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.