Of Trojans and Turtles

I noticed something strange when I walked past Target’s toy aisle. It was dominated by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is not a criticism. As someone whose boyhood was in the 80’s and 90’s, I loved the Turtles. I watched every show, practiced every ninja move, and collected every action figure. A giant bin of them is still in a corner of my parents’ basement.

But that was nearly thirty years ago, and the Turtles are still popular. I would never have picked the Turtles as something that could endure to new generations. After all, they are a group of humanoid turtles who use karate to fight an army of robots in the sewers of Manhattan. They love pizza and skateboards and shell-based puns. How is this so lasting?

One possible reason for their staying power is their use of classical themes. Beneath the cartoon silliness is a story that has been repeated since Ancient Greece. This is especially evident in the most important relationship in the series: Leonardo and Raphael.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Turtles are four brothers: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. Their father/sensei is a talking rat named Master Splinter. Donatello is the nerdy tech-genius. Michelangelo is the funny goofball. But neither of them matter right now. The heart of the show is the relationship between Leonardo and Raphael.

Leonardo is the leader. Always obedient to Master Splinter, Leonardo is the epitome of discipline. He is responsible, cautious, and prudent. Donatello and Michelangelo look to him as their unquestioned guide.

Raphael is different. He is the rebel, and is always bristling at Leonardo’s commands. He is driven by fiery passion. Hard-headed and sure of his own cause, he is prone to rage and rash decisions. Although he is brawnier than Leonardo, he lacks his brother’s refined fighting skill.

Whether it is television, a movie, or a comic book, Leonardo and Raphael always butt heads. And their conflict usually follows the same story arch.

First, a danger emerges which threatens New York City. Only the Turtles can stop it. Leonardo and Raphael, however, disagree on how. Leonardo favors the way of caution, and follows Master Splinter’s warnings. Raphael, anxious to move right away, balks at Leonardo’s refusal to act. They argue, and perhaps have a brief fight without a clear winner. Enraged, Raphael storms away, vowing never to return. Undeterred, Leonardo and the others confront the danger, but get caught in unforeseen trouble. Raphael, meanwhile, comes to his senses and rejoins his brothers. Together again, Leonardo and Raphael team up to save the day.

This story arc was designed so hyperactive ten year olds could follow it. But the essential conflict—the responsible leader versus the fiery rebel—should strike a chord for those familiar with the Western canon. It goes back at least as far as Homer.

The Leonardo and Raphael characters are obvious from the first lines in Homer’s poems. The Iliad begins with “Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, / murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, / hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls…”. Achilles is Raphael. Though nominally at Agamemnon’s command, he chafes at the king’s orders. Like Raphael, his rage overtakes him after Patroclus’s death. Like Raphael, he abandons the war while feuding with his leaders. And like Raphael, he eventually returns for his side’s final victory.

The first lines of The Odyssey, however, reveal a different character: “Sing muse of Odysseus, the man of twists and turns.” Odysseus, the resourceful and patient hero behind these “twists and turns” is Leonardo. Though a king in his own right, he is obedient when called by Agamemnon. When Achilles storms away from the war, Odysseus goes to convince him to return. After Achilles drags Hector’s body around Troy, Odysseus plans the Trojan horse. And after his long journey home, he does not rashly attack Penelope’s suitors. Instead, he keeps his distance, adapts to the situation, and leads his son in their final plan.

Other examples are easy to find. Heroes throughout literature can be divided into Leonardo or Raphael. In Arthurian lore, the careful King Arthur is Leonardo as he tries keeping grasp of Camelot, while Lancelot is Raphael when letting his passion for Guinevere get the best of him. In Njal’s Saga from Iceland, the prudent lawyer Njal is Leonardo, while Gunnar, the burly warrior who cannot seem to follow Njal’s advice, is Raphael. They are even in works like The Chronicles of Narnia. Peter, with his leadership of the siblings and scolding of Edmund, is an obvious Leonardo. Edmund, with his sullen rebellion and abandoning of the family, is Raphael.

