As the first instalment in my series on why I believe what I believe but before I dig into the meat of why I believe what I believe, I want to talk about why I titled my blog what I titled my blog. If you’ve read the “about” page (but you haven’t because, well, no one has), I state (and I quote)…
“[…] the Bible tells us that there are really only two kingdoms battling it out on this globe of ours since its earliest days. It also tells us that humanity elected the wrong guy for our ruler way back in Genesis 3, and we’ve suffered under his oppressive regime ever since. But we still haven’t wised up. Most of us are still hellbent on voting for this dictator-of-the-worst-possible-stripe to enslave us. […] And that brings me to the name of this blog. I realized that everything I wanted to write about really comes down to the clash between these two kingdoms (but that name was already in use). In fact, all the good names with “kingdom” in them had been taken already. So instead of, “A Clash of Kingdoms,” I ripped off that superior title and went with “Crowns Colliding” (which essentially means the same thing). And that’s it. The battle between these two kingdoms that plays out in politics and our culture war is what this blog is about.”
All that sounds kind of crazy if you don’t happen to believe the way I believe, and I don’t like sounding any crazier than I absolutely have to which is why I’m starting this series to explain and defend the reasons behind why I believe what I believe. I thought I’d start by addressing the mental barriers you may have erected in your mind as soon as you read my quote from my “about” page.
The fact that Christianity and the Bible teach the reality of an unseen spiritual world may put the worldview out of the running of potential acceptance by those who hold the preconception that the material world is all there is (all there was, and all there ever will be, to loosely quote the bold and unexamined assertion made by Carl Sagan in “Cosmos”). If this is your belief, then the Christian claim (referenced in the title of this blog) that a spiritual being called “Satan” is “the ruler of this world” (according to Jesus—John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) sounds like conspiracy theory on steroids. So let me start by challenging the assertion and assumption that a belief in the invisible is not a viable option for an adult with a normal, functioning brain.
It’s the contention of the Bible that there’s more to reality than the merely material. The world is made up of more than just the physical, and we are bigger than our bodies. If you happen to be an atheistic materialist, of course, you won’t accept this description of reality just on my say-so or the Bible’s, but let’s talk about it.
For starters, once we really stop to think about it, we all know that there is more to reality than the merely material. Do you believe in the reality of abstractions? Do you believe in love, beauty, truth, justice? If you’re a hard-core materialist, you’ll have to say “no.” To stay consistent, you’ll have to deny the objective reality of these abstract concepts and say that all abstract concepts are just products of the human mind (or rather, the human brain because your worldview will not allow you to accept the concept of the human mind as somehow differentiated from the brain.)
But now let’s talk about an abstract concept which you won’t be able to deny the reality of because its product is the human brain. And all other organs. And all other organisms. This is an abstract concept which bears very tangible fruit in the material world. It is the very foundation of life. I’m talking about the abstract concept of information.
You may not have thought of it this way before, but information is really nothing more than an abstract concept. If a person speaks no English or is completely illiterate but somehow stumbles onto this blog post, to such a person these words that I’m typing are nothing more than unintelligible shapes and designs just like Thai or Arabic writing is to me. The information I’m passing on has no material value. It is apprehended as meaning only in the mind of the sender and of the receiver. As a physical reality, words are nothing more than vibrations in the atmosphere or ink on a page or a series of electronic ones and zeros. Meaning and communication are abstracts that exist only in a mind (or a brain, if you must!).
Now, here’s the crazy part. We are entirely made up of this abstract concept called information. Information (in the sense in which I’m using it here) must be functional. It cannot be mere recognized order or pattern that means nothing like the Thai alphabet is to me. I can recognize that there is pattern and order to it, but I can’t decipher it. In order for information to be information in any real way, it must do something. It must produce results. It must communicate. And functional information is exactly what our DNA code is. It turns into something. In nature, it does not have the (to me) unintelligible quality of Thai writing. Life know what to do with it. Living bodies know how to read and interpret the DNA code correctly to create the proteins that are needed to turn into cells, just as the computer I’m typing on correctly takes the words I’m typing and turns them into ones and zeros that again turn into words for you to read.
Our bodies are made up of the material, just as the words I’m communicating use a physical medium. But our bodies are also made up of the abstract concept of information just as you’re understanding the meaning of the words I’m typing (or so I hope).
In fact, information is the most basic example I can give of a word I finally want to introduce into the conversation now that I’ve given it a build-up. That word is “spiritual.” In its most basic understanding, “spiritual” is referring to realities that are invisible (not just because they’re too small to be seen like the atom) but, in fact, intangible. Immaterial. Non-physical. Incapable of being apprehended by the senses.
With the illustration of information, you may be surprised to learn that you probably already to some degree believe in the spiritual, even if you (as the materialist I’m addressing in this post) would never use the word as something you embrace.
But there you are! Now that you’ve realized that you must acknowledge one intangible reality because of the undeniable nature of information, maybe you’ll open your mind (yes, mind! Not just your brain!) to the possibility of other spiritual realities. Like the mind.
And there are certainly good reasons for believing that the mind is more than just the brain. Believing that there is no such thing as mind, that all is matter, has given rise to the necessity of determinism. If we are nothing more than our atoms, then we are all just dancing to our DNA (according to Richard Dawkins). We have no free will. We make no choices in any kind of real way. Matter has no will of its own. It perfectly obeys natural law.
But anyone with an ounce of sense can see that we simply cannot live consistently with this philosophy. We hold people accountable for their actions. We expect people to understand the difference between right and wrong and feel justifiably angry (at least, the anger feels justifiable to us) when we see the wrong in action. Out of one side of the mouth, we may spout the idea that love, beauty, truth, justice are nothing more than chemical tricks the brain plays on us, but no one can live as though this is fact. We all feel these abstractions to be much bigger and more powerful realities than the tangibles.
And if our thinking is entirely predetermined by the shapes our brains take on thanks to the information in our DNA, then what’s the sense in trusting any human thought, anyway? We couldn’t discover truth by the random actions of our brain circuits. What is truth? Just a chemical illusion. A trick of matter.
So we’ve seen that information is a real thing. It produces real results. It is verifiably objective. But this is the interesting thing: in all observation, information has ever only been the product of Mind. My computer can generate information, but only because some mind programmed it to do so. We have never, in the history of anything, witnessed information come about through something other than thinking. Intelligence. Mind.
Now, all this has obvious implications into the origin of life question, but I’ll save that for another post. I’m just trying to open your mind here to the possibility of the reality of a spiritual world.
If you can wrap your head around the idea that believing in a spiritual world is not akin to believing in fairies but is a sensible, adult position to take, you can begin to understand that maybe all Christians aren’t quite as crazy as they may seem at first glance. Yes, because it’s out of our visible, tangible experience, the reality of unseen worlds and unseen beings proclaimed by the Bible is hard for us to swallow. But understand that “spiritual” just means “intangible” and that our minds (as distinct from our brains) are intangible, and you’ll be on the right track, I believe.
The Bible does teach that there are spirit-beings who aren’t restricted to the limitations of a physical body as we humans are. God is one such. He is a person, but not a body (in His eternal nature). He is spirit. Or if you prefer, He is mind. Not brain, but mind. Then, the Bible tells us, He created lesser but very powerful spirit-beings (or minds) who were also not restricted to a body in the same way we are. The Bible calls them angels (or messengers). And God also created other spirit-beings who are also bodies–restricted to the boundaries of matter and time and space. We call them humans.
