Almost, Jordan Peterson, Almost

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I think I know now how the early church felt when it thought about Socrates.  He was so close to the truth.  He understood that the events of this world needed to be explained by the absolute truths of a transcendental reality he called virtue.  Man… was he close.  Virtue is an important idea, but actually the perfect is a person named Jesus.  Even though he did not know Christ and was most likely unaware of the philosophical implications of Moses’ theology, he understood how Truth actually works.  Truths in this world only make sense because of some absolute and perfect Truth that lies outside of this world.  Like Socrates, Dr. Peterson has gotten so close, oh so close.

In a recent article for the National Post, ”For true satisfaction, forget happiness and seek long-term goals,” Jordan Peterson sees the framework or structure of truth but then fails to grasp He who is the Truth.  Like a ship that is headed in the right direction but taking on more water the further it goes, Peterson’s thought sinks short of its destination. 

Dr. Peterson recognizes that pursuing the experience of happiness is not so much a waste of time as it is a danger to human flourishing.  If happiness is a moment of pleasure or satisfaction, then we will always be in search of something that is past.  “I do not believe you should pursue happiness,” Peterson argues.  “If you do so, you will run right into the iteration problem, because ‘happy’ is a right-now thing.”  When a person pursues a happiness we would define as pleasure in the moment, that person becomes sour, angry, and even bitter.  (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made this same argument during his 1978 speech at Harvard, but Solzhenitsyn knew something that Peterson does not.)  True happiness, agues Peterson, can only come when a person pursues a good that is greater and more permanent.  Yes!  Happiness is only realized when a person brings his/her life into alignment with something that is absolutely valuable and perfect.  What is that perfect?  Solzhenitsyn knew that the perfect must be God; Peterson has not discovered this.

Peterson’s ship of thought saw the port on the horizon but sunk shortly after that moment.  Yes, a person who attempts to achieve happiness by focusing on the moment will always fail, but then on what should we focus?  Peterson argues that the present moment will never make us happy but the future will.  “And so, instead of your short-term impulsive goal, you lay out a much larger-scale goal, which is to act properly in relationship to the long term for everyone.”  Blub, blub, blub…  Sadly Peterson exchanges what is impossible for what will never be possible.  The future of everyone is no more a reality than pleasure in the moment.  For which long term for everyone should we aim?  August 1 2021, December 3 2030, or June 2, 2365?  The future is nothing more than another present which is as transient as this present.  There is no real thing called the future unless Peterson is simply using the term “future” to represent some Kantian categorical imperative which allows us to justify our actions.  No matter, as a place and time or a categorical imperative, the term future is entirely meaningless.

The future is not only meaningless it is downright dangerous.  First if we make the future the goal of life then we get to determine who is working in service to that future and who is not.  Why would we tolerate those who are not working for the “long term for everyone.”  Nearly every communist revolution since Robespierre’s Paris revolt claimed to be fighting for the future.  Why not sacrifice a quarter of a million people in the now to secure a wonderful future.  We will all be dead then anyway.  Stalin agreed with Robespierre when he was driving a million Kulaks into Siberia to starve to death.  A little death now is acceptable if we are to secure a wonderful future.  Second, the future is nothing that anyone can actually identify.  Is the future a time of economic equity in a world of no private property or is the future a time of open free exchange between property holders?  Well, if we are going to define what is good now by what is to be in the future, then we had better figure this out.  If history has taught us anything it is that the past has never succeeded to predict the future.

Even though Peterson’s ship sunk, it was pointed in the right direction.  People only find meaning when they submit their lives to something greater than themselves and greater than the moment in which they live.  But that “greater than themselves” thing must actually be greater than the self.  It must also be something that we can understand.  More than all of these, it has to be something that is absolutely good, fair, loving, kind, moral, and perfect.  The future of everyone is not good let alone even real.  But Jesus Christ is flesh and blood, perfectly good, and the definition of love itself.  Without him, all other claims of moral goodness reduce to the pleasure some person will feel at some point in time. Maybe Dr. Peterson’s ship did not sink but steamed right back around to its port of origin. Well, I will take him at his best and say, almost Dr. Peterson, almost.

