It’s late, here’s some bullet points

  • I never cease to wonder at folks who believe in total depravity but refuse to critique systems created by these totally depraved humans. Like, we’re willing to sling crap at individuals for being some distorted version of the image of God, but we just can’t find it within ourselves to critique the ideas and systems those individuals collectively create? It’s such a weird correlation (and this is just my experience; feel free to disagree): The stronger a person holds to this doctrine, and the more concentrated a form they hold, the less likely they are to critique, say, capitalism. Which is just wild.
  • I’ve been listening to a podcast called You’re Wrong About, which is of course my favourite thing in the world right now, because I love being wrong about things. Their episode on how the current narrative around human trafficking is just Stranger Danger repackaged for the internet era is, I think, profound.
  • If there’s some parallel between my current thinking about people (as in, humans, and how they are) and the doctrine of total depravity, it’s that humans, and I generously include myself in this, aren’t good at recognizing what real danger is. We don’t understand preventative maintenance. We don’t (and maybe can’t) comprehend the complexity of our modern, interconnected, global existence. And we constantly want to boil down “the problem” to a Big Bad, like we’re in an episode of Buffy or something. But there’s almost never a Big Bad. No puppetmaster pulling the strings. Problems are amorphous, distributed, and seemingly disconnected from causes.
  • The term “conspiracy theory” was invented in the USA. Which, I mean, of course it was.
  • Everything you need to know about the current US president is John Mulaney’s “There’s A Horse Loose In The Hospital” bit. It’s the perfect analogy. It hasn’t become less true with age. More true in fact.
  • Audrey and I are playing a Minecraft survival world right now. Monster spawning turned off, of course, because she will literally jump out of her skin at a creeper and never jump back in again. Kids, man.
  • I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t trust people who don’t read. I’ve never met an uncritical, superficially informed, armchair expert who reads a lot. I’ve met plenty of folks who I disagree with, often quite strongly, who read. But I can at least respect them.
  • I really, really don’t trust people who get a lot of their ideas from YouTube. That site exists to monopolize your attention, not provide you with truth. It will take you as far down the rabbit hole as you want to go, as long as you keep watching.
  • It’s complicated. If you think it’s not complicated, you’re wrong. Except when you’re not, because, you know, it’s complicated.
  • Reading about how evangelicalism in the USA was welded onto the Republican party is shocking. It hasn’t always been this way, and if you look at how it happened, it feel like an actual conspiracy. It might just be a bunch of dudes getting lucky with their power grab, and I don’t like conspiracy theories, but this might actually be one of the real ones.
  • Evangelical Christianity in the USA is, at least partially, apostate. And in the same way that the Church has drifted into apostasy time and time again, the cooption of the Church by the state. Except that America has, as usual, approached the problem of how to be Christian and deny Christ with its usual innovative flair: The fusion of the America myth and Christianity. And of course when you wrap Jesus in the flag, Jesus suffocates. Americanism + Christianity is just Americanism. White supremacy + Christianity is just Americanism with a fertilizer bomb.
  • The amount of time I used to spend arguing about tertiary doctrinal issues is one of those things I look back on with a good deal of regret. I can’t imagine the kind of turd I’d have been if I’d had Facebook when I was 15. (You’re not ✨special✨ because you manage to stir up some controversy over some niche issue!)
  • Pumpkin in a bechamel is quite nice over pasta. You should try it out some time.


There’s a reason a bunch of progressives Christians and even some Evangelicals no longer want to use the word Christian.

It’s the same reason Americans sometimes sew Canadian flags on their backpacks when overseas.

The word has a lot of baggage. Still, I’m fine with it. It’s a good word. And baggage is important, isn’t it? We need to come to terms with (and not repeat!) what Christianity has done in the past. Kicking “Christian” to the curb and saying “Christ-follower” instead is nice if you don’t want to have to deal with crusades and witch hunts and colonialism and whatever.

But we do have to deal with that stuff. You don’t get adopted into a family and simultaneously wash your hands of the family skeletons.

There are other issues with the term, though. And not just stuff that’s been done in the past, but stuff that’s being done in the present. I’d guess that most of the folks who react viscerally to the term Christian aren’t reacting to our history, but to our present. (Recency bias is a thing; the past seems less horrific since we’re not living through it.)

