Walking with the Nazarene in the Wilderness: The Second Temptation of Christ

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Of all three temptations, it is the Second Temptation of Christ that presents us with the greatest interpretive puzzle.

It is quite unlike the First Temptation. In the First Temptation we can readily see ourselves in the light of Christ’s experience. The sight of the starved Nazarene being tempted to eat by the devil is quite analogous to our personal experience of having strong desires for things that do not glorify God. Under the pressure of this testing, the fortitude of Christ is clearly revealed to us precisely because it is earthy, and therefore corresponds to the reality in which we live. We know the weakness and limits of our own frame and we know how hard self-denial can be.

Later, the Third Temptation is even more straightforward. The spiritual immensity of being tempted with “all the kingdoms of the earth” is easily understandable because in so many instances we ourselves fail when tempted by the merest sliver of a kingdom – perhaps a promotion, or acquisition of property. The news greets us regularly with stories of people who have sold their souls for a fraction of a kingdom: politicians who seek power at the expense of their fellow man; dictators who climb to the top of their nations over a hecatomb of corpses; doctors who bully and bribe to become presidents of the local board of physicians.

The incredible weakness of mankind when offered power is a stain that cannot be washed out of the race, generation to generation, no matter how many times the bitterness of oppression is experienced. Thus, in the Third Temptation when we see Christ being assailed not by the merest part of a kingdom but by all the kingdoms of the earth in their fullness, we recognise an intensity of temptation that we ourselves would be unable to bear.

In this manner the First and Third are readily intelligible. But the Second Temptation? The Second Temptation is the outlier.

How can we relate to this? What experiences does it parallel? What aspect of the human condition does it speak to? The Second Temptation does not seem to apply to any of life’s common experiences; in fact, we can look upon the Second Temptation with jaded eyes and think, “How is this even a temptation? It certainly would not tempt me!” Thus, we can simply conclude that while something certainly takes place in the Second Temptation, it lies within a veil we cannot penetrate and at a depth we cannot plumb. It must lie under the perpetual shadow of a question mark.

Yet this is very far from the case. Although the Second Temptation may be mysterious, it is certainly not shrouded in darkness and offers serious lessons to the believer that are instrumental in an age of recurrent spiritual tremors like ours. Nevertheless, (let the reader beware), the lessons taught here are not necessarily pleasant. The passage punctures religious pride; confronts misplaced religious zeal; and overturns cherished religious convictions.

This may explain why the passage so often gathers dust in the library of God’s word for if there is one thing that unstable Christians are opposed to, it is self-examination and spiritual sobriety. If there is one thing overly-emotive Christians dislike, it is being brought down to earth. And if there is one thing that drives away theatrical Christians, it is anything that brings down the curtain on religious showmanship in favour of the humble, considered and the quiet.

A SITUATIONAL TEMPTATION

The first thing to notice about the Second Temptation is that it was situational.

The devil transported the Lord out of the desert and all the way to Jerusalem. Even more surprising, the Lord was carried to the Temple of God itself.

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple.

Scholars suggest that Jesus was taken to the south-east corner of the temple where a roof and portico overlooked the massive retaining wall that dropped about 135 metres (450 feet) straight down into the Kidron Valley. That is a significant height. It is the same height as the Xerox Tower in New York or the Fisher Building in Detroit.

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From this we learn two things.

First, the devil was not afraid to visit the Temple. Unlike his portrayal in many worldly movies, the devil did not sizzle when he approached the consecrated mountain or the sacred precincts of the temple. Neither did the Temple location suddenly render the devil inert and harmless. To the contrary. He was quite able to engage in his evil work around the temple; and in fact, the text would have us understand that he purposefully used this religious location as a living stage for the test he had devised.

Many think that burying themselves into religion will grant them immunity from the devil’s influence, and that if they are not drinking and murdering, then they are unable to be attacked. But the devil is far more subtle than many – perhaps even most – give him credit for. The devil can use religion (even true religion) for his purposes. He can do this either by lulling people to spiritual sleep in churches, or by twisting holy doctrines and carefully inserting them into a religious environment.

One need only look to some of the “liberal” mainstream churches to see this very process in action. Blasphemies that lead to eternal death are preached from beautiful pulpits in splendid settings once built to glorify God. In many of these old cathedrals and churches, God’s holy words are sometimes carved into the surfaces themselves while the unwary are enticed to ignore them. A man in such a place can be lured into sin even while he sits in a temple once built by the faithful.

The second key thing we learn from the passage is that Lord was positioned at a great height. His precise location is not really materially important – whether it was at the south-east corner or at the north-west of the temple, for example. What matters is that Christ was elevated to a latitude that was potentially truly dangerous.

Having lifted him to this height, at this point the devil essentially invites Jesus to attempt to commit suicide.

“If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written:

‘He will command His angels concerning You,
and they will lift You up in their hands,
so that You will not strike Your foot
against a stone.’”

That is, try to commit suicide with a religious gloss.

The temptation here revolves around the concept of religious authenticity and testing God with false parameters. The devil was arguing that if Jesus really was the Son of God (authenticity) and really believed the scriptures, then he would recklessly place himself in harm’s way because God would be honour bound to rescue him (false parameter).

Of course, we know the devil was not sincere in his citation of scripture. Rather this was an act of twisted cunning, and it must have seemed to the devil a guaranteed win-win-win-win situation.

For if Jesus refused to throw himself over the edge, he could be accused of a lack of faith in the scriptures. Win. After all, if Jesus really believed the word of God, would he not gladly demonstrate his radical, divine faith by going to the extreme? Failure to do so could only be the result of a lack of real faith.

On the other hand, if Jesus did throw himself over the edge, he would hurtle to his death. Win again. In this instance, the devil would have triumphed. He would have defeated the Perfect Man not by destroying him on the rocks of sin, but by tempting him with holy virtues! If even a virtuous man could be defeated by appealing to virtue, who then could be saved? The human race would be utterly doomed.

