Nick vs Carrie

There is a distinctive split emerging between American Christians when it comes to COVID-19

The split is apparent on many issues to be sure

But the simplest way to distill it is:

The Carries vs The Nicks

On the one hand you have the Carrie Underwood “Jesus Take the Wheel” response

On the other hand you have the Nick Offerman “Say a Prayer While You Steer Into The Skid” response

I know which response I would have when my car started spinning out on a slick road

Choosing a Heritage

It tells all you need to know that the monuments being defended are of pro-slavery figures rather than those constructed to honor the long legacy of southern aboltionism and individual abolitionists.

Pro-slavery figures and abolitionists are both part of southern heritage.

It’s a choice to honor the pro-slavery figures.

It’s a choice to honor the heritage of slavery instead of abolitionism.


Epistemological Crisis

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We are in the midst of an epistemological crisis.

A crisis of what it means to know something

A crisis of what it means to have a justified belief

A crisis of trust that I’m starting to feel will create a permanent divide that cannot be reconciled. And maybe shouldn’t be reconciled.

I’ve seen this crisis building and I imagine you have as well, regardless of your ideological bent. Until now though I’ve been seeing it through a lens of good will.

Because all have our own opinions and interpretations of the world. Our experiences and circumstances influence how we form our beliefs. So it’s natural that our beliefs differ.

No big deal.

And for a long time I’ve believed it was possible to reconcile our differences through dialogue.

Enter the epistemological crisis.

Right now people are revealing that they don’t care to have a justified belief. They’ve revealed that they’re not interested in the foundation of their belief being based on some semblance of objective reality.

Before now I imagined that to be something that only happens on the fringes. But it is not on the fringe. It’s directly in the mainstream of our society.

No better example than those who share memes that contain false information that would be easy to check if the person cared to.

Not only has it become clear that people don’t care to check if the meme they care is true before they share it, if you challenge them to check it after they share it they will refuse.

Because they don’t care if it’s true.

They care that it supports their beliefs to the exclusion of evidence.

The worst part is that it’s just a meme. A picture with a few sentences attached to it. No one should base their beliefs on that:m. No one should trust that as a true and valid source of knowledge.

I’ve come to realize that this is a new development in what it means to lie. Maybe an application of the biblical prohibition on gossip.

Because if you’re going to share information then you are responsible for knowing if it is true. The obligation is on you to verify accuracy.

So sharing falsehood is a malignant lie that spreads more falsehood on a broad scale, resulting in far reaching damage that is much more destructive than an interpersonal lie.

And I’m not talking about people making mistakes or not having all the facts. That’s unavoidable, we all have the potential to make mistakes when we’re not informed by evidence.

The even more perturbing phenomenon is the denial of evidence. Not just denying the evidence presented in an argument, but the denial that evidence even matters at all.

The quintessential example is the moment in a social media post that I’d call the unconfront-able truth, where a person makes a post with a comment to the effect of:

Here’s the proof that I’m right and even if this proof turns out to be false, I’m still right

It’s not that I disagree with people on one subject or another that’s a problem. It’s that we’re approaching a sharp divide on what it means to know something at all.

Christian of a Down

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I find it quite fun to talk about what Jesus really looked like. And my advice to everyone is that your base template, the general phenotypical example to start with, is Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Using him as a template you can then branch out into the numerous variables that would have likely applied to Jesus.

So to start, no one knows what Jesus looks like. But we know where he is said to be from so we can make a lot of solid guesses.

Jesus came from a region around the Mediterranean Sea or Mediterranea if you like (I do). And Serj’s family roots are in Armenia, just up in the right corner of the map below.

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And many of the peoples in this regions share common ancestry. That ancestry is basically the result of people moving around this region constantly & reproductively intermingling.

Groups like Phoenicians who were great at traveling by sea are prime examples but also just people migrating around on land. When traveling peoples interact with each other there is a nearly universal set of interactions: they trade and/or kill and/or have sex with each other. So the different groups went through numerous combinations of these different interactions over long periods of time. Some more so than others but the result was inevitably a sharing of genetic traits with a lot of unpredictable variation.

Serj’s appearance was likely influenced by multiple interactions and reproducing from a number of these different groups making for a mish-mash of traits from all over the Mediterranean Basin. At some points the genetic evidence suggests more affinity with Europe and at other points more affinity with Asia or Northern Africa.

