Trials and errors

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse was held this week, with his lawyers bringing evidence that the teenager was acting in self-defense when he killed two men and shot another. A key witness for the prosecution admitted, under oath, that he had pulled his gun first, before being shot in the arm by Rittenhouse. The witness, Gaige Grosskreutz, later contradicted his testimony during an interview with CNN, and that version of the story Mainstream Media was happy to amplify.

Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense, but broke down before he could complete his testimony. The Babylon Bee‘s sarcasm was apt— Rittenhouse had been tried and found guilty by a “bunch of lunatics with blue checks.” LeBron James tweeted that the teen was faking and Merriam-Webster felt it needed to explain what “crocodile tears” are. Yet, despite the efforts of news outlets and social media to obscure or block reports about the trial, interest in it has highlighted the way a hastily constructed narrative is often a skewed one. With the race riots of last summer clearly in view, many assumed the victims were black. It was also assumed that Rittenhouse was the aggressor, but evidence is mounting that that is not the case.

The easy explanation given by large media outlets through last year, is a familiar one— Rittenhouse is a trigger-happy white male who went to a protest to shoot people, because he is a racist vigilante. Journalist Elijah Schaffer was in Kenosha during the events and shares a very different perspective. He watched the riots go unchecked by police and authorities for two days before the citizens of the city took it upon themselves to protect businesses and buildings. He saw residents prevent rioters from setting fire to a gas station, provoking them to chase Rittenhouse.

The court of public opinion will not rest any time soon, but the truth under the presuppositions of media reports is evident if you are willing to dig for it. For many, this trial is about guns and race and rioting. But at its heart is the life and reputation of a young man, who had a desire to do something to defend what he cares about. Whether the tragic shootings could have been avoided, whether Rittenhouse was ill-advised or brave, this case will cause sober-minded folks to reflect on what is worth defending in this decaying age. Pray for wisdom for the judge and jury as they hear more evidence and decide the case. Pray for peace in our nation. 

Leviathan is a Propaganda Machine

Most human beings want predictable comfort in a stable environment.” – Dr. Adam Koontz, a BHoP upcoming episode.

Multiplicity and complication are in the nature of evil. The internet devours your humanity one exciting/worthless thing at a time. Every new tingle, each next scroll, just one more “one more moment” is another percentage point of your daily dose of willpower used for nothing much, flapping away on the breeze.

Where did all that heart go? Didn’t you dream of so much more?

Capacity to reflect is indirectly proportional to the amount of new information you absorb. Too much input may not slow down your output, but it will decrease the value of your output to you. If your silence is always drowned out by the thoughts of others, you can hardly expect to have any valuable thoughts of your own.

Spiritual problems do not benefit from consumer solutions, no matter what the label says.

Till angel cry and trumpet sound,
The Mad Christian

Spirits in a material world

person holding silver chain link bracelet
Worshippers of the Singularity gathered in Spain recently to discuss the religion of transhumanism. Attendees at the TransVision 21 conference listened to presentations about the promise of immortality as a cyborg, in a Matrix-style future. While that all sounds outlandish and far away, the basic tenets of transhumanism are quietly being accepted at a granular level. Eleanor Cummins has written a piece at Wiredwhich reveals a lot about the strange times we are in. Though she may not have intended to, Cummins draws together a number of threads which show how pervasive the transhuman worldview is becoming.

She notes how conducting our lives online for a year or more has reduced us to a “brain in a jar” mentality. But far from seeing this as  detrimental, Cummins suggests this as a potential cure for society’s ills. She writes that lockdowns and isolation gave “non-binary” people a chance to acknowledge the “dysphoria they feel out in the world.” In other words, mediating our shared existence through digital apparatus has deluded some people into thinking of themselves apart from their physical bodies. She reports this as a helpful revelation.

Cummins then applies this logic to the hot topic of social media’s toxicity to teen girls. Going beyond body positivity (where everyone feels good about how they look), or even body neutrality (which appreciates bodies for what they can do), Cummins suggests we should stop thinking about our bodies altogether. A psychologist quoted throughout the piece hopes the future will mean a complete absence of images of people. Problem solved.