Reading between the lines of some hints the Bible gives us, some angels rebelled against their Creator (because the God of freedom had to create free minds capable of free choice to freely serve Him or not. He is not the God of determinism. At least, that’s how I read the Bible.). These fallen angels became absolutely evil and are the spirit-beings the Bible calls “demons.” (Satan, or “adversary” or “enemy”, being chief among them.)
Although they can never be considered science proper, speculations now abound about multiple universes. It’s a fascinating idea. And try this one on for size: In a sense, that’s really what the spiritual realm is. It’s a spiritual universe that intersects with our physical universe. It’s an entirely different mode of existence that we can’t quite grasp in physical terms, but we have ourselves and our minds and the information they carry to show us an illustration of that spiritual universe and its intersection with the physical. If you like, the spiritual is the fifth dimension.
So, that brings me to defending the name I’ve chosen for this blog. If the Bible is a true story (and at some point in this series about, “Why I Believe What I Believe” I hope to explain to you why I believe it is), then this utterly debased and fallen, completely evil spirit-being called Satan is the ruler of a spiritual kingdom of evil that intersects with our visible, tangible world and is at constant war with God’s kingdom of right and light.
I know I’ve said the spiritual world is invisible, but as we’ve seen with the invisible concept of information, it can have very visible effects on our visible world. And when I look around at the world as it is, the only thing that makes sense of it for me is this doctrine that the spiritual world is real and there is an evil side to it–that there are powers and intelligences that are intent on our destruction. Once you open your mind to the idea of a real spiritual reality, that’s all you’ll be able to see in our world, and you won’t be able to unsee it.
There’s no other explanation I can think of. Why is our world so infiltrated by evil (another invisible abstract concept but so real! And with effects that are very visible!)? Yes, survival of the fittest can be brutal. Yes, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yes, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. But the animal kingdom acts on instinct and does what it does to ensure survival in some form. No animal kills or injures for “fun.” Animals fight and kill to eat or to mate. Humans are the only animals (because we’re more than animals and are the intersection between the physical and spiritual in a single entity) that are capable of pure evil. Only humanity produces serial killers and Holocausts and torture chambers for no reason other than because we can.
Looking around at our world, I sometimes feel that I can’t go on believing in a God. I’m never tempted to stop believing in a devil.
I know humans. I am one. And I don’t think we could get this bad all on our own without a little help from the dark side. But once I recognize Satan’s reality, I am brought back to the reality of God. Without good, there can be no true evil.
From now on, when I reference the two kingdoms that are at war on our planet, I hope you’ll have a little better idea what I mean. And I hope you’ll be a little less tempted to call me crazy for believing in them. I think it’s crazier to deny their reality.
Against my better judgement and almost against my will, I’m keeping up on the recent Michael Jackson developments. If you’re not, I’ll briefly get you up to speed: If you were around and paying attention in the ’90s and then again in the early 2000s, Michael Jackson was first alleged to have molested a child (the allegations were settled out of court) and then tried in a criminal case (where he was acquitted). It’s all blown up again since his death with the release of an HBO documentary, “Leaving Neverland.” In the doc, two men tell their stories of their (alleged) abuse at Michael Jackson’s hands when they were children.
By “keeping up,” I don’t mean that I’ve watched the documentary. I don’t know that I will. The men’s stories, I’m told, are graphic and horrific, and I’m not sure I want to subject myself to anything more horrific than what I’ve already been subjected to via YouTube.
And the documentary isn’t what I’m feeling driven to write about, anyway. Since the story has blown up everywhere, it’s the reaction I’m seeing all over the place that has me alternating between scratching my head and spitting fire. One way or the other, it’s given me lots of food for thought.
I’m a bit of a true-crime drama addict. The subject of due process and the courtroom standard for evidence beyond reasonable doubt is a subject that always interests me. How we know things and how we decide what we believe is a topic I’m always fascinated by, so that’s probably one reason why there’s something about the courtroom that has a draw for me.
And I see the brilliance of the basis of our judicial system: the presumption of innocence. The principle is that it’s always more important to protect the innocent than to punish the guilty. Both are important, but it’s far worse to think of the innocent suffering than to think of the guilty getting off scot-free. Both travesties, but the first seems far worse
Now, the real dilemma comes in when we ask ourselves, “But if the guilty walks free, will more innocent suffering result?” This shouldn’t be a consideration for the pure reasoner on the jury who has to weigh the evidence and decide if it’s beyond reasonable doubt, but I’m sure it would be a very human reaction of any one of the humans on the jury. Yes, I want to be absolutely sure not to punish the innocent. But what if the accused does happen to be guilty though the evidence is too weak to be conclusive? In the event that I free a guilty person, what is the likelihood of their re-offending?
If I had been on the jury in Michael Jackson’s criminal trial in the 2000s, this is the question that would have kept me up at night after his acquittal. Because if I’d been on that jury, I think I would have had to vote to acquit. Against every instinct in my brain and every fibre in my gut screaming out that he was guilty.
A jury member cannot listen to instinct. A jury member cannot give in to the cry of, “But I just feel like…” A jury member must consider the evidence and nothing else. And although the circumstances surrounding the charges against Michael Jackson were highly suspicious, the direct evidence — the eyewitness testimony — was weak and compromised.
The circumstances surrounding the charges are well-known and undisputed. I’ll just sum them up to say that Michael Jackson had series of little boys sleeping alone with him in his bed at his Neverland ranch for nights upon nights in a row. Some of these boys came forward later as accusers. Some did not. Some first defended Michael and said he never touched them and then later spoke out in an HBO documentary, claiming the opposite. (Stockholm Syndrome and fear of their own exposure, if these accusations are true, was apparently the cause of the boys lying to defend Michael. At the time of his trial, they claim, they felt as though they were “in love” with Michael and didn’t want to do anything to hurt him or themselves.)
And at the time of the trial, the case for the prosecution was shaky after the defence team was finished with it. The trial revolved around the accusations of one boy, but his testimony was weakened by the testimony of his mother who (from the documentary I watched on the case) was a non-credible witness. Her story kept changing, some of her statements were outrageous and plainly false, and she seemed to be a chronic liar. If I’d been on the jury, I would have had to admit that I strongly suspected MJ of wrongdoing but that I had reasonable doubt of his guilt. It was entirely reasonable that a greedy mother had put her son up to making up stories about the abuse for some kind of financial benefit or for attention or for one or more of any other of the vast number of reasons why people lie.
It would still be extremely strange that a grown man held sleepovers, many sleepovers, one-on-one sleepovers, with young boys who were no relation to him.There was no natural basis for these relationships which began as fans courting a celebrity and then turned into the celebrity courting the fans. But it’s a strange world, and people do strange things. Michael and his defenders used (and use) the line that he never had a childhood and was really just a big kid, hanging out with other kids. Nothing weird about one kid having a sleepover and even sleeping in the same bed as another kid.
And if no accusers had ever come forward, I would have raised my eyebrows at the situation, thought the parents were naive in the extreme to allow it, but given MJ the benefit of the doubt.
But the accusers have come forward.