But, if the Father did step in as Jesus was plummeting to the ground and saved his Son from death, the devil would be able to accuse the Father of violating the true meaning and spirit of his own word. Win. How could any man be saved if the meaning of God’s word was in flux, and changed according to the individual and situation? If it meant one thing when it was given through the prophet but now another thing altogether?

And if that were not enough winning, if Jesus were rescued, the devil would forever be able to point mankind to this event and urge people toward religious fanaticism in service of their own reckless pretensions. Win. Go for broke, the devil could say, for had not the Perfect Man thrown himself from a great height and been saved?

Thus the nature of the Second Temptation – as shown in Jesus own rebuttal – is about putting God to the test. It is about launching into the waters of religious delusion and expecting God to confer his blessing and protection upon us because we claim to have “faith” or “trust” in things he never promised. Indeed, it stands as a serious warning about the danger of spiritual fanaticism where men attempt to do things that are not taught in God’s word. They attempt to do such things anyway in the prideful or ignorant conviction that they are.

Such spiritual delusions often arise when men and women begin to think of themselves more highly than they ought – and this is a common affliction in an age of prideful independence and the celebration of individualism.

A woman contacted me once in great sorrow regarding her husband. He had embraced some extremist doctrines that he became convinced were taught in the scripture. His church disagreed with him, and so this man in turn become convinced that his church was in error. Other churches in the area also disagreed with him, and those churches also fell by the wayside as he declared them all “false”. He thus refused to attend any church or listen to any pastor, and became a hindrance to his wife who was faithful to true Christianity. His wife wanted to continue attending her church, but her husband made life so difficult for her that she told me sadly she had very nearly given up because the fight was so exhausting.

I attempted to dialogue with this man. I did not, alas, come regard him as especially insightful, although I am quite sure he fancied himself quite intelligent. I found him arrogant, stubborn, unkind, and alienating. In the final chapter of this saga, the man had elected to study the Bible at home with one of his buddies, since the two alone had the proper doctrine. Thus, an odd little cult of two was born.

This is sadly far from an isolated case. Many examples can be found. The man in the pew who fancies himself a preacher; the woman who thinks she should lead her sisters due to her spiritual insight; the ambitious elder who craves an opportunity to teach others in a long-winded monotone – such people are many. Legion are the men and women who have come to believe they are “special” or “spiritually gifted” and then confused their own desires and ambitions for those of God.

Here in the Second Temptation, then, is a vivid, technicolored example of how it is possible to take scripture, manipulate it for our own ends, and then imagine that God will bless and preserve us because he must be subject to our corrupt interpretation of his word. It is a textbook example of how we may arrogantly pretend that if God does not serve us (as if he were a servant and we the master!) according to our delusions and pretensions, then somehow he has failed or his word has failed. God forbid.

Religious pretension of this sort is on the increase. The charismatic movement produces many such men and women who claim to be prophets and prophetesses but are not. Then there are a rash of preachers who urge their congregants toward a “radical faith” as if only by going to the extremes is one living out the great commission. As if it were not good enough to serve God in quiet and lowly manner. As if being a humble farmer like Manoah – whom scripture documents only serving in the role of father – was somehow less faithful and less God-glorifying than the calling of Samuel or St. Paul.

The pressure to be a “radical Christian” – emanating unfortunately from otherwise orthodox pulpits – often convinces people that God will bless them as they “throw themselves over” into a life of missionary work or grand evangelism, even when they are neither equipped for it nor called to it. Even when it is not wisdom for them to do this. The results of such spiritual recklessness are often disastrous.

There has been a stark example of this as recently as 2018 – the case of John Allen Chau – who died when he was killed by the natives living on the protected North Sentinel Island. This story, better than most, serves as a vivid reminder of the susceptibility of otherwise faithful Christians to the lure of “God blessed religious radicalism”, especially if it comes attired in the guise of evangelism or other causes dear to the heart of a true Christian. After all, all true Christians long for the building of Christ’s kingdom. But even such a noble desire like this can be exploited by the devil, which is why we must be on guard against the devil’s schemes.

John Allen Chau was a young man in his late twenties. Last year he attempted to convert the isolated people of North Sentinel Island, who live a primitive life, having been completely cut off from the rest of the world. The people on North Sentinel Island have made no technical progress above the level of the stone age; they are aliens to modernity.

John Allen Chau’s diary reveals a young man who was frightened of these people (and justly so for they were notorious for their inhospitable disposition). Yet so fervently did he believe that he was on a divine mission and was acting in the cause of Christ’s kingdom, that he became immune to the plainest wisdom of scripture and good sense. Indeed, his diary reveals an impetuous, death-or-glory self-belief that his preaching mission was a divine adventure. It was a belief wholly unsupported by anything but self-conviction. It was a belief that was attached to thin air.

Religious radicalism can become its own feedback loop. The more radical and audacious the act; the more dangerous and improbable its success, the more it can seem to be God’s will in line with the stories of the great saints of the past. This was certainly at work in the case of John Allen Chau. After reading his diary, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the extreme nature of what he was doing of its own accord seemed to convince him that he must be doing God’s will. “It is radical and therefore it is God’s will”, seemed to be his thinking. Yet the tragedy and failure of his missionary endeavour teach us the lesson of the Second Temptation. For this young man threw himself over the wall.

He would doubtless have been stopped had he approached his missionary endeavour under the authority or oversight of a church, bishop, elder, or experienced mission director. This he apparently did not have. He seems to have submitted his plans to no qualified Christian – certainly to none of the local churches in the area – and nobody seems to have assessed his suitability for this work.

This fact alone reminds us of the warnings in scripture regarding individualistic freelancers who seek to act independently of God’s appointed leaders of his one chosen agency on earth, the Church. This is contrary to the spirit of true Christianity.

St. Peter explicitly warns young men: “In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders.” In keeping with this theme, St. Paul strongly impresses upon us that not everyone is gifted in the same way and able to perform the same work, precisely because the Church is a body. Not everyone is an eye, or a mouth. Some believers have other gifts that are just as vital. But importantly, no part of the body acts independently; it is all subject to the head, and the head of the Church is Christ.

