Category: Rants (Page 1 of 6)

I get a little riled up occasionally, and then I think about why I am angry. I will continue thinking long after I should have let it go. One great way of getting beyond the issue is to write about it.

Other Forms of Child Abuse

Abuse is a very strong word.  It brings to mind all kinds of terrible acts carried out upon the innocent.  I now realize, I was abused as a child.

  1. Peas are a form of child abuse.  I have been one of the many children who have had to sit at the table, long after the meal was finished looking at a small pile of cold peas.  “You can go play as soon as your finish your peas.”  Parents claimed all sorts of reasons for making us eat vegetables: “They are good for you”; “There are children starving someplace in the world.” It was really all about exerting their authority as was apparent when they eventually responded to tearful queries, “Because I said so!”
  2. Fluoride treatments.  Talk about abuse!  First, it took place on a series of Saturdays–the only day of fun in the week.  We had to go to the school gym and sit in a cold metal chair while a lady clamped an complex and pinchy apparatus to our head and mouth.  The purpose of this apparatus, besides the infliction of pinchy-discomfort, was to hold the mouth open and the cheeks away from the teeth.  When she got around to it, the lady would then paint our teeth with a long cotton swab and we’d have to sit there forever to let the stuff dry.  And then we got to go again the next Saturday to repeat the process.  And again the next Saturday.  Actually, I have no idea how many Saturdays I had to lose, but one Saturday was one too many.  Stronger teeth and fewer cavities? Yeah right; we knew it was some sort of a conspiracy to deprive us of our only day of childhood freedom.
  3. The Saturday night bath is child abuse.  Well, the actual bath wasn’t very traumatic, except the dreaded scrubbing behind the ears.  The source of the dread of bath time, was the idea of having a bath instead of doing about a thousand other things I’d rather be doing.  The real abuse came after the bath.  Once one was dried and dressed in ones pajamas, one presented oneself for the combing of the hair.  The combs back in those days were needle sharp.  Mother took a mighty swing and embedded the tines into the scalp and then scraped them to the left, like a harrow on a hard field.  This excoriation was repeat hair lay in perfect swaths, and then the abrading moved from the part to the right.   By the time the combing was completed, the skin in the part of my hair was hot and I was sure I felt that blood must be seeping from the injury.  All week, I dreaded the Saturday night bath. Kids these days like baths. They take them more than once a week.  They ask if they can take a bath.  They enjoy them and have no idea that you’d force them to take baths if they decided they didn’t want to.  It’s much better for parents to come off as the nice guy.
  4. Church was child abuse.  First, we had to have our hair combed again, reopening the injuries from the night before.  The we had to put on clothes that would have tested the faithfulness of the most ardent medieval ascetic.  We had to sit through the church service on hard pews that had been built to increase the discomfort of the woolen trousers.  We had to sit through salutations, offerings, the dreaded congregational prayers, as well as prayers illumination, thanksgiving, blessing, and of confession.  We had to endure the assurances of pardon, the articulations of the Law of God, the reading of the Psalms and the Gloria Patris.  Then there was the confessions of faith, the recitations of the creeds, the Apostle’s but also, on occasion, the Nicene.  And then came the sense of foreboding at the words, “Thus far the reading of God’s Word,” because we knew the sermon was about to start.  It would last for long tortuous hours.  And it you so did anything but sit like a post, you got an almighty pinch on the thigh by your mother.  And if you cried out, your dad would take over into the lobby after a speedy exit into the narthex.  “Train up a child in the way they should go,” is what they said.  They had this idea that rituals and repetitions were essential for developing patterns that would stick with us for a lifetime.  It’s so much better these days when kids get to leave after the singing to establish different patterns that aren’t so demanding on a child.
  5. Little league baseball.  A lot of people reminisce fondly about their participation in youth sports.  I am not one of these.  I knew very well that I was supposed to play baseball and that I was supposed to enjoy it.   I never enjoyed it.  I was not an athlete.  I wasn’t the worst guy on the field, but the idea of a ball being hit in my direction was a thing of nightmares.  I prayed constantly as I stood out there in right field, “Please, don’t hit it to me.  Please, don’t hit it to me.”  If I wasn’t so paralyzed with fear, I bet I could have caught a lot more flyballs and fielded those gappers more effectively.  If you liked little league baseball, your parents would put you in music lessons of some sort.  Anything that would have no apparent short term benefits.  We live in a far kinder world these days where we don’t make kids do anything that they don’t want to do.  And the world is probably a better place for it.  What good are sports, music, the arts or languages to those who were forced to stick with them?
  6. Swimming lessons were torture.  I was forced to take swimming lessons at the YMCA.  It had no slides or channels with currents or hot tubs or waves or anything fun.  It was large, tiled rectangle.  The water was very cold and heavily chlorinated.  Your eyes burned when the lessons were done. The instructors were detached and impatient.  I think I have heavy bones, because it always took a lot of energy to keep afloat, and one of the requirements of passing the swimming course was to tread water in the deep end for 3 hours or 10 minutes (I don’t remember exactly).  They told us stories of kids who drowned in this or that lake and said that we wouldn’t live to adulthood unless we could swim 100 laps without touching the side.  I had some issue with breathing while doing the front crawl–something to do with water in my lungs–it was so hard.  I had more than one drowning scare during the lessons.  I eventually learned how to swim, but I ask you, what was the point?   Sure, I never drowned, but the chances of me drowning even without lessons were always very low.  No point I say.   Abuse.
  7. Walking from home from school.  When I was in grade 1, I dreaded the bus.  At school, at the end of the day, the bus was packed and all the kids were twice my size–grade 4 kids.  I couldn’t get on; I couldn’t find a seat; I dreaded not being able to get off again at my stop because of the press of bodies.  The fear was so great that I just walked home instead. It was a very long walk, but it was better than the trauma of getting on that bus.  7-year-olds walked great distances in those days.  You’ve no doubt heard the stories from your parents and grandparents about the miles they walked in the snow.  These stories are true.  It builds character, they said.  Helen Keller said of character that it “cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”  What did she know about suffering anyway?