From that gloss, it might look like Leonardo is the better character. As an obedient boy, I know I always sided with Leonardo. On a certain level, this makes sense. It seems like society should favor the responsible over the headstrong.

But that conclusion misses the larger story. Yes, Raphael has his vices, and they are obvious. But Leonardo has his vices too. They are just more subtle. But they come to the foreground in the clearest Leonardo-Raphael dynamic in the Bible: the parable of the prodigal son.

The identities should be obvious. The younger brother—rebellious, impetuous, leaving the family for his own schemes—is Raphael. The older brother—obediently slaving at his father’s home—is Leonardo. At the start, the older brother is superior. While the younger brother squanders his inheritance in a foreign land, the older brother follows the rules. But then something happens to the younger brother: while he is in the foreign land, he “comes to his senses.” He admits he was wrong and returns home. Admitting an error is something that Leonardo struggles with.

For all their faults, Raphael characters will always return. Achilles returned to Troy, and even gave his life in the final conquest. Edmund left the Witch and returned to Aslan. And after Raphael storms away, he rejoins the Turtles for the last fight.

Leonardo characters have more trouble repenting for one simple reason: they do not think they have anything to repent of. When Edmund snuck away from the Pevensies to find the Witch, Peter simply thought it was good riddance, patted himself on the back, and carried on. When his father welcomed back his younger brother, the older brother was infuriated that his own rule-following didn’t merit a fattened calf. And when Raphael and Leonardo get into arguments, Leonardo can get really smug.

Before a fight scene in their movie “TMNT,” Leonardo berates Raphael along the usual lines. Raphael is reckless. Raphael is undisciplined. Raphael is foolish to even think he should be the leader instead. The reason, Leonardo explains, is because: “I’m better than you.”

That is the quintessential attitude of the older brother. When the older brother berated his father over the fattened calf, he showed his true intentions. Even though he went through the motions and did all the right things, he did not actually want the father’s love—he just wanted the father’s stuff. This, of course, was the same mistake that the younger brother repented of.

In the same way, Leonardo does all the right things. But his motives are skewed. He does not simply want to look out for his family and obey Master Splinter: he wants to be the best. And he wants Raphael to admit that he is the best.

The Leonardo and Raphael dynamic, then, is not as clear as it seems at first. Perhaps that is one reason why it is so enduring. Instead of a battle between the model citizen and the rebel, it is a battle between two characters with differing sets of virtues and vices. Leonardo’s virtue is his self-discipline, responsibility, and patience. Raphael’s is his passion, sense of justice, and readiness to admit mistakes. These virtues, however, are mirrored in their vices. Raphael’s vices are obvious—rage, impetuousness, and rebelliousness. Leonardo’s vices are more subtle—smugness, self-righteousness, and an internal blindness. But they are just as real.

Whether we are more of a Leonardo or a Raphael, it is a helpful thing to remember. It is also another reason to take a second trip down the toy aisle.

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Photo by Clement Soh

Let’s Quit with the “Toxic” Talk

There’s a term that gets thrown around a lot that drives me crazy, both for rational and irrational reasons. That term is “toxic.”

It seems especially popular with Christians on the Left1 for describing things they dislike on the Right. Traditional sexuality is toxic. The concept of hell is toxic. Complementarianism is toxic. Missions culture is toxic. Etc., etc., etc.

I don’t want to get into the substance of those controversies. In fact, I agree with some of those critiques. Instead, I’m just giving reasons why we should stop labelling any beliefs we don’t like as toxic.