Likewise, in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul gives us the same principle of submission, albeit in relation to secular authorities but this is not a greater requirement than the obligation of Christians to be subject to the appointed godly men of Church leadership:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

During his missionary effort, John Chau paid men to break the law and deliver him to the island. These men were later arrested. (It is inconceivable to imagine St. Paul – the greatest missionary in Church history – paying men to breach laws on his behalf.)

While on the island, the islanders became hostile and shot an arrow at him. John Chau attempted to preach to them but unsurprisingly failed because he did not know a word of their native language. Elementary wisdom – not to mention St. Paul’s sober warnings about tongues – powerfully impresses upon us that preaching must be understood by its hearers or it has no value at all. We have the classic example of the Roman Catholic Church’s centuries of holding services in Latin to show us how effective language barriers can be in shutting up the gospel.

Despite the hostility and ineffectual nature of his first attempt, and despite his injuries, and despite his diary revealing a man gripped not by the “peace that passes all understanding” but by terror and fear, John Allen Chau returned to the island in a second effort to preach. Only this time he was murdered. Thus he withheld from the Church all of the energy he might have expended in quieter and less flashy ways, but in ways that would have been more effective and kingdom-strengthening.

His efforts succeeded only in making the people of the North Sentinel Island more isolated than they were before, with renewed efforts to shut up the island and keep them in an unfortunate condition of a severed relationship to the rest of the human race. In liberal and progressive jargon, they have “the right to be left alone” which means keeping them in a state of cultural suspended animation.

But markedly, we see demonstrated in this missionary effort, the danger of expecting God to preserve and safeguard us in reckless religious endeavours. Extreme commitment to the service to God is appropriate only when it is truly consistent with his word; when it is subject to godly authority; is truly in line with his desires and purposes; and only when we do not put God to the test of expecting him to save us from evident foolishness. The Second Temptation serves as an inoculation against a runaway religious imagination and against putting God to the test on the basis of parameters we have devised.

God is under no obligation to our misuse of scripture to justify our religious adventures or pretences. He does not need to prove his fidelity by rescuing us from folly and fantasy. Blessed indeed are those who are slow to assume they are special, and quick to assume they have a lowly calling. Who seek God’s will first, whether it be ordinary or extraordinary. Who are diligent in separating their personal desires from God’s will, and killing off unwarranted ambitions when they are not part of God’s calling. If Jesus shows us anything in the Second Temptation, it is to be wise in “not putting God to the test” by expecting him to save us from foolishness, fantasy, recklessness, pride, and extremism.

Walking With the Nazarene in the Wilderness: The First Temptation of Christ

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Early in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is led out to the desert, where, alone, in the wilderness, there is a terrible collision of spiritual forces. It is a gripping moment in the gospel, for the devil comes face-to-face with God in human form for a moral battle. It is a unique experience for both the contestants. It is the first (and only) occasion in spiritual time where the devil sees his Maker at a disadvantage, weakened, starving, and as vulnerable as a human being can be rendered. Here indeed we see that Christ “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil 2:7).

St. Matthew informs us that the Lord is in the desert for forty days. It is a highly symbolic number because Israel had spent forty years in the wilderness. Behold! Here is the true Israel, St. Matthew is saying, the promised Messiah whose life an entire nation has been unconsciously dramatising for thousands of years.

Nonetheless, during the forty days the Lord is hidden from our sight, as scripture draws a veil over this desert experience. We can therefore only imagine the baking heat and the chilly nights; the search for shade at noon; and the avoidance of snakes and scorpions by day. We can picture the sweat; the shimmering air; the emptiness; the stillness. But in accordance with his own good purpose, God does not see fit to grant us firm information.

All we are told is that he went without food, and by the end of the time he was “starved”, “famished”, a “hungred”. His desert experience, in other words, was marked by gnawing hunger and weakness. He was plunged into the weakness of humanity.

And then, right on schedule, the devil showed up.

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

We may note that the devil begins his vile work by targeting an obvious vulnerability of the Lord’s humanity. To a desperately hungry man – like Esau coming in from the fields – the prospect of food is nearly irresistible. Survivors of the Soviet gulag often testified that during their imprisonment they thought of nothing but food. They dreamed of it; talked about it with other prisoners; they meditated on it when they were alone, planning the dishes and meals they would prepare when they were free.

We learn here the important lesson that the devil does not fight the spiritual warfare honourably. He never assaults a man where is he most fortified, for what advantage is there in that? Rather he targets our greatest vulnerabilities. Whatever weakness of mind, heart, or body we possess, we can be sure that it will be precisely here that the devil will be most active and his spiritual artillery will focus its barrage.

Thus a man who struggles with avarice will be tempted with money. A woman who struggles with pride will be tempted with self-righteousness and vanity. A man who falls victim to lust will be tempted with sexual impurity. No wonder scripture so often advises us to engage in the self-cleansing work of repentance (Isaiah 1:16; Luke 11:39) and St. Paul urges us to put on the full armour of God that we may stand against the devil. When we “wash our hands and purify our hearts” (James 4:8) we are forced to think about our weaknesses and failures. We are made to see where our battle lines are thin and the enemy broke through and we sinned. We can strengthen those points and guard against the schemes of the devil.

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The First Temptation is a bit of a puzzle. Other than targeting the Lord’s terrible hunger, it does not appear to be an obvious incitement to sin by breaking any of the Ten Commandments.

We may ask, is it a sin to eat? No, of course not. God made us experience hunger so that we would eat. Did the Father command the Lord not to eat during his wilderness experience? Certainly, there is no evidence in scripture that this is so.

Well, then, was the sin inherent in the miracle itself? Would it have been a sin for the Lord to turn stones into bread? Some have argued that since stones by their nature cannot feed people, to use divine power turn them into bread would be a “sinful miracle”. But this is surely a weak conclusion because at the marriage at Cana, the Lord changed water into wine.