In the present, in particular, the rise of Christian Nationalism is particular concerning. They don’t use the word Christian the way most Christians use the word. And they’re very, very loud about it.

The Christian Nationalist uses Christian to mean basically the opposite of what you might call the Christian ethic. They use it as a dogwhistle. Instead of “follower of Jesus”, they mean “a certain colour, a certain nationality, a certain class, a certain politics”.

Muddying the waters around the term Christian makes it very, very hard to tell what folks mean when they talk about their identity (and just to be clear, this is a particularly vile type of identity politics).

In an age with nationalism on the rise and Christian Nationalism on the rise with it, it becomes incredibly important to be extremely clear about what we mean when we say “Christian”.

Not just Western.

Not just white.

Not just conservative.

If you look at the landscape of Christianity around the world, this kind of “Christian” is vanishingly rare. They don’t represent Christianity, not even close.

As always, Jesus has something to say about this:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.


This evokes, at least for me, a lot of what Christian Nationalism is. False prophets who offer a counterfeit faith, a sort of fusion of faith and country, where to perform Christianity to to perform a particular kind of Americanism.

But this thing is brittle. It it not part of the kingdom. It can’t survive in the face of the real ethic of the kingdom, which seeks not to dominate but to love and serve.

It’s crucial now more than ever to keep these false teachings out of our hearts and mouths.

And, as always, maranatha.

Why now?

We live in strange times. At the very least. I’d say bad times. Not, like, World War II bad, but pretty bad.

There’s a lot of stuff out there causing a lot of anxiety. The worst kind of anxiety, too: the sort of anxiety that reminds you that you are going to die.

It’s an anxiety that seeks resolution in different ways for different types of people. Some are choosing to take refuge in alternate versions of reality where the bad stuff isn’t happening. Or if it is happening, it’s not that bad. Or if it is that bad, it’s not their problem. Or if it is their problem, someone’s going to solve it for them.

For others, anxiety resolves in depression. Or keeping calm and carrying on, waiting the bad times out. Or waging an online war against misinformation. A variety of ways to deal. Some more and less helpful than others.

Aside from the general anxiety in the air (if you will) right now, there are also some very specific anxieties that pop up in particular groups as a result of very specific triggers.

One of them is American election season, my least favourite season, especially with the current state of political discourse in the US.

One reaction, on the right, has been to retreat into the fantasy realm of QAnon conspiracy. It’s a big tent, with everything from flat-earthers to baby-eating cabal types, to antivaxxers, to COVID denialists.

This is the “Trump is gonna save us” fantasy (and I call it a fantasy because Trump is very obviously not going to save anyone; he’s good at exactly one thing, and that thing is media manipulation).

On the other end of the spectrum, the left is extremely concerned with the rise of these loons.

The question is… why now?

The timing is suspicious. It’s almost as if it’s driven by fear that my chosen candidate won’t win the election.

I’m not going to mince my words or attempt to both-sides this. Trump is an inveterate liar and cheat who has failed upward his entire life, all the way into the presidency, and has chosen to surround himself with protofascists who want to create a white ethnostate. His administration, if you can even call it that, is transparently incompetent and corrupt.

If I had to choose (and I’m glad, as a Canadian, I don’t have to choose), I’d vote for Biden, a milquetoast liberal, simply to clean house.

So… anxiety.

The problem is this: none of the things we do to decrease our anxiety work. I mean, it might be comforting in the short term to pretend like leftist antifa BLM cabal paedophile Hollywood lizard-people are going to be defeated by daddy Trump, but that’s a childish fantasy. You’re going to have to move on eventually, and reality will still be there.

It might be comforting to think that your facts and logic and firm grasp on reality might shake some of these folks out of their dreamworld, but they’re immunized against facts, and your keyboard warrioring probably won’t do anything.

Both reactions are understandable. We live in an age of limitless knowledge and crippling powerlessness. We know so much, but can affect so little. The channels that we have, especially during the pandemic, to advocate and influence are faceless, mediated, and ultimately dehumanizing.

I wish I had some kind of silver bullet to offer, but I don’t. Other than to say, COVID will pass, election season will pass, late capital will pass, and some sort of normal will emerge out the other side.