Here they are:

  • It’s a weasel word. Toxic is loaded with connotations. It implies an idea is not only dangerous, but so pervasively dangerous that it infects everything around it. What’s more, it implies that this danger is subtle, and therefore easy for the unenlightened to miss. So by slapping on the toxic label, you’re implying that the belief is entirely hazardous in a way that eludes simple definition. That’s a whole lot of–unearned–authority.
  • Conflates use and abuse. Saint Augustine (I think)2 once quipped that we should never judge a philosophy by its abuses. Toxic makes this very mistake. Those using the term generally take the worst version of a viewpoint and extrapolate it to its worst possible endpoint. It seems impossible to deal charitably with a belief you’ve already labelled toxic.
  • Your experience isn’t definitive. This is the most serious problem with the term. So often, the people who declare certain beliefs toxic have had painful experiences with those beliefs. Someone who grew up secretly gay in a strict fundamentalist church likely had a toxic experience with traditional sexual views. Someone who went on a bad missions trip likely had a toxic experience with missions culture.

I don’t want to discount these experiences. The pain caused by a view (or the abuse of a view) is real and it matters. But it’s not the final word. This may sound obvious, but for many of us3 it’s worth repeating: our subjective experience is not the ultimate authority. Even if your experience with a philosophy is toxic, that doesn’t mean that everybody else’s is or should be. The memories of our subjective experiences are often wrong, or skewed, or unfairly tainted. And they will always be limited to just ourselves. On their own, our experiences shouldn’t even be the sole criteria for ourselves; let alone for everybody else.

In short, using the label “toxic” is both pervasively dangerous and subtle. You might almost say that it is…..some synonym that doesn’t undermine my entire point.

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1  This is just based on what I’ve seen. If any of you have seen conservative Christians throwing the term around, please let me know.

2  At least, I think it’s Saint Augustine–it might be one of those apocryphal internet quotations…

3  Especially the bloggers and memoirists!

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Photo by Clement

Why I Don’t Think Much About Atheism Anymore

So I’ve been on this YA kick because I’m researching a writing project.1 As such, I started on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.2 The prologue did a great job of setting up an enticing premise. Then in the first chapter, the protagonist–a teenager from a dystopian future trailer park–gives his personal philosophical manifesto. For some reason.3

The speil was predictable new atheist talking points: how evolution is true, and how that somehow disproves the supernatural. How humanity is on its own and we should just deal with it. How all religion is just fairytales used to manipulate the non-enlightened.

At age twenty, this sort of thing would have sent me into a cocoon. I would have journaled my inner thoughts and doubts, constructed arguments and counter-arguments examining the issue from all sides, and stared in horror at the unblinking stars as I contemplated being alone in the universe.

But that didn’t happen this time. I shrugged it off and continued on. My main emotion was irritation that such a silly argument could have such widespread acceptance.4

Is it bad that Matt of 305 doesn’t spend as much time with this stuff as Matt of 20? Have I become intellectually lazy or stubborn? At the risk of being self-serving, I don’t think so. Here’s why:

  • I’ve already thought deeply about this. Nowadays, I don’t think much about whether God exists. But from about age seventeen to twenty-four, I thought about it ALL. THE. TIME. I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins6 when I was twenty. After finishing it, I went for a long walk behind my house to process everything. At college, I used to go to a creek behind my dorm. I sat by the gurgling waters, squeezed my eyes shut, and willed myself to think through the issue of God’s existence with all the brainpower I could muster. I was figuring out whether there was a God–the most important question possible. I had to think through everything.

The point is, I’ve already thought about the topic a whole lot. And at a time when I had the freedom and desire to do so in the best way possible. I’m well past the point of diminishing returns.

  • I want to move forward. When you’re young and have your whole life ahead of you, it’s both valuable and important to examine your beliefs. After all, before you take too many steps down the path, you should make sure you’re on the right path.

But after you’ve stared at the path signs long enough, you eventually need to start walking. After all my thinking, I remained convinced, through some amalgamated web of intellectual and spiritual reasons, that Christianity is true. I suppose I could keep examining and re-examining this conclusion to be *extra* sure that that this is really my conclusion. But that gets exhausting. There came a point when I wanted to stop defending my decision to be a Christian, and actually start walking as a Christian.

