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.

Be Grateful

I have a long blob of text in me. Not for right now, but at some point. You know how these things are… They boil away on the back burner somewhere until the pot overflows and a blog post falls out and the metaphor stops working.

Anyways. I’m a huge whatever-the-opposite-of-a-fan is of Jordan Peterson but one thing he said got me thinking. Usually when this happens it’s an unproductive rabbit hole of “oh my goodness Jordan Peterson is either a moron or an evil genius”, but this one’s actually ok. I think. You tell me.

He was talking about gratefulness. Now, the context he used it in was this sort of trip-back-to-the-50s bullpuckey where people who try to make society better are ungrateful for what they already have (which… I mean… just think about that for a picosecond). It’s a fair point, though, we definitely should be grateful for what we’ve inherited in this society. The boat floats. It’s good.

But I don’t think we should set our aim on scary secret postmodern cabals in dusty back rooms of French universities who somehow improbably control the levers of an entire generation’s thought. I think we should aim at ourselves.

We’ve entered a really sort of toxic time in North America. Yeah, Trump, all that, but he’s a symptom. He’s just the discoloured surface of the abcess.

Has everyone forgotten that we all exist together? In a society? Part of a collective whole?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat on a freshly built deck larger than my house that has an outdoor kitchen larger than my actual kitchen backing on to a private lake and had the people that own this wonderful place tell me they’re taxed to death.

Like… what?

(I can actually tell you how many times: It was once.)

I’ve heard this exact phrase so many times in the last few months: “Taxed to death”. You’re sitting on top of this massive pile of achievement and trying to say you want to give less back?

I say “give back” because that’s important.

Look, you worked hard. I get that. You’ve told me. I get that you’re in Cancun five times a year because you worked hard and you want to enjoy the fruit of your labour. But lots of people work hard, all around the world, and most of them get nowhere much. You’re a sample size of one.

You can’t trust your own gut on these things. Your gut wants to tell you that your success is because you worked hard, and your failures are because of bad situations or a thousand other things. You so desperately want to buy into that hero narrative that our culture (and by “our culture” I mean “the United States”) wants to sell you, and you haven’t thought about it long enough to realise that no, wait, it’s not just me.

You can’t be grateful for something you think you never got.

But you did.

The roads. The workers. The regulations. The healthcare. The police. The stability. The peace. All this stuff, and so, so much more. It doesn’t happen by accident. (And to Mr Peterson, respectfully, a lot of it build by the social reformers that you would have railed against were you born 75 years earlier.)

You worked hard. But you didn’t work hard in a vacuum. And you were lucky. Let’s just face facts. You were born in a time, in a place, had the right idea at the right time, and were able to execute the idea. Maybe you failed a bunch and eventually it paid off.

It’s find to want money to be spent wisely. It’s fine to want responsible governance. But what you don’t get to do is pretend your deserve to keep all your marbles and go home.

Be grateful.

Pay your damn taxes.

It takes time

There’s this idea that we’ll get rid of poverty by giving away food and aid. And sure, that’s part of the problem. But poverty isn’t at its root about simply not having enough food. Poverty is about institutions.

Countries with solid institutions have a much better class of poor. Being poor in Canada is very different from being poor in Mali. If we want to try fixing Mali, we need to focus on the stability of that country’s institutions. Rule of law, income equality through redistribution, sensible civil engineering, a non-corrupt police and military force, etc.

The problem is that we can give aid now, but making strong institutions takes time. Take India as an example. They should have a reasonably strong set of institutions thanks to the legacy of the British Empire (we can also say this about the Roman Empire — this isn’t to say that empire is a good thing, just that it can produce good things). But they don’t. Corruption, income inequality, and massive poverty.

It takes time and political will to get there. And in a sense this change has to come from within. Strong institutions simply can’t be imposed without a massive ongoing investment. Look at Iraq. It needs another 50 years of occupation.

This isn’t even a matter of democracy. I’m not even sure democracy makes it better. It might make institution-building worse.

Either way — it takes time.

The year blogging died

I think it was this year. Or maybe it will be next year. But it’s pretty much over.

The only blogs left, the only really significant ones, are commercial. Increasingly, they’re owned by newspapers. The indies, like in every industry, are few and their voices increasingly small.

There was a time you could grow a blog into a brand. You could be bought out by some media conglomerate. You could make your millions, sell out, and move on. And a lot of people have.