But regardless you’re more likely to find some traits than others.

You might come across mild to moderate to darkly pigmented skin for example. Most likely darker hair, most likely dark eye pigment, and a high incidence of curly hair.

Hair is particularly interesting because it’s just determined by the shape of the hair follicles. The more ovoid the follicle, the more curl. The more circular, the straighter the hair is.

Serj exemplifies these traits perfectly.

He’s got dark coiled hair

"Souls, 2005" - System of a Down Benefit Concert

Jesus would almost certainly have had similar hair. It might have a been a bit darker or light, maybe a bit more curly or straight. But not too much, just slight variation.

Serj also has quite darkly pigmented eye color.

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The same rule probably would have applied as hair color. There’s some room for variation in his eye color for sure. Jesus could’ve had a bit lighter or darker eye pigment but not too much in either direction.

Now we come to skin color. Which I have to say, people with lighter skin pigment are REAL hung up on this one. To be charitable Jesus could’ve had light skin pigment as Serj does…

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But it’s not likely. He was born into a population much further south than Serj’s most recent ancestors probably were. So Jesus’ skin pigment would almost certainly have been darker.

Even if it wasn’t though, even if he was born with less skin pigment, he was some sort of carpenter or builder. Depending on how you interpret the specific working, maybe even something like a modern day general contractor or handyman. He almost certainly spent a lot of time outside working in the sun.

Another trait these Mediterranean populations would’ve passed around to each other would’ve been an ability to tan much more efficiently than peoples further north.

By working in the sun Jesus would almost certainly have developed much darker skin tone by his early 20s. Even if he didn’t work outside, during the ministry described in the Bible he spent a lot of time outside walking and speaking and boating around so that would’ve contributed to increasing his skin pigment.

So when it comes to artistic depictions of Jesus, if we want a semblance of historical accuracy we should use Serj as our template.

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Take some artistic license here and there, skin that’s moderately darker or lighter, give hair more curl or a bit more straight. No big deal. But don’t deviate too far or it becomes grossly inaccurate. Then you’re just remaking God in your own image.

Painting, movies, graphic novels, whatever. Know the region you’re working from and know the general appearance of the people there. It’s not hard.

The way we perceive someone like Jesus, a historical figure who has had an enormous impact on our culture for both the religious & non-religious, makes a difference.

How we see him in our imagination informs how we perceive others, informs the way we think about the broad variety of features we see in the people around us.

When you think Jesus, think Serj 🤘

Patriots

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I love that people think they get to tell me what it means to love my country

So I’ll tell you what it means

When you love someone you support them and accept them

You also encourage them to examine their past

to be better than they’ve been

to make right their wrongs

to confront their sins

to address their complacency

When you love someone

you help them grow

you help them take hold of their potential

you help them fulfill their goals

you help them learn from their mistakes

When you love someone you don’t excuse their misdeeds and sit idly by while they perpetuate patterns of abuse

And that’s how I love my country

Convergence of Evidence

4B0CA317-1D02-499B-BCC9-D8A9418B0CA0Some say we need to teach young people how to use a check book. I say we need to teach them (and everyone else) how to measure the validity of a claim based on evidence. One of the most important aspects of doing so is understanding the convergence of evidence. Like in the picture, in real life some lines of evidence will not align perfectly on a single point. Because there are outliers, situations where mitigating factors lead to slightly different outcomes. But there is a convergence where most of the lines come together. That’s what it takes to form a trustworthy understanding of a subject. Looking at multiple lines of evidence and establishing the area of convergence is how you can have confidence that we’ve developed a persuasive understanding of any subject. You can’t pluck one line out of the bunch that you happen to like and form your beliefs on that single line. You also can’t pick the first line that shows up and form your conclusions until you can corroborate with other lines of evidence and find the convergence

For example

You can’t pick this one study about a single asymptomatic subject

One subject

And then ignore this study of eight asymptomatic subjects

Eight subjects

You have to find the convergence to draw a conclusion 

Scarsick

I was reading some reflections and rage posts from a hospitalist working in New York who came from out of state to work in the overtaxed NY healthcare systems. And the way he described his experience and how it’s changed his perspectives made realize that you can make a very stark compare & contrast with 9/11.