* * *

I remember when my son was about two years old.  On one of his explorations of the back yard, he found a big, black, beautiful slug.  He ran excitedly up to his mother with his handful of slug to show her this treasure.  She instinctively reacted with horror.   I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face–it was as if to say, “If this thing cause that much horror in an adult standing four feet away, how much more serious is it for the child holding it in hand!”  He went from delight or horror based solely on the reaction of his mother.

The point is, that children easily accept the world as it comes to them.  It is how the adults whom they trust behave that shapes their response to things like slugs and masks.

Nazi Germany and Vaccines

Nazis and Vaccine Passports and Mandates

Educated citizens are necessary for a healthy democracy.  It has become all too apparent that an increasing number of citizens have a very limited understanding of history and literature.  A lot of people like to invoke Nazi Germany or George Orwell in arguments opposing the government policies intended to combat the spread and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is not my intention to argue whether these policies are good or bad–it is my intention to get bad arguments out of the conversation.

The above image is an example of a bad argument.  The poster maker clearly has an extremely superficial and sentimental understanding of history.  The argument here is that the Nazis were primarily the sort of people who limited the freedoms of their citizens.  As a totalitarian regime, they certainly did restrict freedoms.  But this is not what National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s was all about.  And it’s not why they are still held up as among the greatest criminals in history.

Consider, which government besides the National Socialists, has put restrictions on the freedoms of its people?  Stalin?  Yes, Stalin’s Communists certainly did.  But, he is another guy you ought not to reference when you are objecting to vaccine passports, and for the same reasons as you shouldn’t reference Nazis.  While we are talking about Communism, let’s put China on the list.

OK, who else has restricted the freedom of its citizens?  How about every government that has ever existed?  It’s what governments do.  To advance the common good, governments restrict individual freedoms.  Every American and Canadian government has done it.  The best governments restrict freedoms; the worst governments restrict freedoms.

Thus, it is absurd to argue that our current government’s pandemic policies are like Nazi policies just because they limit individual freedom.  Arguably because they are designed to protect people, they are not like Nationalist Socialist policies that involved the systematic identification, humiliation, and murder of six million Jews.   To make such a comparison belittles the tremendous suffering of Hitler’s victims and it trivializes the heinous crimes of the Nazi regime.

“If You’ve Ever Wondered . . . “

I’ve read quite a few books about Germany in the 1930s and I have a sense as to how National Socialism got into power.  I have often wondered if such a thing could happen today.  I no longer wonder.  The last 10 years has convinced me that it could easily happen again.  The last months, with the vaccine kerfluffle, even more so.

The above poster targets compliance as the problem.  I suppose the logic goes something like this: Hitler came to power because freedom lovers refused to stand against him.  If you wear masks and get vaccinated, you are the same as the people who easily caved to the Nazis and let the Holocaust happen.

There are many problems with this comparison.

First, the Nazis didn’t get into power because of a compliant majority.  Hitler and the National Socialists never had more than 38% of the popular vote.   He got control of Germany with the support of a passionate minority.  What is instructional here is the nature of that passion.  Where did it come from?  In whom was it exploited?  How was it manipulated?  And to where was it directed?

So how did Hitler come to control Germany in 1933?

In the early 30s, The German people were living in “unprecedented times.”  They had high unemployment and had to line up for food.  Inflation wiped out the savings of the middle class, and then The Great Depression hit and everything that was bad, got worse. Combine all this with the bitter pill of the Treaty of Versaille and you’ve got a lot of turmoil.  Political demonstrations and counter-demonstrations and then violence.  The political parties had their own paramilitary units.  All this drove people from the centre to the right and to the left.  Hitler focused on the right.  Society was changing–people had to adjust from living under a monarchy to a democracy.  Add to that, women were working and they had won the right to vote.  New values were replacing old values.  In 1932, the right-wing, using methods similar to what we find on social media today, played upon the fear of the left and warned of an impending Communist Revolution in Germany.

