Atheists Meltdown in Debate

 

Hot off the Youtube presses – 3 October, 2019. The long-anticipated debate between Jeff Durbin and James White, and the atheists Greg Clark and Dan Ellis.

Man, this debate is a trainwreck! There were so many moments that left me blinking in astonishment. Greg Clark spewed a litany of sarcasm – the whole kitchen sink that ranged from Godzilla, Thor, Joseph Smith, “voices in your head” – and made an absolute fool of himself. My favourite part was when Clark started to bellow that the Bible was clearly made up because the four evangelists had names like Luke and John. “Can you really imagine people called Luke and John running around in the Middle East?” he asked.

Honestly, Greg Clark is a pastiche of atheism. You genuinely get to the point where you’re giggling and laughing at his performance. What else is there to do with this staggering level of ignorance coupled with a staggering level of hubris?

If you watch the debate, consider the question: is atheism really rational? Are atheists rational? Is Greg Clark the sort of guy who has tapped into the realities of the universe and is giving some cogent and meaningful expression of it? Most assuredly, he is not.

I expected this. I have debated with many atheists over the years and my experience has not led me to believe that atheists are particularly good at logical reasoning. Certainly, the reasoning by a theologically informed and studious Christian who invests time in doing their apologetics yardwork, is a lot more philosophically rich and deep than anything I have encountered from atheists in my years of apologetics travels.

In this debate, the atheist side did not start well and it did not rise much higher after that. A trainwreck? Meltdown? Or a total nuclear inferno in which one side when whoosh into a slab of charcoal? You decide.

Oberlin College’s War with Gibson’s Bakery

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Oberlin College is again in the news and for all the wrong reasons.

The college has become infamous for its dealings with a small shop that has been owned by the Gibson family for 134 years.

The problems began in 2016 when a black Oberlin student attempted to steal alcohol from the shop. One of the part-owners detected the theft and asked him not to leave the shop while he phoned the police. The student decided to leave. The clerk chased him down. When he caught up with the student shoplifter, he was assaulted by the student and his two female friends. This assault, according to the Quadrant, included kicking and hitting.

The following day hundreds of Oberlin students gathered at the Gibson bakery shop for a protest. They claimed the shop was “racist”. Their protest was supported by a number of college officials.

From the Quadrant:

In November 2016 an under-age Oberlin student stole a bottle of wine from the shop. When the shop’s store clerk and co-owner, Allyn Gibson, noticed this theft, he chased the thief in the street, and was then hit and knocked to the ground, punched and kicked by this student and two of his student friends, all of whom were black. The next day, hundreds of Oberlin students gathered for a mass protest, across the street from the shop, aided by its Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, and other college officials. Raimondo and others passed out flyers claiming of Gibson’s, “This is a racist establishment with a long account [sic] of racial profiling and discrimination”, and urging a boycott of the shop. The next day, the Oberlin College Senate voted to boycott the shop. The college also urged the shop not to punish first-time shoplifters. This affair occurred the day after Donald Trump was unexpectedly elected president, an event specifically deplored in a memo by Dean Raimondo.

The Chronicle gives a blow-by-blow account of the original incident:

Oberlin police reported that Aladin tried to buy a bottle of wine Nov. 9 but Allyn Gibson, whose family owns the bakery, refused to sell it to him. Gibson confronted Aladin about the two bottles of wine the student allegedly had hidden under his shirt.

The police report said Gibson told Aladin he was calling the police and not to leave. Aladin allegedly tried to leave, and Gibson told police he took out his phone to take a picture. That’s when Gibson said Aladin slapped the phone from his hand and the device hit Gibson in the face. Police have said Aladin then ran from the store, dropping the two bottles of wine to the floor.

Gibson chased after Aladin and the two men got into a physical confrontation outside.

When police arrived, they reported seeing Gibson on the ground with Aladin, Lawrence and Whettstone hitting him.

Days of protests followed the incident when the students insinuated that Gibson’s actions were racially motivated as the students are black and Gibson is white.

Before the sentencing, Aladin, Lawrence and Whettstone each read statements acknowledging that Gibson was within his right to detain Aladin and that his actions were not racially motivated.

Students from Oberlin College had cost the small shop a considerable amount of money with a constant string of thefts and shoftlifting:

Gibson’s shop has existed for five generations, owned by the same family for 134 years, and has no history of “racial profiling”. Between 2011 and 2016, forty persons were arrested for shoplifting there, of whom thirty-two were white and thirty-three were Oberlin students. The three students involved in the assault themselves claimed that Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated. Shoplifting is a problem costing tens of thousands of dollars a year to Gibson’s and other small businesses in the town. Many, perhaps most, shoplifters are Oberlin students, a large number of whom come from affluent homes.

The college, it was alleged by Gibson’s in court, then engaged in a deliberate and concerted attempt to boycott the shop and bankrupt it, leading to a loss of many thousands of dollars and requiring the shop to lay off most of its staff. In other words, a college with 2850 students, 327 academic staff, and $900 million in the bank, attempted to put a small local shop out of business for mendacious reasons stemming from its prevalent left-wing ideology, an egregious example of bullying and intimidation.

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Justice dollars at Gibson’s: In 2016, people flocked to Gibson’s Bakery in a conspictuous display of support. The Chronicle reported: “They came on foot and on motorcycles, in cars and trucks and from all corners of the state to Gibson’s Bakery for doughnuts, coffee and, in their words, justice.” It is anticipated that Gibson’s Bakery will again receive widespread community support as it weathers legal attack by Oberlin College.

The courts upheld the cause of Gibson’s shop, which successfully argued that the claims of racism were unjust, unfounded, and amounted to libel and torturous interference. This had cost the business a lot of money and the family their peace of mind.

From CNN:

Then in November 2016, the lawsuit stated, Oberlin College said it severed its business ties with Gibson’s Bakery. The shop had provided baked goods for the school’s dining services through a third-party company.
While those business ties were reinstated three months later, the shop had already suffered severe consequences, the suit said.
The combined effects of the “defamation, boycotts, demonstrations, and refusal to do business with Gibson’s Bakery was having a devastating effect on Gibson’s Bakery and the Gibson family,” the lawsuit stated.

A jury ordered that the shop pay 11 million dollars in punitive damages. This was not something the college was particularly pleased about. In their view, Oberlin’s officials had only sought to protect their students’ “freedom of speech”. Oberlin took the view that Dean Raimondo was merely policing the protest and was simply there in a protective capacity. Clearly, Gibson’s Bakery represented a threat to the student protestors whose freedom of speech could be denied them at any time. Therefore  it was obviously necessary for Dean Meredith Raimondo to attend the protest in order to prevent the students being robbed of their right to free speech while they committed an act of libel and damaged the business.

But Donica Thomas Varner, Oberlin vice president and general counsel, wrote a letter to members of the Oberlin community.

“We are disappointed with the verdict and regret that the jury did not agree with the clear evidence our team presented,” the letter said.

“Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student’s protests.”

It’s not clear whether Oberlin will appeal the costly verdict.

“Our team will review the jury’s verdict and determine how to move forward,” Varner wrote.

Meanwhile, the students who staged the assault – Jonathan Aladin and Endia Lawrence – pled guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespass. The third student, Cecelia Whettstone also pled guilty but her case has since been expunged.

trioCrime and punishment: Cecelia Whettstone, Endia Lawrence, and Jonathan Aladin appear before Judge James Miraldi. According to The Chronicle: “Jonathan Aladin, 20, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of attempted theft, aggravated trespassing and underage purchase of alcohol. Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, both 19, pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing.” They were required to each pay $334 to cover the expenses of the victim, Allyn Gibson.

Having had time to review the verdict, Oberlin College has decided that it is the victim after all. Today the College Fix reported that the college will sue the shop using some extremely high powered legal representation:

Ballard Spahr’s Lee Levine and Seth Berlin, based in D.C., are two First Amendment veterans with six decades of experience between them, including arguments before the Supreme Court and many federal appeals courts. Berlin also teaches at Georgetown’s law school.

They join appellate attorneys Benjamin Sassé and Irene Keyse-Walker from the Cleveland office of Tucker Ellis. Sassé (not to be confused with the Republican senator) and Keyse-Walker are Ohio specialists, having argued many times before the Ohio Supreme Court and appellate courts.

There is no clue given as to how much the college will pay for these legal services, but it is estimated to run into many millions of dollars.