To work in the heart of this crisis, not just in New York but also places like Detroit, and then come back to the world to hear people downplaying or denying crisis feels the way it would’ve if the first responders to 9/11 came home to the news broadcasting a sizable and loud contingent of the population saying that 9/11 wasn’t really that bad. Or the death toll was being exaggerated. Or that the first responders themselves were bringing empty body bags out of the wreckage. It’s true that a myriad of conspiracy theories popped up afterwards but at least to my knowledge, none of the ones that caught on denied that the events actually took place or suggested that the first responders were somehow in on a scheme to stage the attacks.

Healthcare professionals right now are seeing the devastation of this virus all over the country and the world.

Healthcare workers that aren’t even directly involved and in harm’s way are seeing it play out, with direct knowledge of and evidence for the devastation.

I believe that we are in the process of creating lasting or even permanent hostility between a segment of the healthcare community & those who deny and/or downplay this crisis.

If this happens I think there’s a good chance it’s going to be a deep and ugly scar in the fabric of our society.

I think the spite is trickling out into the general population.

I think it’s the kind of division that will never fully heal.

On the origin of understanding

Aids HIV Virus

I’ve told this story to several people now (bless them for listening because it’s got to be more annoying in person than it’s about to be here)

Several years ago I wanted to understand AIDS

I mean, I knew it was caused by the retrovirus HIV, I knew it originated in Africa, and I had a basic understanding of its impact and legacy on the gay community

But I wanted to really understand it

So I set out to read as much as I could, to go into as much depth as possible. I got some books from the library. Others I purchased because they were so dense with excruciatingly complex details that it took multiple readings for any of it stick in my mind. I made use of MeLCat to get some more advanced books from Michigan colleges/universities

I was reading about basic virology

I was reading about the impact of colonial urbanization

I was reading about zoonotic disease

I was reading about epidemiology

I was reading about unsafe healthcare practices & developing technologies

I was reading about the politics of healthcare & sexuality in 1980s America

It was 3 months of reading. And in the end what I got from that 3 months is a very basic informed under of the AIDS pandemic. A scratch on the surface of understanding

To think that my understanding was even remotely close to expert is laughable. Learning what I did was valuable and I’m very glad I did it. But what it amounts to is having an informed understanding. Not an expert or specialist or professional understanding

I think there is a key in there to one of the dilemmas we see playing our around us

I invested a significant amount of time in trying to understand a topic. By the time I was finished not only did I trust the experts but had also developed a keen appreciation for how important they are

I had spent a few months. Those experts had spent years, decades in many cases 

Decades devoted to meticulously gathering as much information as possible to draw the most precise conclusions possible

I’m beginning to see that many of us don’t understand that time commitment. The time it takes to become well informed on any level is hours and hours beyond a single google search. And the density of the information itself is well beyond what’s even available for free on the internet

To be informed, you have to either make a long term time investment or trust someone else who has

Instead the ease at which we can reach out and pluck easy info from the internet has tricked our brains into thinking that the world and it’s machinations are simple; easy to discern with a little common sense

It’s a deadly assumption.

I highly recommend using MeLCat if you’re in Michigan and if you’re not, I recommend looking for and/or advocating for a similar program where you live. 

Storm

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Right now people want simple answers to a complex problem which is a recipe for disinformation.

So instead, a simple, applicable analogy:

We can’t predict how many hurricanes will hit the US over the next 10 years. But we know that there are hurricanes. We know the places that have historically been impacted by them. We know the kinds of damage they cause. We even know the atypical complications they can produce that have surprised us in the past.

So even though we can’t predict them, we can prepare for them.

Simple.

The whole Law of Moses

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In seminary a professor asked us this: if every person who calls themselves Christian had lived out their beliefs would the subprime mortgage crisis have happened?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot

If those involved in the crisis at any level had stood firm and said no to immoral and unstable and predatory financial practices?

From financial institutions to credit agencies to regulators, and even the consumers themselves?

I think of it again now

And the Law of Moses

And the Law of Moses in summary being: love God and love neighbor

Loving God being an internationalization, between the individual and God only

Loving your neighbor being then the externalization, your faith put in practice

The financial crisis was a failure to externalize the faith professed from so many in our society of that internalized faith

In our current crisis I see the same

I see in the reactions of those around me the failure to love our neighbor as ourselves

To be a neighbor to the one bloodied and destitute on the side of the road, to show mercy

As a culture we do not value mercy

Matthew 22:34-40
Luke 10:25-37