In the year 1776, just a few short years after attempting to make the largest cup of tea in the history of the world in the Boston harbor, because Americans like big things or possibly other reasons, the American colonies declared independence from the United Kingdom. [The British were unimpressed, inspiring the idiom, “That’s weak tea.”] In doing so, they prepared one of the greatest documents in history, calling it the Declaration of Independence. The preamble of that declaration is one of the best and most beautiful pieces of prose ever written, saying:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
I’m not sure that anyone had ever said that treasured phrase before. See, I love that they said that. They were willing to set out at the beginning of their argument the things that they didn’t think needed proof or explanation. It’s possible, though, that they missed some truths they held to be self evident even before that, like who the “men” that were created equal included.
Things got awkward from there, as the constitution they established for their United States of America allowed for slaves without any right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness – or even life, really. Those rights certainly weren’t unalienable for them. Beyond that, in Article I, section ii, they say that for census purposes, all free people are to be counted fully, but all slaves are only worth 3/5 of a person. But all men are created equal. That’s self-evident.
Maybe it’s that they’re created equal but can be made less equal? Maybe it’s that “men” doesn’t mean slave men?
Maybe the problem is the term “self evident.”
Because all of our arguments begin with the truths we hold to be self-evident. They’re so evident to us that they remain unsaid but at their core aren’t evident at all to the people we’re arguing with.
I’m going to jump in on #TakeAKnee, here. Congratulations if you already got there before me. You’re very smart. Now bear with me, because afterwards we’re going to jump off somewhere different.
People in the United States are currently very angry with each other. You may have noticed. I’m Canadian, so I’m not angry with anybody, although I’m sorry for that. They’re angry because one professional football player decided that during the playing of the national anthem he would go down on one knee rather than stand. He chose to do this because he believed that it would bring attention to the fact that people who looked like him were generally not, in fact, considered by people who look like me to have been created equal with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People who look like me would generally deny that, of course, but based on what was going on in the news at the time, he held that truth to be self evident. Self evident is the fact that this garnered more national attention and conversation than just about any other peaceful way he could have brought this topic up.
It sparked so much debate that the President of the United States called him a son of a bitch, along with the many, many others who have followed up this football player’s lead, taking up the practice of kneeling during the national anthem until all the supposedly equal people who don’t look like me have the unalienable rights that I people who look like me have. It sparked so much debate that people have called for his job and his life. People are very, very angry.
So they argue. For the most part, the angry people aren’t even arguing about what the players are protesting, though – they’re arguing about the form that protest takes.They do it mostly in comments and tweets. And they aren’t hearing each other. They can’t understand… they can’t fathom why people on the other side of the debate can hold such stupid, ill-informed opinions and beliefs.
Maybe it’s because there’s no room for preamble in a tweet and no one reads a comment long enough to have one, and the truths that they hold self evident stand only in the background.
Leaving behind the reasons for the protest, we focus on whether or not it’s okay for someone to kneel during the nation anthem. After all, men have fought and died for that anthem and the flag it describes, and to disrespect that anthem is to disrespect them. And it disrespects the country. And the principles the country was founded on. And we hold those principles dearly. They are sacred. The flag is sacred. The anthem is sacrosanct. This is not an acceptable form of protest. That is self evident.
Leaving behind the reasons for the protest, we focus on whether or not it’s okay for someone to kneel during the nation anthem. After all, men have fought and died for centuries for the right to self expression and peaceful protest against government-sanctioned tyranny; for the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all equal men. The greatest way to honor their sacrifice is to exercise the rights they fought and died for in an attempt to make better the country that the flag and anthem represent. Kneeling during the anthem is a profoundly patriotic form of protest. That is self evident.
And so these two mutually exclusive, self evident truths put pots on their heads and run at each other like rutting sheep until there’s nothing left but pain and a lot of loud, clanging noise. And that is a microcosm of how we treat each other all the time in every debate we engage in, and it’s why we just get angrier instead of understanding each other.