  • I’m more comfortable with my beliefs. I’ve noticed something about myself when I hear an argument I disagree with. If I secretly worry that the other side might be right, I get defensive–I can hardly stand to read their argument, and I spend whole evenings brooding over the reasons why the other side is wrong. But when I’m sure the other person is actually wrong, I relax. I can hear the other person out, and I let go of the issue afterward. The more comfortable you are with your beliefs, the less you stew over them.

That’s how I’m starting to feel with Ready Player One-type arguments. I’m so convinced that this particular form of unbelief is incorrect, that I don’t feel the need to dwell on it. I can just shrug and go about my life.

Of course, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to examine your beliefs. Doing that is both good and healthy. Just don’t feel the need to do that forever. You can reach a stopping point. Then you can relax and join me in chucking insults at YA books….

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1  Yes, I’ve been working on a YA novel. And yes, I would love to tell you all about it in agonizing detail. Because of this, I strongly recommend not asking me about it.

2  Yes, Steven Spielberg recently did a movie based on this. I’m only a few chapters into the book, and I haven’t seen the movie. But as a snobby former English-major, I’m obligated to say that the book is soooo much better.

3  Philosophy aside, this was a weird literary choice. The speech is about three times longer than it needs to be, and grinds the story to a halt for no good reason. True, giving this kind of grand theory of everything is a very teenage thing to do (I gave more than my share of soapbox manifestos as a teenager). And yes, it is revealing about the way this character views the world. But it still feels like the author indulged in his own philosophical stump speech at the expense of the novel. I’d go into more detail, but that’s for my other blog, “Matt Gripes about YA Literature.”

4  In case there are any atheists reading this, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m fully aware that lots of atheists acknowledge that the “new atheism” arguments from sources like Ready Player One are bad. I don’t mean to paint the whole worldview with that brush.

5  Okay, okay, 31.

6  By the way, if you’re looking for a helpful example of today’s best arguments for atheism, I encourage you to read…..something else. Dawkins is a talented writer, but he’s a really bad philosopher.

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Photo by Federico Soffici

5 Christian TV Characters Who Are Actually Likeable

Like any Christian who enjoys complaining, I often criticize Christian characters on tv. It seems like they’re all judgmental, narrow-minded hypocrites whose faith is an easy punchline. Watching those characters makes me wonder if the script writers have ever even met a Christian.

But happily, not every show is like this. In fact, several do a great job portraying Christian characters. I thought I’d list my five favorites.

These characters are either currently on air, or have been in the recent(ish) past. While far from perfect, these are fully-fleshed characters who are openly Christian, and who are portrayed sympathetically.

  1. Father Nicholas, The Jim Gaffigan Show

It makes sense that Jim Gaffigan would have an intelligently-drawn Christian character. He and his wife/writing partner Jeannie are perhaps the most famous open Catholics in the entertainment world.1 In the show, Father Nicholas is the rector of the Gaffigan’s New York City parish.

Father Nicholas is a breath of fresh air on tv. First, because of the show’s decision to make him an immigrant from West Africa. This keeps him from falling into the easy stereotypes of the grumpy Irish priest. And in a world where Christians from the Global South have an ever-greater influence on the West, his character makes perfect sense in New York’s melting pot.

Rather than being a source of intimidation and guilt (another easy Catholic stereotype), Father Nicholas is friendly, open-minded, and gregarious. But he’s not a naive innocent. In an episode called “My Friend the Priest,” Father Nicholas tags along with Jim at his comedy gigs. Anxious as to how a priest will be received, Jim warns Father Nicholas that some of the stand-ups will use a lot of curse words. Father Nicholas responds that when he was a boy, his family’s town was destroyed by rebels.

  1. Perry, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a comedy about a woman who tries making it in New York after being held prisoner in a bunker for fifteen years by an insane reverend (yes, really). Perry is Kimmy’s romantic interest in the third season. Perry is cool, cultured, hard-working, and . . . studying to be a minister?