The thing is — the audience has moved on. They still come to blogs of course, but in the same way they come to traditional news outlets. Through aggregators like BuzzFeed and UpWorthy. Through Facebook. And to a decreasing extent, through Google.

Blogs have become a sort of endpoint for the info river, but they themselves are not the river. Despite, of course, being organised in streams.

Which reminds me: RSS is dying too.

Thing is, I fully expect newspapers to outlive blogs. That’s the way technology is. What has existed for a long time will continue to exist for a long time. Technology doesn’t really have a defined half-life in that way, except to say that some things stick, and you won’t really every be able to tell what things will stick. You can only tell that what has been around for a long time will be around for a long time. The record is a good example of that. So is the newspaper. Blog? Well… maybe. We’ll see how it goes.

Legalization and cognitive dissonance

Can you support the legalization of something (on a public level) but take a moral stance against that same thing (on a private level)?

This is a really good question. I think the answer is “yes”, but I’m not sure.

The temptation is of course that we nationalise our morality. If we think something is wrong, well, then everyone has to. Tolerance is bad, because it legitimizes morally wrong lifestyles, and if you aren’t actively against something, then you’re passively for it.

We could get rid of a lot of these problems by just going back to a monarchy. Don’t like something? Well, the king did it, and the king was appointed by God, so even this must have a purpose.

The authors of the New Testament seemed convinced that the world would be the world, the church would be the church, and that was that. We give to God things that are God and Caesar things that are Caesar’s. We are not surprised when the world does bad things because they’re the world.

We’re on a bit of a different footing now, with our moral majorities, and the idea that we can simply enshrine our morality in law and that’s that.

I don’t think Paul was writing with democracy and megachurches and Republicans and the Southern Baptist Convention and culture wars and all this mixing of government and church together.

I wonder what he would have thought about it.

In any case, the question isn’t really about morality. The question only exists because we have the option to enforce our morality. The real question is about the church’s place in the world, about its agenda, and its means. If you lived in a non-democratic society, you wouldn’t even be able to ask the question — of course your morality is sphere-bounded to your own person or family. You can’t affect others’ lives. In our democratic era, suddenly we have a way, and we’ve (of course) taken that collective problem and individualized it. Which obscures the origin and context of the question.

I go further than just asking if we can enforce morality or simply be agnostic about it in the public sphere.

I ask if I can support legalization in public on one hand, and believe it is wrong to partake in that legalization?

You can slot any moral wrong in there: Drug use, prostitution, abortion, etc, etc. The human cost of criminalizing any (especially enduringly popular) activity is pretty clear. You create criminals, both in the form of gangs and the prosecuted. You create a cycle of victims, as most are afraid to come forward for fear of prosecution. You create an underclass of people who are voiceless and persecuted by the police, the gangs, and their own human failure. Legalization is, in my mind, the only real way to fix this.

But I think cocaine, for instance, is wrong. It’s something that you shouldn’t do.

So there’s some cognitive dissonance there, at least for me.

Right in the kisser

I’m not great at small talk. I guess no one showed me how or something. I’m okay with this. I’m a not-rich, not-handsome Mr Darcy.

I know a few people who have the gift of insta-gab. Get right in there. Talk it up. Ask questions. Do your thing.

I love those people. They get me to talk about myself, and there’s nothing I love more than talking about myself. It’s okay. You love talking about yourself, too. No need to be bashful.

But there’s a certain kind of talker I just can’t stand.

You’ve probably met this guy. He makes conversation like more bellicose nations make war. Everything’s about superiority, about changing the footing, about one-upping and being right. Even the Debate Club thinks he’s an asshole. That guy.

It’s exhausting. I used to think… how can one person care about so many things? How can one person go on and on and on about stuff all the time?

Then it came to me: These people don’t care about things. They’re not interested in the subjects they’re argue-talking about. What they care about is being right. If you’re the last one talking, if everyone’s given up, if people are leaving the room and you’re still trying to shock & awe your way to the conversational high ground, you’re that guy.

Let’s all pause to mentally punch that guy in the mouth.

In all Christian love, of course. But right in the kisser.

I’ve noticed a few symptoms. Here are only few, as they’re fresh on my mind. He can’t wait for you to stop talking to start talking. He doesn’t listen to what you say. He takes a position and defends it to absurdity (this one especially). He’s right. You’re wrong. He won’t accept defeat. He won’t even accept that there is no defeat. We’re just talking.