The reasons the college gives for this new legal action are twofold:

“The decision is grounded in the board’s fiduciary responsibility to the College’s long-term financial health,” said Board Chairman Chris Canavan. Left standing, the verdict could also set a troubling precedent for those institutions, like Oberlin, that are committed to respecting free speech, he said.

Yet, Oberlin declined to settle with Gibson’s shop for 1 million dollars when it had the chance – a bargain deal in comparison with where they ended up – and they give no indication how they intend to recoup their enormous legal costs from a family-owned local shop if a court rules in their favour. At the very least, it is likely to take many years to recover a fraction of their outlay. This is not fiscal responsibility.

Oberlin also declines to explain how the defamation of a shop on the basis of complete fiction – a totally false narrative – in response to a shop justly protecting its goods from theft, is a free speech issue. Should people be allowed to say whatever they like, even if it is utterly false? Should businesses be ruined because someone cooks up a rumour about them? Gibson’s shop points out that there are limits to freedom of speech, and under law, libel is one such limit. Torturous interference is another. We are not permitted to say what is false about others in order to punish or destroy them.

Oberlin College is notoriously liberal and jealously protects that image. It has obviously decided that it has invested too much in that image to allow it to crack apart at the hands of a local retailer. There is something nearly aristocratic and imperious about this action, as the college appears to think that protecting its image as a champion of constitutional freedoms is more important than actual justice.

It certainly looks terrible for Oberlin to end up as the Goliath in a David and Goliath battle – to be publicly identified as the oversized brute bullying the little guy – but the more legal action they take, the more people will come to this conclusion.

Support for Gibson’s Bakery is enduring and international. On August 6, 2019, the Facebook page for the bakery gave a heartfelt thanks to its supporters. Given the new action by Oberlin, it will be necessary for the family business to once again rely people around the world for support against the bottomless depths of Oberlin’s resources.

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Battle of a lifetime: David Gibson thanks supporters, college students, jurors and others for their support and compassion. He also announces his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 

Analysis of a Single Headline

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The headline published on the ABC website announced: “Five Public Artworks that Changed Australia’s Relationship With Art“.

As a headline, it seems commonplace, if not to say common. It is not anything we would not find produced by hundreds of media outlets every day. As a case study, it is very humdrum. But yet, with a closer read, we quickly discover its assertion is fundamentally dishonest and broken. It is a string of completely abstract ideas that dissolve into utter meaninglessness under scrutiny. It is a strip of text that is both false and incoherent.

This one headline represents the sort of material our eyes glide over every day. This is the soup in which we now swim. It’s the stuff that makes up our daily diet of melodrama, exaggerations, outright falsehoods, or incomprehensible statements. For instance, there is actually nothing in this headline that describes a concrete, measurable, observable thing about a shared reality. It is entirely abstract, and in this it perfectly reflects the tooth decay within modern media language. Like sugar that falls into a damp patch on the kitchen bench, nonsense now seeps into the language of our day.

The first thing to notice is that the only thing in this headline that refers to any sort of concrete object in the shared reality of the world are the “five public artworks”. Even here, this is not strictly true. For while it is true that artworks generally exist in the real world as tangible objects that can be seen and handled, it turns out that a number of the titled artworks no longer actually exist anymore. They exist as photographs, and so are not truly concrete realities either.

Abstraction has become a major problem. It is a major problem because abstract ideas are largely imaginary but are treated as if they are real. This is a nearly ubiquitous feature of modern discourse – imagined concepts like identity for example – are treated as concrete objects. Other imagined concepts like hate have even been given the properties of malignant life and personality. “Hate must not be allowed to speak in our community,” screams the politician to ecstatic applause. Such phrases are not specific, not clear, do not describe a set category of actions, and exist only in a mental space.

We have become accustomed to this sort of highly abstract view of the world. Pyramids of books are written; TV programmes are aired; debates are held; university students wring their hands in anguish – all to a large extent about imaginary objects, concepts, and structures that have no true existence. They are treated as true, nonetheless. And today, much civic talk now revolves around these purely mental objects. One only needs to listen to a group of students discuss microaggressions or intersectionality, often with tears and claims of victimhood, to see where this leads.

One of the most common abstractions would surprise most people: the abstraction of nation. Let us look at the way the word Australia is used in the headline. Political theorists recognise that nations are shared, imagined concepts. If you disagree, you only need to run a few thought experiments to see that this is so.

Think of your country. What comes to mind? For most people, in the first few seconds their mind conjures up a squiggly shape on a piece of paper: a map, which is an abstract representation of their nation. Or they might think of a coloured symbol: the flag, an abstract sign with inferred meaning. They might imagine a building like the White House or Houses of Parliament – usually a building they’ve never visited – which are attributed the abstract properties of leadership, representation, or control.

When people think of their country, they may think of their nation’s involvement in war – the War of Independence or the First World War. Again, it is an imagined story constructed like a classroom montage from snippets of this and that glued together. Lastly, people might think of their nation’s unique animals or plants. Australia is associated with kangaroos; Russia with bears; Canada with moose; and America with bald eagles. But these are incidental associations that have got sucked up like Lego pieces in a vacuum cleaner. All of those animals and plants were around long before the nation was ever dreamed of.

Whatever our minds think when we picture our country, it is as abstract as algebraic symbols. Its boundaries and territories do not exist on satellite photographs of the earth. In some places it is not possible to tell from a satellite shot where one nation ends and another beings. Nations are mental objects that large numbers of people agree to share. They exist in the mind with a vast field of dimensions. For example, personal identity, pride, race etc. Lastly, nations are attributed many of the properties of personhood.

There is, of course, a real continental island called Australia. On a basic level, that is all Australia is. It’s a hunk of land that floats in a blue sea. That land mass has its own weather patterns, landscape, and a range of flora and fauna. Just like any other land mass in the world. But packaged up in the word are a host of symbols, emotions, ideas, and philosophies which crowd into an imaginary space in the mind. Most of these associations have never been directly experienced by the imaginer. Many cannot be directly experienced because they are pure objects of mind.

The elements in the mental space contained by the word Australia include conditioned responses. A patriot sees the flag run up the flagpole and a lump comes to his throat. Why does he experience such emotion? Is the flag a particularly beautiful object? Not really. I have seen children draw prettier symbols and nicer pictures than most national flags.

Since there is nothing inherent in the flag itself to warrant emotion, what is the patriot actually reacting to when he places his hand over his heart and blinks away tears? Of course, he is reacting to an imagined reality – perhaps a mental picture of heroic struggle for liberty. Or a the thought of a nice leafy street with white picket fences and barbecues being sizzled by neighbourly citizens. He may imagine himself indebted to his forebears (although, he usually does not imagine himself indebted to his ancestors from a thousand years ago). The patriot emotes not because he is loved or moved by some concrete demonstration. After all, a flag raising is objectively a boring activity. He emotes due to a vast array of imagined associations with the flag. If anyone disagrees, ask them how many emotions they feel when another nation’s flag is solemnly raised? Probably not many. Maybe none.

The headline goes on to tell us that this Australia is capable of having a relationship with art. We might well ask what Australia means in this context? What part of the constellation of ideas in this imaginary concept does the author refer to? The headline cannot mean the land of Australia itself, for how can land relate to art? How can land change its relationship to anything when new artworks come along? We all recognise that non-animate objects like boxes, stones, and mountains can only exist in relationships of relativity or comparison. For example, the hotter the flames the more likely the stones around it are to crack.

Abstract concepts cannot have a relationship with another abstract concept outside of an imagined world. Only human beings are capable of imagining and juggling abstract ideas in a mental space, therefore abstract concepts can only relate with abstract concepts within the human mind. Yet, here the headline insists that Australia has had a changed relationship with art. In what sense, we may wonder?

Imaginary things, of course, can relate to other imaginary things in whichever way the imaginer pleases. But the flexibility of the mind does not make its mental objects true as far as the real world is concerned. For instance, I can create one abstract idea – let’s call it the jiggermajogger – and set it in relationship with another – the zwizkawakz. In my mind, I can interact with these ideas in whatever ways I like, but this does not mean the ideas really exist, or that the ideas describe real things, or that the relationship I set them into actually exists. There simply are no zwizkawakzes.

If the headline’s use of Australia is a reference to the Australian people, then the headline is false conceptually. There are very few collectives of humans (perhaps none) that relate to objects in the same way at the same time in the same sense. Human beings certainly do not relate to art in the same way, for we all know there are as many responses to art as there are people. Some people even dislike art.

