2 Cold 2 Takes

One of the biggest structural problems with social media is that attention, any attention, is a boost. You can’t interact with stuff you disagree with without extending its reach. This does 2 things: it creates filter bubbles (when people only interact with stuff they consider agreeable) and it boosts extremist content (when people interact with stuff they consider egregious). Thus the hot take.

I’m constantly surprised by how unskeptical most people are. We tend to unduly trust information we perceive as coming from our own tribe (family, ideology, religion, politics, whatever). But identity politics shouldn’t drive our search for truth, nor should we just throw our hands up in the air and decide to believe whatever we feel like.

We have the entire corpus of human knowledge at our fingertips. There’s no excuse to believe nonsense.

Trying to put religion on the level of science or vice versa does religion no favours. It’s a desperate and obvious ploy, and we both know it’s a ploy.

Science has a method it can point to for how it arrives at conclusions. Yes, that method is human and flawed, and yes, it has a spotty history and probably a spotty future. However it has a method, and that method can produce measurable results. You are, after all, using the internet right now, so don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Religion on the other hand (and I’m using the word “religion” here very broadly) has no such method. As much as you would like there to be one, there isn’t.

Fundamentalists have tried extremely hard to make “just read the Bible, it’s 100% true” that method, but that hasn’t really worked out very well, and if you actually read the Bible, you might find that difficult to swallow.

We forget the prophetic critique far to easily.

I Cor 13 for example, is the prophetic critique reformulated and expanded by Paul, the same thing you find in Hosea 6, Isaiah 11, Amos 5, Micah 6, Psalms 40 & 51, etc.

Jesus does this all the time, critiquing the religious leaders of his time, calling them whitewashed tombs and so forth.

Observing the *forms* of religion isn’t the *point* of religion. That’s not to say that the forms aren’t important, but that they are signs pointing to a larger experiential reality. Or as CS Lewis would say, the deeper magic.

The religion of the sign (eg religiosity) is meaningless and ultimately perverse. You can do all the stuff, fight all the battles, whittle theology down to a fine point, but still get it all wrong. You can agree to all the right propositions and still be a fantastic asshole.

Ideology is fantasy. It’s a proposition about how the world should be.

It’s shockingly easy to hold that fantasy with a sort of religious fervour, and forget that the ideology itself is not the end.

One of the reasons I’m suspicious of ideology is those who hold it tend to place the ideology above the humans it’s supposed to serve. It’s a way of inventing masters when none are needed. It stops you from seeing the real damage your ideology causes to real people.

When we talk about toxic masculinity, this is, at least in some respects, what we mean.

One persistent mistake I see is folks not understanding how two things that come from some other thing are related, but do not come from eachother.

For instance, English and German are related languages, because they come from some parent language. English does not come from German, and German does not come from English.

In the same way, creationists will often say something along the lines of “well if humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” which is equally as silly, for exactly the same reason. If English evolved from German, why is there still German?

If I was born to cousin, why is there still cousin? Unless you’re from Alabama or something, you weren’t. You share grandparents. This isn’t a very difficult concept but I see people making this mistake all the time.

Along the same lines I think we need to teach set theory in grade schools. Subsets and supersets and intersections are very, very simple concepts (we’ve all seen a Venn diagram) yet somehow when it comes to applying these things in real life, we often fall down.

While we’re talking about cognitive distortions, what about the left-handedness fallacy? See, it turns out that when we stop beating people for being left-handed, left-handedness increases. In removing a suppressive effect, we naturally expect numbers to increase, not because the natural share of the population is growing, or because of some enculturation effect, but because the share was suppressed before and now is not.

In these cases you expect the share of the population to reach some kind of natural equilibrium.

The same sort of thing happens with incidences of cancers of various kinds. The suppressive effect in this case is lifespan; cancer is overwhelmingly (our perception notwithstanding) a disease of old age. As we’ve extended lifespans, we’ve removed the suppressive effect of people dying younger. This allows more cancers to express later in life.

I’d argue the same thing is happening with non-binary gender identities, though there’s not a huge amount of data on this (yet), so take this with a grain of salt, especially since we know that gender and sexuality are often encultured (look at Roman sexual mores vs Victorian sexual mores for a good example; they’re entirely different). But since we’re gradually removing the suppressive effect of viewing gender as a binary, folks are gravitating out those binaries.

We may find that we end up with some sort of natural equilibrium here as well. But there may be an enculturation effect as well, since I don’t think that gender is necessarily as biologically determined as handedness. I could be wrong.

