The Power of Social Media

I’ve been thinking about how we use social media lately. I’ve written on here a number of times about different aspects of it, but I think one of the bigger ones I have thus far missed is how we tend to think social media has collective power. We want people to see or read what we think about everything, and we want feedback or at least some sort of moral support for our situation/opinion. In fact, as soon as I’m done writing this and hit ‘publish’, it will automatically be shared to my Facebook page, so I’m not denouncing that desire. However, I think we’ve taken the idea that we have “connection” with people numerically to meaning that social media has some sort of actual power in the world to effect change. In some sense this is true, but on the whole it seems to fall very far from the intended mark.

Off the top of my head, I can remember where followers of Rhett and Link on Twitter once chased some day-time news station off using the hashtag #GMM, and half a dozen times where fans of certain YouTube personalities managed to motivate their followers into giving incredible amounts of money to charity or some kickstarter campaign. Aren’t these things proof positive that there is power in social media, if enough of us ban together? Sort of. I think this sort of power is a lot like what happens when you have one person in charge and they give orders to those underneath them, and they follow them. Obviously the social media examples I listed don’t have that sort of negative connotation to them, but you get my point. That sort of power is just being popular enough to tell a large group of people what to do, and have a reasonable certainty that the group will do what you tell them to do. So yes, that is power, but it’s the power of celebrity through the medium of social media. It’s the cult of personality, if you will. But what about power to effect regional, national, or even global power? People talk about it, and news stations show politicians talking about the mystical power of social media, but I don’t think it exists.

If you were on the internet several years ago, you’ll remember that there were a couple bills going through the rounds of government (US) that had to do with Big Business and Big Government seeking to control the internet, and monitoring it such that it would be restricted. Now I certainly am against those notions, but there was great elation when the bills were shot down, and people were saying things like “WE DID IT!” and “WE WON!” , referring to the fact that many across social media platforms did a “blackout” which meant they changed their profile pictures to just a black square. This was to show solidarity and was an easy-to-do unifying symbol of the voice of the people against these bills. Thankfully, the bills didn’t pass that go-round, and terms like “net neutrality” and “open internet” passed into political posturing because of it. However, are we really naive enough to think that it was a bunch of black profile pictures that made congress (I forget which house) not pass the bills? Really? There were some people who wrote letters to their representatives, which was a more proactive move apart from social media. However,even those things were merely sideshows to the fact that corporate giants like Google and Wikipedia did blackouts on their sites to show how they didn’t support the bills. If I remember correctly, the social media campaign followed the leads of companies like those, and not the other way around. Make no mistake, having thousands (even millions) of black profile pictures doesn’t effect anything, and would have no weight to whether or not a bill is passed. However, having giant corporations that are used every day threatening to shut down unless the bills were stopped is enough to actually get people to notice. They effected the change. We just became cheerleaders. Sort of like how sports fans claim they are part of the team, when in reality the team knows nothing about them. Actually, it’s even less effective than that, because at least sports fans contribute money to their team in one way or another.

Truthfully, I don’t think people are quite to the point of believing that social media campaigns actually do much to effect real change. Some do, surely, but I don’t think the vast majority of people believe that. So why do so many people do it? I’m probably not far enough removed from both the social media culture and the era of social media popularity to give any certain reasons, but I can take a few guesses. I think one of the bigger reasons is that we want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Social media allows us to stay connected with people in ways that are easier (see: superficially) than others, but it also gives us the illusion of having an audience. I say illusion because functionally, we all know it to be a gamble of long odds that many people at all will listen to what we have to say. We’re not celebrities or professionals, but we do have several close friends, and those friends have close friends and so on. Ideally, if we write something or share something, then our friends can share it and so on and maybe it will even go “viral”. The word viral means almost nothing, except for a bunch of people have watched it or shared it. If solid objects could exist in digital space, then the sun would be the most viral thing in existence. The difference being that the sun effects us on its own, not because we see or share it. The sun has an effect on blind people, even though they’ve never seen it.

To give a concrete example of how we really can’t change anything via social media, one only needs to look at Facebook. Every few months, the site changes something, and there’s massive outrage about how it’s a bad change and how nobody likes it. However, not one of these changes has been reversed, even though quite populous digital backlash was expressed. In fact, the failure of the people is so largely felt that people no longer seem to get nearly as upset as they used to. We’ve accepted that we can’t change it, and so we just chose to gripe privately and adapt publicly. But what about believing in something larger than ourselves?

We are told all the time about different organizations existing solely for the purpose of fulfilling that need, and for the purposes of this discussion, let’s suppose it to be true. I think we tend to view social media through a two-way system of meaning. The old adage of “you’ll only get out of it as much as you put into it” comes to mind. We start by believing that we have something important (or at least useful) to say, so we post it to as many social media sites as possible, so as to multiply our chances of digital reach, and hopefully we get enough feedback from people to justify our thinking that what we had to say was important. That, I think, is the actual heart of the issue. We hope that we can somehow gain the meaning from the hive-mind of social media that we already assume we have. If enough people validate us, then we are correct in how we already view ourselves. But that wouldn’t sell very well, so we have to dress it up. We need some sort of cover that will allow us to seem like we’re not actually trying to do that. Thankfully, 24-hour news and sensationalism (click-bait) has provided us with a myriad of things to do just that. “It’s not self-validating pride that I’m after, it’s that I want you to care as much about ___ as I do, so you should read what I have to say about it, and share it.” That’s not a great disguise, so perhaps if we kick it up a level, and get more vague. The most popular thing to do currently is to support the raising of awareness or to stand in solidarity with something/one.

