How To Christian; an American’s View

Theocracy; Wouldn’t It Be Nice, right?

The U.S. was, at one time, a Christian country.  We know this because only Christians would be so hateful as to write anti-homosexual prejudice into their very laws.  Good thing that’s over.

From the records we have, Judaism on a society-wide level began in Egypt, not because it was the beginning of a religion, but because it was the beginning of a society.

It had the obstacle of not being the society in power.  No one would argue, for instance, that Egypt at the time of Exodus was “A Jewish country.”

So, they left, and settled in the land of Canaan, and formed a state.  They were the society in power; they wrote the laws; they were ethnically uniform; it was most definitely “A Jewish country.”

Now, the important thing to note is that what country they were in had no real effect on their Jewishness.  Perhaps they were prohibited from worshipping according to their conscience as was Daniel in Babylon, but it is, empirically, possible to retain cultural identity in the midst of the Other.

Here is my thesis: the U.S., already has or is the midst of (save the handwringing for deciding which it is, please) transforming from a Christian country to that of the other, and—Christians should be saddened but not fazed by this.

America, after all, has its roots in theocracy, for better or for worse.  Mayflower?  Puritans?  Pilgrims? Remember those?  American exceptionalism?  “God bless America?” (They ain’t talking about Allah)

So, like, we’ve had a good run for the past few hundred years.  Hey hey!  Man, we don’t even need to make a big deal about the not-new practice of sodomy, the state does it for us!

Well, the situation has changed.  It is now more analogous to the early Christians, surrounded by the Roman Empire.

But that’s hardly the end of the world.  I mean, from there, Christianity took over the world.  We have quite a bit of advice on how to function in such an environment.  In the world not of it, don’t eat things sacrificed to idols, turn the other cheek, etc.  Nothing super-secret here.

The danger is mistaking the present state (Roman empire) for a theocratic state (Israel) and attempting to use cultural capital that has long since vanished.

Two Related, Quick Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

Warning: insights of one who has a hammer, pointing out nails.  But still.

First: Black-on-black violence.  Specifically, black-male-on-black-male violence.  Can a substantial portion of this be attributed to the decline of sexual regulation (marriage), fostering a more, err, meritocratic, winner-take-all system?  The free market incentivizes work; does a sexual free-for-all incentivize violence?

Second: White-on-white business predation, or, the technology startup sector.*  Can a substantial portion of this be attributed to the decline of sexual regulation (marriage), fostering a more, err, meritocratic, winner-take-all system?  These guys could all have been engineers for BigCo.

The broader question being: does the decline of marriage cause riskier behavior in young men?

*Don’t think I’m trying to paint a “black dudes kill each other, white guys invent Facebook” picture.  Or perhaps I am, that’s the point.  Facebook ain’t technology, folks.  Ditto for Color, Clinkle, etc.

Taken 3 And The Idiot Father

places hands up defensively   Whoa, whoa, I haven’t even seen it, I just read the Wikipedia article!

A bit of summary so we’re all on the same page:

The original Taken was a pretty fun film:  Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is an ex-CIA professional badass, but his dedication to his work over the years strained his marriage to the point of divorce, and his wife is now married to some rich dude who is, well, we don’t know much about him, but he is not a professional badass.  His daughter Kim lives with his ex-wife and stepfather, while Neeson/Mills works security jobs protecting celebrities from psycho stalkers.

His daughter is spoiled and reckless, but this is L.A. so whatever.  She wants to go to Paris with her friend to ostensibly stay with her friends’ cousins, but the real plan is to follow U2 around Europe and maybe get some personal development in.  Her mother conspires with her to hide this from Mills/Neeson, and he gets clucked/ganged-up on/deceived into giving his permission.

Upon arriving in Paris, the two girls meet a cute foreign dude who suggests they share a taxi to their destination.  He invites them to a party, and Kim’s friend gleefully announces that she’s going to sleep with Foreign Boy (thereby establishing that despite the deception, small-mindedness, and disobedience, Neeson’s daughter is Totally Not A Slut, Just Her Friend Is).  In fact the foreign dude is a scout for creepy Albanian (north of Greece, if you were wondering) sex slavers who come to abduct the girls.  As Kim realizes what’s happening, she calls her dad and he hears the whole thing, thereby beginning Neeson’s bloody trail through Paris to find and rescue his daughter.  And totally justified, of course, because he’s fighting for that outmoded ideal, womanly purity.  At one point he finds Kim’s friend in a squalid brothel, dead from a heroin overdose.  We are to understand that this is the punishment for her earlier intended sluttery.  Neeson fights some more guys, follows a trail, etc., and eventually rescues his daughter from a fat sheik on a yacht..

Understand:  this is crack for conservative divorced dads.  Despite being a badass, Neeson is overlooked, overridden, and ignored at the beginning of the movie, but then is revealed to have been Right and Competent All Along as the movie progresses.  Plus he gets to karate a bunch of guys.  And all of this is for his daughter, and not even that, but for his daughter’s virginity, so he doesn’t even have moral ambiguity to deal with.