This is why we don’t talk about politics with people. It seems like politics turns everyone into that guy. And religion too, sometimes.

I love old churches.

I’m not sure what I think about the idea of “thin spaces”. I’m not sure what I think matters.

Either way, I love old churches. I love their ambiance, their sense of place, and even sometimes their ornateness and sublimity.

I guess I have to qualify old. I love cathedrals, mini-cathedrals, and micro-cathedrals. Not places in love with fabrics, gunmetal, and bright lights.

Give me dark wood and stained glass any day instead.

Living on the bleeding edge…


I used to do it. I used to try new technologies early and often. I watched them fail early and often.

I used Firefox before it was called Firefox. Before it was called Firebird, even. And even before it was called Phoenix, I used the Mozilla Suite. I bought first-run electronics, new products, pre-ordered books, music, and games… all that stuff.

I don’t do that anymore. Because it sucked.

There’s a thrill to living on the bleeding edge, a sort of adventurism without any real adventure. If you live connected to the internet and connected to the communities that grok this kind of stuff, you can really feel like part of an elite few that understand the zeitgeist before the normals really get it.

It’s a good feeling, to be part of that exclusive group. But it’s also hearbreaking and expensive.

If you’ve been there, you know what it’s like. The first run of anything is invariably rough, even for companies that are experienced in developing and releasing products. And you know how expensive it is. Buy a first-run Apple product and you’ll get the idea. It almost feels like a kind of sophisticated robbery. You want to be first to the gate? Well, we’ll take your money and we’ll take a little bit of your dignity.

The problem is that for every product that sucks, there’s a product that almost doesn’t suck, and for every five products that almost don’t suck, there’s that one jewel that absolutely blows your mind.

When you discover that jewel, it feels awesome.

The rest of the time it still sucks.

At least for me. I get it. There will always be a group of people that absolutely must have the latest and greatest. I get that. They are the beta testers of the world, who iron out the wrinkles for all those who follow. They are they advance guard of the techno-elite, the neophiles.

A market has sprung up to take advantage of these people, especially in the software market. Where we used to expect products to be released in some sort of state of semi-completion, now companies are rushing things to market that, frankly, should not be out on the market. And the neophiles pay the price.

I will give you an example. When I first got SimCity 4, I didn’t pre-order it, but I bought it on release day. No questions asked. I had no doubt, based on the pedigree of Maxis and the people involved, that it would be a great game. And it was. In fact, when it was released, it was a fully-formed, functional product. I played the crap out of it for years. I still do, in fact.

So you can understand how excited I was for the release of SimCity 5, which is actually just called SimCity (rather confusingly; people on the internet are calling it SC5 or SC2013 to distinguish it).

Except that a few things have changed since I bought SimCity 4 on release day. I have a life now. I have a wife, a house, a child, 2 dogs, competing interests on my time, lots of hobbies, and not a lot of disposable income. Or at least not as much as I had when I was a bachelor.

My outlook on purchases has changed. Whether this is because of my newfound obligations or because I’ve been burned too many times or because I’m older and wiser… I don’t know. But when it came time to pre-order the new SimCity, I took a long, hard look at what I was buying.

But I’m not the only thing that’s changed in 10 years. The release model for these new games has, at least for some developers, changed as well. I’m seeing more and more releases of games that are nowhere close to finished, and sometimes barely even playable, on release. They are shot out into the world and the people that pre-ordered, or the people that bought on release are, frankly, beta-testers. They go through the confusing and painful process of troubleshooting the game for developers, who then furiously as the case may be roll out patches. 6 months down the line, the game is in better shape, but in my opinion the damage is already done. Diablo 3 is a great example of a release done badly. But there are many, many more.

I was disturbed by what I saw when I did my research. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of the decisions made by Maxis and EA, but since the release of The Sims, they’ve realised how much money is to be made selling downloadable content (DLC), not just the original game. Basically aftermarket parts for your game. That combined with the growing trend of social gaming, made Maxis and EA decide to adapt SimCity to these purposes.

Throw in the anti-pirating always-on internet connection, and you have a very different game from what you had in the past.

These were the warning signs that I saw. So I didn’t pre-order. I wanted to. But something inside me told me to hold back. And I did.