Negotiating our understanding of the past. PBS and the Black Church, One Body in Christ

I recently watched the PBS Documentary on the History of the Black Church hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.  If you are looking for something to watch and learn about the Black experience in America this should be on your watch list.  As a historian, I am always curious to see how other historians construct narratives of past events and what they include and exclude from the story.  Given the time restraints of about four hours, Dr. Gates did a great job.  Although, if you ask four historians for their opinions about a work you are bound to get five or six opinions and I am sure Dr. Gates will hear all about what he should have included.  I will add my two cents, I would have loved more on William Seymour and the founding of Pentecostalism.  But now my rant is over.  In the ideal world Dr. Gates would have had as many episodes as Ken Burns had for his documentaries on the Civil War or Baseball.  Some readers might be surprised by that but yes there is that much material to cover.  The Black Church is an institution with a four-hundred-year history, the Civil War didn’t last that long.  So there was a great deal that is left out of the telling of this story.

As someone who loves reading and teaching about African American history I was glad that finally a documentary was devoted this topic.  The series showed just how diverse the Black Church actually was and continues to be.   It is why I prefer to talk about the Black churches. I think the term Black Church can be problematic. It provides a good handle and I understand how it helps us construct a narrative, but the Black Church is not a monolith.  It has and continues to be a diverse movement.  Referring to the Black Church can over simplify a complex story. So the singular is a misnomer. All that said, I understand that the term allows scholars to evaluate the role of Christian religion in the black community.

The term Black Church can also be problematic because of how some church historians construct the past in ways that the black church or “churches” can be taken as something of an appendix to the main story. Due to Christendom, it is easy in the west to tell the story of the church from a white, western European vantage point as if there is a straight line from Irenaeus to Aquinas to Luther without mentioning other movements.  This perspective can even pass over the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian churches.  It is common to tell the story of the church as if white, western and European is normal and there is this other thing, the Black Church.  Instead, the Black Church should be woven into the 2000-year story of God’s people as an integral part of the story of how God has been redeeming his people. I often tell my students that terms like, Black Church, Latino Church, African Church and Asian Church, are helpful handles but they should never lead us to believe that they are not part of the main narrative.  There is one story of the church and it encompasses all of these.

Without doing any cultural appropriation, I see the story of the Black church as the story of all of God’s people.   If we are members of one body, the body of Christ, there cannot be a white church, a black church, Latino church etc. Some readers might be saying well don’t different groups experience Christ and the gospel differently?  Yes, they do, I understand from a contextual theological perspective these handles make sense so that we can study them.  But in light of the divisions, we see in the church with Sundays being the most segregated day of the week, these terms can reinforce division.  The story of the Black Church is part of the story of my family in Christ.  If we are watching a series like this we should not be thinking that is “their” history, rather we should be thinking this is part of “The” Story of God’s people.

This leads me to my final evaluation of the series.   As a Christian it was difficult to watch this series, First, the advent of the Black Church came about in part because white Christians could not live up to Galatians 3:28, that in Christ there is neither free, nor slave, nor Jew nor Greek.  The Black church had to develop as an alternative to how many white Christians were practicing Christianity.  Second, the intersections of the white church and black church were more often stories of one set of cousins abusing the others.  When you begin to see all of these various histories as part of a larger narrative, it becomes challenging to see cousins abusing each other.   Finally, the series reminded me that separateness between groups in the church based on ethnic, race, or class distinctions is not an invention of the last 400 years.  Throughout the New Testament, Paul and James had to write to churches to condemn their separateness along these lines.  Galatians 3:28 is an ideal put forth by the Apostle Paul that has not been realized often enough in the history of the Church.

Problems in the public square: cancel culture or social media?

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It was great hearing from readers about cancel culture.  Many raised some important points like the issue of intentional disinformation. The main concern I continue to have is that conversations in the public square almost exclusively take place on social media now.  Even before companies began shutting down accounts there were problems with public dialogue taking place in this format because of the limitations that are built-in. Technology is never ethically neutral.  Values are baked in even if they are unintended. Social media is no different. As a tool to keep in contact social media can be helpful.  But as a place to have deep conversations where nuance and tact are needed it falls short. You cannot unpack very much in 244 characters or whatever it is now.  There is also a strange human-computer interaction phenomenon where people feel free to sound off online in ways that they would never do in a face-to-face interaction.  The same way people get beer muscles in a bar, they get keyboard muscles online.  

