with hateful glee.  We can’t expect those in politics and media to live in obedience to the king, but it is expected from the children of God.  By his Spirit, we must stay away from the extremes.

It’s not too difficult to infer that God isn’t very concerned about what side we are on.  He is a lot more interested in you still talking to your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And singing with them, and praying.  And disagreeing with them, and still finishing your coffee and shaking hands when you leave each other.

If God doesn’t really care which side you are on, then neither should I.

Charity and Humility

In the sixteenth letter, the local church is described as being “a unity of place and not of likings.”   It brings together people with whom you might not naturally associate too closely. In the church, different classes, generations, races, and political views come together in unity in a particular place.  This is the kind of unity the Lord desires.  The devils want divisions about “likings”:

The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion” . . . .  And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application.

We will always have disagreements.  They had them in the early church and we have them now.  The argument around circumcision was a big deal; it was about fully understanding the extent of Grace.  But not all conflict is as significant. Screwtape calls these “unessentials.”  I think sometimes, when we are in the middle of it all, we can’t tell if we are dealing with a serious issue or an unessential liking.  A good rule of thumb is that the closer it gets to Christ, the more essential it is.

The Corinthian church had a contentious issue to deal with.  The issue was about eating meat that has been associated with idol worship.  Most of the meat available in the Corinthian marketplace and at public social gatherings was associated with idol worship.  You can imagine that some Christian thought it was was a sin to eat this meat and that Christians must, then, eat only vegetables.  Others argued that since the Greek gods didn’t exist, the meat was fine.  You can imagine the same passions from both sides of the issue as we have about masks and vaccines and defying government closures and using the church as a vaccination site.

So what does Paul say? Well, he says, go ahead and eat the meat.  But then he says that love is more important than anything else, so consider how eating meat will affect others and refrain from any action that will cause others to stumble.

I’m not sure which side is supposed to move when it comes to the Covid 19 issues.  We have to determine who might be stumbling.  I won’t be stumbling.  That means I’m the one that is supposed to concede.  Crap!

Hell wants us to focus on being right and heaven wants us to focus on loving each other.  When we thwart the plans of the demons, the church becomes “a positive hotbed for charity and humility.”  Whatever side we are on, we’ve got to get out of the “fight because you are right” mindset and embrace an attitude of love.

There are a lot more issues pulling against Church unity today.  It’s not just the Covid-19 pandemic.  Most of the issues have nothing to do with orthodox doctrines about Jesus Christ. I wonder if we can’t take these three insights into all the big issue conflicts we find ourselves in.

  1. Believe in your position, but remember that God is more interested in motives than rightness.
  2. Don’t be extreme, except in your devotion to Him.
  3. If your causing your brother to stumble, his position is the one we are going with.

These are the three insights that I will be trying to remember as we head back into in-person corporate worship because Christ prayed for unity above all things.  These are the very circumstances in which he prays it.  Who am I to place my desire to be right (even though I am…stop it! Just stop it!) above the prayers of the King?

The End of Parody and Dystopia

The day is coming when we will no longer understand dystopian fiction or parody. This is bad news for those of us who love movies like Shrek and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  In the not too distant future, people will stop reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four; they just won’t get why Winston puts up such a fight.  I know you are excited to one day share Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games with your children or grandchildren, but when that day comes, they will neither understand nor enjoy it.   I regret that the writing is on the wall.  Time is running out for these two wonderful genres.

Dystopian Fiction

Dystopian fiction presents a hideous future.  What makes the future so terrible?  Well that’s the interesting thing about dystopian fiction.  It’s something different every time.

Dystopian stories, as ugly as they are, are actually positive.  They show us a possible future if our culture or society continue down the same path we are on.  Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale shows us what might happen if we continue to think of human beings, particularly women, in terms of roles rather than as individuals.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent offers us a world in which society makes all decisions for you–so it is a warning against the group-think.

This genre has expIoded since the middle of the last century with A Brave New World (1932), Nineteen Eighty Four (1949), and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) getting things rolling.  In recent years, dystopian narratives have become the staple of Young Adult Fiction.

Alas, a time is coming when we simply won’t understand these stories.  When this happens, we will stop reading the old ones, and cease to create new ones.  And this will not be because we will have arrived at some form of Utopia.  It’s because we won’t accept the central tenet of all dystopian narratives.