To attack something that I myself took part in not too long ago, let’s look at the persecuted Christians in the middle east. Do you suppose it would be much comfort to them to say “Hey, I know you’re suffering, but don’t worry! Millions of people on Facebook changed their profile pictures to a letter in your language!”? Perhaps it would, but unless that’s accompanied by prayer or some sort of other support, I can’t imagine that it would encourage them much. Now there is a silver lining to that particular issue. Due to the popularity of using that picture, there was a ministry that sprung up that started selling shirts with the letter on it, who donated the money received directly to the effected people. In this case, there were tangible steps beyond a social media campaign that effected real change. This is the ultimate hope of raising awareness, that eventually someone will do something about the problem. However, we have to be soberly honest about that fact. Raising awareness rarely costs us anything, monetarily or otherwise, and the only hope we have of it effecting change is that someone notices the issue and does something to try and fix the problem. I think we’ve become sort of blind to that crucial aspect of it, and moved on to the idea that our raising awareness is the thing that’s actually doing the changing/solving. It isn’t. To give a very clear example, think of the greatest social-awareness campaign of all time, that of breast cancer. Who in the US doesn’t know about breast cancer awareness month? Who doesn’t associate the color pink with that disease? To its credit, the campaign hasn’t died off or lost any of its potency or meaning; though I think that is in-spite of our short attention spans, and more because of the fact that people still die because of the cancer. So everybody is aware of the issue, and most everyone knows where to give money to fight the cause. It’s a success in that regard, but a failure in the ultimate end. The cancer persists. For the vast majority of us (myself included), we don’t know how to process that. Perhaps we should be looking into what research needs to be done to cure the cancer, and start donating money to technical groups instead of to the giant collection groups. Awareness has been raised, solidarity has been achieved, and nothing has been solved. Those things cannot be ends in themselves. We see the problem, and we want to fix it, but we don’t know what to do or even worse, we don’t want to be even so much as inconvenienced in our solving of the problem.

What about the campaigns flown under the banner of the cross? I started college in 2006, and back then you needed a college email address in order to join Facebook, and so that’s largely when my social media presence (what an odd phrase) began. We don’t talk about that previous social network. Since then there have been several things done to raise awareness for different things. You take an entire day and don’t wear shoes to raise awareness for kids who are too poor to have them (did anyone not know about that?). You write love on your arms to raise awareness about suicide (I think) or was that to remember the girl at columbine who was a Christian and didn’t renounce her faith? Both of those died away within a few years, and nobody seems to care about it. That would seem to indicate that either a) nothing was done after the raising of awareness, or b) the problem(s) was solved. I’ll let you decide on which, and I’m open to hearing another option(s) if that’s a false dichotomy. Most recently, we have the #ENDIT or #INITTOENDIT campaign. The idea is to write a red X on your hand to raise awareness for human trafficking. To be clear, I’ve seen good things come out of this movement. Back in my small hometown, I’ve seen an organization spring up dealing specifically with human trafficking happening in the black hills. I’ve seen arrests made and people saved in the Midwest area that I hadn’t seen before. Praise God for that, sincerely! However, along with the good, I have seen the stale as well. I see the picture changed once a year on social media, and I never see it brought again up for the other 364 days. I’ve had conversations with people who were deeply convicted that they changed the picture and put on the marker and then not a single person came up and asked them about it. Perhaps those are exceptions to the rule, and the vast majority of the people are bombarded all day with questions about why they would have such a hand-marking. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case. I remember the first time people started doing that, I saw the X on a person’s hand before I knew what it meant, and I had two thoughts: 1) Huh. That’s weird. Don’t care enough to ask. People draw on themselves all the time. 2)That’s kinda funny, because it reminds me of when people put Xs on their hands back in my moshing days.

Why is there a disconnect? Why didn’t I care? Why didn’t I ask the young lady I saw with the X? Why were the people I mentioned never approached about it? One possibility is that neither I, nor others care(d) about the issue of human trafficking. However, the only way to prove that would be to show that there was an easily recognizable connection between a red X on someone’s hand to the reality of human trafficking. Without going to look up the movement (I’m sure they have an answer), I cannot think of even a tenuous link. This simply could be a failure of intelligence on my part, but I think it more likely that it is an ineffective symbol. If you want a symbol for a movement, you need to either have a strong link already in the minds of people, a symbol with a link that is easily understandable, or a vocal people to explain the symbol. A social media campaign with a silent army of adherents in the real world is not nearly as effective as it needs to be. The symbol is not odd enough or provocative enough to get people to ask questions, other than those who are super extroverted and inquisitive.

I sincerely hope this movement doesn’t die off in a few years like the others. It seems to be gaining more traction, and I rejoice for that. This is meant to encourage you to press on, and do more, not to simply beat you down. I’m convinced that if someone cares about something, they will talk about it frequently, and that is both in person and online. I see those of you who do that, and I hope more and more people model you. I know people who change their picture, mark their hand, and then start up conversations in public about what the movement is and how to actually help. Those people then share links about where you can send money or donate your time to actually make a difference. These people are doing this all year round, and they are the ones who we should be trying to be like.

To those who are of the “one day a year and done” crowd: Nobody believes you, and you’re not helping.

Ultimately, social media as a whole is not something from which we can derive meaning or purpose. It is in the same category as a telephone, but nobody makes the mistake of thinking meaning can be derived from talking into a phone. Adding the option of putting pictures and videos doesn’t inject it with mystical powers. Man cannot derive meaning from himself, if he starts there. He can’t derive meaning from himself as an individual, and he can’t derive meaning from people in groups, whether that’s a few people in his family, a few more in his club, a few more in his city, all the way up to thousands on social media or millions on the planet. Meaning doesn’t work that way. We can’t start with ourselves, and the lure of digital influence (strong though it may be, I know personally) is nothing short of a cheap substitute for actual meaning and purpose. True meaning must come from a transcendent source. That is, something that is outside of and greater than us, even collectively. Transcendence is a quality that outlasts us in time, and is greater than us in power and scope. God is the only sure ground of meaning and purpose that lasts, and therefore He is the only One from whom we should seek to derive our meaning.