Secondly, the headline is false factually. Most Australians never saw these artworks. By the article’s own admission, one artwork was only seen by a million people – many of them almost certainly tourists and therefore not Australia in the headline’s sense. That leaves out the overwhelming majority of the population.

One artwork was a temporary installation completed in 1969 and lasted only for a very short time. It has not been seen by the overwhelming majority of people since then. Other artworks were also temporary installations. One involved flashing 100,000 people’s names on a Broadway-style sign hung in the Australian museum.

Since most Australians never saw these exhibitions it opens the question as to how these five artworks could be vital in causing Australia to change its attitude toward art. Collectives of people could not change their relationship to something when they had no exposure at all to the (alleged) stimulus of change!

MAGIC

The headline is really a species of magic. It names a mysterious entity called Australia which allegedly had a relationship with art in the past, but as the consequence of five artworks, now has another relationship with art.

The headline has absolutely no clear meaning, and certainly does not point to anything in the real and tangible world. The subsequent article never explains the nature of the changed relationship, probably because the relationship is purely abstract. It does not exist outside of the writer’s imagination.

This is one headline.

It is written in undefined abstract language, and attributes the properties of personality to one of those abstractions. Yet this is quite usual for writing and speech across Western nations nowadays. We drown in a sea of abstract language and ideas that are treated as if they were concrete realities with the properties of reality. Identity politics, for example, frequently treats imaginary concepts like concrete realities.

The superabundance of abstract thought plunges people into an ocean of futile thoughts about non-existent mental objects. This is not to say that abstract reasoning is not useful. But the boundaries between abstract and concrete realities have grown blurred. Abstractions are now like shards of glass – they fly everywhere and are lodged into nearly everything. They are often spiritual in nature.

If we are to be clear in our thought and clear in our speech, we need to recognise the folly of treating imaginary ideas as if they were real. As much as possible, we must seek to avoid philosophising and bring our feet back to earth. The scriptures do exactly this. They train the mind to think rightly about the world and its “imaginations” which were (and are) “evil continually”.

The Collapse of the Gay Gene Hypothesis

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Last week, a study of genome markers of homosexuals was published in the August edition of Science. It hit media headlines around the world.

Normally, genetic research is not front page news but this research went viral in the news media across the planet.

SCIENCE THAT GENUFLECTS TO IDEOLOGY

This article deals with what the researchers Ganna et al (2019) discovered. But it’s first worthwhile considering the political influences that now exert a gravitational pull on science. Especially science that addresses identity shibboleths.

Ganna et al’s (2019) genetic research into human sexuality seems to have unleashed all kinds of political and moral anxieties. Some responses have almost verged on panic. Other responses sound like a Trotskyist call to revolution.

Such anxieties exist because the field of human sexuality is now ideological. It is less rooted in science or medical observation than ever. As such, it is a live grenade issue that can quickly blow up should the “wrong” thing be said. This is especially true within academia which is home to a large number of academics and students with a hair trigger response for the slightest suggestion that their orthodoxy is being challenged.

This means that even a scientific investigation of human sexuality cannot survive today unless it adopts as its premises the nostrums, attitudes, virtues, conclusions, platitudes, and even language of what has become cultural orthodoxy. As we shall see, Ganna et al (2019) play by the gender rules. To violate these rules would jeopardise any scientist’s career, or virtually guarantee that their work would die a scholarly death of endless rejection from journal publication.

Business Corruption Problem

Therefore, in one sense, all current scientific research into human sexuality is now dishonest. Honest scientific research never excludes the possibility of a conclusion because it would upset people, and it does not grasp for a particular virtue in order to remain on favourable terms with a crowd. To the contrary, the scientific method requires the researcher to follow the hard evidence even if it leads to uncomfortable revelations or ridicule.

It is bitterly ironic that one of the icons of scientific inquiry – the much-lionised Galileo – is reverenced precisely because he “followed the evidence” even though it landed him in hot water with church authorities. He saw the planets move. His evidence overturned the prevalent Aristotelian philosophy that said they did not.

Such an approach today is no longer possible for an academic who wants to be reputable and conduct study into human sexuality. Or at least, it is very dangerous. There are conclusions that the scientist must not reach and so must be removed from the table a priori. Any finding that threatens the political certainties upon which an identity group claims its legitimacy is automatically assumed to be wrong.

Ideological academics will quickly disparage any research that hits too close to home.

This was highlighted by the comments of Dr Haire, a gay bioethicist at the University of New South Wales who was asked for her view about the research. From her comments recorded by the media, she seemed less concerned about the reliability of the findings and more concerned that the research had taken place at all. Her response is a model of irrational argumentation that makes no sense, yet no doubt would resonate among many of the graduates of higher education.

She said: “I think that there are many very, very good reasons to be highly concerned about studies that look into a genetic basis of same sex-sexual attraction. Currently there are more than 70 countries in the world that criminalise same-sex sexual practices. And in about 12 of them laws can be used to put people to death for their sexuality.”

Dr Haire went on to say that she believes this sort of genetic study presents “dangers” and therefore should not be carried out.

Nevertheless, Dr Haire offered no explanation to justify her claim that any causal relationship exists between investigating genetic markers and the criminalisation of homosexuality in 70 countries. The closest she came was when she told the media that she was worried about some kind of “genetic key” that could be used against homosexual people in these benighted countries at some point in the future. But this seems extremely far-fetched. To argue that research is “dangerous” because some country somewhere might develop an illiberal future technology is a clear exercise at grasping at straws. On that basis all research would have ruled out. Such an extreme application of the cautionary principle would literally shut down scientific inquiry.

For instance, is a genetic study of child misbehaviour dangerous because some countries still use corporal discipline in schools? After all, who knows if they might invent some machine that detects the gene and gives the child shock therapy! What about a genetic study of the digestive biology of different ethnic peoples? Is this dangerous because some countries have racial tensions?

Dr Haire further argues that there’s lots of other things to research, and there is no great demand for this sort of genetic research. It is obvious that this argument is hollow. It could be made about any scientific study, many of which are extremely expensive, extremely esoteric and utterly irrelevant to people outside of academia. Genetic studies of human sexuality at least have the virtue of being relevant to many people and offer meaningful input into moral and political debates. But, one suspects that is precisely why Dr Haire is so obviously keen to delegitimise this material.

Contrary to her empty claims, one suspects her true objections lie not in the principle that the research is dangerous to people on some harebrained notion that it could create a dystopian future, but rather because such research is dangerous to ideology. It says a great deal when ideologues are worried about science.

Fortunately, the researchers Ganna et al (2019) have bent over backwards to forestall the sorts of concerns Dr Haire sketched out. At the very beginning of their published findings, they eagerly establish that they are allied and sympathetic to the LGBTQ movement. For example, they include an insert that discusses something called “othering” and a lengthy exculpatory paragraph on the term “non-heterosexual”. They use this term, the paper explains, to aid only in readability. They do not wish anyone to imagine that they are involved in “othering”.

In a later insert, the researchers state that they engaged with “LGBTQ advocacy groups” in order to explain the limitations of their study. They also go out of their way to strongly affirm contemporary sexual philosophy by explaining that their results point to the “richness and diversity of human sexuality” and that this study cannot possibly be used for “discrimination on the basis of sexual identity of attraction”.

It is a strange thing to find in a scientific paper that the authors have felt it necessary to contact political and social advocacy groups prior to publication. Not only that, but to do so with the express purpose of explaining how limited their study was. Perhaps this was a shrewd political move by the researchers so they did not end up pilloried by those groups for being anti-LGBTQ, or it was motivated by a careerist concern that no taint should mark their political standing within academia.

The researchers further mention that their work “potentially has civil and political ramifications for sexual minority groups”, which is surely an odd statement for dispassionate genetic researchers to make insofar as it is completely false. The odds of genetic research having any “political ramifications” in Western nations is absolutely zero. The chances of it having political ramifications outside of the West where social freedom is already at a low ebb, is also very remote. As for “civil ramifications”, one wonders what these might be. Perhaps the possibility that their work might initiate a debate on homosexuality itself.

All these disclaimers show a deep awareness of a political backdrop to their research. The researchers are not exactly dispassionate, impartial parties. The disclaimers are also intended to mollify their readership. It is a way for the researchers to nail their political and social bona fides to the wall. In essence, the researchers are announcing, “We are compassionate and understanding. We are one of you – liberal academics. We are not doing this study with misguided motives like those sorts of people we are all allied against.” It is a peculiar thing to find in a scholarly paper.