Because the last minister she knew locked her in a bunker for fifteen years, Kimmy goes to church to find out more. The resulting episode–”Kimmy Goes to Church!”–focuses on a gaggle of religious hypocrites and screw-ups at Kimmy’s new church. But the message at the end isn’t that Christians are hypocrites. It’s that church is a place for people who realize they’re hypocrites and are trying to change. Now theologically speaking, that’s a little off. But it’s a fair-minded viewpoint from writers who have thought carefully about the topic.2

  1. Father Brown, Father Brown

This one feels like cheating. After all, this character–an endearingly awkward priest who is also a brilliant detective–was created by GK Chesterton. Isn’t it hard to go wrong when that’s your starting point?

It actually would have been easy to go wrong. I could see a version of Father Brown that white-washed all of his Catholicism and reduced his faith to mealy-mouthed platitudes at the end of each episode. By and large, though, the show has avoided that trap. The show apparently has a priest-consultant, and it shows. Their depiction of a priestly life is spot on (at least as far as I can tell).

Beyond the daily details, one of the reasons I love Chesterton’s character is that, for him, the true goal was not merely to catch the criminal. It was to save the criminal’s soul by calling him to repentance. The tv version does a good job of capturing that same attitude.

  1. Shirley Bennett, Community

If you want to watch a fully-formed religious character in one of the most hilarious shows of all time,3 look no further than Shirley. She’s far from perfect. She’s a gossip, she uses guilt as a weapon, and she has thinly-veiled rage issues.

But for all that, Shirley is a strong, sympathetic character who is open about her faith and open about her faults. For instance, in “Comparative Religion,” Shirley repents of being judgmental toward her (religiously diverse) friends when she realizes she was really venting about her ex-husband. And “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” is a surprisingly thoughtful take on pride and forgiveness told through the lens of a film-student movie about Jesus.

  1. Ned Flanders, The Simpsons

The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that Flanders is the winner.4 And it isn’t close. Homer’s uber-religious neighbor has been a major character on a hugely popular show for ten seasons.5 That’s accomplishment enough–he’s tv’s most famous evangelical by leaps and bounds.

Plenty of Christians would counter that The Simpsons only has Flanders on the show to make fun of him. And that’s largely true. But they don’t make fun of him as a hypocrite or a coward. They make fun of him for being so gosh-darn good. For all his quirks, Flanders is an admirable person. He cares for the poor, is quick to forgive, and tries to see the best in everyone–even Homer. In The Simpsons Movie, he’s a much-needed father figure for Bart when Homer is too busy with his own antics. He then plays a key role in reconciling Bart with Homer.

If you ask me, the world (and tv) could use a lot more Ned Flanders.

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1  This has nothing to do with anything, but when I’m up till 3 in the morning finishing a work project, one of my favorite things in the world is to turn that project in, then sit in my dark living room and watch Jim Gaffigan stand-up. When I’m exhausted and brain-fried, hearing his jokes about Hot Pockets and bacon is exactly what I need.

2  Kimmy Schmidt is from the brilliant mind of Tina Fey. Two honorable mentions to this list–Carol from “Great News” and Kenneth the Page from “30 Rock”–are also in Fey shows. The lesson, of course, is that Fey is a national treasure.

3  Except for season 4, of course.

4  Of course, I didn’t discover any of this about Flanders until college, because I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons growing up…

5  Yes, I know that The Simpsons has been on for 29 seasons. But I think the show jumped the shark after the first ten or so seasons, so I don’t count the rest.

Stop Calling Yourself an “Exvangelical”

So the term “exvangelical” is a thing now. It’s an earnest hashtag on Twitter. It’s also the name of a podcast1 with over seventy episodes. The Guardian even used the term for evangelicals who dropped the label after the 2016 election.