Cummins raises some interesting points about how “self-objectification” and “self-surveillance” are features and bugs of the digital white noise. But the proposed solution is way too simplistic. Reducing inputs is a good thing. Thinking about yourself less is a good thing. But if you are ignorant of the corruption in fallen human nature, digital technology will just curve you further in on yourself. From youths who gazed at themselves in pools, to the trillions of selfies taken today, unhealthy comparison, discontent and alienation from others are often magnified by digital technology.

St James reminded his readers that what causes conflict and discontent is the idolatry in human hearts. “You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend what you request on your pleasures.” This problem is not one that will be fixed by discarding or ignoring our bodies but by being killed and made alive. Our Savior is the firstfruit, a picture of what we will be. His work begun in the waters of our baptism will be completed, not in a super machine, but in the Kingdom of our risen King. 

Rules are made to be broken

cyclone fence in shallow photography
Facebook has a fresh set of fires to put out, with news coming last week that the social media company has separate rules for several million VIPs. A leaked document says that many celebrities, politicians and “influencers” are on Facebook’s special whitelist, XCheck, meaning their posts are not subjected to moderation. Digital content moderation is a booming industry but is notoriously damaging to the humans who protect us from the most vile of content.

In another big story last week, a report concluded that Facebook has been aware of Instagram’s harmful affect on teenage girls, but has seemingly ignored it.

Bloomberg has reported about new details in a mysterious hack on Juniper, a company which develops and sells networking products. In 2015, suspected Chinese hackers gained access to data flowing through Juniper’s network. In details uncovered by Bloomberg, the hackers gained access through an algorithm, installed as a “backdoor” by the NSA. The case is an interesting study in how government’s desire to keep ahead of the bad guys often hurts the citizens they are trying to protect. In other news, IBM has found a booming “dark” market for cloud credentials.

For those playing along at home, the legal tussle between Apple and gaming company Epic seems to be drawing to a conclusion, with Forbes breaking down the outcomes of the latest ruling.

Among us

Right on cue, Facebook seems to have made itself an indispensable “fifth column,” with Red State reporting that new pop-up warnings are appearing on people’s feeds. The message warns users that they may have “been exposed to harmful extremist content.” Another asks whether the user is concerned that “someone you know is becoming extremist.” 

Both pop-ups link to a page for an organization which is “committed to helping people leave the violent far-right.” So now you see how the game is played. It does not seem a far cry from the tactics of Communist China

Burdened with glorious purpose

It’s hard to avoid news about social media right now and understandably so. The power available to these few corporations has never been so evident. Many who’ve watched “The Social Dilemma” will know that the founders of the biggest social media companies assumed their apps would increase unity and understanding across the world. Yet, what we see is the dividing of America, with each tribe attributing the worst motives to the other. 

So, why does social media aim so high but fail so hard? Why do they think that people will all be nice, if there are just enough incentives? Why do they assume that being exposed to different opinions will cause the formation of a singular, harmonious worldview? There are many possibilities, but one potential reason is that there’s something in the water in Silicon Valley – humanitarianism.

If you tuned in to the Saturday Morning Chill when Pastor John Bombaro was a guest, you would have heard him warn against humanitarianism, the biggest, baddest ideology everyone assumes is all sweetness and light.  While many of us are familiar with progressive identity politics and its insatiable appetite, Pastor Bombaro says it is only the spawn of the larger beast: humanitarianism. Mad Christians will recognize different aspects of this worldview as we lay it out, but Pastor Bombaro’s definition is “humanity serving humanity for humanity’s sake alone.”

Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) formulated a nascent version of humanitarianism which he called “positivism.” Comte believed that humanity should move from a primitive “theological and military order to a scientific and industrial one..ushering in a ‘great…Republic‘ that would culminate in the comprehensive unity of the human race.” 