P.S. There is something to be said about Matthew 6:1-4. There is another blog to be written about just that, and this is already far longer than people like to read. However, I think this passage doesn’t go against public movements, but rather, encourages us to check our motives. If you’re not ok with nobody knowing about your charity, then this is an area of pride that you need to take before the Lord.

Also, this is not meant to be a “YOU SHOULD DO THINGS LIKE ME INSTEAD!” rant. This is me challenging you to do it your way to the maximum possible efficiency/effectiveness.

Meditations on Power

This is probably just going to be a prolegomena (only without a larger work to follow it). I’m going to preface this by saying that my interest in this topic comes from the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of self-examination lately. I’ve found that at the bottom of many of my own sinful desires lies a desire for power. It manifests itself in different ways, but there’s always a nagging sense of questions that lead toward the direction of power. That last sentence probably doesn’t make much sense, but let’s get started by defining power.

I think it’s easier to first define what power isn’t. Power is not a synonym for control or strength or status. Obviously, the word can be used as synonyms for those things, because words have semantic ranges. For example, when you say someone is powerful after watching them lift a lot of weight, what you’re really meaning is that that person is very strong. That is not the type of power that I’m referring to. I’m also not referring to political power, which can be thought of as the level of ability someone has to exert their will within the political sphere (top of my head definition). That comes closer to what I’m talking about, but political position or prestige is always granted by another. You’re either voted into the position, or you inherit the position by your birth, or you lead a revolution in which the winning army lands you in the position. In other words, it may be designated power, but it’s not self-originating power. That seems to be the desire, at bottom. To have self-originating power.

As I was thinking through the various aspects or temptations for which power was the root, I began to try and use thought experiments to push things as far as they could go. Power seems to be intangible, and it defies accurate definition. You can quantify control, and you can quantify influence, but the desire for power seems to supersede those things. To me, it seems like even if you had all the control you could possibly want (think of what Solomon had/could do), you still wouldn’t have reached the “goal” of power.

Which leads me into thinking that power cannot be an end in itself, even while the pull toward it is as if it was. As many sinful things do, the allure of power teases satisfaction, but even when I pushed the thought experiments to their limits, the goal was not attained. No matter how many people under your control or what things you’re able to make them do; no matter how many things can be acquired at your command, the desire for “more” does not subside.

If it is true that it’s intangible, what sort of thing might it be? It does not seem to be a state of mind, since it is conceivable that you can have nothing which might construe the having of power, yet have a state of mind such that you believe yourself to be powerful. To borrow language from Aquinas, it would seem to be that power is (so far as we can obtain it) pure potentiality. It seems that we would know what to do with power, were we to be able to acquire it. This could be delusional, but it almost seems intuitive. Perhaps this is merely my personal opinion, due to the watching of a lot of anime as a kid leading me to believe (in an Eastern sense) that power was a sort of inner-strength, which could be used to produce beams of energy (I’m looking at you, DBZ). If all “power” that we can achieve in this life is derivative in some way, that means that either power is an illusion that we attach to things to make ourselves feel better, or it means that there must be a source of power (if you go back the causal chain far enough) that is unchanging. The only quality I’ve been able to attach to power is that it has to be self-originating

I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that if power is self-originating, then the being having that would be all-powerful. Omnipotence is one of the classic attributes of God. The Bible frequently grounds power in the being of God. In other words, my sinful desire is rooted in the desire to be God. It would seem that there is nothing new under the sun. This is why I need to constantly preach the gospel to myself, and work to mortify my flesh, every day.

Pray for me toward that end.

The Parable of the Wandering Lost

All men leave their homes. Perhaps they left under bad terms, leaving in a rage or in fear or tears. Some leave under good terms, with the best intentions of exploring a bit or running errands, and then returning later that night. Interestingly enough, men (and women) have always gotten lost, which is an entirely normal thing to do. However, they always had the knowledge that they were lost. There was a certain something about their home that was familiar enough to them that they retained the knowledge of what was familiar and what was unfamiliar. This is no longer the case.

Men still leave their homes in the same regularity they did before, but the situation is now more dire. Not only are they lost, but now they no longer remember their address. They wander into a church and start attempting to do things that you can only do at your home, and they get kicked out. They wander into a mosque, expecting to find food prepared and a change of clothes (for they have soiled them outside), only to find things that don’t belong to them. Perhaps they find an important building with important people going in and out all day, and they assume that that is their home (for why shouldn’t it be?), but they cannot even get in the door before being stopped and shoo’d out. They can’t stay at the building with the books or the building with the needles, for these both have specific rules and purposes, which only allow certain things to be done. They start to panic, not knowing where their home is. They get angry as they start to lose all sense of the familiar, and start to react against anyone who seems to still know where their home is.

“Who does that person think they are?!?” they say, “strutting about like owns something that doesn’t belong to him.” They soon start finding that more and more people have lost their address in their wanderings. The best among them are those whom leave with absolutely nothing from home (not even clothes). It becomes a sort of hierarchy within the wanderers where the less you bring from your former place (home is a dirty word now), the more intelligent or cunning you are. You have a head-start on those who leave with giant bags or stacks of books or carriages full of clothes. The less you leave with, the more you can get on with the real world. A world of infinite possibilities, if only it could be realized that familiarity is a bad thing. The old tethers merely tie you down, and in reality, the only thing one can strive for is the uninhibited future. Then there’s the problem of them still being here.