Because there was no center, no government could ever achieve a majority.  Consequently, no one could govern for long and no one could govern effectively.

The conservatives, under President Hindenberg, brokered a coalition with the Nazis and offered Hitler the chancellorship.  Support for the National Socialists was waning and this offer from the conservatives was enthusiastically accepted.  The radical step could be taken only because the left had been demonized.   The conservatives thought they could control Hitler.   Just four weeks later, the Reichstag, the lower house of German democracy, was attacked by arsonists.   Hitler declared an emergency and Hindenberg was compelled to suspend all basic civil rights and constitutional protections.  Now he was free to deal with his enemies.  Hitler blamed the left and arrested trade unionists and Communist leaders, expelling even the legitimately elected Communist delegates from the parliament.  With the Communist delegates removed, the Nazi Party had a majority.  And the rest is, as they say, history.

“Now You Know”

So, there are significant misunderstandings of history in an attempt to equate government policies for dealing with Covid-19 and the rise of National Socialism.

The problem in Germany before 19330 was not those who obeyed the government.  But there was a problem–some people accepted lies and half-truths for truths.  They accepted the narrative that separated the US from THEM, and they abandoned the centre, where the truth was and went to the extremes.  They believed what Hitler said about his political opponents.  They believed that they could hitch their wagon to the Nazis in order to gain control over their political enemies.

But is there anything we can learn from history?  Does understanding the rise of the Nazis help us in our current situation?  I think so.

  1. Citizens need to be very aware that democracy is never in more danger than in “unprecedented times.”
  2. We need to understand that the threat is not who we are being told it is.  The threat is non THEM–the people on the other side of the political spectrum.  The threat is not the “enemy” before us, but the “friend” behind us.
  3. Do not allow the lies and half-truths spread by those “friends” to pull you from the centre.  Don’t listen to those we seek to inflame the fears and the conflict–the politicians who are only interested in votes or the media personalities only interested in subscribers.  You can find them all over social media.  Social media is emptying the centre.  This, and not “them,” is the true threat to our freedom.
  4. Conversations about things like vaccine passports and individual rights are very important.  Those on the extremes have no interest in such conversations.  They don’t want us to have them.  Reasonable discussions of complex issues will bring people toward understanding other perspectives and will end up with compromises and safeguards.  This sort of thing is a threat to the “ultras” who want others to join them on the fringes.    Consequently, they will ignore complexity and seek powerful emotions by invoking Hitler and the Holocaust.  Or Stalin and Communism.  Or whatever.

Some of the compliant people referred to in the poster above are people that have not yet been radicalized–they live in the centre.

If you are concerned with losing our rights and freedoms as did the German people in 1933, make a poster that says something like, “Don’t believe, the lies–join me in the center, and let’s talk about this.  I’ll bring the beer.”

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.


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:

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.

Willful Destruction of Poetry!

I was teaching away and as often happens, I needed to quickly pull up something on the computer to make a point, or give an example of something for the edification of my students.  I needed to project Robert Frost’s “Nature’s First Green is Gold.”  I just typed the first few words into to search bar and hit enter.

I immediately notices the images that the search brought up.

I couldn’t believe what I saw!

Compare that travesty to this:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
                                                                     Robert Frost

When he wrote it, Robert Frost composed a poem.  He didn’t write a paragraph.  And if he were to write a paragraph, you can be sure he wouldn’t have justified, both right and left.

You don’t get poetry?

Well, this re-presenting of Frost’s original, is analogous to any of the following: (you choose)

  • Putting the front of a Volkswagon Bug on a Rolls-Royce
  • Mixing a can on Sprite with a glass  of Espetacle del Montsant 2017 because it’s not sweet enough
  • Ordering Lobster with a side of Kraft Dinner
  • Listening to your Aunt Edna doing Kareoke–Bonnie Tyler’s “Turn Around” (with your High School PE teacher doing the second voice)
  • Adding a cheesy chorus to Amazing Grace–with a mixed metaphor to boot

Suffice it to say that everything in a poem contributes to its meaning.   In this violent restructuring of the poem, the rhyme is lost.  The correspondence of the alliteration in lines 2 and lines 7 is lost, as is the correlation between “Nature” and “Nothing”–the first words of the first and last lines.  Not to mention the first words of each line (“Nature’s . . . Her . . . Her . . . But . . . So . . . Then . . . So . . . So . . . Nothing”).

And what’s the deal with the background picture?  Grand mountainous cliffs that have grass on them!?  That might be a poem, but it ain’t this poem!  Sure it’s green.  Big deal.  It’s the green of the second leaf in line 5.  This poem is about the “first green,” a green so fleeting it needed a profound poem to hint at its beauty and significance and value and fragility.  You can’t capture that by slapping a green mountain on the background.  If a picture was possible, Frost wouldn’t have needed to write the poem!