Then came launch day, and the severs were overwhelmed. People literally couldn’t play the game they had paid their $60 for. Then when the servers were back up, it turned out the game has all kinds of problems. Town-sized cities. Abysmal pathfinding. Graphical glitches. Region limitations. Functions disabled. No local game play. No mods.

There has been an outpouring of both rage and grief over this game on the internet. The people that bought it expecting it to exist in the grand tradition of SimCity are understandably upset. The people who bought it to play a cool game are also understandably upset.

And I’m upset because I wanted to buy this game, but now I never will. But I’m not as upset as I would be if I had bought the game on faith.

I have another example. I purchased a Nexus 7 out of the gate last year. I’m not sure why I was sucker for this one, but I was. There were a lot of problems with the first run of these devices. Squishiness on the frame, flickering on low light levels, and when it came to update time, and update that bogged the system down and made it run like an overloaded donkey.

I’m sure all these things have been fixed on the second and third generations of these devices. But they have been fixed on the backs of others, like me, who were first to the gate.

This is why I no longer live on the bleeding edge. I have an interconnected network of computers full of people more than willing to beta-test all these things for me. I’m not going to buy the new device, the new game, the new album, until someone else has heard it, played it, or used it, and not for a few days. More like six months.

There’s an endemic problem with review sites, especially for games and devices. The reviewers don’t generally have enough time to learn the tics and bad habits of what they’re reviewing. They drive-by review and move on.

The people that really understand how something works and whether or not they want to continue using it are the people who have lived with it for some time.

But I don’t want to be one of those people anymore. I want to learn from my experiences, and learn from their experiences.

No more bleeding edge for me.

It’s hard not to pick sides.

It makes sense that I care about the Android ecosystem. I own several Android devices (3 at the moment). I have bought media from the Play Store (books and apps).

It’s good for me if Android does well. I don’t want to see the platform go the way of Blackberry or Nortel.

But it’s not good for me to start cheerleading. It’s not good to see Apple or Microsoft as the enemy. It’s not good to develop a me-vs-them complex.

It’s not good because these are just things, just companies, and they will, like everything, pass away. They are not my ticket to a better future. They are, in that sense, not my hope.

This is what geek sports is all about, isn’t it? We don’t have football teams or hockey teams, but we have platforms and programming styles and on and on. Things are are, in the grand scheme of things, little more important than sports.

How should I act? vs What should I believe?

In my recent readings of the Bible I keep butting up against these two questions:

  1. How should I act?
  2. What should I believe?

If I ask the first question, almost every passage has some advice (sometimes conflicting, but that’s wisdom for you). If I ask the second question, I sometimes get something, and most of the time I get nothing.

This isn’t new, either. The Old Testament is full of commands about how to live and not much about what to believe.

I’m not saying there isn’t anything that the Bible says I need to believe. There is much of that. I’m not drifting into some sort of formless post-Christian heresy here.

If I go to scripture and ask, How do I love God? There’s an answer for that. How do I love his people? Answer for that. How do I live in a world full of corruption and evil? Answered.

If I go to scripture and ask, Should I be into infant baptism? No answer. Should I believe in a rapture? No answer. What interpretive framework should I use to accurately interpret Revelation? No answer. All these points of data that we would love to have… no answer. Why is that?

I think what I’m saying is that the Bible’s theological framework is very sparse compared to ours. Where we tend to build theological walls, the Bible only really gives us a theological framework centred on Jesus.

He fulfils the Old and brings in the New. This is true for testaments and people.

* * *

As a postscript (I added this after publishing the initial post), yes, I am worried that I’m making a distinction without a difference here. The problem I’ve always had with orthodoxy and orthopraxy is I’ve always been told and assumed that they are different sides of the same coin. But when I looked at it again later I had to ask… how? How does being a paedobaptist or a preterist or any of those other Ps really affect your life? I mean, at that doctrinal granularity, it there really a difference one way or the other?

I mean, I know some people (obviously people who have a stake in the Tiny Doctrine game) will try to say these things do make a difference, and maybe on some indefinite macro level they do, but I’ve never seen it. On the ground, at congregational level, Reformed and Presbyterian and Baptist and Pentacostal and Anglican and Catholic are pretty similar. There are the faithful, there are the faithless; there are givers and receivers; there are blessers, there are cursers; there are consumers, there are producers.

So maybe, just maybe, if these doctrinal things don’t make that much of a difference… maybe they’re not so important after all? This isn’t science. Maybe it’s just not important that we define all the things.