All men should have the ability to enter into any building he chooses and take up residence there for as long as he chooses. Anybody with any sort of baggage (for that is what it really is) that he claims to be his by some sort of “right”. Doesn’t he understand that anything you keep when you first leave your house only inhibits you from moving forward with the rest of society? The familiarity that comes with your former place leaves you in shackles to the past, and we all know that the only thing the past did was give us endless rules and regulations which may have been somehow useful (nobody knows how) then, but are completely backwards and restrictive now, even if they perhaps have some sort of sentimental eloquence.

Eventually there are a sizable amount of people wandering naked through the town when it occurs that there may be enough of them to start a freedom movement. This is not some sort of coup or rebellion. Those belong to the past and were terribly evil and bloody. Those were done in a time when there were rules which chained people to buildings which were given familiarity only by the corrupted and powerful leaders. No, this must be a movement for the good of the people. Those poor chaps in their business suits, running around acting like they have places to be, and things to be doing, all for the sake of their beloved “home”. It would be for the betterment of them, really, to have those things taken from them. We have tried reasoning with them, but their shackles are too strong. It is as if they put blindfolds on, and earmuffs too! Sometimes you see them arguing with us rational people in the streets about how we’ve somehow lost something, or that our actions are going to have negative effects on “society”. They do actually believe what they say, but it’s hurting them, as they keep putting more and more chains on themselves.

It was brought up by one of us that perhaps if they will not relinquish their backwards and, quite frankly, immoral behavior, that they might find it agreeable if they be confined to their beloved “houses”. However, it is soon discovered that these barbarians (for that is what they are) have started to actually have children (as if that wasn’t bad enough!) and then to stick chains on them as soon as they are able to walk and talk. We have managed to convince a number of the important looking people to get rid of their fancy suits and the most important people to get rid of their robes, so that we can start providing freeing education to those for whom their sickness so overwhelms them that they continue in their ways. Very soon, I believe we will have the means to bring about actual freedom for all mankind. No longer will people be able forced to subscribe to someone else’s ways, from some people group long dead! The children will no longer be put into the bondage that those savages have inflicted upon them! Already there are fewer and fewer people wearing clothes, and going back to live in singular buildings. There are even people being born who (what a blessing!) are actually never raised to have things or be in one location! We have started slowly eliminating buildings from the land, which eliminates much of that old tactic of oppression known as “working jobs”. It shan’t be long now! Rejoice!

News! News! The last building has been torn down! The last remnants of those who hold to the old ways have gone away and it is not likely that they shall return here! We can finally live in peace and start building the future in our own perfect image! Without all the buildings in the way, we can actually see into the future! We have the ability to see problems before they arise, because we are not shackled by the past, and alter our present so that we can always look like the future! The past is nothing compared to us!

Enter The Madman: A man appears, wearing at least 6 layers of clothing, pulling a massive pallet of books, and waving around a 30 megawatt flashlight in the middle of the day. “What have you done?!? Look around you! You have destroyed the society! Thinking yourselves to be moving forwards, you have slid back into the mud! You haven’t even bothered to notice the dead bodies that are piling up around you, or the wounds opening on your bodies! Who is there to help cure any diseases you acquire? Who is there to stop violence among you? What standards have you erected? You have torn down, but what have you put in its place?!?”

[Laughter from the crowd] Sir, I don’t know where you come from or who you think you are, but you are clearly delusional. Nothing of the sort happens here. We have ended it all, but removing the restraints that people like you have been forcing onto others for centuries!

“I have seen where you laid the bodies out to rot! I saw the flames from the buildings you burned and have smelled the blood of the people you killed! What have you put in place of the old structures?!? Who will protect you? Who decides which way is the correct way to go? Already you have begun wandering too far apart from each other and get slowly torn apart by beasts and men alike! There are others that no longer see the giant buildings of your city, and take that as a sign to move in and take over. They do not abide by your rules, and they do not respect your values. You cannot make peace with them nor will they suffer to listen to you. You can neither defend yourselves with words or with weapons, and there are those coming from afar who will conquer you with both! You will be annihilated, because you destroyed your own safety! ” [Here the madman fell silent, as did those around him.]

The madman smashes his flashlight on the ground, and it falls to pieces. “I see that I have come too early. My time has not yet come.”

Gender Confirmation or Confirmation Bias?

As of this post, America is largely concerned with the upcoming election and the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar. However, those aren’t the things I’m thinking about today. There are a few observations I’ve been making that have started to come together, and so I’ll be using this blog post to think out loud. (Side note: This blog has been dormant for a long time, and I apologize for that. Head on over to my church’s site to see what I’ve been writing about every week. Basic apologetics stuff.)

A few days ago I was watching a video (here) dealing with confirmation bias. The video was generally referring to video games, and the YouTube comments on gaming videos in particular, but the principles apply broadly. According to good ol’ Wikipedia, confirmation bias is:

the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

In apologetics, this is something that is frequently on my mind. I know how easy it is to commit this error, particularly where Christianity or particular beliefs are involved. It’s important to realize that it is impossible to be completely objective, since we all have biases. However, I think it’s easy to take our beliefs for granted, and commit the error of confirmation bias unless we are actively working against it. In apologetics, this means that I frequently read books that I know are coming from the other side. I’m not perfect, but this helps me to at least be functionally objective when approaching issues. This idea connects with the second observation I made while watching the trailer for the movie “The Danish Girl.”