I’m not an expert in football. I’m not really an expert in America or American politics, although I have watched The West Wing through three times and have a Facebook account. What I am a theoretical expert in is communication and Christian religious expression. And that’s why it’s taken me a thousand words to come to what I really want to say.
Every embittered, vitriolic argument that we get into is because we hold truths to be self evident. And they aren’t. Virtually no truth is self evident. I mean, it’s evident to ourselves, but we can’t assume that it’s evident to everyone else’s selves. And that is incredibly difficult to get our heads around. We resist that discovery. We can’t understand how anything so MIND-BLOWINGLY OBVIOUS can’t be understood by THESE IDIOTS who are clearly OBSTINATE AND WILLFULLY IGNORANT. And neither can they. About us.
When the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:20 that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse,” what he’s saying is that the truth of God is self-evident. His qualities. His desires. His very existence. And we, who are Christians, tend to agree. Whether from our observations of the natural world, our studies of scripture, our indoctrination, or our experiences with the supernatural world, we enter into every conversation and debate with that underlying principle: God Is. And not only Is he, but his word and will known. And not only are his word and will know, but they are paramount.
Atheists enter the discussion knowing that the natural, observable world is all there is. There is no Invisible Sky-Man having a floating tea-party with a flying spaghetti monster. Religion is simply an attempt by the elite to control the masses or a crutch for the intellectually and emotionally needy. That is self evident.
And that’s fine when the argument is about God’s existence, because those core issues are in play. We’re debating those things that we each hold to be self evident, and even if we can’t understand why the other side doesn’t, we understand that the bearing they have on the discussion.
The problem comes during the myriad of other cultural land-mines we discuss.
Same sex marriage.
In every discussion one side enters in holding certain truths to be self evident. God is. His will is apparent. His will is paramount. [In the case of abortion, that a fetus or zygote or whatever is a fully human person, created equal and endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.]
The other side side enters in holding the self evident truths that personal equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights, personal decision is sacrosanct, and no one can take them away on the millennia old, made up word of some invisible sky-man.
Even within the Christian community, we carry beliefs about the nature of God that inform every position we hold, every nuanced interpretation of scripture, every way we live out our faith in the world. And we hold them to be self evident. Calvinists hold the truth to be self evident that God’s sovereignty extends to willing all that happens. Arminians hold the truth to be self evident that God’s love necessitates free will for his creation.
We all agree that God is Love, but somewhere underneath it is a self evident truth about what that means that others don’t find to be evident at all.
We all agree that love is good, but somewhere underneath it is a self evident truth about what that means that others don’t find to be evident at all.
We assume that our interpretation of scripture is correct.
We assume that other people should care about what we understand scripture teaches.
We assume that if we are just forceful enough, other people will accede to our self evident truths and thereby arrive at the same position we hold that flows from them.
But we keep arguing the position that flows from them and will never arrive at agreement unless we can agree on the foundational principles that under-gird them.
We need to take a deep breath and accept that the truths we hold dear are not self evident. They require knowledge and experience to arrive at. And maybe, just maybe, we haven’t had the knowledge and experience to arrive at the truths that someone else holds to be self evident.
Does this mean we quit talking? Of course not. But it means we have to have a measure of grace for each other. We have to understand that people who disagree with us are not intrinsically stupid or mean-spirited or whatever. They are using a different foundation to build on. Unless we understand their foundation, their building won’t make sense. And we ridicule things that don’t make sense. And that doesn’t make anything better.
So we talk. We share our stories. We share our beliefs. We listen as other people do the same. We stop making statements as if they are self evident. And we do all this with the basic assumption that their argument makes as much sense as ours does. We find out how they got there and discuss that. In order to be understood, we must first seek to understand. That’s useful communication. That’s loving communication. That’s Godly communication. Otherwise all anyone hears is a clanging gong or a noisy cymbal. That’s why the soundtrack of our world is a vast multitude of pots banging against each other and wounded people falling to the ground.