Later, the researchers again demonstrate a conscious awareness of their vulnerability to political attack, this time from transgender activists. They seek to head this off at the pass by explaining that they did not include transgender, intersex, or “other important persons and groups within the queer community” in their study, but they do not explain why. Nonetheless, they are keen to affirm the “importance” of these groups and to indicate they want to include them in an upcoming study. It is as close to an apology that you could expect to find in a paper purporting to be scholarly.

THE GAY GENE HYPOTHESIS IN THE EARLY MILLENNIUM

So why does this genetic research matter so much?

Anyone who can remember the same-sex marriage debates in the early 2000’s will recall the importance of the “gay gene” hypothesis in furthering and shaping the discussion around homosexuality. Although genetic science could not (at that time) confirm or deny the existence of a gay gene, a lot of geneticists strongly hinted that it must exist. A lot of discussion flatly assumed a genetic basis for homosexuality.

A typical set-up would involve a glittering talk show host. They would invite a homosexual person onto their show to talk about the struggles of being gay. The homosexual person would arrive to thunderous applause – perhaps even a standing ovation. There would be tears; painful stories; villains in the form of stern religious parents, and then as the emotion reached its climax, the interviewee would sadly observe, “And all because I was born this way”. Sometimes the line would be delivered with anger rather than pathos: “I want to tell Mr X that he should walk a mile in my shoes! Let him be born this way and survive as proudly as I have!”

Future historians will conclude that the gay gene hypothesis helped sway political and social belief of an entire culture. It provided the theoretical basis for the argument that homosexuality is a characteristic as immutable as skin colour. People are “born gay”, activists asserted, just like a person is born with blonde or black hair. A homosexual cannot “become gay” as a result of upbringing or environment. It is not something they (or anyone else) chooses. It is a sexual orientation foisted upon them from the womb.

At a time when even left-wing presidents and political leaders opposed same-sex marriage and when homosexuality was not a widely celebrated attribute, the gay gene hypothesis had utility. It made guilt-stricken parents of homosexuals feel better. It detached choice from sexual behaviour. It helped to galvanise popular anger. After all, why should people be punished for something outside of their control? It even provided a way to tackle religion. Liberal theologians argued that genetics proved that people were created homosexual or heterosexual by God. It also became a pivotal argument for the legitimacy of same- sex marriage.

Since then, the gay gene hypothesis has formed the basis for an emergent architecture of other policies. For example, the push to criminalise “conversion therapies” draws much of its force from the premise that homosexuality is immutable. Because it is an innate characteristic – e.g. one is born homosexual – and equal to any other innate characteristic like eye colour, no amount of therapy will ever be able to change it. In fact, such therapy will always prove to be harmful because it will make the patient repress their true self in favour of a fictitious one. Without the slightest shred of genetic data, the American Psychological Association has led the charge in this area, always with the assumption that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic.

The latest research by Ganna et al (2019) demonstrates that the gay gene hypothesis is false. Indeed, the researchers flatly state that there is no gay gene. After examining a population sample of 500,000 people, they were unable to identify the existence of a special gene that by itself determines whether a person is inclined toward homosexuality. There is no “on” or “off” switch in the genes.

THE DEMOLITION OF THE ICONS: THE KINSEY SCALE

Instead, the researchers found a range of genetic markers that had some correlation to homosexuality. Yet the researchers state that even these genetic markers lack predictive power. In other words, if a scientist had a map of a person’s genetic markers they would not be able to determine from that information alone whether he or she practised homosexual sexual behaviour. To put this more bluntly, a person could possess all of the identified genetic markers and still be heterosexual.

As a result of these findings, the researchers were forced to leave a very wide latitude for environmental and sociocultural inputs into homosexual sexual behaviour. If genetics alone lacks predictive force for a selected sexual behaviour, then the shortfall can only be explained by environmental factors. This indicates that homosexual sexual behaviour within a population can change based on social and cultural elements. This is not exactly a welcome discovery for obvious reasons, and the researchers are quick to say that these sociocultural inputs may simply influence the genes within those populations. (Even though they cannot find genes that can predict homosexual sexual behaviour.)

The researchers identify five genetic markers that have a statistically significant correlation with homosexual sexual behaviour, yet even the five markers accounted for less than 1% of variation in homosexual behaviour. Taken together, all of the markers included in the study could potentially only account for 8 – 25% of variation.

Worse still, from an activist’s point of view, among the significant genetic markers, there are biological implications and parallels that further call into question the framework of gender ideology. In particular, the researchers take a potshot – a small shot, but a significant one – at the celebrated Kinsey Scale. Developed by Alfred Kinsey and used by researchers as a method of measuring homosexuality on a scale of 0 – 6, the Kinsey Scale has been an icon of sexuality research for decades. The researchers explicitly state that the results of this genetic study call such tools “into question”, mainly because in the estimation of Ganna et al (2019) any bipolar continua are too basic.

The Kinsey Scale was always an unsound tool based on questionable data, but it derived from an era where there were just two sexual possibilities: heterosexuality and homosexuality. Sexuality researchers at the time naturally developed bipolar scales that reflected their zeitgeist. On the other hand, we have arrived in a new era with more than 50 genders and people who fluidly move between genders. It is not surprising that sexuality researchers now think the old tools are too simple and are “discovering” that more complex scholarly architecture is now needed.

SEXUAL GENETICS ARE NOT STRONGER THAN CULTURE

Other findings from the genetic study are also politically inconvenient.

For example, in their final published results, Ganna et al (2019) include a graph that shows the number of people reporting a homosexual experience has risen every year since 1938 until 1970. Their data does not extend backwards past 1938 or forward beyond 1970 presumably because their sample population did not include anyone born earlier or later than these years. The graph shows a consistent upward trend over these decades in homosexual sexual experience. There is no reason not to think that the upward trend is not ongoing.

This graph does not show that the number of exclusive homosexuals within the population is increasing. It only shows that the number of people who report any homosexual sexual experience is increasing. This experience could range from penetrative sexual activity, to other homosexual encounters like oral sex.

What this data shows is that people born in 1940 had relatively low levels of homosexual sexual activity. Slightly more than 2% of males and about 0.75% of females. In contrast, nearly 8% of males born in 1970 and just over 6% of females said they had experienced homosexual activity. The data shows that over a 30 year span, there had been a 400% increase in male homosexual encounters and a greater than 600% increase in female homosexual encounters within the sample population.

The researchers rightly point out – albeit weakly – that this suggests a sociocultural dimension to homosexual behaviour. It is difficult to come to any other deduction. For example, it would be highly unlikely that these figures could be replicated in the Middle East where there is a strong cultural and social disapproval of homosexuality.

This data set does great damage to the gay gene hypothesis. For we have long been told by gay activists that genetics is stronger than culture. This is why homosexual behaviour must socially affirmed, for homosexual activity cannot be repressed by sociocultural constraint. The individual will always suffer under a repressive regimen since the gay gene will drive a person onward with inexpressible potency to express his homosexuality in one form or another.

Now it turns out that the prevalence of homosexual sexual behaviour is not fixed at all. It can vary significantly from generation to generation, and in all likelihood, from culture to culture. Moreover, the most likely explanation for this variation has nothing to do with genetics. It is explicable mostly by sociocultural atmosphere. As the three sample societies in the study have grown more liberal and governments have repealed sexuality laws, it has enabled or even emboldened homosexual experimentation.

If there is a genetic basis to homosexual sexual activity there should be no great variation in homosexual activity from generation to generation. To quote Richard Dawkins, we “dance to the music” of our genes. Since genes are stronger than culture, they will express themselves without regard for culture. Thus, if a person is genetically predisposed to be intolerant to dairy foods, this genetic predisposition will express itself regardless of how much dairy food is celebrated by his country. This data set seriously undermines this premise. The study shows that the genetic basis for homosexuality is weak – if not non-existent – and therefore culture may well prove to be the single most predominant input in shaping sexual behaviour.

MENTAL HEALTH AND HOMOSEXUAL SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR

The study strays into territory that activists have traditionally fought against with great ferocity: the association of homosexuality with mental illness. In their opposition, the activists have a powerful ally in the form of the American Psychological Association who have long rejected the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder. It is important to note that Ganna et al (2019) do not claim that homosexuality is a mental illness. Nonetheless, they do show that it has a statistical correlation with a range of disorders.

As part of their study, Ganna et al (2019) correlated homosexual sexual behaviour with a range of personality traits and disorders. They did this, ostensibly, to evaluate the mental risks among people reporting homosexual sexual activity. They found statistically significant correlations between homosexual sexual activity (whether done exclusively or experimentally) and some of their pre-selected traits.

