All that is Right & Beautiful

There is a house I walk by frequently that is owned by Calvin University.

Calvin is one of the major higher learning institutions owned and supported by the Christian Reformed Church in North America or CRC.

CRC is a major Evangelical and Calvinist denomination in the USA with influence and missions abroad. The CRC could even be used as an archetypal example of American Evangelical Protestantism in many respects.

As such the student body and academic structure of Calvin University is usually assumed to tilt strongly toward the American political right.

The university has even produced several high profile political figures on the right like Betsy DeVos, Bill Huizenga, and Dave Agema.

Yet, as I made one of my frequent passes by the house owned by this school I’ve noticed a curious thing.

In the window I notice a Black Lives Matter sticker.

The decal is one of the standard emblems of BLM with the raised first AKA the forceful salute.

Now I’ve watched any number of figures on the right lambast BLM with any number of accusations.

I’ve heard BLM called socialist, communist, anarchist, satanist, or feminist. And any number of extrapolations or combinations.

So what is that decal doing in the window of a house owned by an Evangelical institution?

The house is called Nizhoni House. Nizhoni being a Navajo word for beautiful and in this case used as a broader sense of “good”, lining up with the mission of the house. That mission is the University’s attempt to show commitment to the neighborhood as they try to spread the Good News amongst its residents.

And it should be noted that Calvin University also has strong ties to Calvin Seminary which is an educational institution for producing professionals trained in theological, scholarly, and leadership for the CRC.

(And to be fair, Evangelicals in general)

But this hasn’t cleared anything up yet. Why would the students living in this house, presumably on a path to some form of Evangelical leadership, have a BLM decal up?

Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones condemning BLM?

Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones denouncing communism? feminism? anarchism?

Here though is where you can find the divide, if you look hard enough.

Evangelicalism in the US is multifaceted to be sure but there is an element that is nearly universal: the centrality of the Bible.

The Bible is the authority.

The Truth with a capital “T” is found in the Bible and the Bible only.

All other authority is insignificant.

But at the institutional level, the academic and scholarly and expert theological level, there is far more nuisance to the concept of Biblical authority than the oversimplifications I’ve written out above.

You can dive deep into the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to see what I mean. And that’s just a start. You can then move on to other statements like the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

These are complex and intricate statements that are meant to define the correct belief for Evangelicals in America and their international networks of Evangelical mission churches.

If you take the time to dig you’ll come across the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation from The Southern Baptist Convention.

And more pertinent to this house I walk by, the CRC Office of Race Relations.

Because the leadership of these a Evangelical bodies DOES acknowledge the reality of racism and the need for reconciliation. They have for several decades.

But their congregants do not.

Why not?

Because Evangelicals have been told NOT to trust authorities. NOT to listen to experts and academics. They’ve been ignorant of the fact that those tenets they’ve been following were developed by experts.

Experts in theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, and so on.

And slowly but surely a chasm has developed between the congregants and their institutions of leadership.

They’ve been told (by academics) that they shouldn’t trust academics.

They’ve been told (by experts) not to trust experts.

And now the experts have lost control. Those who imagined themselves to be leaders have lost any semblance of broader authority.

Their attempts to purge any reliance on scholarly analysis worked too well and when they try to exert influence on changes in ethnic reconciliation it is not working.

It’s the same with several other topics.

Immigration.

QAnon.

Identity Politics.

Religious Freedom.

That’s why the BLM decal in that window seems befuddling. The CRC leaders in training at their University recognize and believe in the need for racial reconciliation. But their congregants don’t care what they think.

Their congregants are forging their own socio-political culture and identity that despised expertise and study through higher learning institutions.

This is their reckoning; the reckoning of authority condemning authority without emphasizing that their authority should be the exception.

Those pundits denouncing BLM are the academics working on theology and religious scholarship. They are political figures, people with power on the mind. Not trained to lead as experts.

And therefore much more effective at leading their congregants.

Populist figures rather than institutional leaders.

Hospitals Run Out Of Room

I don’t know. I really have trouble being upset about this. Our healthcare system is a market system. It’s designed to make money, not to provide a service. Healthcare isn’t provided; it’s sold. The only reason they “provide” emergency services is because they have to in order to receive payments from Medicare (which is why there are private hospitals that don’t accept Medicare).