I hold that truth to be self evident.
I love being outraged. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. I know that I’m right in feeling that way, because the entire internet agrees with me. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Trust me. Being outraged is all the rage. Anyone can do it. All you have to do is find something in your Facebook feed that one of your friends is offended over and jump on the endorphin train. You don’t even have to read past the headline, just head straight to the comments, fire up the ALL-CAPS and go to town, because—
1. Being Outraged Gives a Wonderful Sense of Community
You’re about to join a team! Everyone loves being on a team, especially if it looks like it’s going to be the winning team. It can even be fun being on a losing team if you get to feel like a misunderstood martyr, though, so you don’t have to be picky. Go with your gut—that way, you know that the other people on your team are like you and you aren’t alone. There’s an epidemic of aloneness in the world, and social media outrage is one of the best ways to fight that. You have something in common. You’re doing things with people, and that’s like having friends! Not only that, but, win or lose, you and your friends are the best people, because—
2. Being Outraged Proves Your Moral Superiority
You’re better than two whole kinds of people! Not only are you better than the idiots that support the thing you’re outraged about, you’re WAY better than the apathetic wretches who let such an outrageous thing slide! If you’re outraged, clearly you have a much more finely tuned sense of right and wrong than they do, and you are amazingly passionate about it. Your all-encompassing outrage means that can feel confident in your superior morality—any insignificant things that might be wrong in your life pale in comparison to this injustice anyway. If you’ve been wondering if you’re a good person, comfortable with your first world problems in your comfortable chair, outrage is your new best friend! Even if nothing else comes of your cause of the week—
3. Being Outraged Lets You Feel Like You’re Doing Something
You’ve done your part by raising awareness of the issue! Really, the biggest problems in the world come because no one knows about them. Sure, you’re not going to be the one to leave the house and physically do something, and you’re probably not going to spend your coffee money fighting it, but if you Like and Share and type enough, someone else probably will, and that’s basically the same thing as doing it yourself. I mean, if someone else does something because you told them about it, you should really get the credit. Who has time to leave the keyboard when there are so many WRONG people that need to be corrected anyway. They don’t know what they’re talking about. You do. And you’re going to make sure they know it, because—
4. Being Outraged Frees You From Challenging Your Preconceptions
You are the proud owner of THE TRUTH! Attacks on THE TRUTH must be crushed with extreme prejudice, and you and your team are going to do it. You don’t have to care what stupid people think; what’s important is that they know they’re wrong. If you’re yelling loud enough, they’ll change their mind. What they have to say isn’t important anyway. You’re far too mad to listen to that drivel. If you start to feel yourself waver, remember that if they were good people, if they were smart people, they’d be on your team. Your team says so. The last thing you want is for your brain to be infected with their inane stupidity. You’re OUTRAGED! And you wouldn’t waste your time being outraged about something that you weren’t certain about. If they’re starting to make sense, go on the attack because—
5. Being Outraged Cuts Off Any Possibility of Real Interaction
You don’t want to deal with ignorant people anyway! Balanced opinions and perspectives are a waste of time. No one listens to those. Going straight to full-on outrage saves you from having to work through the pesky issue for yourself. What’s really important is knowing your talking points. Once you have those, you just have to repeat them over and over again until everyone else capitulates. If there’s no one there to capitulate, even better! You and your team can run through your talking points for practice in case there ever is. Listening to other people say the same things that you already believe is spectacularly comforting. Look how smart and wise and learned you are! If they the other side can’t see that, they’ve just proven your point.
So, as you can see, I’ve conclusively proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that netrage is the best thing ever, and you’re an inbred piece of filth if you don’t think so too! What’s your favorite thing about being outraged on the internet?
*The above post is satire, for crying out loud. I also tagged it as satire in the satire category. I will be outraged if you don’t get that.