In the meantime, be good to eachother.

Conspiracy theories as idolatry

After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol … I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess … you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.


We get a glimpse in Deuteronomy of idolatry as a denial of reality.

How can you worship these things which are not alive when you have the witness of heaven and earth that your forefather saw?

How can you deny the reality of the power Yahweh and instead run after inanimate objects? They clearly can do nothing.

What the Deuteronomist is calling out here is a fundamental misattribution error. You take the blessings and cursings of Yahweh who made the world and you with it, and attribute it to something in that world.

Instead of placing your God in the centre of your being, instead of attributing causality to him, you put some warped version of reality there instead.

At some level this is all about what you hold to, centrally. What’s at the core of your being. Everything else flows from that.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.


Conspiracy theories are very much like idols. They speak to your core. In fact, there’s considerable evidence they exist to protect your core beliefs. You reconfigure an inconvenient reality so you don’t have to reevaluate that thing you hold most dear.

This clicked for me this weekend when I stumbled across this fantastic video:

I had always wondered why conspiracy theory types were almost universally Trump supporters. And this gives us a starting place to figure out why.

You kind of need the conspiracy theory, since Trump is so obviously a grifter and a conman. You can’t take Trump-the-Man at face value. He’s transparently awful.

You have to engage with Trump-the-Myth. Because Trump-the-Myth is a completely different animal. He’s a genius, a Christian, a prolife champion, an antipaedophile warrior… really, whatever you need him to be.

Once you’ve got that mythos in your deep heart, confronted with the real Trump, you start to make stuff up. Or you seek out stuff other folks made up.

Trump doesn’t think COVID’s a big deal? I’ll turn the simple act of wearing a mask into an no-holds-barred cage match. Trump downplays racism? I’ll deny the lived experiences of others and instead attack CRT, etc. I could go on, and on, and on.

It’s astounding, really, and there’s a whole other discussion to be had about why so many Christians in particular seem primed to discard reality in favour of conspiracy. (Could it have something to with the widespread antiscience conspiracy theory that is YEC?)

At the end of the day, praying to the invented god Ba’al via house idols so your crops don’t fail isn’t so different from pinning your hopes on Trump to do x, y, & z.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart / And do not lean on your own understanding.


Ba’al doesn’t exist.

The Trump you worship doesn’t exist either.

And as always, maranatha.

Bullet points for a Tuesday lunch hour

  • We fundamentally don’t understand our own reasoning. Or, another way, people don’t know why they think what they think. This is pessimistic, I know. But this is (my understanding of) the scientific consensus. I’d go for far as to say that most of “why do I think what I think” is post-hoc rationalization.
  • I tend not to take folks too seriously when they frame stuff a certain way, or spell out their reasoning on a certain issue. This isn’t to say I doubt they think that way; I assume, probably too generously, good faith on the what. I just think the why is inaccessible.
  • Turns out, though, the why is pretty important. For instance, you’d expect that a lot of the folks vigorously supporting the Hong Kong protests would be as vigorously supporting the Portland protests, since they have similar features. But not even a little! A lot of folks might enumerate a list of differences about what the protests are actually about, etc. But I suspect that list would be a list of stuff they found after they’d already made a gut-level decision. A post-hoc rationalization.
  • (The real reason is probably something along the lines of political affiliation, by the way. I suspect a lot of the support for Hong Kong was anti-China, not pro-democracy.)
  • The natural pushback to this is that being suspicious of these post-hoc rationalizations is just an easy way to discredit someone’s position without having to deal with the actual content of their position. The short answer is, yes. That’s true. That’s a danger, and I’m certainly not immune to it. The longer answer is I’ve been alive for a long while now, and on the internet talking with folks about stuff for a good part of that. And I’ve seen so much inconsistency between what people say they believe and what positions they end up taking, I just have a hard time believing any of it.
  • Take for instance the evolution of the Evangelical position on how exemplary their leader’s moral behaviour should be. When their guy’s a creep, suddenly the overall opinion changes. Not for everyone, of course, but for enough people that it’s statistically significant.
  • My take on these sorts of things is that personality, media, politics, and community (respectively and in decreasing order) play a much larger role than we like to acknowledge.
  • More fundamentally, people aren’t rational in the way that economists would like, or that the Enlightenment assumes.
  • This is also another nail in the coffin of non-situational ethics. In-group ethics in particular become an exercise in community interpretation, especially when filtered through politics.
  • I have a special affection for folks who are weathering the current (acute) political crises without abandoning their ethics. If you’re going to be a fundamentalist at least be a good one and don’t jump ethical ships per election. If morality and ethics are fixed, let them be fixed.
  • I’m not even going to touch on “reasons” that most people know are straight up bullshit, like the NRA’s “guns === freedom” defence-of-liberty bullshit. The only way you can take that kind of stuff seriously is if you switch out all the dogwhistley words for what they actually mean. This is why I appreciate “I like shooting stuff” over “I need to defend my family”.
  • Or even worse, standards that only apply to folks I disagree with. Imagine how quickly an editor at an Evangelical publications would be shot into space for publishing an editorial in support of abortion rights, yet the same sort of thing at a liberal publication is met with howls of outrage. Rank bullshit. Why are liberal publications required to both-sides everything, while conservative publications get to have airtight editorial control? Absolutely rank bullshit.