The shortfall of social media as a replacement for the public square has only been exacerbated by the pandemic because people are living in virtual worlds more than before due to lockdowns.  Yet even before the pandemic more and more people were limiting their community interaction to online communities.  Maybe I can see this shift more because I am extrovert who loves actual conversations and I am old enough to remember the public square before everyone had to check their digital devices to see what they were missing out on.  When I was younger, the public square could be our front stoops where we spoke to our neighbors, face to face.  Online community can never truly replace face to face community.  When we can construct our community based on algorithms that are intended to sell us everything under the sun, we are in trouble.  We end up in echo chambers that cause us to repel the minute we read or hear something we do not like.

If the limitations were not bad enough, the way social media is used today has only made it an even worse place to serve as the public square.  Everyone on social media wants followers.  The business models of many companies rely on social media feeds increasing followers. This has also led to a new profession, that of the influencer.  These people are paid to push ideas and products and influence the market. The whole model is built on increasing a following at any cost.  If everyone is after followers, it stands to reason that they will want fiery feeds with lots of sparks. The same way people like to watch a train wreck, they can follow a virtual one with lots of verbal derailments. I have received too many texts by people asking me if I have seen the latest social media battle. Twitter storm is now a term.  But to encourage a twitter storm or entice people to follow a feed you will want to make provocative statements that shock the readers or that cause a response to get the conversations going. The medium has been constructed in such a way as to encourage shock and awe versus winsome discussion.

Another problem we face, is that social media has only increased the speed the 24-hour news cycle which dominates our lives. Between the desires for followers and having an active feed and maintaining relevance in this information ecosystem people feel the need to react to the news or posts rather than reflect on them, so they can build a following.  I cannot imagine we would get many likes or followers if we posted, “still processing today’s events.”  As a historian this new world is foreign to my profession.  In the field of history, the more distance the historian has from the events they are writing about often times makes their work better and more reflective.  

I do not want to come off like the lovable curmudgeonly Muppets, Statler and Waldorf nor do I think we can put the genie back in the bottle.  But we do need to be more reflective in our use of all technology.  I cannot look at what we are experiencing in our society today with everyone at each other’s throats without picturing a great conflagration and the arsonists are walking away from the firestorm counting their money as the village burns down. It feels like we are being duped for profit margins. Christians we need to think Christianly about how we engage online. We need to seriously evaluate how this space can be redemptive.

Jesus is the logic of Reality

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Mark Eckel of the Comenius Institute has hit the proverbial nail on its head.  Christianity is not a mere religion, it is a claim to absolute Truth.  Jesus, as CS Lewis noted, forced the world into a difficult corner when he claimed to be the “way, the truth, and the life.”  He was either crazy, a bold-faced liar, or the Lord that he claimed to be.  Dr. Eckel rightly argues that Jesus’ claim is more than a statement about something being true, he is Truth. 

As westerners, Jesus’ claim might be a bit lost on us.  We think of truth as a molecular thing – “it is snowing today” is a truth (at least in Lancaster PA on February 18, 2021.)  So what does it mean that Jesus is the Truth?  The word does not carry for us quite the same meaning as it did for Jesus and his audience.  Dr. Eckel summarizes it this way: “transcendence is the basis for any truth.” (emphasis his)  This gets us closer to Jesus’ claim.  Yet, we need to go a bit further.  Truth claims are expressions of human thought – to speak something or think something that is in alignment with the actual state of affairs (I am happy to go down the road of post-Descartes Epistemological theories, but I am imposing on your attention as it is… forgive me Dr. Gettier.)  Jesus is not claiming that he is in alignment with reality or that he thinks in a way that is identical with the way reality is.  Jesus is claiming more.  Let’s take Dr. Eckel’s statement as a point on a line and follow it out further.