As a pastor, I sometimes have trouble in “the ministry” because I don’t look like a pastor. There’s something in my demeanour that doesn’t scream “pastoral”. Despite being 32, people often place me at 24 and treat me younger. I blame my complete inability to grow decent facial hair. Also, my hair is kind of green right now, but that doesn’t count because it was dyed for a youth retreat last weekend. I lack a certain gravitas and probably always will. Such is my lot in life. I get some cred as a youth pastor though, and have been told that I’d fit in well leading one of those young churches… maybe a university church. I might be able to play it off in a specialized role at a mega-church. Young people would like me.
As a youth pastor, I’ve been concerned with young people. I work with them, I love them, and to some extent, I love their culture. I spend time focusing on how to relate to them, how to relate God to them, and how to get them to relate to God. As someone who’s still pretty young myself, I also have my own young person preferences and desires for worship. Sometimes that means I look at the way things are being done on Sunday morning and say “that’s not cool,” with the assumption that we need to make things cool, so that young people will come. Maybe that’s the music. Maybe it’s the volume. Maybe it’s the appearance of the stage (sorry, “platform,” I was recently crapped on by a church member for calling it a “stage.” [Also, I just said “crapped on,” which isn’t very pastoral]). Maybe it’s how the message is communicated. It’s been drilled into me, and into most of the evangelical church world, that “young people are the future of the church,” and if we don’t get them, the church is going to die. So now, many churches are doing their best to make our sanctuaries look like this:
I like that. It’s cool. It inspires me. I want to be on that stage. I want to be in that crowd. I can also pretty much guarantee that there is more green hair in that crowd than grey. This is what church looks like to this generation, and you’d better get on board, because this generation has to be reached for the Lord. We look at most of the “big” churches that show up in church media circles, and we see this as a functional model, because they’re growing. Younger people are flooding through the front doors and experiencing God in new and fresh ways.
Unfortunately, it seems that older people are quietly finding the back door.
There are times when I love watching YouTube videos of Hillsong live recordings, or Elevation Worship, or a giant event that Chris Tomlin is leading. But once I get past how awesome it looks to have so many hands raised to the sky, and so many people moved to tears by God’s grace and glory, it starts to bother me that the camera tends to linger on the same few middle aged people. Maybe it keeps returning to the one grandparent in the crowd. It pans over a thousand 20-somethings and rests on the exception to give the impression that this is for everyone – or at least everyone who can “get with what God is doing now.”
I’ve heard people (to be honest, I’ve been people) who have almost rejoiced at older people leaving the church, because it gave more freedom to do something new. We’ve embraced the immortal words of Barney Stinson: “New is ALWAYS better.” We feel the need to leave behind the old so that we can reach out to the new. It’s more important for us to reach the new than minister to the old because… because. Because new is always better. Maybe because the old are “already saved” and getting people “saved” is the end all and be all of our purpose, so once they’re “saved” we can forget about them and go save someone else. Why aren’t we worried about “saving” anyone over 50? And is anyone other than me concerned that in 20 years, we’ll be the ones shown the back door?
Yeah, I’m a young looking 32, but I’m ageing. The things that I like and the things that I liked when growing up aren’t the things that capture the imagination of the newest breed. My pop-culture references are taking work to stay relevant. Quoting Friends is met with blank stares. Some of the kids I work with have never even heard of Friends! So observe, and tremble. We have our vision of what church should look like, and in the future we cool ones are going to be fighting just as hard for our archaic modes of worship as those we mock today. Culture is changing so fast that we can’t even conceive of what that’s going to look like.
