Monday, November 29, 2021

CRT Vs. The World

 Some people seem to think there's always some new threat to the church and the Gospel, and appoint themselves as the Chosen One, the Protector of the Faith. At one time, it was the Gay Agenda, or Hip-hop. To be fair, there were intelligent conversations surrounding some of these perceived threats, but also a whole lot of culture war nonsense. At the root of it all is often the erroneous idea that the church Christ created and still protects against the onslaught of antagonistic philosophy, government intervention, and the gates of Hell itself needs bloggers, Twitter users, and Fox News to prop it up, or else the entire 2000 year tradition of worship and theology will come crashing down around us like the Philistine temple.

Within that war of thoughts, I remember when Summit Ministries produced a study of several different worldviews to help Christians understand the difference and indoctrinate young people into the orthodox Christian worldview. While not perfect, obviously, it was nonetheless helpful, in the sense that it was a generally honest and well-intentioned effort to show that Christianity is fundamentally different from other religions and non-religious systems of thought. 

Since those days, the idea of comparing worldviews has taken off, into ridiculous proportions, and it seems as if every thing certain Christians don't like is "an attack on the Gospel." The latest menace to the faith is CRT, and there's so much hand-wringing and hype about it lately, you would think CRT was the third horn on the dragon of Revelation. I'm not an expert on CRT, having only read some cursory texts on the subject, but I know enough to know that a lot of the people yelling about it aren't experts either.

For instance, Neil Shenvi, whose army of scrolling Twitter bots are among the most powerful in the galaxy, based on the way he can pop up in threads that only tangentially mention him, recently gave a talk in which he compared the CRT "worldview" to Christianity, Summit style, in order to show how deficient and anti-Christian CRT is. When a slide from that talk was passed around on Twitter and critiqued, he chimed in, a lot, to try to correct the thinking of nearly every Twitter account.

The slide, shown above, attempts to compare Christianity to CRT on several basic worldview questions, the kinds of fundamental philosophy that any worldview must deal with. The response was quick and decidedly negative. Many respondents, including Bradly Mason, pointed out that all of the supposed objections to CRT's philosophy are really tenets of Christianity itself, and ones that have traditionally been ignored, downplayed, or even attacked by the anti-CRT crowd. It does seem silly to suggest that oppression is not a form of sin, or that "liberating the oppressed" is not at least part of Christian duty. Other users noted that while loving God is certainly part of the Christian's duty, the slide conspicuously leaves out love of neighbor, which would explain why the author might see "liberating the oppressed" as outside the scope of Christian duty.

Then, like Superman swooping down from the clouds to answer faint calls of a child in distress, Shenvi himself joined the fray, contending that his slide was taken out of context. He posted the following screenshot of the larger talk, pointing out that he had used more subtle language and qualifying words that proved that his detractors were taking his slide out of context.

Still, Shenvi seems to miss the real problem with his slide, as well as the overarching argument he makes in comparing Christianity to CRT. The problem isn't that the argument isn't nuanced enough, or that it doesn't include the fullness of his argument, although, if I'm being really blunt, it IS his slide, so if it falls short of capturing his thoughts on the matter, the blame really is his own. The fundamental problem with the argument is that it tries to deal with CRT as a worldview when it's not.

Not every idea or system of thought is a worldview. A worldview is specifically a system of thought that encompasses all or nearly all of the major philosophical questions. Where does life come from? What is the nature of reality? What is the ultimate being? What is moral? What is our purpose in the universe? There are more questions than even this, but the gist is that a worldview is not just a "theory" on a subject or even a popular ideology, but a very broad system of thought that deals with every issue from origins to purpose. Christianity does this, and does it well. CRT does not, and makes no claims to do so.

In fact, CRT, as I understand it, has the very narrow function of critiquing and analyzing the ways that racism is embedded in our social systems, specifically legal but with implications in other fields, and how that systemic racism affects outcomes for different groups of people. We can agree or disagree with its processes and its finding, we can critique its tenets, but we can't call it a worldview when it's not, and we can't compare it to Christianity, or any other worldview in that context. The scope of CRT is too narrow to allow for that comparison. It has nothing to say about ontology, teleology, salvation, ultimate reality, or the nature of existence, and to make those demands on CRT's limited scope is unfair at best, disingenuous at worst.

To show how absurd it is to take something as narrowly scoped as CRT and make the same demands on it that one might make of a worldview. Watch what happens if we do the same thing with another narrowly limited system of thought, the Keto Diet.

Who are we? Christianity says we are God's creation, His children even. Keto says we're nothing more than meat machines, bodies who eat and exercise.

What is our problem? The Book of Keto says it's obesity and high blood sugar. WRONG! The correct answer is sin. This is an attack on the Gospel itself.

What is the solution? Christianity says it's Jesus, but Ketoism says it's a high protein diet with lots of good fats, as if eating right will make us right with God. This is works based social justice liberation theology.

What is our duty? Christianity says it's to love God, but Ketoites say we have to avoid carbs. Nonsense.

What is our purpose? Ketosis, the prophet of Keto, says it's to lose fat and build lan muscle mass. That might get you a date for Friday night, but only glorifying God will get you into heaven.

It's ridiculous to expect a theory that deals only with proper diet to answer all of the questions that a worldview like Christianity does, just as it's ridiculous to expect CRT to do all that heavy lifting as well. Again, we can argue the merits of CRT, agree with some of its tenets and disagree with others, or outright reject the entire thing, but to pretend as if it is some kind of religion or worldview is ludicrous. Still, CRT has become the mythical dragon circling our Sunday services and school board meetings, threatening to put an end to the Gospel and lead our children down the road to destruction like a woke pied piper of Hamlin.