Bullet Points for a Friday Lunch

  • That wearing masks has become a political issue is absolutely infuriating. Any time medicine drifts into politics, it’s a shitshow. And more and more stuff is being politicised recently. You kind of have to wonder who has a vested interest in driving stakes between people.
  • Think about the way the Bible talks about principalities and powers. Whether you think they’re spiritual beings or a way of talking about emergent phenomena, it’s hard to look at the church and not see these powers at work. Especially in the merging of country, party, and faith. Critically, the call is coming from inside the house. Christian leaders are complicit here. They’re trading in currency of power; and power always corrupts. The evangelical wing of Christendom especially is in trouble these days; it’s hard to look at their enthusiastic embrace of a crooked and depraved wannabe despot and think otherwise.
  • The phone call to talk about the email could have just been an email.
  • It’s interesting that the “spirit of fear” response to mask wearing follows the same template as Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. If you are a Christian, don’t wear a mask, “for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”. The response is, of course “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.
  • The spirit of fear quote is also wildly decontextualised and repurposed; you could literally say that about anything! Don’t look both ways before crossing the street, for God has not given us a spirit of fear! Don’t wear a seatbelt, for God has not given us a spirit of fear! It’s absolute nonsense. You don’t get to just pick some words out the Bible and use them however you like.
  • Prosperity gospel is a sort of magical thinking. It links cause and effect where cause and effect either don’t exist, or where they’re opaque. It’s an easy view to adopt. Everything suddenly has a reason (though, unfortunately, the reason is you, which kind of sucks). But it’s not just in Christian circles; I’ve seen the same sort of thinking around stuff like epigenetics. There’s a powerful thing in the human brain that wants to draw a line from point [a] to point [b]. And it’s easy to make the mistake that if something explains something it must explain everything.
  • Overly causal thinking is also another way to generate guilt. If I don’t have enough faith / eat the right food / do the right whatever, it’s my fault that me and my family suffer in some way. This is too much burden to bear, especially unnecessarily.
  • It’s fun to break things down by their function instead of by their theoretical whatever. For instance, functionally, the preordained plan of God, decided before the foundation of the world, is functionally the same as random action. How could you tell the difference? Or, being anti-abortion is functionally about locking you into voting for a particular political party. Handy way to start explaining why some stuff is the way it is.
  • You need to allow for luck. Or providence (again, functionally identical), or whatever you want to call it. But critically, you don’t get to decide that other folks are lucky and you earned it. You’re lucky too. For instance, a lot of people want to say that poor folk are poor for a reason. Conveniently, the flip side of that is that you’re not poor for a reason. However true that may be (not very, imho), it’s immensely self-serving.
  • I know a lot of folks who went to school for like $10, bought a house with a bag full of old nickels, and worked in a stable career with a pension for 40+ years acting like they somehow earned 100% of that. What? Nah, you lucky. Lots of folks work hard and get nowhere. You worked hard (you claim!) and got somewhere. What’s the difference? Are you magic? Blessed? A better kind of person? Or maybe, just maybe, you’re lucky.
  • Also if you earned it, you don’t have to be grateful, you don’t have to give back, you don’t have to see yourself embedded in the social graph. You earned yours. Convenient!
  • This is a really easy way to think if you live in a suburb.
  • Don’t apply the general to the specific. Average IQ is 100, individual IQ varies. Stop thinking about “the gays”. Think about your relative or your neighbour. Stop making people feel bad that they didn’t recover from their surgery in the average time or whatever. People are not the conceptual group they’re in.
  • At the same time, stop expecting the average. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you’ll almost certainly be different.
  • Empathy is a powerful thing. It’s hard to nurture. It’s becoming a dirty word in some circles, coincidentally the same circles that will try and strip you of it so they can sell you their politics of the antichrist.