If there was ever only the one who was at the centre of the trial, I would have had misgivings being on a jury that acquitted, but I would probably have admitted the doubt to be reasonable. (The jury had been instructed not to consider in their verdict the earlier allegations which never went to court.)
But now more accusations have come forward.
Now, I’ve told you that I believe in the presumption of innocence as a legal principle. In cases of sexual assault, this gets very tricky. These cases are often nothing more than he said/she said cases. Or in Michael’s case, he said/he said. The balance Lady Justice is holding is supposed to be weighted in cases like these on the side of the accused, not the accuser. Slightly weighted. So that if both stories and both story-tellers are equally credible, the jury must acquit. The presumption must be towards innocence.
Often, it will come down to a decision by the jury that one of the stories and story-tellers is more believable than the other. And this may be influenced by all kinds of biases and experiences and instincts that the jury carry with them. This is one of the many imperfections of a system that is very good in its design but is still imperfect. There is always the human factor.
For instance, last year I watched outraged as the left demanded that we “believe all women” when Christine Blasey Ford came forward to publicly accuse then-Supreme-Court-Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault. Leaving the political motivation aside, there were likely victims of sexual assault who were equally outraged when Christine Blasey Ford was not universally believed and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court of the US. Once you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault, you may not be the best evaluator of evidence in another sexual assault case.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t believe Christine Blasey Ford. And considering the human element, I don’t know positively if this was because she was a less credible witness whose corroborating evidence didn’t stand up under investigation or if my political motivation is showing. Of course I give myself the benefit of the doubt, but, well, I’m human, too.
At that time, we were told that, yes, innocent until proven guilty was the courtroom standard, but this wasn’t a criminal case being tried in a courtroom. This was a case where those deciding the case needed to look at the evidence available to them and make up their minds. They weren’t under the necessity of deciding if the guilt was beyond reasonable doubt. Here it was only the preponderance of evidence that needed to be considered.
And I agree that the courtroom standard, which is vital for the courtroom, is not a realistic standard for the court of public opinion. At the time of Michael Jackson’s trial, if I’d been unlucky enough to be on the jury, I would likely have privately believed the charges, even if I felt compelled to return a “not guilty” verdict on the basis of reasonable doubt. The suspicious circumstances would have already predisposed me to think he was guilty. If Brett Kavanaugh had admittedly been sleeping in the same bed with Christine Blasey Ford for a month but denied ever touching her in a sexual way, I would have been a lot more inclined to believe Christine Blasey Ford when she claimed that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. In the comment section under something I was watching on YouTube about “Leaving Neverland,” one Michael Jackson apologist wrote something to the effect of, “I slept in the same bed as my grandma lots of times. She never assaulted me.” And I’m willing to lay money on the conjecture that no one ever came forward at any time to accuse the commenter’s grandma of sexual assault. It’s really when you put the suspicious circumstances together with the accusations that we have what I see as an almost ironclad case against the king of pop. If, at the time of his trial, the other accusers had come forward to testify against him, I, as a jury member, would have had no reasonable doubt. I would have returned a verdict of guilty. The sole somewhat-discredited accuser left room for reasonable doubt. I don’t see any of that room now.
But I still maintain that, while there may have been room for reasonable doubt at the time of the trial, I would have believed in my heart of hearts that MJ was guilty as sin. And that’s legitimate. The court of public opinion operates on a lesser standard than the criminal courts, and rightly so. We still need to make up our minds based on the best evidence we have. It’s still a good idea to lean towards thinking the best of people as far as possible and not immediately rush to the guilty verdict on the slightest of evidence or no real evidence at all.
And, no, we don’t want to “Believe all women.” Or all men. Or all children. Or all anybodies. Some women lie. Some men lie. Some children lie. It’s good to maintain a healthy scepticism. We’d do well to reserve judgement until after weighing all the evidence and hearing all the stories. But what we call “common sense” (I’m starting to think it’s rather uncommon) must be allowed to prevail in the court of public opinion.
I can promise you this: If my adult next-door neighbour was having series of little boys who were not related to him over for sleepovers at his house, grooming one after the other to sleep alone in the same bed with him, if I were the parent of a young boy, do you think there’s any way on God’s green earth I would be allowing my little boy to go for sleepovers with the man? Until accusations came out, there may be no grounds for charging the neighbour, but there would be 110% grounds for the parents saying, “Over my dead body!”
And that brings me to the second part of the MJ situation that I want to talk about, and this is the part that has me spitting fire: the cult of celebrity-ism. Why didn’t the parents involved in the MJ situation say to Michael Jackson, “Over my dead body!”? Why is my homepage on YouTube flooded with videos in defence of Michael Jackson’s innocence? Why are the comment sections under the other videos I watched, declaring Michael Jackson guilty, flooded with attacks on the ones making these videos? Why did I see the same reaction from Bill Cosby fans to the multiple accusations against him? Why did OJ get off? Why (in a recent development) is the Jussie Smollett case not going to court (as of this writing. Maybe that will change if the prosecutor is investigated. If you’re not tracking with this one, no time to explain here!)? Why aren’t these valiant warriors in the cause of “presumption of innocence” (or so they would claim) taking up their cudgels on behalf of the Pennsylvania priests? All we have in the cases of the Pennsylvania priests are multiple accusations. Probably some of those accusations are false. (Fame-seekers will jump on bandwagons once they’re rolling.) Perhaps one of the Pennsylvania priests was falsely accused by one of these fame-seekers. Why aren’t we sifting and dissecting and tearing apart every bit of evidence against the Pennsylvania priests the way the MJ apologists are doing on behalf of their idol? If the Pennsylvania priests’ cases could have been brought to court, then their defence lawyers would have been obliged to treat the evidence against them the way this worldwide team of MJ advocates have treated the evidence against him. They attempt to discredit all the witnesses against him and explain away or reframe all the circumstantial evidence. That’s how the courtroom system works, and it’s a necessary step in a fair trial. The evidence must be given a good, hard shake. That’s the job of the legal team on both sides. But these Michael Jackson defenders are self-appointed and unpaid. Why are they devoting their time and energy volunteering to his cause? What’s their motivation?
My only surmise is the cult of celebrity-ism. Unreasoning worship. The blind faith and wish-fulfillment often perceived to be the basis of all religion. Believing without evidence. Or even against the evidence.
Am I, as a Christian, guilty of the kind of thinking and behaviour I see exemplified by the Michael Jacksonians? Do I pass off and justify to myself bias or gullibility as logic and reason? I try to take a step back from time to time to see if what I believe really is based on my honest appraisal of the evidence. I think it is, but I acknowledge I might not be the best judge of my own reasoning. Then again, you might not be the best judge of my reasoning. You’re also human. You’re also prone to biases. Your bias might lean in a different direction than mine, and you might be just as convinced as I am that your reasons for what you believe are just as reasonable and logical as I believe mine to be. And as the Michael Jackson disciples believe theirs to be.
Nevertheless, I think the time has come for me to start explaining my thinking, and you can judge for your biased self what you think about my thinking. I’d like to do a series on why I believe what I believe as a Christian. If you’re more interested in the political side of this blog, you may not be interested in the Christian issues I want to write about, but because the two are hopelessly entangled in my mind, they will end up being hopelessly entangled in this blog, as well. And I don’t want to keep inserting my Christian viewpoints as assumptions into these posts. I’d like to give my best shot at having you understand where I’m coming from and maybe, just maybe, opening your mind to the possibility that Christians are not quite as crazy as you presently think they are.