This movie is about the first person to undergo gender confirmation surgery. If you’re somewhat confused about what that surgery is, it has more commonly been referred to as sex-change surgery. I hadn’t really heard the new term until recently, but it’s not hard to see why the old one is no longer considered politically correct. The idea that you are undergoing a sex change sounds an awful lot like you are making a choice to go between one gender to the other, which is something that the alternative lifestyle movement is actively against. Calling it gender confirmation surgery carries with it the idea that they want to; that a person is one gender caught inside the other gender’s body. I’m going to take a quick detour to make an observation about that particular idea.

It wasn’t very long ago that the more liberal in society were combating the idea that there are a specific set of feelings for men and a specific set of them for women. It was thought to be sexist and just plain uncouth to suggest that men could not be more gentle and “in touch with their feelings” or that women could exhibit traits that were deemed more decisive or manly. To a certain extent, that still exists today, but it seems to me like the transgender movement in particular has actually regressed this idea. It would seem that it is more likely that if you feel certain ways that tend to be associated with masculinity or femininity, then you actually are a man or a woman, whether you have a male body or a female one. Now, you might be saying “no, it’s not just that I feel certain ways, it’s that I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” but without defining how those two things are distinct (which I haven’t seen done) then this is just a semantics game. End of detour.

Do you see where confirmation bias might come into play when discussing things relating to gender? If you hold to the belief that gender is fluid, and that you can be/feel a certain way, then that makes you correct, and you should change your body to confirm/affirm your belief. Unfortunately, this is not like other situations in which you can try and protect against your bias by reading something from the other side. What could possibly be a way to see if you’re caught up in confirmation bias? Has the transgender community come up with any objective material here? A quick Google search leads to one of those wiki-how pages, which is just blatant confirmation bias. I suppose one could keep undergoing surgeries, if you feel like you’re wrong, once you’ve made the decision, but that would just get expensive (like the Sneeches).

At this point, all we really have is a confirmation of an observation that Francis Schaeffer made years ago, about how we have largely fragmented lives now, with essentially viewing our bodies as separate from “us” and being biochemical machines which can be changed and reshaped depending on our whim. (See blogs on that here and here) However, in order for it to move from that observation to the confirmation bias that I’m talking about, we need to add another piece to our puzzle. There is a particular trend in society over the last decade (at least) which I have taken to calling experiocentrism. We’re familiar with similar words like heliocentric (a model of the solar system with the sun [helio] being at the center [centric]) and the stronger word ethnocentrism (one ethnicity [ethno] being superior [centrism]), and this is similar to that. We have taken the old expression “you never truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”, which was originally intended to elicit empathy and understanding, and we’ve added pride. Now we say that experience is king. If someone has experienced something, and you haven’t, that means that you have very little (if anything) to say that can be true or helpful. Our morbid experiocentrism is such that experience is king, and a person’s experience is superior to the opinions of someone who hasn’t experienced the same thing. It’s a convenient way to try and avoid hard discussions and potential criticisms, and to be able to play the “I’m offended!” card, or look down your nose at someone who is advocating a different opinion/belief than your own.

Now we have the figurative mentos for our diet coke. Any probing question relating to the idea of gender fluidity, gender confirmation surgery, or transgenderism can be met with the knowledge that someone has had an experience, and that experience trumps any and all questions or criticisms. Now you have a system that is built to shut out anything but confirmation bias. If anyone dares to oppose this belief/system, they are met with the current rage for rights, with the moral/sexual revolution wielding the courts to make sure that anyone who disagrees for very long or too loudly gets punished. Confirmation must occur and everything else must be silenced. Does this sound familiar to you?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:18-32

Though that is not the whole story. That is proving that there is nothing under the sun, even though we are inventors of evil and have new ways to flaunt our rebellion against our Creator. The rest of the story is that God is constantly ready to forgive us of our sins, and to change our lives into ones of repentance and faith. The prophets Joel and Isaiah remind us of this.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. – Isaiah 55:6-7

SDG

Your Hashtags are Betraying You

Social media can be a very strange place. Originally using the pound symbol (#) as a hashtag lived solely on Twitter, and was used to find particular topics being posted about. Basically a sort of topic index, if you will. However, once they started being used all over the place, they became more than simply that. They became virtual rallying cries, where people could express solidarity for a particular position.

Unfortunately, more often than not, they have become something for which you can quickly participate in something that is trending, and then completely forget about it. You end up like this guy:

Usually, I would go on to talk about slacktivism and critique it, but I would like to suggest a different reason for why so many people do this. I think it comes from the consequences of a philosophy that is now baked into our (American) culture. We are no longer unified people. Whether our worldview involves postmodernism, or perhaps some form of materialism, we have a split view of reality and ourselves. Most commonly, you might hear this described as the fact/value split. It looks something like this:

The things that we can know from science and math are the “cold, hard, facts” and they have to be true, regardless of what you believe about them. Other things, things like emotions, beliefs, religion, philosophy, etc. aren’t things that can be tested and proven by science, and so ultimately they are illusions. However, they are so essential to living our lives, that they are deemed useful fictions, and so they are kept as “subjective” truth. Thus we have a split. I explain in the link above how this effects our views of various issues, as well as how we view ourselves. However, something I didn’t mention was that this fragmentation of ourselves causes a profound sense of loss. As a result, people feel an intense need for integration. People realize the value of being part of things that are larger than they are, especially when they are not complete wholes. Why else would things like the Atheist Church exist, if not for that recognition?