Politics professor Daniel J. Mahoney argues that humanitarianism is actually democratic pantheismIt is a religion which “refuses to distinguish between God and man, peoples and nations.” So while we couldn’t nail down a airtight definition, here is our attempt to deep-dive into the belly of the beast…

  • Humanitarianism presumes the ultimate reality is humanity, not God, and that it is the rightful object of our adoration. But as Professor Mahoney points out, no one really experiences “humanity.” While thinking about humanity as a whole can be useful, in reality, “we live in the only way we can live—in families, neighborhoods, countries, with particular persons in particular places.”
  • Humanitarianism is relativistic. Subjective ideas about the “good of humanity” or “meeting human need” are the basis of a DIY morality. “Without a transcendent source of value, all reasons for action become equally valid,” says Mahoney. But those who think humanity is bound for glory, by its own collective effort are “woefully ignorant of sin and of the tragic dimension of the human condition.” A denial of God’s law and man’s sin nature can only result in those with power forcing their morality on everyone else.
  • Humanitarianism denies the political and social nature of humans. Early critics of Comte’s ideas accused him of wanting “to abolish the political realm of human existence in its entirety.” He assumed that in a humanitarian Utopia, people would “always act in the best interests of humanity as a whole” doing away with the need for local civic life and institutions. Comte’s global hive mind of human goodness has never materialized, but it hasn’t stopped people from buying into his lofty ideals to create a global village.
  • For all the grandiose causes that get filed under humanitarianism, it is “remarkably passive.” You can claim to be humanitarian yet detach yourself “from the great ‘communities of action’, such as nations and churches.” Professing love for humanity is the only virtue that matters and this can be achieved, Mahoney says, through “a vague and undemanding sentimentality.” Shall we call it something like…virtue-signaling? He goes on to point out that what is lost is real virtue. Courage, faithfulness, self-control and charity are all forged within communities of people, from our families on outward. Mahoney laments that with humanitarianism, there is no formation of “heroes or saints.”
  • It is softly totalitarian. With the moniker “humanitarianism,” you would presume it would have a place for every human. But this “religion of humanity” turns on anyone who refuses to worship mankind and its improvement.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this, but in some ways, humanitarianism feels like the Voltron-form of many bad ideas that came before it. It contains the human-centric swagger of the Age of Reason, the Postmodernist retreat from truth, the disembodied navel-gazing of mysticism and the “woke” exclusivity of gnosticism. There are also similarities to America’s last religion, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism but minus the “D.”

Pondering the world’s problems and wanting to solve them is something Mad Christians can and should do. Yet the tenets of humanitarianism seek to subvert the true Faith, reducing “religion to a project of this-worldly amelioration,” as Professor Mahoney says. He challenges the church to examine how we think. He warns that humanitarian “categories and language have inserted themselves…into Christian thought. This infiltration prevents Christians at times from noticing that they’re arguing not in Christian categories but humanitarian ones.” 

So how do we start to detect it? How we speak (and think) may betray where the fissures are forming. The endless mangling of language from political correctness right through to Critical Theory’s semantic assault on reality have distracted the church into using words that are not her own. Rev. Fisk’s passion for recovering our way of speaking, especially about authority, men, and fathers is a place we could start. 

The ham-fisted attempt by our culture to bring about equality by erasing distinctions, especially between men and women (here and here for example), is a creeping fog we need to constantly push back against. Filling our minds with Scripture will help transmit the clarity of God’s words through the white noise.

Also, Pastor Bombaro noted that humanitarianism deals in generalities, not specifics, which provides another rubric to assess whether we are thinking Christianly. When we consider ways to help “our neighborhood,” do we think of an abstract group of people, or of actual neighbors God has placed in our lives? Is your energy to help “the poor” or to help a particular poor person you know of?

Resistance is not futile and we don’t need to be assimilated into the collective. We know who has the words of eternal life and his word is truth and life. 

God is the rightful object of our worship and his Law tells us what is good. 

He so loved the world and saved it by redeeming actual people, sinners, from different tribes and tongues, from different vocations and ranks.

His love for us compels us to love and serve our neighbor. 

While the humanitarian ideology seeks conformity to a prescribed identity and a global cause, the saints are, to borrow from Glenn Beck, stones not bricks. While it is easier to build a global empire with bricks, we broken and misshapen stones, are being built into a holy temple, with Christ as the Cornerstone. That is a more glorious future than any devised by men.