R. J. Rushdoony may be the most dangerous and damaging Christian theologian since Augustine. The fruits of that theological strand are rank.

Pro-life Christians are, generally, actually just pro-birth. This a particularly evil way of operating. If you care about the lives children (and not just unborn children), you must care for them from the cradle to the grave. It is not enough to advocate for them until birth and then wash your hands of them. This is profoundly cruel, to mothers, father, and children all.

It’s an incredibly easy position to take, especially in the middle class west. But it is not a position of integrity, where the moral centre of your position is integrated well into your advocacy. As Barnhart says:

The unborn are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus, but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

It’s Easter. Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Cold Takes

Here’s a list of stunningly cold takes. Enjoy, or don’t.

  • Here’s a fun little thing you can do if you’re a liar: Do everything in your power to stop something from happening and then when it happens despite your best efforts send out a bunch of self-congratulatory promotion emails to your constituents about how you made the thing happen.
  • We’ve internalized neoliberalism in such a short time to such a degree that it seems natural to talk about a free speech marketplace of ideas. But we know that markets naturally tend toward monopolies, and the only effective-ish tool we have to prevent that is regulation. Libertarian markets aren’t free in the larger sense, as monopolies naturally stifle freedom. That’s not to say that even supposedly libertarian-leaning ideologies won’t regulate speech, even the ones that claim to be free speech purists. Liberals want to regulate by social pressure under the rubric of anti-bigotry, but conservatives are more than happy to legislate speech when they have the opportunity do so under the rubric of anti-anti-bigotry, recently rebranded as religious freedom. I don’t think the metaphor of a marketplace of ideas really works. I don’t think it can ever do what it says on the tin. It might be time to roll back to the idea of speech as embedded in social contracts instead, or develop new ways of thinking about how we approach speech in general.
  • Horseshoe theory is dumb. I prefer the Feral AI theory where totalizing ideologies tend toward violence and destruction in the same way that an AI made to create paperclips with no other constraints will eventually end up killing everyone for the iron in their blood. Because the ideology is totalizing (aka all-consuming), the path of least resistance to ideological superiority is violence, which helps explain why tankies and fascists both end up with the same means to very different ends.
  • Remember the ludicrous rumour about Proctor & Gamble being satanists? That was a big deal in my childhood. When I had the opportunity to look this stuff up for myself it led to a larger discussion of the whole Satanic Panic where I discovered that the entire thing was nothing. All made up. All lies. And a lot of folks I know believed it hook like and sinker. Not a sceptical bone in the lot of them.
  • There is no ideology so pure and correct that destroying lives in its name is a good thing.
  • I’ve seen a few infowarrior-style trucks with F*CK TRUDEAU painted or taped on them lately. It’s not a good sign when people decide to be that aggressive; it feels like they’re just waiting for a confrontation so they can explode and hurt someone.
  • Conservative accusations are confessions.
  • Secular liberal democracy is the worst system except for all the others we’ve tried.
  • I’ve said before that the American (and lots of the Canadian) evangelical church is apostate. I meant what I said. Now we have data that “evangelical” is being adopted as an identity by non-religious folks. If your brand of Christianity can be adopted wholesale by folks who don’t even attend church or do any of the stuff associated with your religion, it’s not what you think it is.
  • Identity politics is something everyone does, as everyone has an identity and your identity drives your politics.
  • Conspiracy theories are a gateway drug for fascism. And we are absolutely rife with conspiracy theories right now. It’s honestly pretty terrifying how many people are in that pipeline, and how many more are being gently eased into it by algorithms that are only too happy to radicalize you, as long as you keep watching.
  • OAN looks like what you’d see on a TV in movie like Starship Troopers. It’s bizarre how anyone could watch it and take it seriously. It looks and sounds like satire, but it’s somehow not.
  • Religion is something we need to take way more seriously. It drive so much of what happens in the world. And it’s not going away, much to the consternation of everyone who thought increasing secularity would rise like a tide and overtake all the deluded sheep. Sorry guys. That’s not to say there aren’t an increasing number of people who don’t take part in organized religion. Data says that part of the population is increasing. But even in that group of “nones”, there’s a lot of loose spirituality and belief happening.
  • Coming out of fundamentalism, you still have a fundamentalist brain. It’s easy to recreate this dogmatic approach in whatever you do after. Study history, study diversity, learn about the variety of human experience, stop taking hard stances on everything.
  • Speaking of which, if you’re a Christian, stop taking such hard stances on doctrine. The history (and present!) of Christianity is rife with variety. You think the Westminster Confession got everything right the first time? Come on. Just because you find something attractive or you were raised a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the one right way. It’s time to accept that for a lot of stuff there just isn’t one right way. There’s better ways, sure. There’s worse ways, sure. But look at the variety of belief all nominally drawn from the same book and the same church fathers and you might find that believing your tradition is the only right one is kind of the height of hubris.
  • The ESV was created to inject conservative (read: patriarchal) dogma into the Bible, pushing back against perceived liberal (real: non-patriarchal) dogma being injected into the Bible. It’s a pretty cunning if not exactly honest strategy.