Something deeper is afoot than merely eating bread by miracle power. Charles Ellicott in his commentary (1878) put it this way:

The nature of the temptation, so far as we can gauge its mysterious depth, was probably complex.

The clue to understanding the “complex” nature of the First Temptation lies in the Lord’s answer to the devil. As in each reply, Jesus cites from Deuteronomy, which one may note were the very scriptures that were given during Israel’s wilderness years.

In this case, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3:

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The original context for these words are greatly instructive:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

This thought is continued later in the same chapter:

He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Clearly there is a forceful overlap between Old Testament Israel’s hunger in the wilderness, and Jesus’ experience of extreme privation and hunger in the desert.

But what do these texts teach us about the nature of the temptation?

The constant temptation for Old Testament Israel – a term that has a broader meaning than “illicit desire” as it is often used today – was always to forsake God or grumble against his prophet when privation or hardship came. Israel grumbled about food; they complained about water to the point where Moses was fearful he would be murdered; and they praised Egypt as a slavery better than the freedom of being the chosen people of the ever-living God.

Here the devil was effectively attempting to duplicate that temptation: “You’re God’s Son? And he’s left you starving in the wilderness to the point of death? You are nearly dead! Feed yourself! End your pointless suffering.

Jesus’ answer acknowledges that a man surely lives on bread – the body must be fed or it dies – but the quote also underscores the truth that man never lives on bread alone. Life is more complex than a materialistic matter of eating and drinking. Indeed, Jesus taught in a later sermon, “Life is more than food and the body is more than clothes” (Luke 12:23). A proper understanding of life sees it as more than just a search for the fuel needed to support it. A proper understanding recognises that all the processes of life continue only at the command and behest of God.

It is God who causes the sun to rise and the rain to come so that crops can grow and man can eat. It is God who strengthens the farmer for his work and allows man to develop agricultural technologies. It is God who draws the seedling from the earth. It is God who makes the ground fertile. It is God who gives us each day our daily bread; sets the span of our days; and sends the manna in the desert. By God’s command and instruction, man lives. And when God wills for man to die, then he surely dies.

As St. James writes:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

In Moses solemn prayer in Psalm 90, he also acknowledges this great truth. Man truly lives and dies by the command of God not by his own intelligence or scheming:

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new,but by evening it is dry and withered.

So, in the First Temptation the Lord proves himself to be the true Israel. Unlike Old Testament Israel, the true Israel succeeds and passes the test. He trusts the Father with his life, without grumbling. He hungers quietly and patiently in the desert, but never doubts that the Father will sustain him.

As the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus is not tempted to use his deity against the deity of the First Person, the Father. He does not distrust the Father. Unlike Old Testament Israel, he does not plot treason against the Father by taking matters into his own hands. Rather he stands secure in the splendid simplicity of faith: he knows he will live because the Father commands and wills that he should live.

St. Matthew thus teaches us something about the nature of true faith and what it means to really trust God even in the midst of temptation and trial. No matter how painful the trial may be for the moment, and no matter how tempting it might be to find an early or easy exit from our sufferings – whether it is the burning of persecution or the burning of unfulfilled sexual desire; whether sufferings great or small – the true sons of the kingdom will aim to follow the footsteps of Jesus and answer the devil in similar terms.

I live and exist because of the daily words spoken by God.

I live because in his divine government he wants me to live.

My circumstances are willed by God for his purposes. And I can have the firm confidence that he will never leave me to suffer needlessly neither does he watches me without compassion. I can have faith that my God is good and he will be with me.

In his time – whether now or in eternity – I will see the reward of my suffering and will be truly satisfied.

Yes, Christmas Is Culturally Degraded: What Do You Expect From the World?

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In the hands of secularists and unbelievers, the austere Christian observance of Christmas has mutated into a vivid expression of spiritual decay. It proves that while Western civilisation may have prosperity to the rafters and an extraordinary quality of life, it has obtained these things in a truly Faustian bargain. To get them, it has sold away eternal meaning, temporal purpose, moral significance, and existential depth.

Christmas is a season for frantic gift purchases, drunken office parties, quaint Victorian tropes (like stockings), gluttony, and schmaltzy movies about saving Christmas and Santa Claus. In fact, this jolly deliveryman from the North Pole has become a cause célèbre in his own right. The extraordinary lengths that parents go to in order to convince their children of Santa’s reality range from cookie crumbs on the mantelpiece to the planting of elaborate evidence (footprints, torn pieces of red cloth, and so on).

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Indeed, an aggressive debate now rages over telling children the truth about Santa. Each year, some child somewhere is told that Santa is fictional and their anguished tears are reported in the tabloids, dripping with pathos. My favourite story happened a few years ago. During his annual Christmastide talk to a group of primary school children in his parish, a Church of England vicar let slip that Santa was not real.

No doubt astonished that any clergyman of the Church of England would say anything that was not vague and wishy-washy, the children ran home to tell their parents. Rather than accepting the reality that eventually someone, somewhere will tell little Chanel or London Jr. that it was a bit of make-believe, the parents responded with extreme anger. How dare someone disabuse their child of the falsehoods so painstakingly inculcated into them! They were far more upset about Santa, one suspects, than they would ever be about the promotion of disbelief in Christ.

The most amusing part of the story was the response by the church. The Church of England, in its ceaseless quest to offend nobody and thus enter total irrelevance, was put in the unenviable position of needing to defend the nativity of Christ as the actual historical Christmas account, while concurrently appearing not to condemn the fantasy character that had supplanted the Lord in the affections of the parents.

Fictitious stories are serious business to a lot of people it seems. This nonsense has been taken so seriously that The Atlantic put together an article some time ago that featured professional-looking graphs depicting the age when people lost their faith in Santa.