We Both Got Toes

Here’s a fact: there’s a plurality of opinion about what the Bible says.

It wasn’t so long ago that you could reasonably ignore (or at least downplay) this fact. It’s a lot easier when there’s two churches in your town: the one you go to, and the apostate one.

You don’t have that luxury anymore. You are a simple search engine away from every conceivable reading of the Bible, from the comfortingly familiar to the bracingly bizarre.

So which one is the right one? It’s a good question. Or at least, it was a good question. Good enough that actuals wars were fought over it. People died over their reading of the same book.

Again, easy to have wars when there’s two sides. Our blessed protestant homeland vs their superstitious catholic wastes.

We (okay, maybe it’s just me) tend to approach our approach like lovestruck teenagers. They’re the one for me. This person, who just so happens to live in my city, and go to my church, and participate in my youth group, completes me. (And if you know me, you know I’m speaking from some real experience, right?)

Importantly, this is a real feeling. It’s even an important feeling. And since feelings are thought, let’s not try to pretend that we shouldn’t feel this way. At least for a time. But when you grow up, if you want to start thinking about these sorts of things, you realise there are a few billion potential mates for you in this world, and the chances that yours just happens to live on the next block are astronomically small. So either you believe in some sort of providential whatever, or you sort of abandon this idea of “the one”. (And so what if providence smells a lot like proximity; that’s not the point.)

If you abandon your teenage brain when it comes to romance, why not doctrine? What’s the difference? So yeah, it’s a bit more of a shocking question, or at least it feels that way, but why not?

If you’ve stuck around the church past adolescence you probably attend some variation on the same church you went to then. What are the chances? And if you’ve changed your mind a bit (let’s say you went from a Reformed church to a Baptist church), what’s to say you shouldn’t change your mind even more?

I don’t have a great answer to this question. But maybe that’s the point. This entire post is perhaps a reflection on something I like to call epistemic humility.

It hasn’t been long (geologically, at least) since I was very, very firmly in the a camp called epistemic realism, or objectivism (and please for love of all things holy, don’t confuse this with whatever garbage Ayn Rand shat out and gave the same name).

I’m not some epistemic idealist now, but I will say this: For folks of a certain temperament, and I count myself among them, it’s really tempting to chuck as much stuff as possible into the “stuff we can all know 100% for sure” bucket and call it a day. This is the easy route. For those seeking to hew as close as possible to what they call realism (and I sure hope there aren’t that many folks who really, passionately care about that sort of thing), the impulse is to use your Big Brain and Know Things.

And to be fair, I think there’s a lot of stuff that can go in that bucket. This is a whole other post, but most ideologies and systems of belief are having a really hard time right now dealing with actual facts. So when science says this, but I believe that, what do I do?

Still, there’s lots of other stuff that we either can’t know or can’t know precisely. Maybe most stuff. Acknowledging this is epistemic humility. My willingness to admit that what I think I know might not be as knowable as I thought.

This humility is a sort of freedom. It allows a graceful interaction with a plurality of viewpoints without abandoning my own. It allows others to inform where I might be wrong, or might be approaching from a place of unknown privilege.

It at the very least allows me to find the points of commonality I have with my fellow humans, whether that be at the Table or on streetcorners.

It’s also super uncomfortable. I don’t like being wrong. I don’t like having my biases and for-granteds and privileges exposed. I want to have it all together.

But hey, you wash my feet, I’ll wash yours, we both got toes, maybe it doesn’t matter what shoes you’re wearing.