Anxiety Culture

Folks upset about “cancel culture” aren’t reacting to the same thing you are. (Whether “cancel culture” exists or not or is a moral panic or not is neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.)

When Rowling says something you consider despicable, remember this: you disagree with her. For you looking at Rowling, she experiences at best some mild–though widespread–pushback and remains a wildly wealthy and influential person.

But that’s exactly the point. She remains because she already was. She is sheltered, like many other public anti-whatevers, from the consequences of her actions because of her status and bushels of money.

Her average-joe defenders know this. And they know that if they were to say the same things outside of their safe spaces (the countryside, the church, the mosque, the club, whatever) they might be on the receiving end of that mob.

Without influence and money they might lose their jobs, be ostracised from their communities, etc, etc. Now, this is explanation, not an excuse. As always this sort of existential anxiety (rooted in the fear of death), whether real or imagined, drives extremism, and extremism drives violence.

They call this “free speech”. It’s not a right that’s ever existed, except in some imaginary past or some imaginary libertarian utopia. It’s not, at least as long as we have a secular liberal democracy, a right that can possibly exist.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that this section of the population will gladly sacrifice secularity, liberality, and democracy so long as they’re the ones who can speak their minds without consequence.

Having lived in fundamentalist communities for a good part of my life, I’m highly aware that this idea of “free speech” isn’t something they’re willing to extend to members of their own community, much less to everyone else. This is important, because it reveals the actual desire: power. Not some laissez-faire free speech utopia extended to all, but to grab the levers of power and attempt to reverse the perversion of this or that conceptual category.

Every single fundamentalist moral panic is about exactly this. Things must not change, and if they do, we must change them back. Their inability to do so in countries like Canada only compounds the anxiety. Thus we should expect only more extremism from here on out until they change their minds, die, or violently enact their Gilead.

So the question is this: What’s worse? Cancel culture or anxiety culture? If I had to pick, I’d say take a brief look at history and see what existential anxiety has done.

The Why

I was talking with an avid conspiracy theorist the other day, and we were getting into all the misinformation floating around about the pandemic.

The question they asked me that honestly stumped me a bit was “why”? Why are all these people, as I claimed, so determined to spread lies around?

Now, whatever answer I would have given to that question would have been immediately turned around to explain why they thought the truth as supported by data, science, etc, was real lie (as they always do; it’s conspiracy theorist script 101 stuff). If I say power, they say ah but isn’t that also the case for your team? If I say money, same thing.

What I wish I’d said, but didn’t, was that it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that they do. Looking for a motivation when evil people do evil thing is natural. Why do conspiracy theorists come up with outlandish explanations for stuff? I’m sure there’s some great psychology out there that seeks to answer that question.

But functionally, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know the ins and outs of their mental state to know their motivations when I can see their actions. This constant search for but what’s the reason behind it all?, especially when it comes to events beyond your immediate control, is natural and human.

Stuff happens. The world is too complicated to understand. Randomness exists. If you have to have a “why”, especially when the “why” is opaque or unknowable, you can find yourself making up reasons or buying into neat and tidy explanations that depart (often quite sharply) from reality.

Usually you’re shielded from the results of believing this crap because we live in a society that has stupidity safety nets, and usually this comes at the cost of everyone else doing the right thing, leaving you, the crank, as a freeloader.

In a pandemic, though, it’s a different story. Antivaxx folks have to be conspiracy theorists not to accept plain facts. And they let their insane beliefs put themselves and their families in harm’s way, prolonging the pandemic to boot.

At this point, it’s a number’s game. If you look at the death rates and ICU rates and think I don’t trust those numbers, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just playing the odds here. I want to make the odds of me, my friends, my family, and my community surviving this thing without dying, without getting severely sick, without experiencing ongoing symptoms, as high as possible.