So, that’s what I’ll be attempting in the next few blog posts: defending my beliefs as a Christian. I hope, if you’ll follow along, that, unlikely as it may look to you right now, you’ll go away thinking that there are better reasons to believe the Bible than there are reasons for letting your kids go for sleepovers at Neverland.
C’mon, people! Fight the urge towards the unthinking worship of celebrities. Exercise some common sense. Parents, protect your kids as much as you reasonably can. Never let Neverland ever happen again.
And all of us, let’s try to see around our biases. Let’s have good reasons for what we believe based on the best evidence at our disposal. Let’s acknowledge our feelings but act on our reasoning. Let’s make common sense common again. Let’s be thinking adults, not gullible children. Let’s stay grounded in reality. Let’s get the heck out of NeverNeverland!
I was going to call this post something boring like, “The Value of Freedom of Speech,” but I decided to go with the present, more click-baity title. It’s not entirely click bait. What I really want to talk about this post is not just the value of freedom of speech and expression, but the value I see in some of that speech and expression being wrong or muddle-headed. I had to title the post carefully because I don’t see value in the wrong or muddle-headed ideas themselves. The value they hold, as far as I can see, is strictly in their expression.
For a long time now, I’ve been feeling pretty Pilate-ish. “What is truth?” I imagine him sneering cynically with a shrug. I hope I don’t get to where I imagine he got: throwing in the towel of the pursuit of truth, deciding that the pursuit is hopeless, believing that it doesn’t matter what you believe, anyway. So maybe I’m not really very Pilate-ish. I still scream the question at the sky (metaphorically, not literally). But it’s really been bugging me lately.
“What is truth?” Sometimes, the truth seems so clear and obvious to me. And then life knocks the certainty out of me. Or I meet someone to whom the opposite of what seems so clear and obvious to me seems to clear and obvious to him or her. How is this possible?
I’ve found myself getting angry about it lately (or maybe I always have). I don’t want us, as a society, to have a bunch of diverse opinions all over the map on every single issue, running around, wreaking havoc. Maybe it’s because I’m rapidly turning into an irascible old lady (but then I remember that I was an irascible young lady, and before there was the Internet to shout back at, I would shout back at the TV or radio when someone was saying something I considered plainly stupid. The difference is, when you shout back at the Internet through the comment section, someone might end up hearing you.). Anyway, I find myself wanting to shut out dissenting voices. I find myself wanting to surround myself with others who think exactly like me. On every matter. Every single one. So, in other words, I find myself wanting to move to the top of mountain somewhere with only myself for company. That’s the only way I’ll avoid the discomfort of people who disagree with me. And with whom I disagree. That’s the only way I’ll avoid stupid ideas. (Except for the ones I take with me.)
And that’s bugging me, too. How do I know which of my own ideas are stupid ones? Other plainly stupid ideas look clear and obvious to their thinkers. Odds are, some of my ideas that look clear and obvious to me look plainly stupid to someone else. And some of them, no doubt, are. But I can’t know which ones. It’s quite the quagmire, this being-human stuff.
Why can’t we just be like perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers who all know the truth about everything we need to know? The only answer is, “Because we’re not perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers who know all the truth about everything we need to know.” We’re free, fallen, imperfect, unprogrammed non-robots. That’s why. So we don’t all know the truth about everything we need to know. And I acknowledge that the way things are is superior to the dystopian AI world I described. There would be no real worth in knowing truth through perfect programming. Perfection without freedom would be of no value in any kind of real way. I don’t know how to explain what I mean in five hundred words or less by that statement, so just examine your own gut to tell me if you don’t know I’m right (or is that one of those ideas that look clear and obvious to me, and … not so much to everyone else?).
So, perhaps the possibility for error had to be part and parcel of freedom, and the possibility is very much an actuality in our world. So where do we go from there?
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about truth and why it matters and how we know things and how we can trust what we know. And I haven’t come to many solid conclusions.
I mean, I sometimes know what I think is true. I have my little, central core of firm beliefs and my outer fringes of my negotiables orbiting those, and beyond those planets is a whole, vast, floating universe of all the stuff I don’t think it’s important for me to know or that I don’t think I can know. I’m always willing to capture a few of those bits of cosmic flotsam and jetsam and pull them into my knowledge orbit if I can be convinced of them, but I don’t worry too much about all the stuff I don’t think it’s important for me to know.
But how did I arrive at my core set that I do believe to be very important? How did I set about choosing the sun for my solar system?
Probably the way anyone does. I listened to what other people told me. Past the age of young childhood, I didn’t accept everything everyone told me. But I grabbed hold of my core beliefs by first hearing them somewhere. I may have some negotiable beliefs that I invented right out of my own fertile, little imagination, but by and large, the stuff I think is important is stuff someone else communicated to me.
But how did I pick and choose between what I accepted as true and what I rejected as false? Hopefully, the way anyone does. I reasoned about it. (I say “hopefully,” but that might be a forlorn hope. I’m not sure that’s where we are as a culture anymore.) I either listened to the reasons the communicator of the idea was telling me for it, or I formulated some on my own.
But this brings me back to the old frustration that my reason isn’t perfect, nor is anyone else’s. Why should I trust my reason? Why should I throw my weight down on one idea over another?
And we all must. There’s no other way to get through life. We all must hold some kind of core beliefs that we use for guiding our behaviours and decisions. It’s impossible to make any decision without referring to a belief of some kind or other back of it, even if it’s a simple belief like, “So-and-so will be mad at me if I don’t do such-and-such, so I’ll decide to do such-and-such.” The decision was made based on the belief about So-and-so’s reaction to one’s decision. Just one silly example. But if you’ll think about it, you’ll find a belief back of every decision.
So, I guess I’ve done what we all do. I listened to other people’s ideas. I reasoned about them. And then I just held my nose and jumped. I took the plunge and decided to believe one idea and reject another. It’s called faith, and we all exercise it. We must, seeing we all hold beliefs of some kind and none of us are perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers. Reason can take us to the edge of cliff, and then faith must push us over. All of us believe what we believe without 100% certainty. We may reach conclusions we believe to beyond reasonable doubt, but no beliefs can be entirely beyond the reach of unreasonable doubts.
So… that’s my conclusion on why I believe what I believe and why someone else believes the diametric opposite belief. We heard differently, or we reasoned differently, or we just, plain decided differently. In the end, that’s what it comes down to. We decided differently.
And this preamble is slowly but surely bringing me around to the value of expressing stupid ideas. Again, I don’t see any value in the stupid idea itself. In fact, I wish we were all perfect thinkers, though I’ve come around to seeing the wisdom of us not having been made as perfectly-programmed robot-thinkers. But I think the goal is one of perfect unanimity of thought where everyone knows all the truth we need to know and error is a thing of the past. (As a Christian, I’m not describing some sort of mind-control dystopia. I just mean that I believe in a life after this one where what we chose to believe in this one can land us in a perfect one as perfect beings where we’ll all think about things perfectly. And because that sounds kind of crazy to the general public, I will, one of these days, have to write a post about why I decided that the reasons for believing the Bible is true and for becoming a Christian were better than the reasons against. But not today.)