The inherent value of a human being.

Fundamental to Western civilization is the value of human life.  This goes back to the Judeo-Christian foundations of our culture.  The creator God made all that is and he called it all Good.  Then he created human beings. The first chapter of the first book tells the story.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

God created human beings and then he put them into a position above all the things he made.  This is important.  In essence, humanity as a whole assumes the position previously limited to the Babylonian Priest-King.  All of humanity–male and female–are given the role of King over all creation.  Along with this position goes all the responsibility that goes along with Biblical kingship, from our royal position, creation is supposed to flourish under our rule.  And no other created thing is to be placed in a position higher than a human being.  This is idolatry.

The one thing that all dystopian narratives have in common, and from which they derive their energy, is that they are all about idolatry–placing some good thing in a position higher than humanity.

In 1984 it is power; in Brave New World it’s pleasure; in Logan’s Run it is youth; in The Hunger Games it is peace.

What happens when we no longer accept as self-evident the value of a human being over every other created thing?

This is what is happening in our culture.

The attack on “human exceptionalism” comes from several different quarters.  Including those who seek to elevate animals to the same level as human beings.  Part of the impulse for doing so is understandable.  The modern world tends to commodify everything including animals, and as a species, we have been very busy altering environments necessary for animals to flourish to make them more profitable.  The solution, however, it to not to elevate animals to the level of humanity (which is in essence to degrade humanity to the level of animal), but to take our God given position as the Crown of Creation.  To be a king means to oversee the ordering and flourishing of one’s domain.  This is our task.

When human beings are no longer thought  of as valuable–the genre that is built on the principle of human value will cease to be relevant.

My hope is that the understanding of human value is so profound in us that, rather than going along with anti-human exceptionalism, someone will write a dystopian novel about the hideous future that may be a result of this turn.

Parody

A parody is an imitation of a type of literature, film, music or art, in which certain characteristics are exaggerated to create a humorous effect.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is a parody of of the chivalric romances popular in his day.

Shaun of the Dead is a humorous imitation of Dawn of the Dead.

The first line of Pride and Prejudice is

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The first line of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

Parody relies on the uniqueness the various styles or genres–a Shakespearean drama is a different sort of thing than a Rom-Com, and both of these are very different from an American Western or a German Fairy Tale or a Greek epic.  All of these styles are quite unmistakable; once you are familiar with one, you are not likely to confuse it with something else.

So what happens to parody when the boundaries between different categories cease to exist?

Pastiche kills Parody

Parody is impossible when pastiche appears.   Pastiche is imitation too.  But unlike parody, pastiche it has no ulterior motive.   Parody often has a whiff of satire about it–some impulse to expose a bit of foolishness.  At the very least parody hopes to offer some pleasure when some higher things is brought down to earth though comic means.

Pastiche is parody that has lost its sense of humor. Pastiche is imitation without the meaning.  It’s just the mask.

According to social theorist Fredrik Jameson, one of the most significant features of cultural postmodernism is pastiche.  The whole idea of a literary style is rooted in something approaching an absolute–a universal idea by which we can determine in which category a literary work fits.  Postmodernism does not cotton to these universals.  So a movie set in the medieval era can have the audience of a jousting tournament singing Queen’s “We will Rock You” (Knights Tale 2001).  And speaking of Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody is pastiche in that it imitates various styles including cappella, ballad, opera and rock and roll.

Without universal categories that differentiate various literary or artistic styles, we lose the ability to imitate a style for humorous effect–we lose parody.

Dystopian fiction and Parody are still around, but I don’t know for how long, so enjoy them while you can.

 

 

The Sacred-Secular Divide

Are you or anyone you know, suffering from Christian Dualism?

Symptoms include:

  • You don’t listen to “secular” music.
  • You use the term “worship” as a synonym for church singing.
  • Feeling a lot of guilt because you haven’t given God enough of your life.

The Worship of Freedom

So do we worship freedom, alongside God, in the church?  In some cases, I think we do, but even where it has not yet become an idol, our awareness of the possibility might delay its eventually becoming one.

Take the quiz in this video to determine if Individual Freedom is taking too great a role in our life and worship.

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