Transcendence is the only basis for any truth, because transcendence is the very logic of reality.  John, in the first few verses of his Gospel, is quite helpful here.  John makes a claim that shutters the very foundations of both western philosophy and eastern mysticism – “In the beginning was the word.”  The word (,… um,) word (that was awkward) is “logos.”  John does not mean that Jesus is language.  John is pulling on the deepest currents of Hebrew theology and Greek philosophy.  For the Hebrews the “Word of God” is the very order of the universe as revealed by Genesis 1 and 2.  For the Greeks, the “logos” is, as Heraclitus argued, the mind that is the very logic of all reality.  Heading down the same path on which Dr. Eckel is traveling – transcendence is the basis for truth because it is the very logic of the universe.  Thus, if we are to make sense of our world in any meaningful way, we must begin with he who is entirely outside this world.  But there is more.

If we believe that God is the very logic of the universe, then we also claim that this world does not contain its own logic.  This is one of the most important assumptions or presuppositions of Christian faith.  I would argue this is the most important and even necessary presupposition for any rational thought – this world can work, can build cell phones, and run governments but it ultimately has no meaning of its own.  Truth is only true, beauty is only beautiful, and goodness is only good by the Word himself.  John clarifies this when he calls Jesus the “light that was coming into the world.”  Without Christ all is dark.  That does not mean that people who refuse the light cannot learn to live and live well in the dark.  However, without the incarnate Christ (the God-Man) who died and rose again, all human efforts are ultimately meaningless. 

There is much, much more to say on this – certainly Charles Taylor has done much to shed light on this reality and on the devastating effects of denying reality in this way.  I argue that the belief in transcendence as the logic of all reality was the most important intellectual revolution in human history.  It seems to have begun with Moses and spread from there.  I will return to this from time to time as it is the very architecture of human creativity, reason, and identity.  Suffice it to say for the moment that Dr. Eckel has pointed us to the only truth that makes life worthwhile.  Thank you Dr. Eckel.

Colossians 1:15-17 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things and in him all things hold together.”

Mark talks about January 6th on Matt and Kevin Talk Church Podcast

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/january-6th-and-our-political-moment/id1515054258?i=1000505344944

The Glorious Wisdom of Easter

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I have always felt that Christmas was the most wonderful holiday in the Western calendar.  While I may have spiritual reasons for thinking this, I also harbor residual from the wonders of childhood Christmases.  The magic of Santa Clause, the romance and rhythm of the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and, of course, the surprise of gifts all congeal into thrill towards the end of November.  Easter, on the other hand never seemed that epic.  I don’t know whether I was just not artistic enough to appreciate egg decorations, or I was not awed by chocolate in Springtime variations.  I could have been convinced that peeps were the closest thing to dietary perfection, but still the holiday always seemed a pale imitation of The Holiday itself.  On Christmas Santa completed the year-long toy building program – it made sense that this would be a glorious day.  But bunnies, eggs (never clear on that combination), and cellophane grass seemed like more of a marketing campaign than a celebration.

Of course the way that we celebrate Easter, which I am calling pagan easter, has little to do with its actual purpose.  Pagan easter is a time to focus on the return of life to winter’s stinginess.  Baby animals are born as the grass takes on its lively green color and the trees put on their summer best.  The northern topography transforms from browns and greys, even white in some years, to the great variety of colored flowers.  Ah, life – that is worth celebrating.  And those who have grown past the superstitions of deities and the childish stupidity of believing in miracles are happy to restore the pagan character to this spring holiday.  We hunt eggs to celebrate life. 

Paganism has something to offer, or does it?  Isn’t life worth celebrating?  Actually, no, life is not worth celebrating.  Life is an ephemeral condition that offers no promises to those who worship it – consider that at its best life is merely the temporary absence of death.  The Preacher in Ecclesiastes shares wisdom with us as he proves this point.  Nothing escapes death and so pagan easter is, at its best, an expensive distraction activated by ignorance.  If we do not look at death, then we can pretend that life is worth living.  I think that it comes down to this, pagan easter is a way of ignoring death and calling such a thing life. 