In the third movie, from Wikipedia:

In the aftermath of [villain]’s arrest, Kim, who is pregnant, informs Bryan that she wants to name her baby Lenore, after her mother.

Understand that is is portrayed as a good thing.  See, she respects her parents!  She’s naming her baby after her mom!  With her mom dead and stepfather arrested [long story], presumably she’ll live with her badass father and they’ll be a family.

And yet.  If she was just going to get knocked up anyway, why not the sheik?

Neeson’s character is the perfect symbol of the modern conservative father:  bluff and bluster and maybe even competence within his own sphere, but completely unaware of the actual problem.  Despite all his kung fu, Neeson has still failed to keep his daughter marriageable.  He has been completely outmaneuvered.  Where scary Albanians failed, UCLA succeeded.  I bet he feels like a hero.

Sacrifice Brings Forth The Blessings Of Heaven

Was reading Gregory Hood’s post and this passage in particular struck me with reference to Christianity in the West:

 

The spiritual core of the contemporary West is thus a kind of depraved burlesque show, with God alternately denied, turned against us, or somehow both simultaneously.

 

The phrase “turned against us” in particular struck me.  It made me consider the opposite:  what does a civilization that imagines God on their side talk like?

 

Good luck!  And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. ~Eisenhower, message to troops before D-Day

 

I don’t mean to whitewash the Allies during WWII, but I do think that civilization was in a better state then than it is now.  So this is a worthwhile comparison.

Note the use of the word beseech.  That is a beta word, and I mean that as the highest compliment.  Beseeching is begging.

There’s a line in a hymn my church favors—the title of this post: “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”  Sacrifice empowers us to ask the Almighty’s aid.

 

Why?  Perhaps the place to start is: why not?  Why do people who ostensibly believe in a loving God fear to invoke His blessings?

Sin, duh.  The same reason you don’t ask for a raise after you lost the big account, or your allowance after you crashed the family car.

There’s an uncertainty in peoples’ minds: if I approach God as I am, I may receive the asked-for blessing, but I may instead get (well-deserved) divine wrath.  Better to try and slog it out on my own.

It’s the uncertainty that stops them from approaching.  When people are actually enduring adversity they eventually wise up and humble themselves.  When things are OK for now but declining, they tend to live on a sea of denial and procrastinate consequences to the future.

The remedy to this is to take the uncertainty out of it.

Sacrifice is hard.  That’s the point.  Money, time, pride…it hurts to let any of those go.  It’s so hard that you have to change your heart just to be able to do it.  And that is the real objective of sacrifice:  changing hearts.  If you are ready and willing to accept justified divine wrath for your sins, then that overcomes the one obstacle stopping you from approaching the throne of grace for…well, grace.

The goal here is not to win over God to our side with a show of sacrifice.  Rather, it is for us to join His side—and to know it, such that we fear nothing God will do, because we agree with it, even if it means the end of us:

 

This is why it seems harder to believe that God is on the side of the West than it used to be.  Not because we sin—everyone does—but because we’re not certain that we’re on His side.  What have we sacrificed?  Not lust or pride, at any rate.

You’re Going to Lose

Last post I talked about two experiences I had that serve as types for life: playing boring board games with weird people and making it (as much as possible) fun for their sake, and sitting in a hot tub with cool people.  You should read it.  No, seriously.  Here.

Now, what were we talking about in that hot tub that interested me so?

(eyeroll)  Game, duh.

Ok, so it wasn’t game.  It was “social dynamics.”

In particular, those of my alma mater, BYU.  For a town as insignificant as Provo, UT, some of its inhabitants sure don’t seem to think so.  While many (most) of its students are sensible, kind, and down to earth, there are certain apartment complexes in which the residents are, um…not.  Spray tans and hair gel abound.  This wouldn’t be so bad except that, needless to say, beautiful women instinctively flock to this place:

So here I am in this hot tub talking about Babylon-in-Zion.

And one of the things we note is that its natural residents can tell if you belong or not:

I was at this party and I thought, whatever, I’ll just talk to some random girl.  And there’s this girl standing next to me, who is (of course) drop-dead gorgeous, and I say, So who do you know here?  And she says, Oh, I know this person, that person, and that person, etc., pointing around the room.  And I say, Oh, cool, I know those guys over there in the lederhosen.  And she looks at me and says, I don’t know that word, and turns away.

Reader, I laughed, I cried!  Because I moved to these complexes on purpose, thinking, “Oh, they can’t be that bad,” and the above story, while told by a friend of mine, pretty much sums up my experience.  They were that bad.

But back to the sixth sense.  Could the residents really smell fear on you, i.e. what was it that made it so hard to “pass” among them?

One thing we agreed on was that they were clannish.  They understood what we so seldom tell people for fear of discouraging generosity: when you associate with uncool people, in any capacity, you very often become less cool yourself—the only exception being predatory behavior.  In a population raised to care for the one, they had grasped the truth that sticking with the ninety and nine is more profitable, less risky, and looks better.