Of course, this is what happens when unbelievers want to inject a transcendent vibe into an annual celebration. They either must seek it in extreme consumption – for what could be more transcendent in a materialistic culture than stuff – or they must seek it through a saccharine sentimentality related to childhood. Transcendence is found in the merry eyes of a child, sitting in front of the TV, watching a Christmas movie, gobbling M&M’s, whilst excitedly waiting for an imaginary fat man to deliver parcels of DVD’s, video game consoles, and remote-controlled drones down the chimney. Only this can truly capture that special emotion known “the spirit of Christmas”.

As silly and sad as it may be, we can hardly blame unbelievers for their parasitic simulacrum of Christian joy. Not for them the indescribable wonder of the birth of God in the flesh, and the lowly manner in which he was born that he might seek and to save the lost. Not for them the joy of confessing the Messiah as Lord and Master. Not for them the overwhelming gratitude at being chosen by God – though unworthy – and the grateful ecstasy at having value and significance in the eyes of God. “God sent the Messiah into the world for me – a rebel who has given God nothing – and yet he still came for me!” Not for the unbeliever the relief and release of sins forgiven, of a cosmic sense of belonging to the household of faith, to the family of God.

Thus, let us put aside the now-traditional lamentations from Christians about the loss of the meaning of Christmas. What else do we expect from unbelievers? Why is anyone surprised when unbelievers act like unbelievers?

The mourning over the loss of a religious Christmas season really amounts to tiresome and redundant hand-wringing. In the process of this emotional bloodletting, Christians get caught up on a mere tradition. They become evangelical about divisions between the world and the Church that are inevitable and healthy. There should be a vast and stark difference between a Christian Christmas and the celebrations of the pagans.

For Christians, Christmas ought be a sombre reminder above all that Jesus Christ is the centrepiece of Time. While the unbelieving world thinks they need not reckon with him and can safely erase him from history or reduce him to a footnote, the birth of the Lord is an annual reminder that the human story is God’s story. He is in control of it. And events are marching forward in complete accord with God’s eternal plan and timetable. We can rejoice because we have passed a key milestone. The Messiah has come, and just as the Prophets taught, the everlasting gospel has flowed out of Israel – the rivers of salvation – as the news is spread throughout the earth. Christ really walked on the earth, drank the water, breathed the air, performed miraculous signs, and taught living truth. His one perfect life has left a mark that will never, never fade.

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But if Christmas is the story of the Lord’s first advent on that starlit night so long ago, if it tells us the glorious message of the arrival of the King through a quiet birth to an unremarkable couple in the lonely countryside of Israel – it also is designed to underline his second advent. The return of the King with the fullness of his majesty.

Christmas is a time to acknowledge that the Messiah has come, and this same Messiah is going to come again. The purpose of his first advent was to begin the defeat of Satan, and to redeem for himself a new human race from under the curse of sin. The process of building his new creation started; the Second Adam is the progenitor and head of this race, as St. Paul so clearly taught us.

But, his second advent will be even more glorious than the first. Christ will come again to usher in the fullness of his Kingdom of which there shall be no end.

The nativity scene reminds us that we are living in the valley between two advents. Behind us lies the land of Egypt out of which the Church has had its exodus. We have journeyed together from the darkness of paganism, slavery, sin, and the unmerciful rule of Pharaoh. In front of us lies the Promised Land, and we are marching toward it. But St. Paul  tells us that we are not there yet: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil 3:12).  We have not yet obtained the promised blessing, though it will certainly be ours in the grace and power of Christ.

Christmas is not just about looking back but also looking forward. If there was one advent, there will certainly be another. This is joyous news! The Messiah has come, and he is also coming again. He is shortly to appear. And on that day he will destroy the works of Satan; judge the living and the dead; redeem his people; and the praise of his glory shall never end.

Could Hitler Get Published in Modern Academia?

MK

INTRODUCTION

Most people assume that Hitler’s theories could never again get a foothold in modern academia. It is a comfortable Western conceit that is built on the idea that humanities departments in universities inoculate the West against totalitarian ideas. It is inconceivable to most people that tyrannical or near-tyrannical nostrums could ever find a home in the humanities departments of modern Western universities.

After all, don’t Antifa activists bravely oppose “fascism”? Aren’t students quick to detect any instance of oppression? Don’t professors build their careers on an effort to create a new world of choice and freedom?

It would be logical to think that the disciplines that focus most on human experience would be the most richly informed by the lessons taught bloodily by the 20th century and thus most immune to any totalitarian, radical ideology that would seek to assert itself with muscular fanaticism upon the world.

But this is not so.

Within the modern academy, humanities departments are Petri dishes that spout radical theories. Ideology has been seamlessly woven into knowledge production such that the latter is now governed by the former (and is thus, not knowledge production at all).

Humanities scholars seldom any longer seek to discover and describe reality. Rather, they attempt to refashion reality as if it were play dough so that it suits their ideas. In the process they have not only dissolved much of the meaning of the study of humanities, but they have fired up their students to control and dominate campus life. Their students learn the fine arts of bullying, intimidation, and harassing others in the name of justice.

For many years, black students at Evergreen State University have held a “Day of Absence” in which they do not attend their campus for a day. They meet to discuss issues relevant to them. Last year, however, minority students and faculty at Evergreen State University decided they would like to invert their strategy. They demanded that white students and staff should stay away from the campus on the “Day of Absence” and that only minority students should attend.

Professor Brett Weinstein (in the hard sciences, naturally) resisted this demand on the entirely reasonable grounds that it constituted an attempt to intimidate  and control the campus environment which is inimical to freedom, but congruent with oppression. He wrote:

There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles… and a group encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.

Professor Weinstein said that he would be attending campus on the nominated date and encouraged other white students to do the same.

The firestorm that broke against him and his wife was a demonstration of intimidation that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the dark inner workings of a dictatorship where mobs are enlisted to “do their worst” against any outspoken non-conformist. Brett Weinstein received death threats. Concerted efforts were made to get him fired, including organised marches across the campus, impromptu searches for the professor by vigilante students, and “fire Brett” graffiti which appeared on campus. Efforts were later made to get campus police fired as well.