As Bugs Bunny would say: “What a maroon.”

And you shouldn’t do this to Bible verses either!

Freedom is God: Wear a Mask

A friend of mine sent me a video in which Dennis Pranger of Prager U, addresses the graduating class of 2020 on what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught them about life.

The address is called Graduation 2020: The COVID Class

Early on in the address, he characterizes our unique times, not with reference to the contagious and potentially deadly disease that has swept across the globe, but as a time when “healthy people, and people living in free societies, have been confined to their homes.”

This take on our current situation is central to Pranger’s message which is taken up in his third point.  His first two points are spot on and part of my motivation to write this post is to pass on these astute observations and wise words.

Pranger U is a conservative American organization that creates videos on various political, economic, and philosophical topics.   There are a lot of Christians who like what Pranger has to say but being conservative and being Christian are not the same thing.  This is born out in Pranger’s third lesson to the COVID Class.

Lesson 1: Life is Hard, Unfair, and Unpredictable.

Your life is very easy.   In the developed West, all our lives are easy compared to those in other parts of the world.  We have easy access to food.  Clothing and shelter are not much of a problem for the vast majority of  North Americans.  We are healthy and have a lot of leisure time and a plethora of entertainment options.  We can easily get the idea that this is normal.  It’s not.

Covid-19 and its effects begin to help us to sense how hard life is, “and that understanding equips you to deal much better with life’s challenges, which are inevitable.”

Pranger’s right.  To walk into life from high school expecting the world to be easy, fair, and predictable will lead to disappointment and bitterness.  This is a valuable lesson.

Lesson 2: Always be Grateful

Pranger says that “gratitude is probably the most important trait you can have because it is the source of both happiness and goodness.”

I don’t necessarily agree that gratitude is the source of goodness, but I agree with his premise and that grateful people are happier than resentful people.   We have so much to be grateful for but, ironically, we tend to be ungrateful in our culture. This may be because we are continuously barraged with advertising and social media that teaches us we don’t have enough or are not good enough.

If Covid-19 has helped you to appreciate what you have both materially and relationally, then allow that lesson to colour and shape your life.  This is an incredibly valuable lesson.

Lesson 3: Freedom is Fragile–Very Fragile

Lesson 3 is the main point of Pranger’s video.  And, from a biblical perspective, I think he’s way off here.  Pranger tells graduates:

The ease with which most Americans acquiesced to the removal of many of their most basic rights . . . should take your breath away.  At the very least it should make you realize how easily any government can take away people’s most elementary freedoms.

Pranger is critical of the extent to which some jurisdictions restricted contact in their reaction to the virus.  In some states where there was very little infection people were told to stay home anyway.  I am not going to argue with Pranger on these particulars–he may be right.  Some governments may have overreacted–we won’t really know what the correct degree of response should have been until all this is over.  (Since this video was released, numbers suggest that the response of many American states did not go far enough.)

Judging from the graphics in the video, America’s most basic rights are freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to wear a hardhat.  These are the rights that he claims we have been so breathtakingly surrendered to governments.

In reality, the only fundamental right that we surrendered, temporarily, was freedom of assembly.  This has some immediate effect on freedom of religion and the economic (hardhat) freedoms of many citizens.

But wasn’t it a good idea to suspend the freedom to assemble in large groups?  Are Americans supposed to hold onto these rights under any and all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, potentially fatal virus, not the exact circumstance in which this right ought to be quickly surrendered?  I can’t even come up with an analogy to drive this point home.  No analogy is clearer than the circumstances we find ourselves in.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Isn’t it a good idea to suspend the #freedom to assemble?  Are we to demand this right under all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, fatal virus, the exact circumstance in which to surrender this right? Isn’t this biblical?” quote=”Isn’t it a good idea to suspend our freedom to assemble?  Are we to demand these rights under all circumstances?  Is not a highly contagious, fatal virus, the exact circumstance in which to surrender this right? Isn’t this biblical? “]

Would Pranger have us ignore the quarantine and gather anyway?  Take guns into government buildings and demand our rights to assemble?  To defiantly not wear a mask as the new symbol of personal freedom?

The Statue of Responsibility

France gave the United States of America the Statue of Liberty, says Pranger, “because America, more than any other country, symbolized Liberty.”

The problem is, the American emphasis on Liberty has become unbalanced.  Someone forgot to give America the necessary and complementary statue–The Statue of Responsibility.

The Statue of Responsibility was the vision of psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl.

Frankl is right when he says:

“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl is saying that without responsibility, freedom will degenerate into mere license–doing whatever you want.

In a practical sense, we practice freedom in balance with responsibility all the time.  We have the freedom to drive, but this is balanced with the responsibility to adhere to traffic laws.  We have freedom of speech, but we balance this with the responsibility to not yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.

But now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people adamantly resist the curbing of dangerous behavior for the public good.  And the more we see this resistance, the higher climb the numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19.

What is going on here?