You have all the information at your disposal to make the right call. To mitigate, as far as you’re able, the effects of the pandemic in your life and others lives.

If you can’t see that, again, I don’t know what to say to you. It’s right there in front of your face, plain as day.

Maps of Meaning

Bunting Clover Leaf Map

The Bunting Clover Leaf Map is one of my favourite maps, for obvious reasons.

It’s frequently brought up to illustrate how terrible folks were at map-making back in the day; a child could draw a better map from memory, right?

Yet the fact that it’s so obviously out-of-sync with the actual shape of the world is a clue to what this map is meant to do. The fact that it’s plainly and obviously not representative of physical reality should be the first signal that it’s not meant to be representative of physical reality.

We’re used to maps that “map” (thus the name) onto the geometry of reality. These maps are functional. They are tools. They are more or less accurate depending on the type of map, whether a flat projection or a round globe.

In that sense they’re still only representative of physical reality to a point. At some magnification or for some purpose they become useless. Outside of the scope of their instrumentalization, all maps collapse into the category of a bad map, because they can no longer be used in the way that you wish to use them.

So look at the map above. As an instrument, what does it do? Well, it’s plainly not useful in any navigational sense. So its instrumentalization must not be in the category of navigation, at least not physical navigation.

Instead, it’s a map that seeks to represent the meaning of the world as the illustrator understands it. It doesn’t represent physical reality, but instead conceptual reality. This is a metaphysical representation. It shapes the world into something that can be understood as having a focal point.

But there are also glimmers that this map is unable to do what its author intends. Notice America off to the left. What is this place? How does it fit into the author’s conceptual framework? Clearly, it doesn’t, and the author has made no attempt to try to integrate this new continent into their map of meaning.

Here we see a conceptual paradigm ripe for change. The world has gotten bigger and they’re not sure how to deal with it.

This map is a fantastic analogy for our own conceptual categories, whatever those might be. We are gifted a certain worldview or conceptual framework by the cultures we’re born into. Yet we live in a fast-paced, ever-evolving world where new discoveries, new science, new thought, new metaphysics, new cultural experiences and so forth are always popping up on the edges of our maps of meaning, and it’s not always obvious whether our existing maps are capable of integrating them.

At some point it becomes untenable to continue using our inherited maps. At some point we have to recognize that there’s some territory off the right. The world can no longer be represented neatly with Jerusalem as the focal point. This is a difficult position to be in. Inherited conceptual frameworks are comforting. Things that poke at them can feel like attacks.

The thing to know is that friction doesn’t go away. Once you’re aware of America hanging out over there on the edge of the map, you have to do something.

On Cherished Categories and Critique

One recurring pattern I see in contemporary political and social rhetoric is this (quite intentional, I think) collapse of the disease into the patient.

When you diagnose a disease, you presumably want to kill the disease so that the patient might live. It’s true that sometimes the patient is so diseased that a cure is impossible, absolutely.

Importantly, the patient is not their disease.

Yet when you seek to diagnose some cherished conceptual category (masculinity and femininity, inerrancy, capitalism, the nuclear family, etc) the very first thing the gatekeepers of that category do is exactly that: confuse the patient and the disease.

If you say “toxic masculinity”, the gatekeepers of this cherished category without fail misinterpret this (again, I think, quite intentionally) as “all masculinity is toxic”. Yet somehow they can still understand that “rotten apples” doesn’t mean “all apples are rotten”.

Why? Because these cherished categories are, for them, beyond critique. Any critique is an attack. And because their category is cherished and essential, any attack on the category is an attack on them, their community, their way of life, and so forth.

This seems to me a religious response. If your cherished category must not be critiqued, if you view it as essential, foundational, and axiomatic, we’re dealing with doctrine.

For a Christian, this is idolatry, pure and simple. Not only that, you have only to look at the history of Christianity, Second Temple Judaism, through to ancient Israel, to disprove this kind of blind essentialism. If this category exists at all (capitalism obviously doesn’t, for instance), our modern understanding and practice of it would be absolutely unrecognizable. History is, as always, pluralizing.

The problem is that collapsing the patient into its disease prevents diagnosis. Preventing diagnosis prevent curative action. And preventing that action often means the patient simply dies.

That’s the way in which the gatekeepers of a cherished category actually hasten its demise.

On Crisis

Times of crisis reveal true colours.

You may be shocked to learn that all the stuff you were taught about submission to authority, telling the truth, etc, etc, wasn’t about some abstract moral principles at all.