Smoking – particularly smoking cannabis – presented a significant correlation with homosexual sexual activity, nearly greater than all other correlations. (Interestingly, cannabis use is more strongly linked to female homosexual sexual behaviour than it is to male homosexual behaviour, although both are significant.)

Why smoking drugs should correlate so highly with homosexual sexual behaviour is not explored by the researchers.

Ganna et al (2019) found a negative correlation between “subjective well-being” and homosexual behaviour. In other words, people who report homosexual behaviour also report a lesser sense of well-being than other respondents in the study who never engaged in homosexual sexual behaviour. The researchers also found positive correlations between homosexual behaviour and ADHD, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, loneliness, and numbers of sexual partners.

Th researchers correlated only a small sampling of pre-selected traits and disorders. Obviously a great many others were not included. The type of correlations provide some insight as to why activists are so reluctant for this kind of study to be performed. It does not show this population as a picture of mental health. Even supposing a hypothetical homosexual respondent had just two of the pre-selected traits, they would not only be less likely to enjoy overall happiness and contentment, but also less likely to be as healthy and well-functioning than the average study respondent.

The researchers are careful to avoid making any conclusions about this data set that would suggest that anything innate in homosexuality itself could be a problem. They certainly do not attempt to ascribe a cause and effect relationship to this data, preferring to let it sit in scholarly silence. Like the shapes of galactic nebulae, this data cannot be explained, it just is. Their studious avoidance of any interpretation of the data is justified by a claim of scientific agnosticism. Ganna et al (2019) forcefully state: “We emphasize that the causal processes underlying these genetic correlations are unclear and could be generated by environmental factors relating to prejudice against individuals engaging in same-sex sexual behavior, among other possibilities”.

The researchers promise more discussion on this in their supplementary materials, (which are far less likely to be read by the media or the public). There, they first preface their remarks with the need for “sensitivity” on the topic and then plunge into a discussion that is unwittingly devastating to contemporary gender theory.

First, they explain that the genetic correlations are real linkages between paired traits. For example, major depressive disorder (trait 1) is positively paired with homosexual behaviour (trait 2). These traits must exist in a relationship with each other since an increase in one trait will also tend to increase the second.

To explain the relationship, Ganna et al (2019) briefly mention the possibility that both traits may be the biological products of another unknown genetic variant. This is known as pleiotropy, in which several apparently unrelated traits are influenced by one gene. They theorise that “antagonistically linked sex hormone and stress hormone systems” may be involved in the development of both homosexual sexual behaviour and psychiatric disorders. This is obviously a deeply troubling conclusion because it suggests a common genetic origin – if one exists – of both homosexual sexual behaviour and psychiatric illness. Disentangling the first from the second would be difficult if true.

As a final possibility, they mention that one trait may actually cause the second. This possibility receives no discussion at all. The researchers immediately speculate that a causal relationship could be “mediated by environmental influences”. They conjecture that homosexual sexual behaviour results in prejudice and discrimination. This, in turn, gives rise to psychiatric disorder. In a genetic study, this could make it seem there was a casual genetic relationship when the true source of the trait was environmental all the time.

This is surely a dishonest conclusion that does not make even a passable effort to engage with their own datum. It seems to draw more from popular politics than logical inference. For among the correlations studied by Ganna et al (2019) were ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. None of these conditions have ever been shown to be caused by environmental factors. To put it bluntly, no amount of environmental prejudice will make someone schizophrenic.

Both explanations are equally problematic from a political standpoint. To deduce that mental deficits may contribute to homosexual sexual behaviour renders the sexuality a product of psychiatric disorder. On the other hand, to theorise that homosexual sexual behaviour could be a pleiotrophic effect alongside of mental disorder suggests that both homosexual sexual behaviour and psychiatric disorder are aberrant. That both are unintended side-effects of a puzzling gene interaction.

The researchers did not apparently consider the possibility that homosexual sexual behaviour may contribute to psychiatric disorder. There is no discussion of this at all in either their paper or the supplementary materials.

Ganna et al’s (2019) suggestion that “environmental factors relating to prejudice against individuals engaging in same-sex behaviour” might explain the relationship between some mental disorders and homosexuality is increasingly difficult to sustain in a culture where homosexual people are affirmed and celebrated (e.g. pride parades), given equal rights, access to family privileges, and are legally protected.

The view that society’s prejudice drives mental disorder among LGBTQ people has long been used as an explanation for the prevalence of mental disorder within this population, and as a rallying cry for greater political protection and privilege. But if mental disorder continues to be correlated with homosexuality at a high rate even within some of the most homosexual-friendly societies in the world – a Swedish sample was used in the study – then this hypothesis quickly loses force.

HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOUR AND EVOLUTION

Ganna et al (2019) include a data graphic that shows an inverse relationship between the number of same-sex partners a person has and the number of children they have. The more same-sex partners, the fewer the children.

The average number of children for male homosexuals who never have sex with women is around 0.4%. For exclusively female homosexuals it is around 0.6%. This is not unexpected since homosexual couples who never have sex with the opposite gender cannot produce children without expensive fertility support, a gamete donor, or the involvement of a third, opposite-sex person.

It is oddly naive to find something so obvious given so much time in a scientific paper, as if this were an entirely unforeseen discovery. Ganna et al (2019) write: “individuals who reported same-sex sexual behavior had on average fewer offspring than those of individuals who engaged exclusively in heterosexual behavior, even for individuals reporting only a minority of same-sex partners”. They point out that this reduction in the number of children is equal to, or greater than the reduction in fertility found in other traits that are also linked to lower fertility. It turns out that having sex only with someone of the same gender is very bad for reproduction. Or, put bluntly: homosexuality causes infertility.

Ganna et al (2019) briefly note that the lack of children among homosexuals calls into question the “evolutionary maintenance of the trait”, although they opt against any discussion of this. This may well be a sensible sidestep for geneticists who are engaged in the supremely ridiculous task of trying to find a genetic basis for homosexuality within a population they have discovered does not reproduce.

CONCLUSION

For the past decade the gay gene hypothesis has gradually dwindled in importance.

This is due to two developments.

Firstly, the success of homosexual political aims have made the appeal to genetic science mostly irrelevant. Same-sex marriage laws have been passed by most Western nations and the wholehearted embrace of homosexuality within the mainstream social ecology represents a clear triumph. Everything from Burger King to Harvard supports the LGBTQ movement. Everyone from prime ministers to corporate executives are eager to be seen as allies of the community. The LGBTQ movement has won the culture with or without science.

But secondly, the quiet disappearance of the gay gene hypothesis has coincided with the rise of the extremely disparate transgender movement and the explosion of sexual identities connected with it. The gay gene hypothesis was already ageing when the transgender movement unwittingly laid the axe to it.

They recognised that the hypothesis has spoiled on the shelf like old milk. It arose in a binary era when you were either homosexual or heterosexual. It no longer fits the zeitgeist of times. Worse, not only is the hypothesis no longer useful but it is a potential impediment to the transgender movement.

Since the early 2000’s, gender ideology has gone through a complete rewrite by the transgender movement. Back then, the main concept was a binary sexual identity. Today, the main concept is fluidity.

From the vantage point of 2019, there is something touchingly retrograde about the gay gene hypothesis. It belongs to a different political era, one in which science – even junk science – was grasped at as an evidentiary foundation. But that was then. This is now. The ideology that once demanded from genetics the discovery of a gay gene has been nearly completely displaced by the idea of gender fluidity.

If gender is fluid, and a person’s gender and orientation can be altered by their own fiat without any need for an external measure or authority outside of themselves, then there is no longer any need for a gay gene. Indeed, as Dr Haire noted, such genetic research is actually quite dangerous – terminal, really – to contemporary transgender ideology.

For if sexual identity was a product of genes, people might have to prove that there is an objective biological foundation to their gender identity. It opens questions as to whether a person’s orientation is biological or psychological. This is inimical to the current fashion that insists a person must be accepted for whatever they say they are. Personal autonomy is the stated goal of current gender ideology. To make one’s identity subject to a biological reality would tend to diminish that autonomy. Great academic effort has been invested in elevating the mind over matter and this is directly at odds with the old thinking that suggested matter actually made the mind.

Within the sexual “rainbow”, there are people who claim to switch freely between genders while others claim to reside primarily in one gender but sometimes express the other. Some people want to receive surgical changes so that they become a simulacrum of the opposite sex, while others do not want to be surgically changed but want to dress, behave, and be treated as if they were the other sex.

