A couple weeks ago, I argued that “toxic” was a weasel word that progressive Christians use too much. On my Facebook page,1 a reader2 pointed out that conservative Christians have their own weasel words. One in particular caught my attention: liberal. I think that’s spot-on. And yes, I have several specific points about why conservative Christians shouldn’t use it so much:
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.
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?
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.”
“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.
Last week(ish), I gave the first reason I loved being a firebrand conservative in college. This week, it’s on to reason number two: being hardcore conservative made me feel manly.
To summarize: growing up, there seemed to be some evangelical manliness test. It was written on elephant hide, in blood, by John Eldridge and Mark Driscoll. It involved something about rescuing a beauty, jumping off waterfalls, and being a Leader of this Generation. I think bear-hunting was involved, too.
But whatever the test was, I failed. I wasn’t one of those outdoor-ministry wood-chopping beard-growing types; I was a skinny nerd with peach fuzz and a nervous smile. I had no ability to fix a car, survive in the wilderness, or ask a girl out. And forget being a Leader of this Generation–I couldn’t even lead prayer at a Bible study. If there was a skill you’d think a manly man should have, I did not have it….unless you think a manly man should be good at Nintendo.
But then I found politics.
In my last post, I shared three reasons I liked being a firebrand conservative in college:
- It gave a narrative to the world and my place in it.
- It made me feel manly.
- It let me feel different in a good way.
I also said I’d discuss each reason over the next several weeks. Then I didn’t update my blog for a month. I’ll admit my excuse–the birth of my second child–will seem flimsy to many of you. But now that the baby is settled and I’m getting almost enough sleep to function, I’m back to explain the first reason I loved being a college conservative.
This reason also happens to be one of my favorite words: narrative.
Last week was about all the ways politics terrified me as a boy. This week is about the moment it all changed.
My family was caravanning to Michigan for a reunion. At a gas station outside Wichita, I hopped out to stretch my legs in the dense July air. My grandparents offered to let me ride in their mini van, and I jumped on the chance to escape my brothers. Ten minutes later, I had the entire back seat to myself, chugging a soda with legs extended.
I was admiring a hawk circling the dusty fields when my grandpa switched on the radio. A shudder passed through my neck–Rush.
Last week, I opened my series on evangelicals and politics with my vague boyhood idea that Republicans were good, and Democrats were bad. But that wasn’t my only vague idea.
When I was a kid, politics terrified me.
“You know what the real problem is–relying on government for everything.” Mr. Anderson’s voice reverberated across the ball pit. It was a tradition: every week after Sunday evening service, a group of families went to the McDonalds Play Place. All us kids scampered through giant hamster tubes and dove out sticky slides. This was great. The grown ups talked politics.
This was less great.
“That’s why taxes have gotten so high–people need government programs to run their lives.” A mom chimed in.
“Taking all our money for no reason.” Mr. Anderson agreed.
Clinton was going to take all my parents’ money? Then how were they going to buy me food and clothes? I scooted to the far side of the ball pit to escape the talking.
My first political memory is strangely vivid. It was November of 1992, and my dad was driving me to Kindergarten. The radio announcer, in a tone as soggy as the weather, discussed Bill Clinton’s recent election.
“Bill Clinton is stupid!” I proclaimed, feet kicking the dashboard.
“Don’t say that,” my dad replied. “He’s the President now, so we have to respect him.”
My memory goes blank after that, so I don’t know how I responded. But this memory’s worth dwelling on for a couple reasons.
First, it shows that I somehow got it in my six-year old head that Bill Clinton was “stupid.” Second, it shows I could not have gotten this idea from either of my parents. My dad stopped me from calling him stupid. As for my mom, those who’ve met her know that calling a politician “stupid” is . . . out of character.1
So how did I learn that Bill Clinton was stupid? It must have seeped in from my culture, a part of the atmosphere I imbibed without realizing it. Like the blue of the sky and the green of the grass, the badness of Bill Clinton was a fact of life.