The new conservatism

Having spoken to a few conservative recently, trying to suss out what they actually like about Trump (who is transparently an awful president and just as awful a person), I think I’ve stumbled upon the blazing obvious:

Conservatism is dead.

I mean, it’s obviously not dead. But it’s dead. Or perhaps the old glossy shell is being removed so we can all get a glimpse of the fetid interior.

Either way.

It used to be possible (whether that was right or not; I certainly believed myself to be in this camp) to be a principled, economically-oriented conservative.

I think conservatism (or, again, maybe not at its core, but certainly as it was served up) was about economic systems. Capitalism vs Communism. First vs second world. The guiding us-vs-them (never forget conservatism is always in the first instance tribal; there’s always an us; there’s always a them) was the global conflict against communism. Or, because the USSR was the 900kg gorilla of communism and the USA the 900kg gorilla of capitalism, USA vs USSR. (Also wonderfully ripe for classical Marxist analysis, but that’s a whole other thing.)

Since then, western conservatism (notable in North America and perhaps Great Britain) has undergone a remarkable realignment. The us-vs-them axis has been completely realigned, and Russia is now no longer the bogeyman of 20 years ago. If anything, contemporary conservatives are extremely sympathetic to Russia.

It’s quite hard to understand why this might be. I bet many of the old guard in both Canadian and American conservative circles find this absolutely mindboggling. How can you view Russia, our historic enemy, favourably?

But because conservatism is no longer primarily intellectually aligned with economic theory, it starts to make sense.

What, then, might the current alignment be?

I think contemporary conservatives, perhaps not rightist intellectuals, but certainly the at ground level, are primarily aligned along cultural lines.

You can’t underestimate the effect that narratives like clash-of-cultures have had, especially since the September 11 attacks. Clash-of-cultures (or clash-of-civilizations) is one of those foundational “great books” of contemporary conservative thought. The fact that it’s astoundingly popular doesn’t actually make it true; it just makes it a widely-endorsed myth.

There’s lots to say about clash-of-cultures, not much of it good. What it does have is that sort of “sounds about right to me” gut-check quality that conservative love. It might not be true, but it sure is truthy.

Conservatives have further boiled this myth down into a handy heuristic (and you can see American fingers in this pie; they’re not the only colourist racists in the world but boy howdy do they do it best): White good, brown bad.

In the original clash of cultures, the Protestant/Catholic West isn’t quite the same, culturally, as the Orthodox East (eastern Europe and Russia). But once you collapse “the West vs the Rest” into “the white vs the brown”, Russia starts to look a whole lot more Western. Add to that their persecution of minorities in general (ethnic, sexual, etc) and they start to feel very much of a kind with conservatives.

I think that explains a lot of what’s in the wind in recent conservative discourse. This (seemingly) sudden movement against any kind of diversity, (or as rightists would put it,” degeneracy”) has to be understood through a clash-of-cultures mythic lens. Diversity is weakness. We can’t provide a united cultural front if we’re multicultural, multiethnic, nonbinary, sexually fluid, and so forth.

I see late stage conservatism as an ouroboros of myth. There’s no there there. It’s resistant to facts, while claiming only to believe in facts (not feelings, natch). It’s completely fabricated, but it feels true. It’s stunningly postmodern while desperately trying to inherit the “Enlightenment”. It’s a construction begging the folks living inside to ignore all the bad wiring.

At least you can say that honest postmodern folk (who I do not count myself among) will freely admit that that stuff is constructed (while attempting to unmoor these constructions from their precursors, which is, in my opinion, not a great idea).

So I guess… conservatism is dead, long live conservatism?

Colonial past, colonial present

It’s hard to understand the present condition of the Middle East without understanding its past. And by its past, I mean its colonial past.

You can’t really understand, for instance, the current state of Israel without looking at its where it came from.

Plainly, Israel is a colonial state. It’s probably the most obviously colonial state in existence. Its genesis is complicated, a result of a bunch of ideologies and influences. But it was formed by colonial powers (thanks Britain!), and it continues to be one of the few expansionist colonial states.

If you’ve ever struggled to understand the affinity of America with Israel, sure, it’s interesting and nuanced and complex, but it’s also a case of like attracts like. America (and Canada, we by no means get to wash our hands of this) is a strongly colonial power, though in serious denial.