You may find this submission is scoped very narrowly. This unspoken scope is of course “you must submit to me; you must not lie to me; you must not steal from me“.

You may find that the authorities you grew up under (your church, your parents, your work, whatever) have absolutely no intention of practising what they preach. You may find that they will freely disobey the authorities over them when it suits their felt needs.

You may end up rethinking your relationship with authority. You were taught that it was about morality, but it may seem like it’s actually about power.

After all, if rules aren’t for everyone, what’s the point? If morality is relative, how is it morality? Whatever happened to the hysteria about moral relativity we grew up with? Was that also just for other people?

If we had seen a moral, principled, consistent, non-hypocritical response to the pandemic from (e.g.) the evangelical church, it would have been an incredibly witness to the church’s care for both its members and for the world at large.

This ordeal could have been an example of integrity, seriousness, and sound speech. Instead, the opponent is emboldened, as there is much evil to say about us.

On Definitions

I’m not a huge fan of using logical fallacies as a “I win the argument” button, especially informal ones that aren’t always super critical. But one fallacy I see a lot, and am myself prone to, is the No True Scotsman fallacy.

In writing yesterday’s post it occurs to me that when I talk about Christian empires, both Catholic and Protestant, there’s going to be an impulse to say “Ah, well, those were Christian in name only”, or “Catholics aren’t Christians”, or what have you.

I get that. Growing up Reformed it took me a really long time to even admit that Catholics were Christians (which seems odd to say now).

That’s not to say that we have to throw out the definition of Christian entirely. Of course not. Otherwise it’s not super useful to have the definition at all.

But that’s exactly what I’m thinking about right now: The usefulness of definitions.

Definitions are conceptual categories, and as such they’re constructed inside human minds. There’s nothing about, say, a tree that you can examine with a microscope to discover its treeness. That category exists in your head, and only in your head.

But of course you have the concept of tree, and presumably you have that concept because it’s in some way useful to you, or at the very least you’ve inherited it as part of a cultural legacy (and you can imagine for yourself how treeness might seem different to a carpenter versus a biologist).

One of the uses of definitions is to structure power. One of the ways the Nazi state structured power was to exclude types of people from its definition of human. Once of the ways that American state structured power before its civil war was to categorize Black people as property. One of the ways that Christian empires structured power was to categorize non-European indigenous people as savages.

Now, the ways that we structure power don’t necessarily lead to genocide and exploitation. But it sure would be nice if we could be aware that it can.

When you seek to exclude, say, Christian empires from your definition of what it means to be Christian, you structure power in your own favour. That is to say, you benefit from that, in this case quite immediately, since you no longer have to explain how your religious beliefs can either lead to or be coopted by Empire.

A few examples (unfortunately mostly about culture war stuff, forgive me):

There’s a persistent meme amongst Young Earth Creationists that evolution is just a theory. Now, in some senses, this is trivial confusion about what the word theory means in a scientific context versus what it means in casual, everyday speech. But this meme was started, I think quite intentionally, by people who absolutely should know better, who are aware of this discrepancy in language, and are exploiting it to give folks the appearance of epistemological cover. After all, if we exclude from the definition of theory all the stuff about testing and evidence and observation and falsifiability, it suddenly becomes easy to equate a scientific theory with a naive reading of a religious text.

Or take gender. Right now we have skirmishes over what does it mean to be a man and what does it mean to be a woman and can you be neither of these. What is this but a debate over definitions? Traditionalists try to smush sex and gender together into a binary; progressives try the opposite.

How about abortion? The entire debate hinges on a definition: When does life start? Pro-life folks try to push the definition of life as far back as possible (sometimes as far as conception, which I find both logically and scripturally unsupportable, but you understand the impulse to do so, right?), and pro-choice folks do the opposite. Nominally, pro-life folks are doing this to prevent a child’s death, and pro-choice folks are doing this to protect a mother’s bodily autonomy, though considering that both these positions are leveraged by political parties as wedge issues, I’d say that’s very much what the debate means, but not what the debate does.

I could go on.

The point, anyways, is that definitions are powerful. Conceptual categories are important. They have real effects in the world, and we ignore them at our peril.

That’s not to say any of these things are real, per se. All definitions, all conceptual categories, are constructed in some way. They can be structured in different ways, with different effects. The real question is who benefits.

On Fear II

Yesterday I gave what I thought was the most charitable interpretation of this fear for the end of the church in the west. Today, a less charitable interpretation. And, I think, a more realistic one.