Here’s the value I see in the expression of stupid ideas: aka, free speech. Their expression moves us in the direction (just slightly) toward that state where we’re all perfect thinkers. I think the free expression of all ideas, even (maybe especially) the stupid ones, makes us all better thinkers, moving closer to truth. And unlike Pilate, I still see the pursuit of truth as a worthy goal and a necessary one.
And when I reference “stupid ideas” here, please don’t hear me saying, “Ideas I have magisterially deemed to be stupid.” I mean, ideas (and I don’t know which ones they are) that if I were that all-knowing, perfect thinker, I would deem to be stupid. Objectively stupid ideas. Even though I don’t know which ideas are objectively stupid, if there is such a thing as a real right and wrong–an absolute truth–then some ideas are objectively stupid. At least, wrong. Muddle-headed. Erroneous. There must be actual error if there is actual truth. That’s just the cold, hard nature of logic and truth.
But why do I think that the expression of stupid ideas makes us better thinkers and moves us closer to believing truth? For one thing, for the sake of the one holding the stupid idea; the one who can’t see where the idea is wrong.
Free speech — the rough and tumble give-and-take of discussion and disagreement — can occasionally help knock the stupid out of its owner’s head. Ideas of any kind are hard to shake loose from a person’s head, I’ve noticed. But if it ever happens, it only happens because the person holding one idea heard a different idea. And maybe heard some of the reasons behind the different idea.
Then, I think hearing different ideas, even the stupid ones, sharpens the good ideas. An exposure to other ways of thinking strengthens our grip on the truth. I may be holding a right and true belief in some area without knowing why I believe what I believe. If I’ve latched onto the idea simply because it was what I was told, I may toss it aside for the first stupid idea that comes along to contradict it, if I happen to be the type of person who believes whatever she’s told without questioning. But the more I’m exposed to opposing stupid ideas, the more it will occur to me, “Now, wait a minute. They can’t all be right. They contradict each other. I’m going to have to think about what I believe. I’m going to have to examine the reasons for holding any of these ideas.” The desired result would be that I explore all the ideas and their reasons and come away closer to the truth for having thought through all the conflicting ideas I’ve been exposed to.
Now, let me describe what I’m seeing in our collective cultural mindset at present which is moving in the direction of us trying to insulate ourselves against ideas we’ve deemed stupid. We put up barriers against opposing ideas like we’re trying to keep out the cold, Canadian winter. And I think there is a danger in this behaviour. I’ve seen the results, and they’re not pretty. Yes, stupid ideas (truly stupid ideas) are dangerous and damaging like those cold, Canadian winter winds. But we still need exposure to them.
For those of us on “the right,” we’ve watched in horror as “the left” launches one air strike after another against free speech. We’ve seen legislations in Canada like Bill C-16 (the infamous anti-discrimination-against-“gender-expression” bill — the “pronoun bill”) and M-103 (the anti-Islamophobia motion). We as Canadians have seen not only an erosion of our Charter-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression but the outright contravention of it. Its assassination. “The Charter is dead. Long live the police state.”
And yes, we needed exposure to the stupid idea that we should decimate our constitutional rights to freedom of speech. And then we needed to see the stupid idea for what it was and reject it. Not pass it into law.
We’ve seen UK citizens prosecuted for mean tweets or fined and threatened with jailtime for edgy YouTube jokes involving Nazi pugs. We’ve seen Tommy Robinson actually serving jailtime for exercising freedom of speech.
We’ve seen any prominent conservative speaker invited to any university campus shouted down or drowned out by fire alarms and cow bells.
We’ve seen conservative protests attacked with physical violence in the streets.
We’ve seen every social media giant demonetize, deplatform, ban, and just generally silence speech it doesn’t like (always conservative speech somehow).
It’s become a theme for the “progressive” left. It’s become a goal. A modus operandum. Ideas it deems stupid must not be heard. They must not only not be heard; they must not be expressed. They are “hate speech.” And hate speech must be made illegal. Or at least, censored in every other way possible. People must not have their feelings hurt by being exposed to someone’s stupid idea. (And that’s certainly one problem with trying to keep stupid ideas from seeing the light of day: Who gets to say which ideas are the stupid ones?)
The right is staunchly united in our agreement that silencing speech is the stupid idea. We’re clear on the necessity for freedom of speech. But I’m noticing problems in our camp, too. I’m seeings our online communities on the right devolve into echo chambers of tribalism. We may stand by a person’s right to express their stupid opinion, but we’ll exercise our own right to freedom of speech by piling all over them for it. And we might not take the time to listen or reason to see if the opinion really is a stupid one. We just know that it’s not the party line. It’s a hill we’ve already decided to die on, and so we don’t have to listen to the dissenting viewpoint. We may not know why it’s a hill we’ve decided to die on, but it just is! We want generals to fight our battles for us that we can get behind, and these are the people we’ve made our heroes, the more militant the better. We’ve stopped admiring those who are amenable to reason, to discussion, to giving the other side a hearing. We’re just out for blood. We’ve stopped valuing the reasonable person and started valuing the pugnacious person.
(This is not true of everyone on the left or the right, of course. I’m speaking in generalities.)
I do blame it on the left (of course. I’m a conservative, so of course it’s the left’s fault.) We need them and their stupid ideas. We need them for balance, for the natural push and pull of discussion and debate, for the honing of our good ideas against the iron of their stupid ones. But they’ve left us. They won’t talk to us anymore. They won’t listen to us, and they won’t talk to us, either.
Don’t you think we’re all worse off for the polarization? Don’t you think it was a superior world when we could all express our stupid ideas freely? I do. And that’s why I’m making this appeal to bring back the expression of stupid ideas. Including hate speech. Actual hate speech, not just the conservative ideas that the left labels as hate speech (because it stopped listening to us a long time ago and has no idea what our ideas are anymore. Therefore, they’re all hate speech.). But actual hate speech should be free to be expressed by those who hold hateful ideas. If we want actual hate speech, actual far-right, alt-right, ethnonationalist, racist ideas to grow, the best way we can grow them is to censor them. Bad ideas are like mushrooms, I’ve noticed. They grow best in the dark. If we want stupid ideas (and hateful ones) to fade and fall out of fashion, they have to be let out into the light. Only through exposure will they wither and die.
Since I’ve rejected my mountainttop-solo-hermitage idea as one of my stupider ideas, I’ve decided instead that I just want us to keep talking to each other. Stupid ideas or not, we have to hear each other out. It’s the only way to learn and grow and move toward greater truth.
The title of this post was the Apostle Peter’s instruction to his reading audience nearly a couple of millennia ago in 1 Peter 2:17. And his reading audience is still scratching its collective head over it.
It’s never been easy. If I think my “king” (or the leadership of my country) is hard to honour, Peter was likely writing those puzzling words during the reign of “king” Nero who was responsible, tradition tells us, for Peter’s crucifixion wrong-side-up. Yeah, the Nero of Christians-used-for-garden-torches fame. That’s the guy Peter told Christians to honour.
So the obvious question arises: How?
Well, first and most obviously, I think the command is primarily for the sake of the honourer, not the honouree. It’s about the kind of people we, as Christians, want to be, not the kind of person our “king” is (whoever he or she may happen to be). We primarily honour the position and secondarily the person.