But this is not Easter.  Christian Easter is the celebration of life that takes us through death, not away from it.  We do not ignore death, rather we look it directly in its evil eyes and see it for what it is – a truth that Christ has transformed into a lie.  Easter is not worth celebrating unless there is first a crucifixion – Easter morning is only made joyous by Good Friday and the food of Easter’s feast is only made delicious by Lent.  The Holy Son of God took death’s curse into his flesh to restore to us life as it was created to be – eternal and good.  Without his atoning death, life offers very little worth celebrating.  But, as Paul clearly argues in I Corinthians 15, since Christ has been raised from the dead, death is now a powerless lie – only now is life worth a holiday.

It seems to me that pagans, modern and ancient, have made the mistake of thinking that life in this world is an end when really it is just a metaphor.  The beauty of spring is nothing worth celebrating because it offers only the sure promise of death.  But for those who fear God, spring is a metaphor of life that conquers all death.  Thus the Creator uses flowers and rabbits to say very simple things about Christ who has life in himself and to speak lovingly about the one who gave his life freely to those who love him.  I leave to John Milton to conclude:

Christ, “But I shall rise victorious, and subdue

My vanquisher, spoiled of his vaunted spoil; 

Death his death’s would shall then receive, and stoop

Inglorious of his mortal sting disarmed. 

I through the ample air in triumph high

Shall lead hell captive maugre hell, and show

The powers of darkness bound.  Though at the sight

Pleased, out of heaven shalt look down and smile,

While by the raised I ruin all my foes,

Death last, and with his carcass glut the grave;

Then with the multitude of my redeemed

Shall enter heaven long absent, and return,

Father, to see thy face, wherein no cloud

Of anger shall remain, but peace assured,

And reconcilement; wrath shall be no more

Thenceforth, but in they presence joy entire.”

He is Risen; He is Risen, Indeed!

The Deadly History of Left and Right

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Journalists throw around the term “nationalism” like a thorny epithet meant to bloody people who are dangerously narrow-minded.  And it works.  Since the devastation of World War II, modern humane society has used the evils of Hitler as the pole of a very simple continuum.  On the one side of this continuum is the holocaust and all the mechanisms that made it possible: propaganda, hateful language, public humiliation, moralizing, glorifying traditions, and, above all, references to the nation state.  This deadliest side of the continuum is a self-referential conglomeration of national pride and a respect for historical traditions all nestled together under a stiff-armed salute.  On the other side of the continuum is a Shangri la of globalism which is defined by tolerance, love, and understanding.  This cosmopolitanism represents everything that is opposite of evil nationalism because it tells the truth by combating the lies of history with the truths of science.  In between these two poles lie every other religious and political system known to man.  It is a schematic simple enough to explain even the most complicated philosophies by cutting through insincerely manufactured things like political and ethical theories, for example.  Simplicity may be a good thing when making sense of simple things, but it can be down-right ignorance when it is the primary method for analyzing things that are far more complicated.  I would argue, that simplicity is most often the engine of human evil.

The idea of positioning all political ideas on the continuum between nationalism and globalism, as we now call it, resulted from the catastrophe of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  Two factions tore Spain to pieces in a war that became a cause celeb for Western intellectuals across the world.  Western intellectuals came to believe that World War I killed classical liberalism in the trenches and no-mans-lands of France.  The future of humanity lay with a new breed of thinkers and activists who had no faith in the agency of the individual.  The future of humanity lay in the power of nations or in the historic necessity of communism.  Across the battered ruins of Spanish cities, communists and nationalists fought to keep the country on the “right side” of history at all costs.  The war, as most wars do, flattened the complicated geography of political theory into a two-dimensional plane. 

The ugly antagonism of this civil war and the World War that followed, flattened political thought for the rest of the century and beyond.  The mass murders of the Einsatzgruppen in Poland, the gas chambers of Auschwitz, and the Russian pillaging of eastern Poland helped to reduce all political disagreement to a right and a left.  On the right were the nationalists who rallied tradition and industrial markets to prop up military regimes.  History, they believed, would confirm the glories of their nation’s proud heritage.  On the left were the globalists fighting for the dignity of economic equality against the entrenched inequities of the elites and their traditions.  History for the communists would move humanity to a new utopia under a regime dedicated to fairness. 