You can guess who exvangelicals are: folks who were raised in conservative evangelical homes, have now become progressives, and who keep enumerating the ways their childhood injured them. You can also guess that I reeeeaaaaaally don’t like the term. And yes, I have bullet-pointed reasons for it.

Here’s why you shouldn’t call yourself an “exvangelical,” even if you were raised by Jerry Falwell but now blog for Huff Po’s Religion section:

  • You’re going too think much about evangelicals. If you call yourself “exvangelical,” then evangelicalism still plays an active role in shaping your identity. You’re therefore more likely to think and talk about it. Maybe because it’s cathartic. Maybe because you’re trying to prove your old friends and family wrong. Maybe because you need to keep justifying yourself. The result is the same: more thinking and talking about evangelicalism.
  • You’re going to be unfair to evangelicals. It’s inevitable. If you’re a human being, then you’re harshest toward the groups that you’ve left. That’s probably a reason why the term “exvangelical” irks me so much–it’s a viewpoint that I used to hold. Because exvangelicals are primed to be too harsh to evangelicalism, using the label will only make the problem worse. Rather than keep spiraling, it’s better to give yourself a clean break.
  • It encourages pride. Just below the exvangelical surface is an undercurrent of pride. You are the one who looked around your evangelical culture and saw through the deceptions. You are the one with the courage to leave that toxic world. And now, you are the one wise enough to find fault in every thing evangelicals do, and to speak prophetically into each situation with a combination of snark and condescension. I know this because I’ve been there.
  • It neglects what you are now. I used to read a theology blog by an Eastern Orthodox guy who converted to Anglicanism. A lot of the content was good, but I eventually got tired of his habit of constantly listing reasons he left the Orthodox Church. I didn’t want to keep hearing about his old grievances—he’s an Anglican now. I wanted to hear about Anglicanism. It’s the same thing with exvangelicals. Sure they used to be evangelicals, but they’re something else now. Talk about that instead.

Now of course, there are proper times and places for critiquing evangelicalism (see, e.g., this blog hopefully). But there’s also a time and place to leave the past and focus on what you are now. That’s why John Mark Reynolds of the Saint Constantine School recommended all “post-evangelicals” find a new angle by age forty.

So that gives me nine more years….

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1  I want to make it clear that this post is about the phenomenon of exvangelicals in general, and not this one podcast in particular. Because I haven’t listened to any of the episodes, I’m in no position to form any opinion on it.

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Photo by David Clow

Why Couldn’t 90’s Kids Watch Cool TV?

If you were raised evangelical in the 90’s, there were lots of tv shows you weren’t allowed to watch for hilarious reasons.1 If you don’t believe me, watch this John Crist video right now.

While it’s fun to laugh at our parents for what my dad calls “Christian political correctness,” we should sympathize with them. They were trying to protect their kids from a multi-headed hydra of influences they knew almost nothing about. Also, there’s a distinct possibility that we’ll do the same thing with our kids.

Maybe.

This may be wishful thinking, but I’m about to argue that my generation won’t do the same thing with our kids. And yes, I do have reasons why parenting in the 90’s was particularly tough:

  • Culture had just shifted. Have you noticed that prior generations don’t have stories about all the 60’s and 70’s shows they weren’t allowed to watch? Back in the day, the entertainment industry still held enough civil Christianity (or at least a venir of it) to not raise any flags.  But by the 90’s the illusion was shattered, and entertainment stopped nodding to “traditional values.” After their heads stopped spinning, evangelicals closed ranks against this new threat: Christianity is under attack! The enemy has breached the gate! All of a sudden, evangelicals were primed to find danger everywhere.
  • Information was limited. Today, I’m a google search away from all the information I need to determine if a show is appropriate. But back in olden times (the 90’s), this was much harder to come by. Other than watching every show yourself, the only information source was rumors from church ladies and grumpy deacons. And they have a tendency to . . . exaggerate.
  • The pendulum hadn’t swung. In the 90’s, the general evangelical opinion was that we had fallen asleep at the wheel, and let the secularists swoop in and steal the culture. They responded by charging into the culture war on all fronts—even the Saturday morning cartoon front.  Twenty years later, the pendulum has swung the other way. Today’s parents are the ones raised on that overreaction. That means they’re primed to react in the opposite direction.