In the mean-time, we’re losing the idea that church is for everyone. We’re losing the idea that the family of God and the Body of Christ includes people that don’t like what we like. Maybe we’ve already lost it… hey, I’ve been on the other side of the equation (and reacted against it) at a church that refused to make any accommodation at all for the preferences of a new generation. It’s like churches are being forced to make a decision about which generation they are going to minister to (or to be so bland and middle-of-the-road that people will just head off to one of their preference-specific congregations anyway), and so one church loses the vigour, passion, and energy of the young, and another misses out on the wisdom and experience of the old.
I’ve become more and more convinced that the root of this evil is the idea that Sunday morning is for saving people, and that the attraction of the church should be the attraction of worshipping God. We’ve come to expect Sunday morning to be the primary point of contact between people and God. We want a place that people will be drawn to with excitement. We want a place where people will want to be because what is offered there is what they want to see. We want it to say “see, God is for you.”
And God is for you. But God’s also for him. And her. And the crying infant in the back. And the toddler rolling out into the aisle to chase their Hot Wheels car. And the embarrassed mother reigning them in, who should’t be embarrassed because God loves the fact that her kid is growing up in church surrounded by people that he is for. Like the 40-something woman in the other row that’s having trouble worshipping because she secretly envies the embarrassed mother because she can have children. Or the guy in his 50s that is completely tone-deaf and can’t keep rhythm to save his life. And his mother and father who taught him to love God with his whole mind and not his voice. And the elder with the walker that can’t decide whether to turn up his hearing aid to hear the music or turn it off so he can’t.
Sunday morning is about coming together as the family of God and the body of Christ, and joining together to worship and grow. And that’s hard. It’s so much harder than breaking off into little (or large) homogeneous groups worshipping in our own superior ways. And we panic, because coming together as the whole messy old and young body probably isn’t overly attractive to the world.
Man, I’ve gone on for a while here… I’m going to wrap it up soon, I promise. I don’t want to end it on this complaint, though, I want to talk about the solution. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wanting to hear it. By now you’ve forgotten that I’ve got weird hair, and my baby-face doesn’t matter on the other side of a wall of text. TL;DR has no meaning for you. Well done.
So here’s my solution: Forget about saving people. Churches should not be in the business of saving people. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be saved at church. I’m not saying that the Gospel shouldn’t be preached. I’m saying that that’s not the primary purpose of Sunday morning. The primary purpose of Sunday morning should be to equip us to be like Jesus. You know why people flocked to Jesus? Because he was like Jesus. You know who else can be like Jesus? Us. The Bible says so. Do you think a church with a congregation full of people like Jesus would do anything but grow? Who cares what the stage looks like. Who cares what the music is or what volume it’s played at. People would come.
People would come because we would be living lives of love that reached out to the people around us rather than insulating ourselves from them. People would come because we’re living holy lives – a holiness not focused merely on preserving ourselves from corruption but instead focused on setting ourselves apart for God – living as the people God made us to be, for the purpose he made us to have. People would come because they’d want what we have. People would come because they want to be like Jesus too.
We wouldn’t have to worry about front doors or back doors on our churches, because doors wouldn’t hold us.
I know… easier said than done. I know I’m not nearly as good at doing it as I am writing it.
What do you think?
Sometimes I like to think of myself as “mechanically inclined”. I love to take things apart. When I was a kid, if it had screws and I had a screwdriver, it had a good chance of being disassembled as far as I could make it go. Sometimes if it didn’t have screws, but looked like it should come apart, I’d make a yeoman’s effort at it anyway. I always wanted to get down to the nuts and bolts of things. Knowing that something worked, what it was for, how to make it work, those things weren’t enough. I wanted to know why it worked.
Of course, most of the time when I opened things up, the workings were more electronic than mechanical. I’d get as far as “the buttons push this lever, which presses on a doohicky, and that awakens the magical microscopic leprechauns.” The same leprechauns that keep airplanes aloft [You may think that you know why airplanes can fly, but look it up… the truth is that the physics don’t actually add up. Weird, eh?]. Unfortunately, I found that once it was apart, getting things back together in working condition proved much more challenging. I called it “learning”. Other people called it “breaking”. Whatever. In case you were wondering, that’s why I didn’t become a doctor.