So first of all: we weren’t necessarily experiencing special exclusion.  Their default was to close ranks.

Second of all: No sixth sense is necessary when outsiders do you the favor of marking themselves by playing Operation with weird people.

* * *

“Adam’s curse was to be forced to choose between the bad, and the probably impossible.” ~ “Long Shots, Reserves

* * *

There is an Isaac Asimov story, The Evitable Conflict, in which an enormous, benevolent computer has just been entrusted with control of the world’s industries.  Efficiency, total output, and quality have all skyrocketed.  Some people don’t like a Machine running things, but in general, humanity’s future looks very bright.

Except…there are problems.  Shortages.  Overages.  Nothing catastrophic, but much worse than the perfection expected of the machine.

The Planetary Administrator tours the world, questioning the Continental Administrators.  He finds that some undersupervisors have disobeyed Multivac (though they protest that they haven’t), and have been demoted as such.  Still, the Machine ought to have been able to account for that.

What he realizes eventually is that nothing is wrong.  The Machine fed false information to those undersupervisors with anti-Machine tendencies, in order to keep them away from positions from which they could ever injure the Machine.

* * *

And so: we see generous people derided for their generosity, the proud uplifted for their pride, the wicked prospering.  I have been around this corner of the internet for seven years ever since I had a crush on a girl in my sociology class and found a Neil Strauss article.  I’ve applied my knowledge in the real world, within the constraints of chastity.  I will say: generally, if Roissy says something will work, it will work.

Our task is, knowing everything we know, to basically do the opposite of what Roissy says.  And like I just said, it will most likely not work.  In the choice between the bad and the probably impossible, we’re supposed to do the probably impossible.  And we will probably fail.  Play enough Operation, and it will stick to you.  That’s how people grow old: they get heartbroken, or have kids.

But we have the rumor that this state of affairs is not going to last forever.

Maybe after all this is over you and I can wake from the dream and be young men together again.

The Hot Tub And The Board Game

I went to a church activity (YSA FHE for those in the know) a few nights ago.  Frankly, I don’t feel like I get much benefit from them: the spiritual lesson is often bland and superficial, and the company frankly leaves much to be desired.

But I don’t go for me.  I go because the company needs me.

This week was, alas, particularly lame.  Those in charge had set up a bunch of tables, put a board game on each one, and set us loose.  I should mention that this gathering was (unusually) 95% dudes.

But hey.  Ridiculous gender ratios actually take the pressure off: forget talking to chicks, and make the best of it.  So I sat down with a friend to play Operation.  Yep, that one.  For the record, I am twenty-eight years old.

As we sat down to play (ironically, of course), the mostly-retarded guy in the congregation wandered over.  We told him to play with us, because we’re nice people.  Then the insanely shy and socially incompetent guy came over too.  We told him to play, he demurred, and we told him to play a bit more forcefully, because we knew he’d otherwise go to his iPad and dammit he needed the social interaction, even if it was playing Operation with three dudes on a Monday night.

(Operation is an OK game if you’re 8.  Some pretty bad puns.  But there is a bit of thrill of accomplishment from manipulating plastic out of the hollows without touching the sides)

I’m no angel.  It’s not like I really enjoyed this.  But I forced some enthusiasm,and we played a whole game through, praising them when they did well.  And they had fun, and felt included.

I hadn’t had dinner, so I was hungry.  I mentioned to my friend that I was going to get some Panda Express immediately after.  He said, “Hey, just come over to my place and we’ll go hot tubbing with some friends of mine.”  So I did.

Also dudes.  But cool dudes, with their own thoughts and opinions on important topics I cared about.  We talk, and it’s fun.

I did way more good playing the board game with the weirdos.  But I felt way better sitting in a hot tub talking with good peers.

It was similar when I was a missionary.  You spend all day on the streets talking to either weirdos or people who think you are a weirdo, and this is when you actually have the chance to do some good.  Then every few weeks they gather all the missionaries together and build you up and you remember that you have a calling from God and you feel great, except that no good is done during this time, all the good stuff you did happened when you felt like a fool out there.

You can’t spend all your time playing board games with socially maladjusted people or you’ll either become one of them or kill yourself.  But neither can you spend all your time hanging out in a hot tub because if you do then what good are you?

Apply as necessary.  And remember the analogy here, because I’ll use it in an upcoming post.  Happy New Year.

The Employee Discount

Eight years ago, I was a Mormon missionary in a far-off land.

I lived with three other missionaries in a tiny apartment.  We weren’t really having a lot of success in the surrounding area.

We didn’t proselyte on Christmas, although perhaps we should have.  I remember walking empty, snow-lined streets on the way to the post office, heavy coat and scarf on.  Later we went to a larger gathering of missionaries.

By far, the best Christmas ever.

Spend Christmas with friends.