So, what does this have to do with hashtags? They allow us to quickly, and easily involve ourselves in something bigger than ourselves. It requires nothing of us. We don’t really need to do research on the issue, we don’t even have to leave our houses like a protest might. We become consumers of digital value-boosters. Insidiously, this is perfectly capitalized by our consumer culture. They already have us locked in the cycle in of purchasing the newest and best thing when it comes out in a year or two. The reason why I say this is insidious, is because digital value-boosters have a necessarily short fulfillment time. Like a drug addict, the high (fulfillment feeling) lasts only a short time, and there must be something get the next hit. We already have non-stop news, and super sensationalized headlines of everything, trying to vie for the short attention span of the consumers. Therefore, we are invited to join in the hysterics. “Quick! This should outrage you! Join the crusade! (that will only last a day)”. Whereas before, people had to work out entire belief systems to try and find fulfillment, now we can just taking hits and hope that we can equal out in quantity instead of quality.

Ultimately, this will fail us. Jeremiah told us this a very long time ago when he wrote:

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jer. 2:12-13

These cisterns, whether they be digital value-boosters, or entire worldviews are broken. They can hold no water, and will ultimately leave us empty. So what’s the cure? Do we make bite-sized value-boosters with Christian words in them? No. That would be, at best, trying to fix the problem by merely treating the symptoms. True spirituality goes back further. Christianity offers a whole system. There is no divide. You do not have to be fragmented. You have value because you were made in the image of God, but you need to be reconciled to Him. The only way to do this is through Jesus. Repent, and believe the gospel.

SDG

Sex Changes & The Sneetches

It occurred to me that I have been seeing so many posts on social media about people getting sex changes lately that it reminded me of The Sneetches, that old Dr. Seuss book. Originally, it was just because people were changing their outward appearance, like the Sneetches did by getting the stars on their bellies removed and put back on. However, then I started thinking about it, and actually there’s more there than I originally thought. Of course, the comparison is imperfect, and it breaks down, but humor me for a moment.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the Sneetches, I feel sorry for your lacking childhood, but it’s better late than never!

Now, what drove the plain-bellied Sneetches to desire stars? Well, one group was saying that they were superior, due to their physical appearance. The plain-bellied Sneetches didn’t bother to realize that they could have their own groups, doing all the same things, but rather they envied the other Sneetches, and wanted what they had.

Then, in swoops a sly salesman, who has just the technology to change their appearance, thereby giving them exactly what they always wanted. Surely now they can be included with the other group! Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that simply. The salesman sold the other group the same bag of goods, and suddenly, the new thing to be envied was the lack of stars! Quickly! Change your appearance! All to belong to the group you feel like you should belong to! All for a nominal fee. After all, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be the best, and there’s no reason anybody should be able to judge you.

Of course, you will say, that isn’t the case! This isn’t merely a matter of taste! (couldn’t help myself)

You’ll say that the issues are deeper! In reality, all you’ve done is made the issues cheaper. (last one. promise.)

The general idea is that you feel, inside, the opposite gender that you were born as. Which is fascinating, because this seems to reinforce an idea that society has long been against. The idea that there are a set of feelings that belong to one gender, and a set of feelings that belong to another gender.

The Sneetches who change are heroes and brave, and the Sneetches who don’t (and anyone who suggests they shouldn’t) are not true to themselves, and aught to be shunned and looked down on. Don’t invite them to the discussion table, or the frankfurter roasts.

What of McBean? Well, a mere $3/$10 scheme seems laughable when compared to the tens of thousands of dollars the process costs today. But can you teach a Sneetch? Will there come a day when we can “be comfortable in our own skin” , realize that “being different is ok”? Well, probably not without the idea that everyone is made in the image of God, and thereby has worth in themselves, and that gender differences aren’t actually a bad thing. Maybe one day we will even be able to discuss what those differences are, and how they compliment one another, without racing to be the first one to get offended.

Though for now, McBean has us running about, until we don’t know “whether this one was that one. . .or that one was this one. Or which one was what one. . .or what one was who.” with McBean raking in the green over our confusion. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be happy to say, that all the Sneetches got very smart on that day.

 

SDG

Ontological Confusion & Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner

There’s a lot of talk about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner lately, what with the gender reassignment surgery and marketing campaign media exposure. Personally, I had never even heard of the individual until all this happened. I think something that’s missing from the talking points is any discussion about ontology. Though, honestly, I would never expect the media to talk about ontology!

Without getting too technical, you can think of ontology as the study of being. As it relates to humans, this would be questions like “who am I” , and you can see how that’s entirely what any discussion of sexuality/orientation/identity falls under. John Piper tweeted the following question: “Is Caitlyn Jenner the father of Bruce Jenner’s children?” and in so doing, put his finger on some of the ontological problems that the sexual revolution has brought about. Is that a question that can be answered? Some of the current cultural norms are that sexual orientation is fluid, and it is also a different thing from gender identity. You see where these ideas and more, ultimately relating to ontology, hit the real world in the following interview at the Washington Post.

For example, one of the Jenner children asked what she should call Bruce, after he completes the transition, and he says “I’m dad, you can call me dad,” Jenner said. “I will always be your dad.” but how can that be? Is it possible that he views his role as father as being above and beyond his new feminine name and sexual identity as a woman? How does he work that out, I wonder.

Another interesting thing is the following quote:

Jenner said that at one time, he was sure he would have sexual reassignment surgery. Now? Nothing is certain. He’s been on female hormones for about a year and a half, but hasn’t made up his mind about the medical procedure. But when and if he does, he said, it will be so quiet that no one will know.

The article is from April, and here we are in June with the story being the most publicized one out there. The juxtaposition is almost laughable, and one wonders what happened to make him change his mind.