The animosity between these two sides in the twentieth century was both tragic and polar, but the evils of those wars has given us the false impression that nationalists and communists are on opposite ends of a political continuum when they are actually both on the same side.  Sadly at the beginning of the 21st century we are now trapped with a rather skewed political chart that does not explain the variety of political thought.  We feel this the most acutely when every discussion from Covid masks to foreign policy almost always ends when one side invokes fascism or  Stalinism.  In history and in actuality, these two are socialist systems that occupy the same end of the continuum.  The nationalist regimes of Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini were on the right side of the left, while Lenin’s Russia (not necessarily Stalin’s) was on the left edge of the left side. 

               

In Modern times, political theories (not Early Modern which still had to contend with monarchism on the right) live on a longer line that runs through classical liberalism (rule of law) on the one end out to libertarianism (on the right) and through socialism (nationalism) to communism on the left.  If we could return to a more historical and, I would argue, more accurate political chart, we might avoid the same disaster that befell the Spanish and helped to poison our present discourse.  The one thing I have learned from being an intellectual historian is that the pressure to reduce the complexity of human thought and experience to simple explanations has caused humanity’s greatest atrocities – I am not sure why we seem bent on repeating this error.

Cancel Culture: It is not new, it’s just easier and more dangerous now.

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Over the last decade a term has entered the popular vocabulary, cancel culture.  As political polarization and identity politics have reached a fever pitch, more and more speakers have been uninvited from colleges campuses, seminaries and public forums when stakeholders protest their presence because they find the speaker’s ideas incompatible with their own.  Often times this form of cancel culture is defended as a means of protecting marginalized groups from hearing ideas that may challenge their existence or their understandings of themselves.  Another reason for canceling opposing ideas is if a person within a particular group begins to challenge concepts that help to construct the identity of that group. Today, it is truly and equal opportunity activity. The practice of canceling dissenting voices is practiced by the religious, social and political, left and right.

 On social media cancel culture is practiced daily when users cancel each other because of positions taken on various platforms.  In this atmosphere, canceling is quite easy.  Users can defriend others, stop following twitter and Instagram feeds.  For the more energetic, canceling a dissenting voice can be done by trolling the person who promotes it or by publically shaming those who hold to certain views until they lose their influence or even their livelihoods.  Canceling someone has become an easy way to virtue signal for the flavors of the day.  We have now entered a phase where social media companies will cancel certain people for posting beliefs that the company does not approve of.

After the storming of the Capitol on January 6th new debates have raged over how much free speech people should have on social media. Questions such as, should people be allowed to post conspiracy theories online or antivax videos or videos about Covid 19 being a hoax?  Debates such as these harken back to the conversations we used to have concerning free speech before the internet about a person being allowed to yell fire in a crowded movie theater.  So Americans have always wrestled with how much free speech is good for the republic. No two presidents clamped down on free speech more than Lincoln and Wilson during war time.  But recently, cancel culture has had more to do with ideas being canceled because others disagree with them, that is something that has reemerged in American society.

It is not new for people to tune out dissenting voices or for people to violently attempt to silence voices that they do not agree with, it’s just easier now, more complex and dangerous in light of the technology we use to communicate.  During the Reformation, the English authorities attempted to cancel William Tyndale’s voice by trying to prevent him from smuggling English language Bibles into the country. Eventually he lost his life for his message.  In 1837 Abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a proslavery mob as he attempted to protect his printing press.  Around the same time the U.S. Congress enacted the Gag Act which prevented the topic of slavery from being discussed in Congress. What all of these cancelations have in common is the medium Tyndale, Lovejoy and Abolitionists used, paper.  Because they used this medium it was much harder to cancel them and people who wanted to seek out their ideas could do so even if it was technically illegal.  We can still read writings from these people today.  Anachronistically, had Tyndale, Lovejoy and the abolitionists used online tools to get their messages out it would have been much easier to cancel them.  This is because whoever controls the servers where information is stored has the ability to merely turn off the servers. I run this risk of having this message canceled since it is being posted on a server I do not own.  