AAAAnnnnyyyyway… let’s add that little tidbit in with the well established fact that I have a strong penchant for healthy debate [virulent rhetorical argument], and a basic theological education. The end result is that I wind up having pleasant online chats with other armchair theologians who hold different points of view, that occasionally only stop short of blows because they can’t feel it when I hit my monitor.
A lot of you won’t care about most of this post. It’s not an issue that a lot of people think or care about. Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. Such is life. Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a little Theology (study of God) 101: Outside of the Catholic/Protestant debates, the biggest split in Christian theology is between Calvinists and Arminians. If you’re a Christian, and don’t know which you are, I’ll tell you how to figure it out at the end of this post.
I’m an Arminian. My arguments with Calvinists often end with me repeatedly placing my head against my keyboard violently. I’ve actually (for the most part) stopped engaging in them. Why? I took the argument apart. From an Arminian point of view, an argument looks like a frank exchange of ideas; open and reasoned. I love that. From a Calvinist point of view, an argument looks like this:
And that’s stupid.
Some of you are laughing. Some of you are confused. This may help: The Calvinist world-view revolves around God’s sovereignty (ruling authority) and active, wilful control of everything. When I debate, after we burn through the stock arguments that each side comes equipped with, I try to sit back and process based on the premise their holding – give it a test drive, if you will. This is what I got from putting myself in the place of a Calvinist arguing with me:
God, in his sovereignty, has decided that we will meet this day. Leading up to this day, he has arranged our lives and controlled our beliefs that we might have a different view of him. He has brought us together at this point, so that he might force you to speak words that are untrue about him, and have me speak words that are true about him. He will make me very emphatic about this, and cause me to insinuate that he created you to be less than intelligent, although since the ability to process information is irrelevant when he decides everything we think or say, it has no bearing on the discussion. He will have me point out to you how wrong you are to believe the untrue things that he caused you to believe. Then he’s going to make you disbelieve the things that he’s made me say, and cause you to say things that might make me doubt my position, except that he ordained that I hold to these beliefs, and so I have no choice but to continue to do so. He will keep us arguing for a while, dictating the debate, and compelling us to hold our original positions because it serves his greater glory to be seen making two people contend over the issue before other people that he has willed either to agree, disagree, or not care at all, and as a witness to the people he has caused not to believe in him.
And then my head exploded.
I honestly can’t wrap my head around holding this position. It doesn’t make any sense to me [but that’s okay, because God willed it not to], and seems internally inconsistent [but it’s not. It only seems that way because God decided to make me not understand its consistency]. What gets me is how worked up Calvinists get about it. They’re pulling out scripture, they’re trying to make logical arguments, they’re giving experiential anecdotes. Some of them seem very proud of their ability to work through this all and present it to people. It’s as if they think that their ability is their own, or their effort their own, or even their words their own. Then they get angry if someone continues to disagree with them as if it’s not God causing the people they’re arguing with to say the things they’re saying and their emotions are controlled by something other than the direct will of God. It’s like they believe that either party has a choice in the matter. It’s like they’re Arminian.
So you can argue with me about this, but don’t get mad. God wills everything, ipso facto, It’s God’s will that I post this. In fact, he dictated it, so get mad at him – they’re his words.
I promised at the beginning of this post that I’d help the Christians reading this to figure out if they’re Calvinist Christians or Arminian Christians. Here’s the test: If God brought you to this page and caused you to get angry at the crap he just caused me to write, you’re a Calvinist. If you came to this page and got mad because I wrote stuff that was clearly both wrong and offensive to God and right-thinking Christians, you’re an Arminian that thinks you’re a Calvinist. If you either found this amusing and agreed with it, or thought it was boring and pointless, you’re an Arminian. Hope that helps.
From now on, instead of getting into the debate, I’ll just link them here.