This is a market driven system. In fact we could make it a better market driven system by requiring everyone who shows up with covid related complications make an advanced payment. If they can’t, then they get turned away. And the hospitals would have plenty of room. This is the system we have and continue to chose.

This is what we want, this is what we get.

Some people, always the sickest amongst us, already know this about our healthcare system because we’ve sought complex care outside of the ER and walked into a pay-up-or-get-out scenario.

I’m numb to this. I’ve accepted that we don’t care enough about each other to provide healthcare services. We’d rather sell them as a for-profit product.

That’s we want.

And it’s what we get.

Freedom

There is a repeated trope that is sometimes derived from some understanding of neurology that we don’t have free will.

But it’s a twisting of facts.

We do have free will. The truth that’s being twisted is about the form free will take, because it’s often different from the way we imagine it.

We often think if free will as the ability to make a decision in the moment.

What’s true is that we often don’t make a decision in the moment but instead rely on habits we’ve built up over time when determining behavior.

But we can change our habits. The the lie or manipulation is ignoring our ability to alter our habitual reactions. It’s an inherent neuro-cognitive process of the brain that we can evaluate the outcomes of our habitual behaviors and alter them in order to secure better outcomes.

Changing habits can be hard for sure. But it’s not impossible. And it’s the best way to ensure that we are making decisions about our behavior instead of relying on our pre-existing habits unthinkingly.

A sort of logic

Many of the things we believe come down to our assumptions. We might look at someone else and think their beliefs don’t make sense, that they are irrational.

Sometimes true.

But frequently we are missing something. We are missing the set of assumptions they are relying on.

For example, think about climate change.

Then assume that the world is ending. Not that you think it might be ending or could be ending. Assume that you are 100% positive the world will come to an end in the next decade or two.

Not just a generic eschatology either. Assume one of the more common and ostensibly orthodox western evangelical Protestant Christian eschatologies: the world is about to be utterly destroyed by a supreme deity that will then bring into being a new, perfected creation.

Assume that you know for sure that those events are about to play out. Or that they have already begun.

If so, why would climate change matter?

Why would mass extinctions and biodiversity loss matter?

Why would overpopulation and population sustainability matter?

If that assumption is true then none of those things matter.

I know that it is easy to shrug this topic off. Easy to say to ourselves: no one really believes that eschatological stuff.

But they do. Some believe it fervently and it informs their every decision and defines their entire thought process.

Many have a more dynamic thought process influenced by a host of other assumptions. But this end times belief is still one of their foundational assumptions about the world. It still informs and shapes their beliefs and actions. Even if they don’t think about eschatology with any regularity it still has an influence on all their cognitive processes.

Race

This is a map of “races”. The specific grouping here are: Ethiopian, Caucasian, Mongolian, Malaysian, and American. These classifications are nonsense. If you look at the groupings on the map you’ll notice areas where groups with recent common ancestry are grouped separately while others seem to have arbitrarily determined boundaries that ignore the long standing intermingling of the people on both sides of that boundary.

These groupings are not scientific.

It is true that some early anthropologists tried to determine biological realities that could create distinct biological categories. Those attempts did and have ultimately failed.

Instead, influencial figures like Kant & Hume came to define and popularize the biological notion of race. These were NOT scientists. They were European philosophers formulating justifications for European superiority. They did no research. They provided no evidence.

And the 4-5 categories that emerged are still assumed today to be real. Whether it’s European/Caucasian/White or Ethiopian/African or any other variation, the notions survive and continue to define popular ideas of biology.

To begin dismantling the various forms of racism we need to dismantle these systems of thought. You don’t just find these falsehoods showing up in explicit and overt racism.

You’ll literally find terms like “Caucasian” in medical records.

You’ll find populations with known genetic mutations, like the HEXA gene in people Ashkenazi Jewish descent, being the focus of study, while other groups categorized as a different “race” are ignored. This has resulted in these populations suffering from lack of genetic counseling because the issue hasn’t been identified, such as the prevalence of mutations of the HEXA gene in people of Irish descent, which was only recently recognized because of the lack of research resulting from prejudiced attitudes arising from inaccurate concepts of race. Same has shown to be true of the malaria hypothesis.