More to the point, there are several times in this article and in interviews elsewhere that he says that he will (future) no longer identify as Bruce or that she will (present) identify as Caitlyn. Why are these things important? Because it’s an identification of a “me” identity that is completely detached from gender. While this makes for good, emotional media when uttering phrases like “I never identified as a man” and “I was always a woman”, you need to realize that it cuts both ways. If the “I” is detached from the male sex, it is also detached from the female sex. Interestingly, Jenner realizes this, and tries to ground it in the soul.

Jenner said he explained his transition this way to his kids: He feels he was created by God who said, “Hey, let’s give him the soul of a female and let’s see how he deals with that.”

This is a statement that is completely untenable, but it does represent his attempt at grounding the moral confusion he’s going through. Even though he uses the term “soul” what he really means is that his “inner self” deeply feels one way. In Freudian psychological terms, what he’s referring to is the “id” , dispensing with both the “ego” and the “super-ego” (though my psychologist friends will likely correct me). Essentially, this is the same thing different aspects of culture tells us. Just look deep inside yourself, and you’ll find the real you, and that place can save you, give you purpose, and make you happy. Granted, there are plenty of things that are still looked down on by even secular society that can come from that place. Even more importantly, there really is no way of telling almost anything about that place. How do you know when you’ve “hit bottom”, so to speak? Could it be that Bruce has dug down and found Caitlyn, but that a couple years from now she will be able to dig down even deeper and find Bruce again? Or how does one know that the inner self won’t shift? In fact, that is what culture tells us tends to happen, right? After all, things like sexuality are fluid, and so people can go all over the spectrum. On what grounds are we supposed to believe that sexuality is fluid, but gender identity is grounded and unmoving, provided that you can only find out what your true gender identity is? We’re not told.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, and are #teamjenner, as it were, I would be curious to know how you answer some of these ontological questions. Around the same time as all this, I found an article regarding people known as Transabled people. If gender identity works the way we’re told that it is, are there other things that work that way? If not, then how do you know? The arguments, it seems to me, are identical.

If you’re on the other side, how do you respond, particularly from a Christian viewpoint? With truth and love. Here are a few article which give better advice than I could.

Al Mohler

Russell Moore

Jon Bloom

SDG

p.s. I’ve been doing weekly blogs on apologetics at my church’s website, here, which is a excuse large reason why this blog has been quiet lately.

Update: Here is an excellent article whose author is far more articulate than I am, and comes at it from a different perspective.

Agreeing with Presbyterians

Many of my heroes of the faith, both past and present, are Presbyterians. I have learned a lot from them, and have a tremendous amount of respect for them. That said, I still think they are wrong on a few things, and while that particular blog may come at a later date, I think it’s important to focus on the subject of baptism in the light of where I believe we can both agree.

As a background, I grew up in the Pentecostal denomination, and so my understanding of baptism was largely shaped by that. While I still find believer’s baptism to be the correct position, I think it looks a bit differently, even though I have poorly described it in the past. I have, even recently, explained baptism as a public demonstration of a private commitment. While that’s somewhat true, it also puts all the focus on me. In reality, the focus is on God, just like all of the Christian life.

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

– 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith 29.1

Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

– Westminster Confession of Faith 28.1

With the more controversial section highlighted, the bulk of both confessions is the same. (Yeah, I won’t talk about the ordinance/sacrament thing, so pipe down!) The focus is on the work of the Triune God. The texts used to support the LBCF version are fairly non-controversial as well. Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; and Romans 6:4. So while there is important discussion to be had on where we disagree, and why, I think it’s also important to point out that both sides are focusing on God when talking about it. Hopefully this is something I can better articulate in future discussions.

Also, if you want the very best arguments for and against infant baptism, you need to look at this article. Nobody can argue with pictures.

SDG

Life With Boxes: A Short Story

(The following are stages in a fictional life of someone as he observes humanity.)

The second I’m born, a man with a mask takes me and cuts my lifeline. I try to tell him how important it is, but he doesn’t understand me. As he’s taking me to a room to get cleaned off, I notice a glowing box on the wall. This place is filled with strange things, and it makes me miss home.

Once I’m clean and wrapped up, I go back and am handed to the person lying on the bed. She seems somehow familiar to me. There’s a man who seems to be very interested in me standing nearby. He’s holding a smaller glowing box next to me. I wonder what these things are?

I wake up in a different place, still being held by my mother while my father is sitting next to the bed. There is a parade of people that come in with gifts, and almost all of them take out glowing boxes and hold them up toward me. Only the very old do not have them. I wonder if there’s a connection?

We go to my parent’s home. It is big, and there are glowing boxes of all sizes around the place. These must be very important, but I don’t know what they do yet.

Today my father is very upset. It seems that he has lost his box, and is frantically searching for it. He actually starts yelling because he cannot find it. It seems like he may be physically harmed if he does not find it. I do not want him to be hurt, so I hope he finds it. Since only the very old people do not have boxes, perhaps there is a connection between getting old and dying, and not having a box. My mother uses her box to help him find his. I wonder what all the fuss is about?

————————————————————————————————————————–

As I meet kids my own age as I start school, I’m amazed to find out that they have boxes too. They mostly use them to play games, and some of them look very different from the boxes that grownups have. Perhaps there are different boxes for different ages. I do not have one yet, because I am still unsure about them.

I have noticed that the rooms in my house where people most often gather are centered around the bigger boxes. Whenever it lights up, different things are displayed, and people watch it constantly. I’m told that they are real people doing those things, so I try to talk to them. This is apparently funny to my parents, and they explain that we can’t interact with them through the box. They seem like fake people to me, even though I’m repeatedly told they are real people, sometimes pretending to be other people, and other times playing sports.