In particular US Christianity has an affinity for Israel that seems to line up with their extremely idiosyncratic doctrinal positions, like premillennialism (though by no means a new idea) and dispensationalism.

If you’re a bit more pessimistic (or, as a pessimist would say, realistic), you might say that a powerful, hegemonic patron state that just happens to be a colonial power living in the lands of a fairly historically dispossessed native people having a close relationship with a client state that just so happens to be a colonial power living in the lands of a fairly recently dispossessed native people, justified for religious folk with a set of doctrines that just so happen to align along that axis… that’s all a teensy bit too coincidental to be an accident.

That’s not to say that there’s some conspiracy to produce this result; probably not. But when things line up so nicely it’s probably not just some historical accident. We have this (blissfully ignorant) tendency to assume our doctrines and ideologies influence our politics and foreign policy, as if there’s no feedback there.

Is there any reason our politics wouldn’t influence our doctrines, though? I can’t think of any. There’s plenty of doctrines to choose from, all with convincing (ish) hermeneutics and frameworks draped about them. Why not choose the one that allows you the most simpatico bedfellows?

None of this even gets into our North American history of racism, both individual and systemic (and, for Christians, doctrinal; the point above stands, when you remember that entire denominations were created around preserving the institution of slavery). I think you could probably view Israel as existing at some weird intersection of colonialism and xenophobia, since present-day Israelis tend to be white seen as white (ish), where Arabs are not. But setting that aside for now…

It’s easy to say, based on all this, Israel Bad. But that cat’s out of the bag. Israel is. I’m not really dealing with value judgement here, as much as (as best I can see them) facts. Israel is a fact. A fact produced by a certain history which can’t just magically be undone. And it’s important to recognize that the Arab states would like nothing more than to undo Israel. None of this justifies Israeli or Arab aggression. It helps to explain it, but it doesn’t justify it.

It would be easier to sympathize if Israel weren’t an expansionist colonial power. If they weren’t trying to reclaim the “holy land” by disenfranchising and displacing Arabs.

As always, we live in the colonial present. We like to deny it, but in Canada, well within my parents’ lifetimes (however blissfully ignorant of this they choose to remain) the residential school system was still in operation. If we can’t acknowledge that, if we can’t at the very least acknowledge our colonial past, how can we expect to escape the colonial present?

Axioms, heuristics

I remember very clearly sitting in the basement of a Toronto house, eating Indian food and meeting members of the Indian community as part of a Christian missionary-style thing. Maybe “remember clearly” is an overstatement; I actually just remember very good pakora and someone talking about how tolerance and diversity are self-defeating.

All this in the basement of a house in a multicultural city (or at least a city with multicultural pretenses). It was one of those moments, in retrospect, I can’t help boggling at our privilege. Sitting there, a mission field in our laps, whining about the very thing that enabled it.

It’s stunning, really. (And I have more on that for later.)

But that aside, the talk about tolerance centered around how tolerance can’t tolerate intolerance, thus tolerance is self-defeating, thus… something?

It’s just… silly.

Tolerance isn’t an axiom. You can’t disprove it. It doesn’t fail its own test; it’s not a test. It’s a heuristic.

We all do this all the time. We have guidelines or instincts or heuristics that guide our lives. Here’s one of mine: if someone is stridently and unapologetically anti-vaccination (among other antis), I’m immediately suspicious of anything else they say.

But if we turn this into an axiom it’s plainly ridiculous. Antivaxxers can obviously be right about stuff. They don’t, for instance, tend to take long walks off short piers, my wishes to the contrary.

Tolerance is a heuristic, too. I obviously don’t believe that all perspectives are morally equivalent, but I do have to act as if they were (in public) in order to get along in a world where my truth claims are expressed by a vanishingly small percentage of the population.

But only to a point.

If your perspective on freedom of religion is that we should legislate one variety of religion, we’ve reached that point. I’m under no obligation to tolerate your 1600s Church of England crap.

If your perspective on the ethnic makeup of western nations is 100% European, I’m under no obligation to give your belief any sort of legitimacy.

That’s the point at which the heuristic no longer applies. When you start making your perspective the perspective. Because in order to function in the world, in order to have a government and public sphere that works for everyone (not just for your tribe).