These flying fragments of gender and sexual identities are the shrapnel that has blown the legs off the gay gene hypothesis and made it the unwelcome, flatulent uncle in academia. It explains why the gay gene hypothesis had quietly slipped off the radar and genetic research into homosexuality had all but stopped. Now it returns in an odorous cloud and no matter how sensitive or progressive its authors, it invariably casts a cloud.

The good news for gender theorists is that most people do not care about having an opinion grounded in science anymore. Ideology and belief has achieved a total ascendancy over objective evidence right across the fields of human endeavour. Indeed, ideology itself is evidence in the minds of many people today.

While this study by Ganna et al (2019) devastates the gay gene hypothesis of the early 2000’s, it has arrived too late to be of any use to conservatives, religious people, or opponents of same-sex marriage. A great edifice has already been built on the gay gene foundation. Science can put cracks and dents in that foundation, and might even explode dynamite on it, but the edifice remains. The ideology has hardened enough to survive a few inconvenient genetic findings, and the culture has been conquered.

FURTHER READING

A welter of articles have recently appeared on the study. They come to a range of conclusions and positions.

Gay Gene theories belong in the past (The Guardian, 30 August 2019)

Retiring the Gay Gene Hypothesis (DNA Science)

No Single Gay Gene (Medscape, 4 September 2019)

The Great Education Crisis: The Collapse of Literacy In Anglophone Nations

righttoliteracy

In the western world, education is in steep decline.

Over the past 20 years, literacy and numeracy attainment has fallen throughout the English-speaking world. Alarm bells have been rung in Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

In the United States, it is now estimated that nearly 20% of the adult population cannot read. This disturbingly high statistic shows no sign of slowing. According to Concordia University Portland, there is a brewing education crisis in the United States. It cites data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that shows:

…46 percent of white students scored at or above proficient. Just 17 percent of black students and 25 percent of Latino students scored proficient.

Or, this means that more than half of all white students in the United States do not achieve proficiency in English, and for black students, a staggering 83% are not proficient readers.

Multiple test regimes confirm the steep decline in literacy in the United States, and an even worse decline in numeracy:

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released the results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The PIACC provided an overview of proficiency in adult literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. In literacy, people born after 1980 in the U.S. scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Overall, U.S. adults aged 15-65 scored below the international average in all three categories— ranking near the very bottom in numeracy.

In some centres – such as Detroit – 93% of students are either illiterate or lag well behind expected literacy achievement. The reappearance of mass illiteracy in the United States has prompted documentary investigations such as Make America Read, that explores some of the reasons children are not learning how to read, and the efforts to help illiterate students as old as 14 to catch up. Despite some success, after-school programs and government interventions seem to make little difference. Metropolitan islands ofilliteracy are getting bigger in the United States.

In the United Kingdom, in 2001, it was shown that illiteracy had exceeded 1912 levels. By 2016 the United Kingdom had been placed last out of 23 OECD countries on international scores that compared the literacy rate for 16-19 year olds. Currently, the United Kingdom is the only OECD country where “the literacy of 16-24 year old people is below that of people aged 55 and over”.

In Canada, things are just as dire. In a manual produced by Canadian police services titled “Literacy and Policing in Canada: Target Crime With Literacy“, the researchers estimated that 42% of the Canadian population would not have the basic reading skills to perform everyday tasks. They concluded that the average literacy score for Canadians is “near the bottom of Level 3”. Level 3 reading is defined as the basic minimum for a person to be employable and able to cope in an information society.

In Australia, the Productivity Commission estimates the average Australian highschooler is now a year behind in mathematics compared to their 2004 counterparts. The trend toward lower and lower literacy attainment in Australia has sped up in recent years, despite the official claim that the overwhelming majority of students achieve national benchmarks. In response, the Australian Federal Government wants to introduce a phonics test for all first year primary school children.

The test consists of real and made up words in order to identify which children can actually sound out words, and which have simply memorised word blocks. When this test was rolled out last year in one Australian state, it found that only 43% of students reached the minimum benchmarks for reading.

Likewise, New Zealand has plunging declines with some surveys indicating that 40% of the population are unable to read at a functional level.

OFFICIAL STATISTICS

These figures stand in stark contrast to officially reported statistics that typically claim a literacy rate of 99%. No official statistical body in any Anglophone nation currently acknowledges that illiteracy – whether outright or functional – is widespread. How could this be possible when it runs counter to the research of academics and the lived experience of so many people?

Official statistics are often compiled from the results of national testing regimes that measure student attainment against “national standards”. These standards are typically set quite low and the vast majority of students are able to pass them. When the standards are raised, however, the number of students able to achieve them plummets drastically. This provides perverse incentives to both bureaucrats and teachers’ unions to not alter existing testing regimens.

Recently, this has been played out publicly in Australia. In an effort to improve literacy, state governments have introduced new, higher standards of achievement. The new standards caused a nearly 30% decline in reported student proficiency:

Just 62.6 per cent of Year 7 students reached the proficiency standard for reading last year, compared with 93 per cent listed as reaching the national minimum standard in the 2017-18 Budget papers. And 64.3 per cent of Year 9 students achieved proficiency in reading, compared with 92 per cent reaching the national minimum.

Since official statistics in Anglophone nations usually indicate that everything is going splendidly, it is left to international testing regimes to blow the lid on the state of education in these countries. These groups use their own achievement standards, which are much more objective. They conduct their testing on behalf of international economic agencies and are not beholden to domestic politics.

Domestic agencies that are not connected to any government or teacher body, almost always find a serious crisis. Book councils, PhD level researchers, local reading groups, surveys, dyslexia foundations, and so on, generally report high levels of illiteracy.

Part of the reason the crisis is overlooked in official statistics is that there is no agreed-upon definition of literacy. The official definition of literacy can range dramatically. In some countries, being able to write your name and understand newspapers is enough to qualify a person as being literate.

All of this has long-term implications for the economic and social future of Anglophone nations. The uncomfortable truth is that mass illiteracy – either outright or functional – is returning to these nations very quickly. This has serious implications for crime rates, civic participation, economic growth, the emergence of class systems, and religious observance. Worse still, governments seem to be able to do very little to stem the decline.

This is because the decline is largely driven by changing cultural values and is not entirely the result of government incompetence. Literacy and intelligence have been routinely ridiculed in youth culture for decades. Doing well at school is valued less than the affirmation of a social circle. Among working and middle-class people, two social groups that have experienced the steepest declines in literacy, entertainment is increasingly more valued than education.

I can remember a visible demonstration of this when I visited a number of houses in a newly-built lower-middle class suburb in a major urban centre near where I lived. While all of the houses featured expensive entertainment instalments – in one house I saw a cinema room with blackout curtains and a wall-mounted video projector – there was no evidence of any serious reading at all. Some houses featured a large television screen in every single room (even when this resulted in people having to squeeze sideways between furniture), but not a single bookshelf or bound book. If I saw mammoth television screens dominating entire walls of a living space, I could predict with a high degree of accuracy the near-absence of any reading culture at all. At best, I saw in one house a few trashy magazines.

Professor Neil Postman wrote the seminal “Amusing Ourselves to Death“. He foresaw the inevitable effects of a screen-based culture as far back as the 1980’s. It is impossible not to question the influence of technologies on illiteracy rates when they are chiefly visual, operated with icons, offer voice-to-text features, and largely replace text with video and pictures.

IMPLICATIONS

Satan hates the Lord and God’s people who bear his name. If he is to step up his assault on the church, part of his attack strategy will be to downgrade literacy in order to cut people off from the life-giving word of God. If people cannot read the scriptures they will not come to Christ. If people will not come to Christ they will remain alienated from God and the church will be weakened here on earth. In a double-assault, the devil seems intent on replacing literacy with an abundance of distracting devices that shut down the mind and drown out the conscience. This not only makes it harder for people to discover the reality of the person of Jesus Christ, but also makes it harder for them to detect error and manipulation.

Highly developed literacy almost always goes hand-in-hand with a developed reasoning ability. People whose lives are characterised by irrationality, thoughtlessness, and susceptibility to deceptive arguments often lack the literacy necessary to discover truth, and God’s wisdom that would empower them to work through it.