And one thing that gets lost in all this fear-mongering is the teachings of Christ to love our neighbor. The fact that Shenvi's slide correctly identifies loving God as our duty but omits loving neighbor is a glaring oversight and neglects half of Jesus' summary of the law. For many of us, this is exactly the problem with all of this anti-CRT mania. The lack of love for neighbor, for those who are hurt and suffering, makes the whole anti-CRT movement seem like nothing more than a hustle, a way to dodge loving one's neighbors, just couched in spiritual double-speak and thumping a Bible the entire time.

Loving God is easy, especially when you believe he looks and thinks just like you, and regards you as his chosen vessel of culture and truth. Loving others is a lot harder. It requires listening to ideas and experiences that you don't know, and possibly cringe at. Loving others means hearing their thoughts, while also questioning your own, humbly, instead of being so absolutely sure that you have all the answers and win all the debates. Loving others is hard, in that it requires us to weep with others when they suffer, even when they think that you or something you love is partly the cause of their suffering. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Doctor's Notes and Get Out of Jail Free Cards

When I was in high school, we had to take one year of PE as a graduation requirement. It was the late 80s, so this meant calisthenics and team sports in year-round hot Miami weather wearing the official school PE shirt and the smallest possible shorts - no exceptions or substitutions. Unfortunately, I misjudged my uniform size and ended up with a pair of shorts one size too small. One day, while we lined up to head to the field of sticky burrs and broken dreams, one of my sassier friends, a girl, yelled from across the quad, "Hey, Harrison, nice legs," and everyone pointed and laughed. The entire experience was awkward, uncomfortable, and thoroughly ineffective is educating me about physical fitness.

For this reason, several sneaky students found a loophole to the PE requirement - the fake doctor's note. This was the ultimate get-out-of-PE-free card, an official note, sometimes even from an actual medical practitioner, stating that the poor, infirm student couldn't possibly participate in the types of strenuous physical activities required of a top-flight physical education program. Instead, they took the health credit and spent the PE period watching sports movies in the detention hall. They were the envy of all of us.

It seems as if many of those PE exempted were deeply affected by the power of the fake doctor's note, because many of them grew up into adults looking for dubious excuses to opt out of other social norms or requirements, like the Covid vaccine.

To be clear, I understand the hesitancy some people feel about getting the vaccine. It's new, and some people are wary of being early adopters. Personally, I got vaccinated as soon as I could, and don't regret the decision at all. In fact, if this turns out like the flu shot, requiring a yearly booster, I'm down for that as well. But some people are concerned about side effects, and that's not unreasonable. In addition, I have friends with compromised immune systems whose doctors have advised them not to get the vaccine, or any vaccine, while their condition persists. This is also a good reason not to get vaccinated, and an even better reason for the rest of us with healthy immune systems to get the vaccine, in order to protect those in our midst who are more vulnerable. Some people, unfortunately, are buying into all kinds of ridiculous conspiracy theories about chips and mind control, peddled on the most partisan media outlets. As much as I wish those people would widen their scope of news sources to include some that are not crazy, I do understand how someone can get trapped in a feedback loop of misinformation.

But none of that is religious.

The truth is, Christians do not have a religious reason, a religious excuse, or a religious right to refuse the vaccine. That doesn't mean they are morally or spiritually obliged to get vaccinated, only that it would be a lie to claim that their reasons for refusing are somehow based in Scripture or church tradition. In fact, several passages in the Bible would suggest that getting vaccinated is the more moral decision. Consider passages that command us to protect the weak (Psalm 82:3-4 & John 15:13) or tell us that our body is not solely our property (I Corinthians 6:19-20). On the other hand, there is no word from God to distrust science or medicine, no command to disobey the government, and no sanction for zealously defending your personal rights at the expense of others' health. In fact, Philippians 2:3-4 tells us "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." This doesn't mean that you have to get vaccinated, although it was a guiding principle in my decision to get the shot. What is does mean is that if a Christian is claiming religious exemption from the vaccine, they don't have a scriptural leg to stand on, and should stop hiding behind a fake shield of faith and be bold enough to admit the real reasons they are abstaining.

Unfortunately, this is not a new tactic for Christians, the idea of coopting religious exemption as an excuse for their fears or immoral behavior. In the 1950s and 60s, during desegregation, plenty of protests against the integration of school included so-called Christians, spitting at Black students and holding up signs that said "God hates miscegenation." It's just a dishonest and ugly way of manipulating both adversary and ally, and twisting the Word of God to baptize and justify one's selfish desires.

Again, for the sake of clarity, anyone who doesn't want the vaccine can state their reasons and debate the merits. But for Christians to claim religious exemption is a lie, a power grab, and a perversion of the gospel. It's patently unChristian.

For instance, if your reason for refusing the vaccine is your allegiance to your political beliefs or affiliations, and you claim religious exemption, then your politics is your religion, and your party or leader is your idol.

On the other hand, if your reason for refusing is your concern about the side effects or long term consequences, and you claim religious exemption, then your health is your religion, and your body is your idol.

Christianity is not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for all the things we don't want to do, or a political trump card for winning arguments or owning the opposite side. Following Christ requires the constant focus on Him and on others, the constant denying of self, the constant sacrifice of my will and my rights to the Kingdom of God. It is not the escape clause from the hard parts of life, but the constant embrace of suffering, if that suffering advances the cause of Christ and the well-being of my neighbor.