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.

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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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Evangelical: Uppercase or Lowercase?

As a proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in English *cough*, there are certain grammar opinions that I hold to strongly. I’m an Oxford comma partisan.1 I think the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition should be done away with.2

And I believe that evangelical should be lowercase.

I deal with this surprisingly often. When I was preparing my book proposal and writing the sample chapters,3 I went back and forth with friends and readers about whether I should capitalize evangelical. I changed it a couple of times, but ended up firmly in the lowercase camp.

Why? Well, it’s a combination of reasons: both serious and trivial.

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Stop Calling Kids Movies “Cute”

So last week I finally watched Paddington with my family. I loved it. It’s clever, whimsical, beautifully-shot, and explored serious themes in a sensitive way. In short, it’s a good movie.

You’ll notice one word I purposefully avoided: cute.

*Climbs onto soapbox*

We should stop calling art for children “cute.” Here’s why:

  • It sets a bad precedent. Let’s be honest. When most people describe a kids’ movie or book as “cute,” they don’t actually think it’s good. They usually mean it’s insipid or simplistic, but it’s just for kids so who cares. Talk about setting the bar low. Do you have any idea how easy it is to create something “cute”? Start with a talking baby animal, give it bright colors and a jazzy song, throw in a happy ending and message about believing in yourself, and you officially have a “cute” work of art.

This sets all the wrong incentives for creators. There’s no sense in putting all the time (and therefore money) needed to make a good work of art. As long as it’s “cute,” you’re set. So all the labor-intensive good art gets replaced by the mass-produced “cute” art. And we all suffer for it.

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“Evangelical Apocalypse:” Rejecting Both Naivete and Cynicism

This week, Ross Douthat had an article that hit close to home. In fact, he pretty much summed the purpose of this blog. You should read the whole thing: here it is.

For those of you who didn’t follow the link (for shame!) the article is about how Trump’s presidency has been an apocalypse for American evangelicalism. An “apocalypse” in the original Greek meaning is “an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.”

Unless you’ve spent the past three years dwelling in the wilderness and surviving off honey and locusts, you know it’s been a particular apocalypse for evangelicals. It’s easy to assume that this apocalypse will reveal two sides–the good side and the bad side–and that the good side will win. As Douthat explains:

I’d like to tell a simple story that describes the Patterson scandal [link added by me] as an inflection point — after which Moore’s kind of Baptist will inevitably increase while Jeffress’s kind diminishes, as the “judgment” that Mohler describes leads to a general reckoning with the pull of sexism and racism within conservative-leaning churches.

But to assume that’s necessarily going to happen is to fall into the same inevitablist trap that ensnares both arc-of-history progressives and providentialist Trump supporters. Instead it’s wiser to regard an era of exposure like this one as a test, which can be passed but also failed.

I agree. We shouldn’t sit back in a triumphalist assumption that “those evangelicals” will inevitably lose and history will vindicate us.

But the opposite is also true. It’s easy to look at the struggles in the current apocalypse and get discouraged. It can even lead us to apathy and (wait for it) cynicism. But that shouldn’t be our response. As Douthat explained when he accidentally wrote the tagline for this blog:

So the question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge?

That’s what this blog is (hopefully) about. Finding a way to move forward from the disappointment and frustration. But doing so in a way that isn’t naive or cynical. Instead, it’s a way that is clear-eyed and gospel-centered.

The apocalypse should be a call to self-reflection and to prayer. And hopefully, it can lead to renewal.

__________

Photo by Formula None

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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