Whatever the devil is up to – and we cannot speculate about the mind of evil – within the next decades, the Anglophone world will almost certainly become less educated and literate than it was, with the rise in attendant problems like increased criminality, lower economic development, more ill-health, and multitudes who will give ready belief to “every wind of doctrine” that blows past. We see the outworking of this latter problem already in the astonishing rise of conspiracy theories in the Western world that grip people so tightly they hoard food, build shelters, and prepare for preposterous scenarios.

As Christians we have a duty and obligation bequeathed to us by the privilege of being entrusted with the Bible – the very speaking of God to us through the mouths of his prophets, apostles, and Son – to be concerned about literacy. We ought to cultivate a reading culture in our homes and lives. We must be deeply concerned to impress a high literacy standard upon our children. We must energetically promote reading in the world around us, and to be ever-vigilant in taking care never to lose our connection with the word of God which is sufficient to make us wise to everlasting salvation.

Radicalised by Jesus: Serve the King, No Matter the Cost

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Jesus is always forthright when he deals with people. He is clear; uncompromising; and honest. He lays down on the table the price of discipleship. He will deal with us if we are prepared to deal with him on his terms. And one of those terms is that Christians must be willing to pay any price to know him, to follow him, and to abide with him.

What if this is too frightening? What if the price is too steep? Then Jesus flatly states that such a man cannot be my disciple. There is only one way. And if we are not prepared to pay the price, then we need to be honest and just admit that we do not love him enough.

When Jesus speaks to his Apostles in Matthew 10 he calmly outlines the stratospheric level of commitment he expects from them. It is one of the most remarkable passages in Matthew’s narration because here it is Jesus of Nazareth himself who is defining what it means to follow him. The words he speaks are radical and illusion-shattering because they were meant to be. They sound dangerous, because they were meant to show us how great salvation is. And how fearful damnation.

Here the Lord was expressly intending to radicalise his disciples and thereby to thin out the ranks. For if this is what following Jesus looks like, anyone with a superficial or fleeting enthusiasm would not stick around for very long.

Jesus lays out five key points. This is his criteria for discipleship:

  1. Do not fear death, for to be killed in service to Jesus is victory
  2. Do not be afraid of any harm done to the body by unbelievers
  3. Be bold in publicly proclaiming the lordship of Christ
  4. Love Jesus more than every other love, passion, or relationship
  5. Prepare for social exile; discipleship will be a final departure from the world

Top of the list is a willingness to die. Literally die. This is utterly contrary to the west, where people are so soft and cossetted that they do not even like to talk about death, much less talk about how to die well. Neither is this true only of unbelievers. It is a sad reflection on the church that too few western Christians really contemplate martyrdom. Too many Christians are not mentally and spiritually prepared for it. It is not preached. It is not our concern. We do not cultivate a willingness to put our lives on the line if it should ever be necessary for our testimony to Jesus.

When Jesus speaks of taking up the cross he means an inward disposition toward the world and toward life. We are to live as if martyrdom were around the corner. Taking up the cross gives us a new enlightened outlook in which we start to see the world for what it really is: our temporary camping ground en route to the Promised Land. Cross carrying yields a disposition that punches through the materialistic, languid illusions of our age. For once a man is condemned to crucifixion, and walks the dusty road up to Calvary with the crossbeam over his shoulder, what does he think about? What holds his attention? How does his view of things change?

The man on the march to crucifixion no longer existed. His community reviled him. He might have to walk between rows of a jeering crowd. He had no possessions. Even his clothes were up for grabs by the guards on execution duty. He no longer was master of his own life for it was shortly to be taken from him. The man on the road toward his own personal Calvary would see no future for himself on this side of eternity. If he believed in God, at the hour the nails were riven home, amidst the flaming agony, he surely believes with all his heart. There is no longer anything left to cloud his faith; no longer anything of this earth to hold him down. He is truly free. Free enough to die for God.

Faith that sneers at death, and holds pain in derision for the sake of Christ is in short supply today. And this is why the church withers in the west. Christianity was never meant to be transmitted in safe and cosy ways, without price, without sacrifice, and without tears and sweat. It is a shortage of these things that suggests to unbelievers that Christianity is not really believed, even by those who profess it. And maybe we don’t. Maybe, in the west, we don’t believe in eternity and the glory of God. Not really. And that is the real reason we are so scared of the radicalism of Jesus.

Leonard Ravenhill – the great evangelistic preacher whose ministry blazed with indefatigable zeal for thirty years – once remarked that the Islamic world had seen a revival that was even then causing the Muhammadan creed to be transmitted deep into Western nations:

My dear country of England, in the last 25 years, they’ve closed 600 branch churches of the Church of England alone, leave out the Methodists and others.

But in the place of 600 churches, we have now six hundred mosques. The greatest revival in the world right now is amongst the Muslims. Why? Because they’re prepared to die. You can’t scare them.

Leonard Ravenhill had his finger on the pulse of Islam ten years earlier than most Christians in the west, who remained blissfully unaware of the Islamic Revival that began in the early 1970’s until it crashed into their awareness in a swirl of burning wreckage and splintering metal on September 11th, 2001. Despite the efforts of global authorities and the expenditure of uncountable pyramids of gold, radical Islam continues to spread across the world. Why? Because they are not afraid. Islamic radicals impress their fellow Muslims with the sheer weight of their courage. Although their religion is false, men and women will always recognise genuine belief when it manifests itself in a person unafraid to die.

Before Christianity will revive in the west, it is going to take the outbreak of this kind of faith and consciousness of the eternal stakes. This is something that Ravenhill understood very well.

Few men have looked, worked, prayed for the approach of Christian revival like Ravenhill. He was a watchman on the city walls who strained his eyes for a lifetime searching for the first rays of sunlight that would herald the dawn. As far back as 1959 he wrote the book that has become one of the modern classics of Christian literature: Why Revival Tarries. In this book, he flatly declares that there is no Christian revival because modern Christians do not really want it. Too many Christians are too contented not to see great movements of the majesty and work of God. There is a shallowness in our witness; in short, we have lost the dangerous, radical dynamism of the earliest disciples who embraced the cross with a full willingness for the glory and the cost.

This spirit of self-preservation was unknown to the earliest Christians. They were mostly poor people, and they lived in the shadow of death cast by the sophisticated totalitarian government of ancient Rome. For them, martyrdom was not repellent, but a privilege. They drank deeply from the spirit of the words “take up the cross and follow me“. Some of the earliest saints were so desirous for the promised martyr’s glory that they courted death. Some of the more radical Christians set pagan temples on fire, and then waited purposefully for a howling mob to show up and kill them.

They revelled in the chance to die. This fact alone teaches us in our timid 21st century how much we have drifted from the fiery, self-sacrificing zeal and eternal outlook known by the first Christians. This, we see in the life of Ignatius of Antioch, who was famously taken to Rome for martyrdom. En route to his certain death, he wrote numerous letters that were soaked in the craving for a victor’s crown from Christ. Many of these express an eagerness to die and exalt in suffering for Christ’s name. The most famous is his letter written to Christians at Rome, “I am God’s wheat”:

I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God.

No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.

The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the world. Do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God. If you have him in your heart, you will understand what I wish. You will sympathize with me because you will know what urges me on.

Ravenhill predicted the return of martyr flames in the West. Certainly the walls are closing in on the church. The day is already here when orthodox Christian belief fits so uncomfortably with the spirit of the age it is even now irritating it like a particle of sand under the skin. This is a sign of our times – a demonstration of great spiritual realities unfolding around us – that in the space of less than a hundred years, the ancient landmark of Christianity which stood unchallenged for centuries has made the transition from being normal to completely offensive and alien.

Biblical Christianity is only tolerated because it is not understood. When the core tenets of Christianity are explained unbelievers reject it as “hateful”. Each point of the doctrine taught by our Lord is questioned and challenged by this world.  Dr. Michael Jensen, rector of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Darling Point, Australia, wrote a few years ago to prove this very thing:

It is pretty obvious from recent public discussions of the place of faith in public schools that completely orthodox, historic Christian teachings, held by the vast majority of Christian denominations, are held by some people to be “extreme”.

Recently, a fellow panellist on an ABC TV show “accused” me of believing that Jesus was the only way to God – which I do believe – as if this was somehow news, or evidence of cult-like weirdness. In another context, something I had written about the sinfulness of humankind – the most easily verified of Christian doctrines I would have thought – was thrown at me as if I had just called for a holy war.

The NSW Greens Education spokesman John Kaye was aghast that Christian material taught sexual abstinence outside of marriage, again as if this was somehow evidence of the kind of radical extremism that we ought to use the force of law to stamp out.