The church in the west has inherited a legacy of incredible influence. Or to put it another way, power. From the Roman Catholic church’s political and military height, where it held an almost unimaginable amount of influence over European polities, to the empires, both Catholic and Protestant, that spanned the globe.

If you choose, you can get granular and break this down into the individual structures use to propagate and perpetuate this power (empire, state churches, colonization, whiteness, heteronormativity, patriarchy).

Or you can just acknowledge that there is a certain type of person who has inherited this legacy (white, male, Christian).

Now, the church as an institution has been forced to move from nakedly structuring power using force, at least for the most part. Since the rise of the enlightenment in the west, the church has gradually been forced to structure power more subtly by leaning on ideology.

In this case, I mean ideology as in the anointing of particular definitions as Biblical or Christian or what have you. When you adopt Biblical Womanhood or a Christian Worldview (for example) as defined by the institutional church, you are participating in that structuring. Whether that womanhood is actually biblical, or that worldview is actually Christian is largely beside the point.

The end result is the same. Militarily or ideologically, we see the same sorts of people ascendant at the top of this pyramid.

And the people who are invested in a doom-and-gloom outlook on the church in the west, at least in my experience, are exactly these people.

So I have to ask: Are you concerned with the wellbeing of the church of Jesus Christ? Or are you concerned with your cherished categories being disrupted at the cost of your own social standing and influence? Are you concerned about people? Or just people that look and act like you?

I think a lot of the paranoia and neurosis about persecution and tyranny in the church springs from exactly that (not to mention the extremely way Christians often demand to be taken seriously by the “educated elite”). It’s not a loss of life. It’s a loss of social standing.

I’d recommend reading Richard Beck’s The Slavery Of Death if you want to understand more why this sort of existential dread produces a death anxiety that inevitably leads to sin.

On Fear

No matter how often it happens (often!) I never cease to be amazed by how we’re all driven to our moral/ethical stances by circumstance and practice and community. This goes, by the way, for me, you, elected officials, pastors, educators, etc. No one is immune, not even (and perhaps especially) moral philosophers.

The problem is this dog-wagging is easy to spot in others and incredibly difficult to see in ourselves. After all, our cognitive bias is to assume that we’re correct, but even further, that we’re good people with good opinions.

I recently read a blog post by a pastor bemoaning the utter destruction of the church due to COVID restrictions, going on and on about how the church is being laid low by this overblown response.

Lots of problems with this. Not the least of which is trying to protect the church as an institution over and above the parishioner and clergy that make up that church, without whom there is no church.

To my eyes, this lack of wisdom on the part of this minister is astonishing. But you can see how you’d get there, right? Your livelihood depends on the church. It pays your bills. It pays the bills of others like you. How can you help but feel immediately and existentially threatened when people stop showing up?

This is the most charitable way I can read these sorts of things. I see a person who is fundamentally scared and pessimistic about the future of the church in general, and their church in particular. And that orientation drives belief.

Imagine looking at the facts, at the statistics, at the death toll for this disease, and still saying “Yes, some of you may die, but that’s a chance I am willing to take”.

Well that’s horrible. You obviously can’t do that. So instead you choose the third path: Downplay the facts, buy into the conspiracy theories, start to believe that it’s all an overblown hoax.

You believe what you have to believe.

There’s a fourth path, of course. But it’s difficult, and if you have a gloom-and-doom disposition (as clergy often and oddly seem to), it’s going to be a bit of an emotional workout. Especially if your eschatology leans toward the dispensational.

The path is faith. If you believe, as I assume you do, that Christ is the head of his church, and that your God is all-powerful and at work in the world, and that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, why are you so worried?

Do you honestly think this is the end of the church in the west? Do you really have that little confidence in this thing that you’ve given your life to?

I find it ironic when Christian folks talk about COVID in terms of a “spirit of fear”, because I think more than anything, their rejection of the mitigation efforts (lockdowns, masks, vaccines, whatever) is rooted in exactly that. It seems to me, rather plainly, to be a fear of tyranny, fear of the end of the church, fear of persecution, fear of government, fear of the future and on and on.

I’m choosing to take this fourth path. I think whatever emerges on the other side of the pandemonium will be the better for it. Maybe this will help us shed some of the toxicity that’s made the church, especially the western evangelical church, so hard to root for.

Maybe I only believe that because I have to. But I’d rather be optimistic and be wrong than be made a fool by fear.