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.

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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.

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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:

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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?

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Why Yes I Do Have Thoughts on Miss America

I’m about to say something that might surprise you: Whenever I go camping, I do a special call to attract Bigfoot. Oh, that didn’t surprise you? Then how about this:

I know a lot about the Miss America pageant.

Let me explain. My wife’s family is filled with people who’ve been involved in Miss America pageants through the years. Her family still has connections with state organizations, and knows several winners each year.

Therefore, I am duty-bound to watch the pageant every year with this family of experts.

Each year, we make official lists of who we predict will go to the next round throughout the night. I don’t mean to brag, but I may be the best in the family. My sister-in-law will say it’s her, but she’s lying.

Miss America, of course, has caused a recent internet stir. The pageant announced it was abandoning its swimsuit competition, and probably the evening gown competition too.

As an accidental pageant expert, I have lots of thoughts.

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Two Cents on a “Controversial” Homily

It’s weird to use the word “controversy” for a 13-minute homily at a nominally-religious famous person’s wedding. But last week, that’s exactly what happened in a certain niche of evangelical social media.

The subject was Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Here’s a video of his homily. My pastor, Ken Robertson, had a good summary of the controversy on his Facebook page:

Archbishop Curry’s sermon (and the response to it) proves two things, I think:

  1. People are still captivated by passionate proclamation. Preaching is NOT an outdated, less-than form of communicating the gospel: it lies right at the center of God’s work of making all things right. Always has, always will.
  2. People heard very different things in this sermon: everything from “the heart of the gospel” to a “false gospel” (both phrases from my timeline). It almost reminds me of Yanni vs. Laurel!

I think that was spot on. Especially for we Anglicans in the ACNA, our opinion of the homily has as much to say about our own backgrounds as the homily itself.

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Shea Serrano, Trump Supporters, and Double Fundamentalism

We evangelicals like to draw a distinction between ourselves (the normal people) and the fundamentalists (the crazy khaki pants people). Obviously, definitions are complicated, and often sloppy, but a key aspect of fundamentalists is their tendency to isolate themselves from non-fundamentalists. A good summary comes from a slogan that my grandparents heard back when they were young:

Don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with those who do.

To paraphrase slightly, fundamentalists: (1) don’t smoke or drink, and (2) don’t socialize with people who smoke or drink.

Double fundamentalists take it a step further. Their rules are: (1) don’t smoke or drink, (2) don’t socialize with people who smoke or drink, AND (3) don’t socialize with people who socialize with people who smoke or drink.

To make things more concrete, say we have three people: Anne, Bob, and Carol. None of them smoke or drink, but Anne socializes with people who do. Bob, a fundamentalist, could still socialize with Anne. Carol, a double fundamentalist, could not.

Based on my (too) extensive use of Twitter, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern emerging. I’m thinking of one writer in particular: Shea Serrano from the Ringer. For reasons that will soon become clear, I want to emphasize that I like most of his writing a lot.

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The Opposite of a Cultural Evangelical. Sort Of.

In my last post, I questioned poll results based on (some) evidence. Now, I’m going to question those same results without any evidence.

But don’t worry, I have something way better than evidence–a hunch. Here it is:

Picture a spectrum of people. All of these people affirm the same basic “evangelical” beliefs about Christianity, Scripture, and everything else. Now let’s say we line up all those people according to how enthusiastically they embrace the term “evangelical.”

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“Cultural Evangelical” Is Now A Thing. It Shouldn’t Be.

Okay, one more post about evangelical identity. At least until my next post.

Some of us in the evangelical world were masochistic enough to follow the aftermath of the 2016 election. For we unhappy few, one number stands out: 81. That’s the supposed percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

Depressing? Sure. But I’ve already dwelt on that enough. Instead, I want to make a few points about the weirdness of polling “evangelicals.”

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Battle Hymn of the Evangelical: Part 8

“Yeah, if I was in Germany during World War II, I probably would have been a Nazi.”

And with that, Eric ruined our meal at Chick-Fil-A. Trying to lighten the mood, I asked if he needed to talk with our Bible professors about in my best deadpan.

He laughed. “No. But pretty much everybody in Germany thought Hitler was great. And the ones who didn’t gave in anyway. Only a few people really stood up to him.” He dipped his waffle fry and took a bite. “And since I’m not the ‘stand up to authority’ type, that wouldn’t have been me. I would have followed the crowd.”

Anyone who’s ever been to college will recognize this conversation. I’d been doing lots of pseudo-philosophizing lately–usually in my dorm over video games after a late-night Taco Bell run. But considering where we’d just come from, the timing for this conversation was . . . awkward.

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