The reason Cancel Culture is more dangerous today is due to the medium most people are using to communicate in the public square, social media.  Social media is owned and operated by private companies who can choose what can and what not can be posted on their servers. But the internet and social media have helped to change how people form communities.  People are far less involved in fraternal groups, PTA’s and Churches where historically, humans have had to negotiated their beliefs.  But now we can construct a pseudo community of likeminded people online.  In addition, the algorithms of social media encourage that. Therefore, if social media companies can control what messages get through to people they have a great deal of power.  Social media companies have more power to cancel messages than any other institution in the country right now.  Since social media operates like this we need the truly public spaces like college campuses, seminaries, libraries etc. more than ever to have an exchange of ideas and to have people who according to algorithms would never be in the same chat room, physically sit next each other in actual rooms.

The American republic was founded on the idea that there would a space in the public square for an exchange of ideas.  These exchanges were to impact the decisions made by elected officials.  If the public square is controlled by monopolies like the news media used to be, the republic suffers and one must wonder how long the republic can last in that atmosphere.

There is a lot more that can be said about social media serving as the public square but since this is a blog entry and people have a limited attention span online, I will end here.  But there is more to come on the dangers of cancel culture and the ill effects when we only consume social media to negotiate life in the city of man.

Beware the Story

I guess we all know now that news as a Western tradition of informing the public is now dead.  To be honest, it has been on life support since the 1890’s.  Yellow Journalism was the title given to the media blitz of the late 1890’s that blurred advertising and information.  The public in New York City, Chicago, and other big cities feared the power of Spain as it crushed a Cuban revolt.  The two newspaper moguls, Pulitzer and Hearst, battled each other with outrageous headlines meant to tempt readers to spend on a newspaper.  The public print war did more than make the newspapers millions of dollars, it pushed readers to demand a real war against Spain when the USS Maine blew up off the coast of Cuba in 1898.  The media started a war… this would not be the last time.

People at the time did not need anyone to tell them that the media had overplayed its hand for the sake of profits.  But the fact that outrageous headlines won readers taught the press that information was not as lucrative as scandal and fear.  By the late 1880’s writers had stumbled on the formula that would define the American media throughout the 20th century – stories about the abuse of power made newspaper owners fabulously wealthy.  A new breed of writers, which President Teddy Roosevelt labeled Muckrakers, sharpened their prose while they developed innovative investigative practices.  To be fair, scandal and abuse were not difficult to find.  Large monopolies such as Standard Oil and US Steel provided journalists with ample fodder for targeted articles that drew attention to unethical business practices.  But the increased interest in the media also made media outlets rich and powerful.

The American press is now at the height of its power because it has unleashed the awesome energy of the story.  Rather than merely inform readers so that they can make good decisions, the media has mastered the ability of setting information in a well-crafted story that validates a plot, not facts.  Readers/viewers become loyal to stories which makes them dedicated viewers of ads that enrich media companies.  A narrative that can explain the facts of a fast-paced world becomes addictive to the public which then motivates writers.  To feed hungry readers writers seek to tell the story that appeals to themselves and their readers.  They select facts then arrange them into a narrative that makes disagreement look idiotic.  Rather than reading news and then having to think – the media has done and completed all of the thinking.  Our duty is to agree.  The story, you see, is both judge and executioner.  Worse yet, readers/viewers listen to only one narrative and then begin to see the whole world as the unfolding of a single story, regardless of how many people do not see things that way.  In the end narrow minded writers force facts into ever tighter scripts.  This power has a deadly consequence – people who do not believe the story are considered irrational or, worse, evil; so much for informing thinking readers.  All hail the story we tell; down with the idiots who don’t agree.

A by no means extensive list of Resources on Critical Race Theory

Evangelicals and Critical Race Theory from First Things

Christianity Today Response to Carl Trueman

Christianity Today and CRT

Southern Baptist Church and divisions over CRT

Rev Mckissic receives an inflammatory letter

Dr. Christina Edmonson and Jamar Tisby on African American Christians and CRT

Rev. Charlie Dates on why his church Left the SBC

Critical Race Theory and Introduction

Why Liberalism Failed

Interview with Pastor Dwight McKissic

Neil Shenvi on CRT