You’ll find cases like the industrial redlining in the US. Where postbellum policies led to the creation of toxic industrial zones intentional concentrated in the communities of disenfranchised former African slaves and their descendants, a practice that literally continues to this day. So while many medical conditions were tied to “race” in these communities, we have now clearly demonstrated that the environmental impact of the industrial zones is the catalyst, not ancestry. This is even more obvious in areas where different ancestral groups slowing integrated in these industrial zones and the rates of specific medical conditions rose in all ancestral groups. Similar issues apply to notions of “racial” health risks that ignore the environment impact of sun exposure and folate, which applies to any ancestral population with similar skin tones regardless of geographic origin but relative to the location of that population to the equator.

You’ll even find the incredibly disturbing influence that pseudoscientific beliefs about race had on people of African descent in the US throughout the covid pandemic after several groups & individuals made claims (largely online) that people of African ancestry could not catch the SARS-CoV-2 virus

As Nina Jablonski states:

“Race has a hold on history but no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies to deal with human diversity and inequity won’t be easy, but it must be done”

This is by far the most difficult task in confronting racism on all levels because we have become so heavily invested in our erroneous conceptions of race and integrated them so deeply into our identities that we’ll end up kicking and screaming to hold onto them.

I would say that the start is to understand that these categories were created and expounded by non-scientists specifically to justify their own sense of inherent superiority; that all attempts to justify distinct biological race categories have failed because the evidence has shown and continues to show that there aren’t any.

Persistencism

I’ve been trying to define the core element of Donald Trump’s socio-political approach.

Many have just been saying “Trumpism” but I’d rather have it derive for one of the components of the approach.

Finally got it.

Persistence.

If you Google it persistence you get this:

noun: persistence

1. firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

This perfectly describes his basic strategy. Make a statement and then repeat, repeat, repeat.

No matter what.

And the sad thing is that as a technique Persistencism works quite well.

It plays off some basic neuro-cognitive mechanisms.

Hearing something from someone you trust makes it seem more believable. And hearing something over and over makes it seem more believable.

Persistencism

Likely a lasting force in American politics for the foreseeable future.

Superior

We need to stop using the term: racist.

It’s being misused.

The issue is much broader. It’s a big tent issue.

Plain racism is about ancestry. The belief that those with a specific biological ancestry are superior to those without that ancestry.

There are other terms extrapolated from racism, mostly dealing with historical contexts that have produced some form of lasting inequality.

But the emphasis on ancestry is currently dissolving and pupating into something different. Something more dynamic.

I would use the term: ethnocentrism.

This term can have a few different interpretations as well so here is the specific definition I am using: the attitude that one’s own culture is superior to others.

This is similar to a belief in superiority based on ancestry but with a progressive inclusiveness interwoven. So even though racism may still lurk within the current emergent movement of ethnocentrism, the movement is ultimately evolving past it.

The emphasis in ancestral racism is that something biologically superior has been inherited from parents at birth.

The emergent ethnocentrism emphasizes that something culturally superior has been inherited at birth.

That is why this movement is so much broader. The ancestry of the person is not relevant; they inherit the superiors from the cultural norms and practices of those around them. Or, even more intriguingly, outsiders can inherit that superiority by converting, by adopting the superior culture.

As much as racist views and practices may still permeate some aspects of this movement towards ethnocentrism, the movement is definitely in the process of shedding the racism.

The movement is stronger in its reach because it can recruit more individual without having to birth them.

Irreconcilable

All this talk about

“Coming Together”

“Finding Common Ground”

“Uniting the Country”

I get it, I understand the motivation for unity. But it’s not happening.

Can we reconcile the view that abortion is acceptable with the view that it’s acceptable under certain circumstances? Sure. At least there is the potential for a compromise.

But we absolutely can not reconcile the view that from the moment of conception forward all abortion is murder with any view that some form of abortion is permissible.

There is no middle ground to be found there, the 2 views exclude the possibility that the other can be accommodated.

We might say “well those are extreme views”. Quite right. And in this country those with extreme views are the most politically motivated and they are more likely to shape the makeup of the government.

Same applies with LBGTQ+ stances.

The people who want to be welcoming but not quite affirming could potentially find some common ground with the people who are affirming. Maybe.

But there are those who believe every issue pertaining LGBTQ+ is purely about personal choices and that all of those choices are inherently wrong and evil. They can never reconcile with the affirming.

There is no middle ground between the LGBTQ+ are evil and the LGBTQ+ should be affirmed camps.

Same with many others.

The views cannot accommodate each other.

Our country has been building to this confrontation for a long, long time. Failing to acknowledge this will prolong the current hostility and escalate the final confrontation.

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.