The Bible also gives the command that parents are supposed to be honoured, and we’ve all seen parents that are just, plain dishonourable as people and as parents.
I’ve struggled with both of these commands. How does one honour one’s parent that may not have been a thoroughly honourable person, and how does one honour one’s “king” who may also not be a thoroughly honourable person? I’m still working through it, and there might not be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer.
I honoured my mum differently than I honoured my dad. I saw my dad seldom after the age of thirteen, and we never had a close relationship. I wrestled through how I could obey God’s command to honour him (which command at times I certainly didn’t obey. Not gonna pretend I did that one perfectly), and I still ponder it, even though he’s dead now. I’ve seen one or two ways forward in that honouring, though I haven’t mastered it. I’ve recognized that it will never quite look identical to the honour I gave my mum. And I think that’s okay. We have different relationships with different individuals. Honour might look different from individual to individual and from relationship to relationship.
I’m now grappling with what it means to honour my “king,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Prime Minister I will freely admit has won my vote for the worst Prime Minister Canada has ever seen.
Was that statement honouring to my Prime Minister? Here’s my defence for why it may be: Honour and honest share an obvious root word. I don’t think we honour anyone by saying what’s not true or by hiding facts or our true opinions.
I’m blessed to live in a time and place where we can not only honour our “king;” we can also vote for him. Or vote against him. And I make no secret of the fact that I sincerely hope Canadians vote in a different direction in our upcoming October election than the direction in which they voted four years ago. I don’t think it’s dishonouring to the position of leader of the country of Canada to hope that we get the best man or woman for that position or to admit the truth when we didn’t.
But besides being honest about his shortcomings and bad decisions, how can I honour Justin Trudeau, not just the Prime Minister but the man? In 1 Peter 2:17, we’re not only told to honour the king; we’re taught to “honour all men.” Again the obvious question: How?
How do we honour all men when not all men are honourable? And again, the obvious answer that we start by honouring the position. Personal respect must be earned, but positional respect can be given. I can respect any other human by virtue of their position as a human. I can see them as valuable and worthwhile just because of that image of God the Bible tells us we all wear imprinted into our souls.
I can start there, and then I can try to see things from the other person’s perspective. I can believe the best of the other as far as it’s compatible with reality. I can treat the other in the same way I’d want to be treated.
And this honouring will take on a different shape for each individual I’m attempting to honour.
What sort of shape has this taken on for me when it comes to Justin Trudeau? Again, I won’t pretend that I’ve nailed it and I’ve always and ever only acted in an honourable and honouring manner. But I’ve tried to catch myself in my online activity by not sinking to name-calling, at least. While I think pointing out the flaws in his governance can be consistent with honour (and sometimes I think even a little sarcasm, humour, or a little gentle mockery — I tell people that mockery is my love language — can be consistent with honour.), I try not to cross certain lines. Tempting as it is and fitting and funny as some of them are, I try to avoid using the nicknames Justin Trudeau has accumulated in online conservative circles. (If you spend any time hanging out online in conservative circles, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) I try to always remember our common humanity (seeing pictures of him with his kids opens up a little soft spot in my heart that I try to massage and encourage). I hope and pray for the best for him. And for our country. This means praying for a change of heart where I think heart-change needs to happen. If it doesn’t, then I pray for a change of leadership for our country as being the best thing for it. But I still hope and pray for all the best for its present leadership, starting with a heart-change.
And then I slide into bad behaviour and do and say some dishonouring things. Yup! I know I do. But I can at least attempt to follow Peter’s teaching and example in this matter of honouring the king. I must at least start with the “want-to.”
I don’t often agree with much that flows from the mouth of the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, (present) Prime Minister of Canada (okay, I might be using the title “Right Honourable” not completely unironically), but with one or two caveats, I might almost have to give him, “Diversity is our strength.”
In Canada, we don’t seek perfect assimilation from our immigrants. We’ve never aspired to the melting pot of our neighbours to the south. Rather than a melting pot, I’ve heard Canada compared to a salad bowl. And to tell you the truth, I prefer my salad looking like a salad, rather than blended into a salad smoothy.
I love the fact that Canadian culture is a mix of many distinct cultures. I love being able to travel around the world, in a sense, without leaving Canada. I love trying different nationalities of foods in local restaurants, hearing languages other than English spoken on the street, experiencing the burst of sight and sound of watching dances typical to other ethnicities.
The Apostle Paul on more than one occasion said something similar to, “Diversity is our strength.” He compared the church to the human body. The human body is made up of many different parts, all working together. None quite like the other. Each bringing its own unique gift to the table to create a functioning human body.
But the Apostle Paul would add the caveat, “Unity through diversity is our strength.” That’s the first caveat I’d add to Trudeau’s favourite catch phrase. Unity through diversity is our strength.
Division through diversity is not our strength. To carry the above analogy a little farther, it’s more like a cancer. In a healthy body, diversity is its strength, but the division that diversity can tend to turn into is the cell division run amok that is a cancer. Not all diversity is good diversity. Diversity that promotes unity is our strength.
I had to agree with another statement I heard accidentally issuing from the mouth of our Right Honourable Prime Minister. “Diversity is entropy.”
I say “accidentally” because given everything else he’s said about diversity, I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t know what the word “entropy” means. But he was accidentally right. There is that entropic principle that affects diversity as it affects everything else in the universe. The tendency is for all things to spiral into chaos, to move from order to disorder.
That’s why we can celebrate diversity, but it must not come at the cost of the things that unify us. Uncorralled diversity is entropy. Diversity, like every other good thing, needs some checks and balances in place.
Conservatives (in our constant fight against entropy) are often accused of being “anti-immigrant” or “anti-immigration.” There may be conservatives who are against immigration of any kind. There may be some who want closed borders. But I’ve never run across any. We are usually anti-mass-migration. We want the process to happen legally, for one thing, and reasonably. At a pace the system can handle. We want some vetting procedures in place. We don’t want to let in ISIS sympathizers or any more Ibrahim Alis (a Syrian refugee and the alleged murderer of thirteen-year-old Marrisa Shen in the Greater Vancouver area). We want immigrants who want to be here and who want to be Canadian with all that entails while still hanging onto the parts of their own culture that are not at odds with all that being Canadian entails. We want to stay a salad bowl, not the powder keg Europe has become through unrestrained mass migration. We want unity, not just diversity.
Some conservatives have suggested an agreement to some kind of values statement as part of the screening process; at least an agreement to abide by Canadian law. And I think it’s a good idea. True, a lot of people can say a lot of things they don’t mean to get what they want, but it would be a start towards making immigrants aware that there are some common Canadian values and they’ll need to embrace them. At least live under them.
For some reason, this position of a slowed immigration policy (which seems entirely rational to me) is branded “anti-immigrant” by the left and then inflated to “racist.” If that seems like a reasonable accusation to you, I probably have nothing else I can possibly say that you’d hear.
The other caveat I’d add to, “Diversity is our strength,” is that shaming “cultural appropriation” creates division, not diversity.
I was mystified (and a little horrified) by a Rebel Media story I saw on YouTube a few weeks ago. The story was about some Metis hockey players who were caught on video, dancing in their locker room. After this video was made public, a controversy erupted. The controversy arose because the dancing (though informal) was similar in style to traditional native North American dancing.