The Idolatry of Freedom

Tim Keller describes idolatry as making a good thing into an ultimate thing.  Freedom is a good thing.  But when it takes the place of God as the ultimate thing, it becomes a cruel deity that demands sacrifice–human sacrifice.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Both #liberalsandconservatives have a problem with #idolatry. They both worship #Freedom and are willing to make human sacrifices to this cruel deity.  The only difference is the particular victims they place on Freedom’s firey altars. ” quote=”Both liberals and conservatives have a problem with idolatry.  They both worship Freedom and are willing to make human sacrifices to this cruel deity.  The only difference is the particular victims they respectively place on Freedom’s firey altars.”]

Both the Old and New Testaments are consistent in saying that God is God, and he created all good things.  The Bible tells us not to worship these good things.  He also created human beings in his image, making human beings are more valuable than any good thing–more valuable than money, beauty, fame, power, America, the flag, or freedom.

The Bible teaches that we obey governments unless their laws come into conflict with God’s law.  Quarantines and social distancing are not contrary to God’s law, they are merely contrary to the law of our false god.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks, quarantines, and social distancing save lives–this becomes more and more clear every passing day.  To refuse to wear facemasks, and defy quarantines and social distancing mandates, is to choose freedom and the economy over human life.  It’s to choose a good thing (freedom) over the image (humanity) of the ultimate thing (God).

If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship #Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical. #conservative #Christian #Covid” quote=”If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else.  In America, we worship Freedom and the Economy.  In America, it is your right to do so, but it is not biblical.”]

Ironically, the numbers seem to indicate that those jurisdictions that most faithfully complied with quarantines and social distancing regulations, will be the jurisdictions that most quickly restore freedoms of assembly and recover economically.

But this is not why I reject Denis Pranger’s third lesson.  I reject it because it is unbiblical.

I’d like to replace it with my own.

My Lesson #3: It’s Not Just About You

The global pandemic and the quarantine reminded you that it’s not all about you.  Lots of people will tell you that there is nothing more important than your individual freedom.  This is a tenet of our society.  It’s the only thing that liberals and conservatives agree on, albeit in different directions.

You hear it from the college kids on the Florida beaches and the conservative radio hosts and bloggers:  “If I’m willing to risk catching Covid-19, I can do what I want.  It’s my life.”

A friend of mine has a university-aged daughter who works at Starbucks and lives in their home.  He also has several sets of older parents who he is taking care of, since they are vulnerable and, consequently, are taking the quarantine seriously.  The daughter’s co-workers ignore social distancing protocols.  They like to party with friends.   Because they are not worried about catching the virus, they believe they can ignore the protocols.  They are free to choose risky behaviour if willing to take the consequences.

They are not vulnerable.  They correctly assess the risk to be minimal.  Why should they give up their freedom?

The answer is, they have a responsibility to others.  They have to protect themselves from the virus so that they don’t pass it onto my friend’s daughter, so she doesn’t pass it onto her parents, and her grandparents.

Freedom is a good thing.  But it’s not the ultimate thing.  Your life is interconnected with those of many others.  You can’t always do whatever you want because you are responsible for other lives.

My objection to Pranger’s third lesson is rooted in my faith.  Christians are to love God and love our neighbour.  In our current context, we love our neighbour by limiting movement, social distancing, wearing a mask in public.  It is not possible to love both Jesus and Freedom as ultimate things.  One must give way.  One results in human flourishing, the other results in human sacrifice.


Lysol Wipes and Moral Retardation

Hoarding Lysol

What got me about the Vancouver pair who were buying all the Lysol wipes from Costco and selling them for inflated prices on Amazon, was not just that they were doing it.  It was the attitude–they were proud of it.

They had no idea that they were doing was morally reprehensible.  I have previously written about this issue regarding cutting in line at the border.  It’s the same garbage, different pile.  It has to do with moral development; some people get stalled out, morally speaking.

Moral Retardation

I did some research to figure out what was going on with cutting in border line ups.  According to a guy named Lawrence Kohlberg, there are six levels of morality.  If everything goes well, as you grow up, you will move up the ladder, hopefully, to the highest level, but for one reason or another, people can get stuck.

  1. The first level is called “Obedience and Punishment” where people will simply obey the rules because you could be punished if you don’t.
  2. The second stage is called “Individualism.”  At this stage, people make moral judgments based on self-interest.
  3. The next level of morality is based on “Interpersonal Relationships.” Here one is concerned with living up to social expectations and roles.
  4. Some face moral choices based on a perceived duty to “maintain social order.”  This fourth level begins to consider society as a whole in moral decisions but sees the rules and laws as coming from an authority.
  5. The fifth level is “Social Contract and Individual Rights.”  At this stage moral questions are less black and white because there is an understanding of differing moral values and opinions.  And rules and laws ought to be negotiated with others in society.
  6. The last level approaches moral judgments with ” Universal Principles” in mind.  These abstract principles are arrived at through moral reasoning.  Then they are internalized and followed even if they come into conflict with society’s rules and laws.