The campus police advised Weinstein that he should absent himself from work for a few days because they could not guarantee his safety. From the moment he made his stand, Weinstein was accused of racism by students and activists on social media. His effort to explain and defend his were also considered racist. Students drew a line between his stance and the fatal attack of some unrelated men in Portland, Oregon who had tried to break up an anti-Muslim rant. This, they argued, showed how much imminent danger existed for minorities in American society and why Weinstein’s stance was actually dangerous and unreasonable.

Ultimately, Professor Weinstein and his wife left Evergreen State University and successfully sued it. The university president George Bridges said:

We may disagree with each other. However, disagreement is one thing; dehumanization is another. Over the week, a few members of the Evergreen community have used traditional and social media to malign, mock or misrepresent those with whom they disagree. While the majority of students, faculty and staff are fully engaged in the teaching and learning work of the college, a few are on a destructive course of action that hurts themselves and gives a distorted and false impression of our community.

But Brett Weinstein told the media:

The president’s carefully crafted statement is clearly intended to support a false narrative about the present state of our campus, and the extraordinary events of this past week. No one at the college has yet acknowledged that I and my students were specifically followed, harassed and doxed. If it is now safe to return, it is only because the intimidation campaign against us backfired so spectacularly and has now been called off as a matter of PR damage control.

The harassment and intimidation at Evergreen State is a mere demonstration of how frightening universities have become for free thinkers, and how hostage they are held to the shibboleths and grievance theories of their humanities departments. Worse, these students and their professors often believe they have been given the mandate of revolution to try and break down the matrix of imaginary grievances and hurts they claim to see around them. They take their intolerant, blinkered, bulldozer approach into the wider society where it causes real harm.

They thus justify the introduction of new unscientific social ideas into psychology, education, religion, and history. These students rise to positions of influence HR departments, in media newsrooms, in corporations, and in government agencies where they continue their social crusade. Through intimidation these social theories and ideas then become the institutional culture of the broader society. The theories are applied to the real world with often bizarre, expensive, harmful, or unjust results for families, individuals and children. Nonetheless, these radical principles are not permitted to be questioned or dissented from. Those who would do so are often relentlessly bullied and abused in the manner so sadly exemplified by Professor Weinstein.

HOW BAD IS IT?

The rot of humanities in modern universities seriously imperils the future of the academy. Over a year ago three (left-leaning) scholars – James Lindsey, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose – decided they were unable to ignore the dysfunction that now plagues the social sciences. They decided to begin a project in which they would visibly and publicly demonstrate how intellectually moribund and bankrupt the humanities had become by writing a series of spoof papers and getting them published in prestigious and reputable peer-reviewed journals.

Publication of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal is the Holy Grail of scholarship. Not only is it a way for an academic to gain notoriety and influence – since scholarly journals are regarded as high-quality source material for citations – but it is also a standard condition of tenure in most universities. To get a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal means that you have made a worthy scholarly contribution that has passed a process of being checked, vetted and approved by peer experts  for accuracy and value.

Publication means that the paper is adding to the specialised knowledge contained within the field and is consistent with the knowledge that already exists. Peer-review is a means by which scholars testify that a methodology is sound and a work is reliable.

Lindsey, Boghossian and Pluckrose successfully published seven spoof papers that ranged from the absurd to the outright dangerous. In one case, they demonstrated they could publish Hitler’s theorems of grievance, modified with a little grease and spanner-work to suit contemporary feminist ideology, with high praise from the reviewers. In the name of a fictitious Ph.D holder, they were able to get a paper published that utilised Hitler’s multi-point plan in Chapter 12 of Mein Kampf as a basic template for feminist struggle.

In another peer-reviewed paper they argued that astrology was a more feminist “science” than astronomy and thus and deserved a role within astronomy. They also successfully published an utterly meaningless paper about “feminist artificial intelligence” which was written in dense, impenetrable prose. Absurder examples included a highly-commended paper in which they argued that dog parks perpetuate a canine rape culture with systematic oppression against “the oppressed dog”.

Perhaps the most ridiculous paper of all was written by James Lindsey featuring poetry derived from an online teenage-angst poetry generator merged with a long, rambling anecdote about an imaginary feminist “moon meeting” at which women rub wooden carvings of their genitals.

Each paper was intended to demonstrate a different ideological defect within the field of humanities. For example, they argue that the publication of their dog park paper showed that, “Journals will accept arguments which should be clearly ludicrous and unethical if they provide (an unfalsifiable) way to perpetuate notions of toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, and implicit bias“.

Certainly, the idea that dogs could be oppressed by rape culture is absurd and it defies belief that anyone could take this seriously. But ideology tends to have the effect of corroding critical faculty in those who fanatically hold to it, until the grotesquely nonsensical is advanced as proof of the ideology. Indeed, the dog park paper has eerie parallels to the story that circulated in German schools in the 1930’s in which students were taught about the discovery of a remarkable talking dog, unlike anything seen before, that had been successfully able to tell scientists that he had undying faith in his Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

Another spoof paper argued that heterosexual men rarely anally stimulate themselves with sex toys because of a deep-seated homophobia and bigotry against transgender people. This paper was described as “rich and exciting” by one reviewer who apologised for being so enthused but explained she could not help it because the article was so “marvellous”. The reviewer described the piece as an “interesting contribution to knowledge”. Yet, once again, the premise of the article is blatantly unfair, cannot be proved on the basis of objective data, and is exclusively grounded on the idea that something is innately wrong with heterosexual male sexual desire.

Lindsey, Boghossian and Pluckrose concluded that: “journals will accept ludicrous arguments if they support (unfalsifiable) claims that common (and harmless) sexual choices made by straight men are actually homophobic, transphobic, and anti-feminist.

It is hard to come to any other conclusion given that the article was purposefully written so that it amounted to little more than a sophisticated attack on normal male desire. Yet though its premise is clearly discriminatory and biased, it was sufficiently dressed up in the garb of supposed academic writing to allow it to gain a respectable receptivity within the suffocating ideological confines of humanities scholarship.