Today I made a terrifying realization. I was shown pictures and videos of myself on a box. I do not understand. I remember the events, and it certainly looks like me and what I was experiencing, but something is missing. I don’t know what the difference is, but I know enough to not try and ask about it. I don’t want to be laughed at again. I do not like that they took some of me and put it on the boxes.

There are things on shelves that apparently are very old versions of boxes, or something. Nobody touches them, so I assume they are there for decoration.

Today I am taken with my parents to the largest box I have ever seen. There are many people with us, and we sit for a very long time. It is very loud, and people laugh,cry, and even yell things at the fake people on the box. I wonder why my parents do not laugh at them? I do not understand why people seem to care so much about fake people. Or perhaps it is the boxes that they care about, or that the boxes create the fake people. I wonder what all the fuss is about?

————————————————————————————————————————–

As I go through school, I am often thought of as being strange because I do not have a box. People seem very annoyed that they cannot get in touch with me whenever they want to. It is thought rude of me to tell them when and where they can meet up with me. There is something strange about that.

It does take me longer to complete assignments than my friends, because I don’t use the boxes. Interestingly, I seem to retain the information longer. I do not know if there is a connection, but if there is, I would prefer to do harder work to get longer benefits.

Some boxes seem to be used primarily to listen to music. In order to not interrupt others, there are strings which connect to our ears from the box. I find it interesting that in order to charge boxes, you have to plug them into the outlets in the walls, and to enjoy boxes, sometimes you have to plug the boxes into yourself.

I do not often enjoy watching movies, mainly because I distrust the boxes and the fake people that live there. However, there is one movie that I have found to be fascinating. I wonder if this is an attempt at describing the real life. Perhaps this is art imitating life, as they say. If this is true, than we need someone to rescue us from the fake world, and bring us to the real world. We need to be unplugged. I hope there are no boxes in the real world. I still don’t know what all the fuss is about.

————————————————————————————————————————–

I remember reading somewhere of a story in a magical world where children enter it, and live entire lives and fight battles. There is a talking lion that is somewhat of a hero, or at least a rescuer. I believe they have made a movie about it as well. The interesting part for me is that there seem to be quite a few parallels to the movie I watched a few years ago. The lion mentions that when they leave the fake land, they will be able to find him in their real world, though he goes by a different name. I wonder if there is some truth to this?

People seem very distracted by their boxes. I can hardly have a conversation with someone without their box lighting up or vibrating or making noise, only to have them interrupt what we were talking about to check it. There is somewhat of a growing concern about this tendency, but it seems to concern people for a few minutes only, and then nothing changes.

The boxes keep getting both bigger and smaller. People now have boxes on their wrists the size of watches, and some on their face the size of glasses. The bigger ones are generally for your living room, to simulate the experience of going to the theater for the gigantic boxes. I’m not entirely sure why people want to invite others over, only to watch the box, and then talk about what the fake people did on the box. I feel like it would be better to just talk to the people and get to know them better. But I am in the minority on the whole situation. I do not think any of the fuss is worth it.

————————————————————————————————————————–

I am nearing the end of my life, and thankfully the doctors tell me that I will not need to be connected to any boxes because I am in good health. I have decided that I want to be cremated, though my reasons are somewhat strange. I have been to several funerals in my lifetime, and I notice that we dress the dead people in their best clothes, put makeup on them to make them seem alive, and then place them in something shaped like a box. Then lots of people come to see the once-person in the box. An eerie parallel to the spectacle of the theater, where people go to see the fake people dress up and do other things. Why must our lives center so much around those boxes?

I believe that the things in the other movies are actually true. There is somewhat of a fake world and a real world, and that people need to be rescued from one to the other. Also, we need to find the rescuer in our world, and I believe that I have found Him, though He is known by a different name here. They made a movie on that, too.

I believe that ultimately, there is nothing inherently wrong with the boxes, even though I do not choose to have them. I think the problem is that the things you own end up owning you, and therefore we become controlled by the boxes, and whoever controls the boxes on the content side. I think people need to be very careful about what they do with their boxes. There needs to be more fuss about that.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Now that I have died, I am in a very different world. A better world. There are no boxes here. It would appear that the fuss was all for nothing.

Where are You, Christmas?

The Grinch is my favorite Christmas movie, and actually, it might be one of the only ones I like. One of the songs in the movie is where I get the blog title from, and basically it’s a song about the relationship between a child and her perception of the force from Star Wars. That part isn’t super important, but rather a segue into this here blog.

I was visiting family for Thanksgiving, and after acquiring a Christmas tree on the day after, there was a lot of decorating going on. I was content to sit and watch the tree being decorated, and my sister made the observation that she thought I’d lost my awe of Christmas. As I’ve taken some time to reflect on this, I think she may be right, at least in some ways. It’s not simply that Christmas is all commercialized into an abomination, either. Upon further reflection, I’ve also lost my awe with how much of Christendom seems to celebrate Christmas, as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Christmas eve services (I’m going to one in a couple hours) or Christmas carols (I’ve enjoyed them more this year than in the past). It seems that people celebrate Christ in the same way that the world celebrates Santa. It’s cute, for children, a shinier bauble than the other guy’s, and a largely surface-level thing to be forgotten as soon as Christmas passes.

I’m not too interesting in the debates on whether or not Christmas has a pagan origin or not, as it seems to me that those discussions are one, large, genetic fallacy. The incarnation is a glorious event, and is always connected to the cross. Don’t just treat this like Talladega Nights. Take it seriously, even as we are happy and gracious. What is the incarnation? Why is it important? What does it mean for us? RC Sproul gives some insight into what we celebrate on Christmas in this video.

So yes, do remember the reason for the season. Do remember the incarnation. Do remember the gospel, and our need for it.

SDG

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