When our Vancouver pair was grabbing up all the Lysol, there was no rule against it, so they have achieved level one. Yay!

What about level two?  Their plan was clearly based on self-interest, 100% as far as I can tell, so I think we can congratulate our couple for clearly having advanced to stage two.

Everyone wishes, out of self-interest, that they had thousands of $20 items that people would be willing to pay $80 for.  I do that all the time, but these conditions are rare.   These occasions will pop up occasionally when there is a big change.  Like a global pandemic for instance.  We all see the opportunity, some people grab at it, others resist it.  At level three, our subjects would be considering what other people are thinking.  This appears to have no effect on their behaviour because there were a lot of people who were looking askance at their truck full of product.  But perhaps they have achieved this level; I don’t know if they would charge their parents $80 for the wipes.  But clearly they’d do it to their neighbours, so I am going to say they have not achieved level 3.

They certainlly haven’t gotten to level four, because there is a blatant disrespect for the “authority” of society.  If everyone behaved as they did, the effects of the pandemic would be far worse than they would be otherwise.  Because their behaviour can only work if there are a few who do it, it is, in principle, a behaviour that is immoral at the fourth level.

The last two levels actually allow for some flexibility in one’s approach to rules and laws, but neither would accept their behaviour under our current circumstances.

My diagnosis is that people who attempt to buy up all the necessary supplies from Costco in a pandemic (and those who sell candy at exorbitant rates on the elementary school playground) are stuck in the second stage of moral development.

And that’s probably fine if you are six years old.

Liberal or Conservative: How does the Devil vote?

Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

Does God want us to be liberal or conservative?

How do the demons vote?

We get a pretty clear answer to the second question in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.   The book takes the form of a series of letters that have been written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, on the best means by which to bring a soul to dwell for all eternity with “Our Father below,” as they refer to him.

In the seventh letter, Screwtape explores the question of whether to make Wormwood’s patient an “extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist.”  This was the question on everyone’s mind when the Letters were published in 1942.

Screwtape is quite clear that the devils are not interested in whether Christians support or oppose World War II.   Neither side is inherently Christian, it seems.  As a matter of fact, Screwtape seems to see more possibilities to lead him astray through pacifism.

Today, the specific circumstances are different, but Christians are still struggling to answering the same general question.  The contemporary question has us wondering between liberal or conservative, Trudeau or Scheer, Democrat or Republican, Trump or someone else?

If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.” quote=”If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.”]

Screwtape explains the process:

Step 1:

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

It is clear that the position the Christian takes is of no consequence; the goal of the forces of hell is to erroneously connect our position on the political spectrum with our faith.  From much that I read from Christian writers on the internet, it is apparent that the devils are having a very easy time of it.  We are very willing to take the first step.

Step 2:

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Again, it doesn’t appear as if we are having the demons work very hard.  I’ve heard many stories of people who can no longer associate with, let alone fellowship with, brothers and sisters in Christ who occupy a different position on the political spectrum as they.  The “camp” to which we belong is so obvious and it is not coloured by any qualification involving all the other dimensions of the Christian faith.

Step 3:

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

C. S. Lewis never read a single blog post or online article, and yet it is as if he’s read the same religio-political diatribes and tirades that I can only escape in the shower.

But there is hope.  Screwtape reveals the means by which we might reverse our steps toward the eternal flames.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

This is Lewis’ real point.  Whether left or right, we ought to treat our political positions as primarily material for obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Our position on the environment, taxes, deficits, size of government, guns, immigration, abortion, LGBTQ, education, is secondary to obedience.  In the fifth letter, Lewis makes this point, through Screwtape:

The Enemy [God] disapproves many . . . 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.

It is more important for us to be obedient than it is for us to be right.  And yet, because we have allowed the faith to be slave to the cause, we find it easy to hate our political opposites.

Back to the seventh letter:

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

And here we have it.  This is a dire warning for those who have made faith a means to an end.

God’s Good Gifts and Crap Pasta

FotoshopTofs / Pixabay

We ate dinner in an Italian restaurant in the United States of America.  I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap. #Food #Foody #FoodWorship” quote=”I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.”]

As we were ordering, I asked the server if the pasta was freshly made.  He had a physical reaction to the question–incredulity?  “No,” he said.  “It’s delivered.”  He named the supplier.  None of the ingredients were made at the restaurant.  The back kitchen was merely the cite of assembly and reheating.  The essential stuff was made in some factory somewhere and delivered frozen or refrigerated through the back door.  I can see the one-gallon plastic buckets filled with sauce, the frozen bags of manicotti and ravioli, the one-gallon bottles of salad dressing, and the machine-made frozen pizza crusts.

I  ordered a baked manicotti and my wife the spaghetti.