The online outrage mob got a hold of the footage and turned it viral by insisting these boys were racist and disrespectful of native culture and, you know, all the usual stuff the online outrage mob says. The boys’ remaining hockey season had to be cancelled due to threats they received. The head honchos of the team issued public apologies. All the results that usually follow the online terror strikes by the online outrage terrorists followed. You know the routine!
The Reb defended the boys on the ground that they were Metis. This was their culture they were appropriating. So they weren’t actually appropriating anything. They had the right to it.
I was almost as horrified by this defence as I was by the original reaction of the outrage mob. The Reb should know better. Who cares if these boys were part native? No one should. Who cares if white kids want to dance around in their locker room like they’re at a powwow? No one should!
I’ve been to a powwow. Granted, I didn’t dance in it. But I enjoyed it. The traditional clothing and the intricacy of the steps in the dancing and the food and the rest of the cultural experience; it was all great fun. I would have liked to learn some of the dances. And what’s wrong with that?
Besides the fact that he’s rhythmless, graceless embarrassment on the dance floor, the much-touted footage of Justin Trudeau attempting an Indian dance in traditional Indian clothing is probably when I’ve most liked my present Prime Minister. Sure, it’s good for a laugh, but compared to everything else he’s done in office, does anyone seriously dispute me on this being his finest moment? Should we be appalled by his cultural appropriation?
Even the constant flap we’ve seen lately about this or that public figure who appeared in some old photo in a blackface costume–I don’t get the fuss. And I don’t really want to. Maybe some of these missteps were intended as offence or mockery. Maybe some of these blackface-wearers are racists. Most of them are more likely not. Most of these culprits probably thought they were having fun or even offering tribute to some black celebrity they were imitating.
Is that the world we want to live in? Where we can’t enjoy and appreciate and participate in all that makes life colourful and flavourful in our Canadian salad bowl?
That’s not the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world where I can work on my powwow steps in the locker room or mimic the moves I’ve just seen on a Bollywood movie without any kind of reaction from anyone other than laughter. I want to live in a world where we value differences and can poke fun at ourselves and even (gasp!) sometimes poke fun at each other! Kindly, I mean. Not meanspiritedly. I want to live in a world that re-learns how to laugh. I want a sense of humour to come back in fashion.
The next time an outrage mob wants to shame us for “disrespecting” someone else’s culture by cultural appropriation, do not, I repeat, do not cave! Do not retreat! Do not apologize! Just shout back at them, “Diversity is our strength!”
Our world is becoming increasingly fractured.The ever-widening fault lines are distancing various factions: conservatives and liberals, rich and poor, elites and working-class regular folk. Although they’re growing, the separations between these kinds of groups are nothing new. There is one area of life where the polarization is both surprising and becoming increasingly worrisome. It’s not hyperbole to say that the future of humanity depends on two certain warring factions coming to the table together. If the battle between the sexes grows more vitriolic to the point where men and women refuse to have anything to do with each other, what’s to become of the human race?
I ask the question somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat. Western birth rates keep dropping as the traditional family is attacked from all sides. Having children is viewed by some as an irresponsible decision for our overpopulated planet. Divorce rates continue to skyrocket. The #metoo movement presents women with the impression that all men are potential predators, and men in turn withdraw from women in the workplace through fear of false accusation.Women, through radical feminism, are taught to be (at the very least) suspicious of masculinity, and men, in response, turn increasingly to social movements like MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) where they eschew marriage or long-term relationships with women as too much of a risk.
I’m a forty-something, never-been-married “independent,” “modern” woman. (“Independent” only because I’ve had to be and “modern” only because I happened to be born when I was born.) But I’ve made a realization recently. I need men.
It’s not a new realization, exactly. Although I didn’t grow up with a dad from the time I was thirteen on, I never felt any male-deprivation because of my three older brothers, but I knew I’d be lost without their male input in my life. My mother was a strong, independent woman (she had to be), but she was heavily reliant on my adult brother who lived nearby. He was the go-to guy anytime she faced a fix-it challenge that was too much for her skill level.
Many women don’t like to admit even this much, but we, as women, are physically dependent on men. I don’t usually find a jar lid I can’t manage, but I’ve never paved a highway or built a house from the ground up. Men are the ones doing the predominant heavy-lifting. It’s simply inaccurate to claim that women can do anything men can do. We wouldn’t have separate men and women’s categories in the Olympics if this fact weren’t plain common sense.
The realization that I physically need men in my life is not new, but what is a new realization for me is the emotional or spiritual or inner need I have for the masculine in my life. Even without a husband or boyfriend, I still need men in my life to be a complete human being. My gender and I are only half the human equation. A world populated entirely by females (would not be populated at all, obviously, but for the sake of the argument, let me continue…) would be half a world. So would a world populated entirely by males. In ways I can’t quite put into words, we need the balance of the opposite. Both men and women, all on our own, are lacking.
The longer I live life, the more I see it: It’s not meant to be a battle. It’s meant to be a dance. Attempting to live life without the complementary other piece of the human race is like attempting a pair’s dance all on one’s own. Very quickly, something starts to look wrong.
But what does this mean for women like me who are single and likely to remain so? How can my need for men in my life be met if not by a mate? And what’s my role as a woman in the lives of the men in my life? How do I find my part in the partner dance that is the human race?
I’m working through that question these days, and I haven’t fully arrived at any answers. I think the first step has been the realization of this need. The second step for me, I believe, is not to focus on me and my needs. I am blessed with some great men in my life – friends and family members. I’ve become more aware of their emotional needs as men (yes, men have emotional needs), and my minuscule role in helping meet their needs. It’s strange for me to think that the men in my life could need me in any way when I’m accustomed to relying on them for so much. But the more I become aware of “the dance,” the more I see that they need me, too. I can affirm them in their masculinity. I can express my gratitude for all they do for me in their uniquely masculine ways. I can do my small part to defend them from a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to any kind of masculinity. I can let them know repeatedly that I appreciate them for the very good men they are.
I’m finding these small actions starting to fill up the hunger to have my own needs met. I’m starting to feel like I’ve precariously stumbled out onto the dance floor and am hesitatingly and clumsily but bravely beginning to learn the steps.
I’m never very comfortable wearing labels. When I pull one out of the label pile and reluctantly hang it around my neck because, well, it just fits (mostly, at least), I find myself looking around for a marker to write an addendum on the label – either a disclaimer of all the pieces of baggage I don’t claim that come with the label or a defence of the label and why I’m wearing it.
For most of my life, I liked to ignore political labels or wear the “apolitical” label. Lately, as the political divide grows ever wider and I’ve seen one side of the chasm disappearing off into the sunset of “way out in left field,” I’ve found myself grudgingly owning the label “conservative.” This first post is my addendum to that label.
First of all, let’s tackle the terms “conservative” or “conservatism.” The words have a bad rap that make many hesitant to wear them. Conserving is preserving. It speaks of hanging onto something. It implies standing still, standing one’s ground. It looks backward. It looks to the past, to history, to tradition. The assumption is that these are the features of the human landscape that conservatives are attempting to conserve. Isn’t this antithetical to the assumed goal of the human race: progress?