Only ideology could explain why such a paper could be deemed a serious academic effort given its unhinged nature. For example, at one point the article strongly hinted that there was something bigoted, defective, or sinister (“transhysteria”) at work when heterosexual men were interviewed and said they did not wish to be anally penetrated by another man or by a transgender woman with a penis. The article posited that this was demonstrable proof of the existence of a masculine construct that opposes and oppresses homosexual and transgender people. In other words, the paper was essentially arguing that heterosexual men must engage in homosexual sex to some degree in order for them to cease participating in an alleged hegemonic oppressive structure.

The conclusions made by this article were, of course, supported by no empirical data. Instead, like many social science articles it used “qualitative data”. It referenced personal anecdotes, interviews conducted with very small numbers of people, and citations from books such as “The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure“, a text purporting to teach men how to engage in “anal play”. This is the basis, it seems, for making a “serious contribution” to a scientific understanding of human sexuality.

No wonder ideologies of sexuality are among the most intolerant on university campuses – taking no prisoners as they hack their way across the intellectual landscape – for the substance upon which they are based add up to self-affirming fantasy. But this fantasy has such a thin membrane that it is not be able to withstand the most basic questions or elementary scrutiny, just as an over-inflated balloon bursts when it makes contact with anything angular. The only solution, therefore, is to silence the would-be questioners and shout down any effort at dissent or scrutiny.

The Atlantic magazine rightly observed that such papers do not only:

…expose the low standards of the journals that publish this kind of dreck… It also demonstrates the extent to which many of them are willing to license discrimination if it serves ostensibly progressive goals.

This was most vividly seen in a paper arguing that students of “privilege” should be made to give “experiential reparations” by sitting in chains on the floor, being spoken over, and treated with serious inhumanity. This paper was not published by the journal it was submitted to on the basis that the privileged students making the reparations were being treated with too much compassion. Nonetheless the authors were invited to rewrite and resubmit.

Lindsey, Boghossian and Pluckrose comment:

This paper insists that the most privileged students shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class at all and should just listen and learn in silence throughout the term. Even more, it insists that students with high privilege could benefit from adding on “experiential reparations,” such as sitting in the floor, wearing chains, or intentionally being spoken over, as an educational “opportunity” within the class.

The reviewers’ only concerns with these points so far have been that (1) we approach the topic with too much compassion for the students who are being subjected to this, and (2) we risk exploiting underprivileged students by burdening them with an expectation to teach about privilege.

To correct for this, the reviewers urged us to make sure we avoid “recentering the needs of the privileged.” They asked us to incorporate Megan Boler’s approach called “pedagogy of discomfort” and Barbara Applebaum’s insistence that the privileged learn from this discomfort rather than being coddled or having their own experiences (suffering) “recentered.” It also utilizes Robin DiAngelo’s now-famous concept of “white fragility” to explain why students subjected to this treatment will object to it, and uses that to justify the more cruel treatment suggested by the reviewers. The reviewers acknowledged that they believe this “fragility” is the correct interpretation for student pushback against being told to stay silent and sit in the floor, possibly in chains, throughout the semester.

They go on to observe that the enthusiastic reception by reviewers and the invitation to resubmit by the journal demonstrates:

Patently unfair, inhumane, and abusive treatments of students will be acceptable in educational theory if it is framed as an opportunity to teach them about the problems of privilege.

In rebutting left-wing defences of the journals, The Atlantic commented:

…it is nonsensical to insist that nonsense scholarship doesn’t matter because you don’t like the motives of the people who exposed it, or because some other forms of scholarship may also contain nonsense. If certain fields of study cannot reliably differentiate between real scholarship and noxious bloviating, they become deeply suspect. And if they are so invested in overcoming injustice that they are willing to embrace rank cruelty as long as it is presented in the right kind of progressive jargon, they are worsening the problems they purport to address.

It demonstrates how rotten the timbers have become within the field of humanities and perhaps goes some way to explaining why the discipline is so often held in derision. For instead of being a machine to create knowledge about the true human condition, humanities departments – especially those dealing with gender and sexuality – now manufacture a worldview that is largely immune to knowledge or the tools of reason.

The escalating authoritarianism of this no-holds-barred, grievance-detecting, bullying social fascism would make a natural transplant into the fascism of yesteryear. This is what is flowing from politicised humanities departments and journals that are sunk in ideological decay. It embraces a wide swathe of fields like gender studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology, education, and others which are all complicit in packaging such grotesque and preposterous ideas in the name of remedying “oppression”.

WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?

Lindsey and Pluckrose (2018) argue in their essay that the excesses of students and the circus sideshow of radicalism on campuses merely represent the symptoms of a longer-term malaise within the humanities. An intellectual virus is at work. It is characterised by a number of features, including a binary, good-vs-bad mode thinking in which students memorise matrices that purport to show dialectics of oppression; something termed “intersectionality” which is the fashionable theoretical engine driving much of the harm.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of New York University writes:

But what happens when young people study intersectionality? In some majors, it’s woven into many courses. Students memorize diagrams showing matrices of privilege and oppression. It’s not just white privilege causing black oppression, and male privilege causing female oppression; its heterosexual vs. LGBTQ, able-bodied vs. disabled; young vs. old, attractive vs. unattractive, even fertile vs. infertile…. A funny thing happens when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side of each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.

And here’s the strategically brilliant move made by intersectionality: all of the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups now align against Israel. Intersectionality is like NATO for social-justice activists.

The intellectual virus is also characterised by low-quality research which suffers from a “replication crisis” – a term coined by Cofnas, Carl, and Woodley (2015) in a paper that questioned the scientific foundations of much of what passes for research within the humanities.

Replication refers to the ability of other researchers to duplicate the results of an experiment or a study. This constitutes a cornerstone of the scientific method. Since the scientific method is concerned with discovering objective truths about how the world works, multiple researchers in different places and contexts performing the same experiments should get the same results if the experiment truly addresses an objective reality. In this way, the results are shown to be independent of the researcher.