Before I took a bite, I ladled a couple of tablespoons of red-amber grease off the top of the melted slab of rubbery mozzarella.   Beneath it, I found two small manicotti.  The pasta was limp and the ricotta cheese had that processed-frozen flavour.  The sauce was plentiful but tasted like it came from a plastic bag.  And, it was exactly the same sauce as that on my wife’s spaghetti.

By his grace, the Creator has given us the ingredients and the mandate and the will to innovate.  The Italians have discovered all kinds of sauces for pasta.  These include:

    • Acciughe, 
    • Aglio e lio,
    • Alfredo, 
    • Amatricana, 
    • Bolognese,
    • Burro,
    • Cacciatore, 
    • Frutti di mare, 
    • Funghi e iselli,
    • Marinara, 
    • Noci, 
    • Pesto, 
    • Pomidoro, 
    • Romana, 
    • Tartufata, 
    • Umbria, 
    • Vongole.  

With all these sauces, how can a restaurant use the same one on two different dishes?  The whole point of different dishes in an Italian restaurant is the variation in the sauce; the pasta is a secondary consideration.

Variety is one thing, but using fresh quality ingredients improves the dining experience exponentially.  In that Italian restaurant, there was no attempt to offer a quality product.  The industrial kitchen that produced the sauce used the cheapest ingredients it could buy in bulk.  The cheese, too, was produced from inferior products on an industrial scale.  Efficiency and profit were the end goal; a good tasting meal wasn’t even a consideration.  The United States has long valued efficiency and profit, and these are not evil in themselves, but they do not belong as the primary motivation in a restaurant, perhaps in a cafeteria.  That’s it! This meal would have been barely adequate in a cafeteria.

The ingredients were cheap.  There was no chef, only assemblers, and they come cheap.  The meal was worth $7.99, but I paid over $20 CDN for my cafeteria manicotti.

Where I live in Canada, I can get freshly made pasta and quality sauces for just over $20.

Is Tim Keller Under God’s Curse?

pumukel / Pixabay

I chanced upon a post in which the author, Michael, says that Tim Keller, in his book, The Prodigal God, is preaching a “different Gospel.”

This is serious stuff because if he is, Keller is under God’s curse according to Galatians 1:8.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

Is Tim Keller under God’s curse?

In response to a comment on his post, Michael says, that Keller is “redefining the key parts of the gospel.”  If this is so, then Keller may be under God’s curse.  The parts of the gospel that Michael claims Keller is redefining are “the gospel [of] sin” and the gospel of repentance.

Redefining the Gospel of Sin?

Michael’s beef with Keller is he thinks Keller is calling the elder brother’s obedience a sin, that the elder brother needs to repent from doing good.

I’m not sure what to say.  Keller asserts nothing like this.  It’s baffling that someone could walk away from The Prodigal God with this notion–Keller is such a clear writer.  This is like mistaking the moral failing of the nine ungrateful lepers as having leprosy.

Michael has misread Keller for some reason and he writes three long posts explaining Keller’s “egregious errors.”  Of course Keller never says that the older brother is condemned for his obedience.  He says that the elder son is lost because the motivation behind his obedience is sinful.  Michael seems to struggle to wrap his mind around this idea saying that “Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong.”

I suppose Michael is right in a sense.  If you can isolate the act from the motive, the act itself is not inherently wrong.  But Keller is not condemning an isolated act of obedience, he’s talking about the foundational motivation, which is inseparable from the act.

I won’t go so far as to say that acts of obedience are insignificant, but the motivation behind them is far more important.  With an obedient act, you can cover up wickedness.  Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet said as much.

T’is too much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er / the devil himself.

We need not rely on Polonius an authority on Truth.  Let’s go to the Bible.

In Genesis 4, both Cain and Able brought a sacrifice to the Lord, but Cain’s was rejected.  There are several ideas as to why God did not look upon Cain’s sacrifice with favour; one of the most likely reasons has to do with Cain’s motivation.  He may have been sacrificing as an act of appeasement–they pagan motivation.  The foundation of Canaanite worship was appeasement–bribing the gods to bring fertility and to protection.  Cain’s sacrifice may have been an obedient act, but God saw his heart an rejected the sacrifice.

OK, perhaps motivation was not the issue with Cain’s sacrifice.  It could have been that God didn’t like vegetables.  How about Deuteronomy 10:12-17:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

The Lord requires obedience; verses 12 and 13 couldn’t be clearer; but in verse 16, it clearly states that the Lord requires more than just obedience–he wants the circumcision of the heart. Obedient acts are fine, but God really wants an obedient heart.  In verse 17 we learn that God will will take no bribe.  God is clearly saying that he doesn’t want the motivation of obedience to be love and not appeasement.

Let’s go to Jesus  himself.  In Matthew 5-7 we have The Sermon on the Mount.  Again and again, Jesus says that righteousness is not achieved through mere obedience.  To be considered righteous, not committing adultery will not cut it–we can’t even look at someone with lust.