Progressives necessarily accept unquestioningly a philosophical evolutionary view of human history that leaves many conservatives sceptical. In fact, hard science denies that a general upward trend is the nature of reality. The first and second laws of thermodynamics (which teach us about the conservation of energy) tell us that the general trend is not upward but downward.
Instead of dashing pell-mell in any direction the masses are pushing us toward, conservatives want to stand still long enough to evaluate if the direction is actually progress. All change is not progress. Progress is moving in the right direction. Heading somewhere. Somewhere more beneficial than where we’ve been. Conservatives wisely acknowledge that most movement is not progress. “All change is good change,” the unthinking blithely spout, and the second law of thermodynamics shakes its head sternly in disagreement. Good change is good. And most change isn’t good, the unyielding second law tells us.
And this is the reason there are such a thing as conservatives and such a thing as conservatism. And this is the reason I’m wearing this old-fashioned label that scratches and pinches slightly. And this is the reason I’m writing to defend the label. This is why I’m a conservative.
I’ve come to recognize that this label is not unrelated to another label I wear more wholeheartedly. I’m an unapologetic Christian. (Actually, I’m more of an “apologetic” Christian in the sense that “apologetics” are an intellectual defence of a faith or a system of thought. I also like to be able to defend this label. I’m sure that subject will arise in the natural life-cycle of this blog but no time for it today. Later.)
Unlike the philosophy that tells us that we are steadily and surely being driven by the vehicle of natural selection ever and ever upward towards perfection – that bad ideas will always be consumed by the stronger and fitter good ideas and so humanity will unerringly advance – the Bible lines itself up with the laws of thermodynamics. It tells us that there was a beginning of things, and that beginning was when perfection was our reality. Since then, the movement has been mostly downhill. There have been upswings in that movement by the exertion of great amounts of energy. There have been moments of progress. But that progress, in a sense, was a movement backwards. A push back onto the road we’ve wandered from repeatedly. A road that led us out of a Utopian Garden that humanity has been craving ever since we left and will lead us, not back to the Garden, but into a future perfection. All attempts to get there other than the one road we’ve rejected will only lead us to the worst kind of the Dystopian Non-fiction that human history is the record of.
The Bible is clear that we can’t move backwards to get back to the Garden. There’s no undoing the past, but the bookends of human history are two different states of perfection: a past perfection and a future perfection. However, we only arrive at the future by trudging through the present. And things will get worse before they get better.
With this worldview in mind, I sometimes wonder what conservative Christians are trying to conserve and if there’s any point to it.
And I think there is. Jesus told His followers that they were to be “the salt of the earth.” When He spoke this enigmatical saying, salt was a preservative. It was added to food to keep the rot from setting in or at least slow the rot down. And I think there is a definite point to being a preservative. Or a Christian conservative.
The point is not the futile effort to push us all the way back to the Garden of Perfection. It is to bring as many back to the narrow road that leads to the future perfection that can be brought. I’m starting to see how it works and what salt’s role is. It’s a matter of contrasts.
Switching directions slightly (but not really), I have a confession to make. I was one of those who shed a few tears over the results of our most recent election. I’m not American, so I don’t mean Trump’s election (and in my own defence, I didn’t film myself having a meltdown and make it public on the Internet). I’m Canadian, so the election I cried about when I heard the results was the election of our present Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I’d had a premonition of doom before I heard the results, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was depressed. For a few hours.
When I’d been given my premonition of doom (ie: was pretty sure Trudeau was going to win), it was followed up by a reassurance. I remembered that God is still in control of the world, and He uses everything He allows for some good and necessary purpose.
I knew very little about the man who would be our present Prime Minister, but the little I knew about him stood directly in opposition to what the Bible told me was right and true. And believing that the Bible is true and is God’s message to humanity of everything we really need to know, I believed that what Justin Trudeau stood for stood directly in opposition to reality. (Like, in reality, budgets don’t balance themselves.) In that case, I knew his election would be a disaster for our country.
Truth matters. If a doctor discards facts in favour of his or her own “truth,” he or she will misdiagnose the patient. Then the patient can’t receive the correct treatment. And the patient goes on being ill.
We elect political leaders, hoping to make a change for the better, but if we elect political physicians to heal our social ills who don’t understand the problem or even the nature of reality, our social ills will be misdiagnosed and then mistreated, and we’ll only become collectively more and more morally sick. We have to get to the heart of what’s really wrong with us before we can make any progress in a moral direction.
So, realizing that Trudeau was starting off on the wrong basis (whatever is right in his own eyes) for fixing all the problems in our country, I knew the problems could only get worse. As Canadians, we might not have perfect consensus yet on this question of whether or not Trudeau has been the most disastrous PM Canada has ever seen, but we’re getting there. Fast.
And I knew electing someone to head our country with the wrong view of reality would be a disaster for Canada. But I also knew that we probably needed that disaster. We needed a wake-up call. We needed to see where the path we’d been on for decades, half a century even, finally came out if given its head – if taken to its logical conclusion. We’ve been on the path of every man and woman doing what seems right in his or her own eyes for some time now. We needed to see a little of the disaster zone that is the final destination of this path. I hope we’ve had enough for a little while (till we forget again), but I do thank God for the leadership we’ve had at the helm of our country for the past almost four years. I foresaw it on that election night in 2015, and I’m seeing it now. God has used our Prime Minister in His work (in a very backhanded kind of way).
And here’s what all this has to do with Christians playing a preservative role in the world. One of those great expenditures of energy that saw an upswing in human history has been the founding of certain nations and their laws on biblical principles. No nation has ever gotten it 100% right just as no human has ever gotten it 100% right. But the contrast between a nation that made the attempt and the nations that never did is startling. But those of us blessed to live in the nations with such a heritage now take those blessings for granted. We’ve stopped seeing the contrast. We don’t know what it’s like to live without freedom (yes, a definite biblical principle) and the doctrine of the individual worth of the human individual. So, in our complacency and ignorance, every man doing what’s right in his own eyes began to look attractive to us again. And we in Canada have just had a nice big mouthful of that pudding we’ve baked up. And we’re gagging on it. Something tastes rotten. (Needs more salt!)
But I’ve been interested to notice that the members of the sane general public who have discovered they don’t like the taste of the pudding they helped bake—a general public that regarded the Christians as the crazy ones a few short years ago—are starting to come to our defence. We’re starting to make sense to them. Minds are opening to the possibility that maybe there’s something more to this Christianity business than they were ever willing to entertain before.
And that’s the shift that matters. Nations come and go. But if the Bible’s view of reality is the true and right one, individuals last forever. And what they come to believe in this life matters. In an eternal kind of way.
Sure, I want to make the world a better place. And I think conservatism is one small way to do so. Yes, the great energy expended in forming our erstwhile “Christian” nations did help to make the world a better place, and conserving and preserving those nations around the principles that made them what they are is worth doing for making our lives easier and less disastrous. There is certainly some value in the world becoming a better place to live. But as a Christian, I hold the view of reality that says there’s more value in making someone’s eternity a better place to live.
Nations come and go. But there are two kingdoms that are eternal. Growing the citizenry of God’s kingdom is ultimately more important than nation-building. But nation-building (or nation-conserving) and showcasing the contrast between those two kingdoms may be one way that God’s kingdom grows.
I’m beginning to see it. I’m beginning to see that here may be where the value of conservatism really lies.