Of course, I could be wrong about everything. Twenty years from now, my kids could be laughing about all my crazy rationales for banning shows. And they’ll rub this post in my face.

*Stares toward the horizon*

Blogs are dangerous things . . .

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1  For the record, the shows I wasn’t allowed to watch were Captain Planet (environmentalism), and Pokémon (psychic). I also wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter (witchcraft).

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Photo by Gustavo Devito

 

How Civility Is Like Torture

Civility is a hot topic lately. Based on the smoke from my Twitter feed, here’s where we stand:

  • The Left has just abandoned civility because Trump is causing an EXISTENTIAL CRISIS!
  • The Right abandoned civility the moment they made Trump their presidential nominee/warlord. Despite this, they are currently complaining about the Left’s lack of civility.

For all the wailing and posturing to the contrary, both sides have the same view of civility: it’s fine under normal circumstances, but dangerous in EMERGENCIES(!).

This thinking is wrong for the same reason that torture is wrong. I should probably explain.

Continue reading “How Civility Is Like Torture”

In Praise of Strategic Ignorance

Jordan Peterson is a terrible person. Or maybe he isn’t; I’m not really sure.

To be honest, I barely know anything about Jordan Peterson. And that’s on purpose. Today, I’d like to introduce you to something I call “Strategic Ignorance.”

The concept is simple: going out of your way to avoid learning about a silly hot button topic. That what I’ve been doing with Jordan Peterson. Any time I see an article or tweet about him–pro or con–I ignore it.

As such, my knowledge of Peterson is delightfully slight. He’s a psychiatrist, I think? Or maybe something like evolutionary psychologist. But anyway, he has incendiary opinions on . . . gender? Morality? And his growing influence is either an existential threat to society or its last great hope. I have no idea. For all I know, he could be the lost heir to the throne of Bohemia.

Continue reading “In Praise of Strategic Ignorance”

Before You Congratulate Yourself on Your “Prophetic Witness”… Another Thought Experiment

In my last post, I tried using the Trolley Problem to show the moral consequences of evangelicals who support Trump. Today, I want to tease out more ethical consequences with another hypothetical. Because I was pretty rough on Trump-voting evangelicals last time, I thought I’d frame this one in terms more applicable to my brand of evangelical. Here it goes:

Continue reading “Before You Congratulate Yourself on Your “Prophetic Witness”… Another Thought Experiment”

Evangelicals Have a Trolley Problem

Evangelical support for Donald Trump has made me think about the Trolley Problem. You haven’t heard of the trolley problem? No worries–you were just too busy with your social life to pay attention to your Philosophy 101 course in college. The Trolley Problem is a popular ethics hypothetical. It’s ridiculously easy to find background info about it. Here it is in brief:

A runaway trolley is careening down a track toward five innocent workers. You’re standing to the side and unable to warn the workers. But you’re next to a switch that will divert the trolley onto another track. But this track has one innocent worker on it. Is it more ethical to (1) pull the switch and divert the trolley, thereby killing the one worker, or (2) do nothing, and allow the trolley to kill the five workers?

The Trolley Problem is interesting because your answer reveals your deeper assumptions. Is your driving consideration the consequence of your choice? Then you likely said you’d kill the one person to save the five. But if your driving consideration is the process of your choice, you’d likely refuse to kill a person by pulling the switch.

Things get even more interesting when we tinker with the factors.1 Let’s say you said you would pull the switch to divert the trolley:

What if the one person on the other track was a close family member? Would you change your answer? Why?

Continue reading “Evangelicals Have a Trolley Problem”