Keller is not redefining the gospel.  Keller’s condemnation of the elder brother is completely consistent with the gospel.  He is not condemning the older brother for being obedient.  He is saying that the elder brother is lost because he merely obeyed.  He was good so that he could have the inheritance.  The father wanted his love.  He wanted the elder brother to wash the dishes after the party.

My Eldest Son

To get my eldest son to do the dishes after dinner was almost always a battle.  He didn’t think it was fair that on his day for this duty we I had dirtied a huge roasting pan.  He didn’t think that it was his turn, because he did it last Thursday and he deserved to skip his turn tonight.  The variety and complexity of arguments never ceased to amaze me.  It wasn’t always a fight, but even when he obediently set about doing the dishes there was always a grudging attitude.

One Thanksgiving he came back from college.  I had prepared a huge meal for nearly 20.  At the end of the meal, he got up and did all of the dishes, refusing any help.  I was shocked.  What happened to my son?  He was living on his own, going to school.  Because he had very little income, he had been eating cabbage cooked with olive oil. salt and pepper.  When he lived under my roof, he had no idea how much money and effort went into feeding him.  Now he knew and he was grateful.  His gratitude led to behaviour far beyond obedience.

This is the behaviour of the youngest son.  This is the behaviour that the father wants from his eldest son.

Support for the Righteous Elder Brother

Michael believes that the elder brother was never lost.

His argument rests on the context of the Parable of the Prodigal son.  It is preceded by two other parables about lost things being found–the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Michael says that in these parables, the lost sheep and coin represent “a sinner who repents.”  The other sheep and coins that did not go missing represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”  The third parable must be understood in the same way.

Michael correctly understands the importance of reading verses in context, but to get the context he only went back to verse Luke 14:3.  He should have gone back to verse 1.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ audience is really important here–we have sinners and Pharisees.    But Luke doesn’t just say that the Pharisees where there, he tells us what they were thinking.  Jesus has something to say to both of these groups.  To the sinners, he wants to say that God earnestly seeks them.  Simple. He does this with two and one-half parables.

What does Jesus want to communicate the Pharisees?  Michael would have you believe that Jesus wants to tell them to keep up the good work.  If you are at all familiar with the Bible, Jesus never tells the Pharisees to keep up the good work. As a matter of fact, he frequently tells them that they are less righteous than the sinners.  The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14 is one example.

In his telling of these three parables, Jesus wants to address what the Pharisees are thinking.  That’s why Luke tells us they were muttering to themselves.  It’s the same thing that the older brother is muttering as he stands outside the party.

Michael insists that we must view the third parable as exactly parallel to the first.  I’m not sure why we would impose parallelism on the third when an extended application to the Pharisees makes so much sense given the audience.  Jesus and/or Luke are reinforcing the joy at the recovery of the lost with the parallel to the first two,  then extending the story to the condemnation of the Pharisees.  Bam! Brilliant!  This is a mike-drop moment that reinforces not just what our heavenly father is doing sinners, but what he’s doing for the self-righteous.  He’s inviting them in.

The father says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”   Come in an enjoy it.  The elder brother refuses.  If this isn’t lost, I don’t know what is.

Redefining Repentance and Salvation

According to Michael, Keller is also under God’s curse because he, Keller, claims that the father of the prodigal son accepts him before he repents.  He claims that Keller writes “that repentance is not needed for forgiveness, but rather comes after forgiveness.”  He says that

“Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.”

Tim Keller believes there is nothing that we do to earn our salvation–not even the act of repentance.  This idea expands God’s Grace.  I understand that there are some Christian denominations that place more emphasis on human agency than others.  Keller does not belong to one of these denominations.  It seems as if Michael does.  The God’s Sovereignty/Human Free Will debate has gone on for a long time and, these days, the general consensus from both sides is that both are true, it’s just that but one is a little truer, and it’s not a  salvation issue.

Michael seems to be saying it is a salvation issue.  If he is, he is also claiming that most of Christ’s church, both past and present, is, along with Keller, under God’s curse.

Let’s look at the parable to see the relationship between repentance and salvation.

Where is the turning point in this story?  According to Glen Skrivener over at the Gospel Coalition the “real change in the prodigal—both his change of status and of heart—happens in the arms of the father. That’s where repentance occurs.”  This is consistent with Romans 5: 8.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The father runs to the lost son with open arms and joyfully embraces him before he can even get a word of repentance out of his mouth.  I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that salvation comes to everyone in exactly the same way–the way presented by this picture of the son wrapped in the father’s arm.  The younger son is repentant; he is saved.  Where is the elder brother?  He’s standing outside.

I’m actually baffled that someone can see the picture of the elder brother standing outside the part muttering, furious with his father and brother, and say that the guy is just fine.

Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful story “Revelation” is about an elder brother who receives a vision where she sees all sorts of people moving up toward heaven.  There’s a large batch of elder brothers who

were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, was such a blessing to me.  I was much more like the elder brother than the younger.  I was good.  Reading it I had a whole new appreciation for the heights and depth and breadth of God’s Grace.  I would wish the same experience to Michael and his readers.


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