A great movement of God is desperately needed in the west – that Christians would again be radicalised by Jesus and filled with so much courage that we can throw caution to the wind in service to him. It is for this that we ought to be earnestly praying; for ourselves and for our fellow believers. We have become so weak! So pallid and limp. We are spiritually sick and have so little appetite for spiritual bread and spiritual riches in Christ that we no longer even realise it. The patient’s pulse is nearly undetectable.

Meanwhile, our brethren in China forsake their possessions and comforts for the sake of Christ, and the church is now at least sixty million strong. Our brethren in Africa are shot by marauding Islamists, or they travel for miles on foot to worship the living God and have not a bite to eat when they return home. But though they have nothing – like the church at Smyrna – yet are they rich! They do not meet in polished buildings or have flawless services, but they have a habitation that is secure for all eternity; mansions of glory.

The Spirit and the bride say, Come Lord Jesus! This must be our prayer. That there would be a great movement of God in our hearts and the wider church. That we would be transformed so that that Christianity would no longer be a hobby confined to Sunday morning and a few prayer sessions, but that it should be the ceaseless motion of our lives. That a pursuit for holiness and sanctification would dominate our passions, and overcome our fear of loss. That we would invest serious time on our knees, travailing as in birth, for a greater awareness of God and the true conversion of precious souls.

Come Lord Jesus, indeed. That we would have the vistas of eternity open large before us, shrivelling the few years of this life up before our eyes. That we would thirst for God himself, and for holiness. And be so set on fire with love for our Lord Jesus Christ that we would truly take up our cross daily, and follow him.

The New Breed of Politician

Huge Tidal wave with man

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets a lot of air time in the media. In the progressive press she is lionised for her authenticity (she speaks to supporters on live stream while preparing dinner in her kitchen), and for the rags-to-riches story that she has made part of her political narrative. She seamlessly markets her personal life as part of her brand so that in addition to lifestyle coffee, we now have the lifestyle politician.

In the conservative press, however, Ocasio-Cortez is routinely disparaged for her ludicrous policy ideas that are unhinged from the real world of economics. When challenged she tries to overturn questions on the financial and technical details of her “Green New Deal” by assuming the costume of moral superiority. Anyone who wants anything more specific than blue sky vision statements has simply failed to grasp the scale of environmental apocalypse.

Predictably, Ocasio-Cortez is often pilloried for her preference of style over substance and her symbolic feel-goodism over nuts and bolts happenings. A classic example of this behaviour was seen her bizarre speech made to an audience of African Americans earlier this year in which she used an accent she does not normally use. With great indignation, she responded to critics that this was “code-switching”. She hinted that her critics did not understand why a person might use a completely different accent because they were not from the Bronx as she is.

The millennial generation is getting older and now starting to ascent to positions of power. Ocasio-Cortez is an example of the kind of politician that is emerging from the 1980’s and 1990’s era. These are reared on amoral TV shows like Friends and Buffy, and their values are shaped by their gender studies professors rather than religion.  So, if we want to get an early snapshot of our future politicians, Ocasio-Cortez is a petri-dish specimen of what is soon to come. This is not a comforting thought for the believer who already has cold shivers from seeing the sheer lack of intellectual engagement that new politicians exhibit.

Nonetheless, for the time being Ocasio-Cortez is easily disregarded by Christians because she is so evidently naive and intellectually ill-suited to leadership. Her petulant outbursts, the abundant self-esteem the gallops heedlessly past her mediocrity, her conviction that no valid criticism of her positions exist, and her regular retreat into the cocoon of identity politics is, if anything, an irritation. For the moment, she seems to pose no threat. She can be dismissed as a hapless cartoon character whose ludicrous schemes always hilariously unravel. She can sprinkle some ACME GO-SLO pellets along roadrunner’s path, or try to excite a roadrunner revolution by planting ACME dynamite at key locations, but in the end her wily schemes will go haywire and she will end up lodged in a cactus. Cue general laughter and merriment.

I think this sentiment is dangerous and misleading. We would be unwise to imagine that the upcoming generation of politicians are just comic relief who can do no lasting damage and do not imperil the Christian Church. The millennial politicians coming down the pipeline combine Ocasio-Cortez’s hostility to the foundation stones of Western civilisation with a ruthless willingness to bully and persecute anyone who dares to dissent.

This brings us to Brian Sims. A homosexual Democrat politician sitting in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who hectors and abuses old ladies and teenage girls who disagree with him about abortion.

A few weeks ago, Sims spotted an older lady silently praying her rosary near an abortion clinic. Note that well, silently. This lady was not speaking. She was not waving placards. She was not even wearing clothing with slogans or logos. All she did was silently pray. It is about as inoffensive as you can get, and in a healthy pluralistic democracy, she should have been able to do so without being accosted.

Brian Sims could not bear the sight of this. He berated, insulted, and harassed her for about nine minutes:

During the course of Sim’s nearly nine minute video in which he stalks, taunts, harasses and accuses the unnamed woman, the state representative repeatedly attempts to shove his smartphone camera in the woman’s face. She quietly walked up and down the sidewalk during Sim’s outburst, seemingly unperturbed as she prayed a rosary.

By the end of his video, Sims had hurled the words “Shame,” “Shameful,” or “Shame on you!” at the woman at least 18 times; He said what she was doing was “Disgusting,” or “Grotesque” more than a half dozen times; He accused her of being “racist,” and repeatedly attacked Christianity.

Sims then makes a truly bizarre statement:

Sims said to the woman that although she has a Constitutional right to protest, “that doesn’t  mean you have a moral right to be out here.”

Morality is very important to Mr Sims. Or rather, his morality is very important to him because it apparently confers upon him the right to bully, harass, and attempt to intimidate women on the streets whom he has judged have errant religious views. One cannot help but conclude that Brian Sims rather enjoyed bulling this woman. Bullies pick their targets carefully. In this case, the lady was hardly likely to turn around and pop him one, and her apparently meekness served only to galvanise the brave Mr Sims. He captured the whole exchange on camera and personally uploaded the video. He seemed to think that it made him look like a hero.

During his big moment, Sims repeatedly attacked Christianity. It is here that his comments reveal the real issue. Sim cannot stand Christianity and its moral teaching. He does not like Christianity that holds an unbending resolve in the face of hostility; a concern for doing what is right in the sight of God at all costs. It is this sort of muscular, manly Christianity that people like Brian Sims both fear and despise. His reaction to it is exactly what we witness in the New Testament in opposition to our Lord.

As the Western world sinks deeper into a terminal paralysis of sin out of which no person or movement can rescue it, we should expect to see this hated for the Church and for Christians to increasingly manifest in politicians. An unchurched and uncatechised generation will have no regard for Christ and no respect for his teachings. They will do what rebel sinners always do when elevated to power over Christians: they will persecute. The only restraint that prevents these politicians from doing more harm to the Christian community, at least for the present, is the decaying restraint of law.

At one point Sims insists, without the slightest hint of irony:

There’s no faith that tells you ‘you are right’ and everybody else is wrong.  There’s no faith that tells you it’s your job to stand out here and shame people for something they have a right to do.

It’s self-referential satire. Brian Sims is a parody of himself. He is the Spanish inquisitor who sets out to roast other supposed inquisitors for their crime of supposedly roasting inquisitors. He is blithely ignorant of the fact that he is acting in precisely the way he describes this woman of doing.

Although Sims acknowledges that this woman had a right to be on the streets praying her rosary, he still appointed himself to the task of shaming her for it. Apparently in his world, his totalitarian, take-no-prisoners moral code allows him to believe he is right and anyone who disagrees with him is wrong. But nobody else may have such absolutist convictions.

It is amazing how entitled, self-regarding these uber-progressive warriors have. Their self-awareness is minuscule because they are not evidently in the habit of robust scrutinising themselves. Over and over again, they blast away at other people while demonstrating the same poor behaviour they claim to repudiate.

Christians should look carefully at Brian Sims behaving like a goon. We should listen to his sinister ranting on the streets and see in this the face of the coming generation of politicians. It is a generation of politicians that will think nothing of standing on the streets arrogantly haranguing folk about what Christianity supposedly is. They will not hesitate to directly target our faith. For millennial politicians know what Christianity is and woe betide any Christian who prefers the teachings of… well, the actual risen and ascended Christ to their warmed up puree of authoritarian progressivism in faux virtue.

“Iniquity,” the psalmist tells us, “surely abounds when the vilest men are exalted”. We must sadly live in the certainty that more of this sort of politician is on the way.