For instance, a researcher using an Ohmmeter to gauge the electrical resistance of different metals – perhaps copper, iron, and gold – will get the same results no matter how many times the experiment is repeated. Providing the variables of the experiment remain the same (e.g. amount of metal, the length of the metal pieces, amount of voltage etc.) the results will be identical.

Or, suppose a researcher drops some weights from a fixed height and measures their impact velocity. The results of this experiment will be the same when it is repeated in London, Johannesburg, or Timbuktu. It will be the same because gravitation and its effects are the same. Furthermore, the results of these experiments will be able to be  duplicated by multiple researchers with all kinds of personal beliefs.

It will not matter whether the researcher votes for conservatives or liberals, or is a fanatical vegetarian. It will not matter if the researcher is a Christian or a pagan. It will not matter if they cavort in Bacchanalian parties and slosh enough alcohol down their gullet to stun a whale, or if they adhere to godly morality and self-restraint as revealed in scripture. None of this will matter.

It will not matter because if the researchers follow the same method the experiment’s results will be successfully replicated, thus proving that the experiment is built around an objective principle or law that is true. It further proves that the researcher himself has not brought an uncertain variable or a personal bias to the experiment and has influenced the results.

There has been a breakdown of this principle within the humanities, especially in regards to experiments that utilise “qualitative research” rather than the quantitative research of the hard sciences. Thus, social scientists often perform experiments and treat the results as solid even when those results cannot be replicated by other researchers. This has been a problem for decades and the lack of scrutiny and scientific rigour has allowed the findings of these experiments to become virtually unchallenged lore.

Some of the most celebrated social experiments have been unethical, like the infamous (and unethical) Robbers Cave experiment led by Muzafer Sherif:

Sherif’s cover story was that he was running a summer camp in Middle Grove. His plan was to bring a group of boys together, allow them to make friends, then separate them into two factions to compete for a prize. At this point, he believed, they would forget their friendships and start demonising one another. The pièce de résistance was to come at the end: Sherif planned to set a forest fire in the vicinity of the camp. Facing a shared threat, they would be forced to work as one team again.

….

In 50s Middle Grove, things didn’t go according to plan either, though the surprise was of a different nature. Despite his pretence of leaving the 11-year-olds to their own devices, Sherif and his research staff, posing as camp counsellors and caretakers, interfered to engineer the result they wanted. He believed he could make the two groups, called the Pythons and the Panthers, sworn enemies via a series of well-timed “frustration exercises”. These included his assistants stealing items of clothing from the boys’ tents and cutting the rope that held up the Panthers’ homemade flag, in the hope they would blame the Pythons. One of the researchers crushed the Panthers’ tent, flung their suitcases into the bushes and broke a boy’s beloved ukulele. To Sherif’s dismay, however, the children just couldn’t be persuaded to hate each other.

After losing a tug-of-war, the Pythons declared that the Panthers were in fact the better team and deserved to win. The boys concluded that the missing clothes were the result of a mix-up at the laundry. And, after each of the Pythons swore on a Bible that they didn’t cut down the Panthers’ flag, any conflict “fizzled”. By the time of the incident with the suitcases and the ukulele, the boys had worked out that they were being manipulated. Instead of turning on each other, they helped put the tent back up and eyed their “camp counsellors” with suspicion. “Maybe you just wanted to see what our reactions would be,” one of them said.

The robustness of the boy’s “civilised” values came as a blow to Sherif, making him angry enough to want to punch one of his young academic helpers. It turned out that the strong bonds forged at the beginning of the camp weren’t easily broken. Thankfully, he never did start the forest fire – he aborted the experiment when he realised it wasn’t going to support his hypothesis.

Lindsey and Pluckrose point out that the lack of objectivity in research has allowed quack studies to gain legitimacy. One need not be a fortune teller to see how dangerous this is not only for the mission of the university, but also for wider society.

They write:

The difficulty of measuring the rigor of research in the humanities and the relative ease of producing humanities research (say, as compared to studies in the hard sciences) make it particularly prone to ideological bias and proliferate poor scholarship.

This, unfortunately, is a problem shared by the social sciences. A 2012 study by researchers Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers, cited in Cofnas et al, found that while conservative and liberal social scientists were equally likely to discriminate against each others’ papers in review, liberals are so over-represented in the field that they face a only a 5% chance of having their paper reviewed by someone who might politically discriminate against them.

Conservatives, by contrast, face an 80% chance of the same. The departments which traffic in fashionable nonsense therefore have natural advantages in producing reams of low-quality or outright bad scholarship: High levels of political motivation to agitate the system in their favor, relative ease of producing scholarship, and a high likelihood of sympathetic reviewers biased in their favor. This has led to administrative architectures that now unjustly support them and prejudicial control over key sectors of the academy — like educational theory, which creates a self-strengthening feedback loop for them — which enable them to push their agenda into the university system. The result is increased legitimacy for certain criticisms of the academy that are not judiciously applied, are being politically weaponized, and are likely to explode into radioactive political warfare.

In other words, the humanities departments of many universities have been turned into think tanks for liberal politics. They produce the theory and churn out the students that are amenable to supporting the assumptions and worldview of the left. It is not that these students are better educated and that their superior education turns them toward the left, as the popular conceit among liberals would have it.

Rather, it is that these students are intellectually docile, cowed by an unchallenged stream of propaganda that sounds sophisticated, and are never exposed to rival ideas or viewpoints. This produces students who cannot defend their views in debate against a knowledgeable opponent, and when challenged may even go so far as to call for the campus police.

These students and their identity ideology – what could be properly termed social fascism – are going to be moving into the wider world. They are intolerant of dissent. They are utterly certain they are correct. And they will bully and intimidate not only people who disagree with them, but will wreck institutions, rewrite laws and processes, and even demand the suppression of objective facts for the sake of their politics of grievance. Even language itself must be forcibly changed. A vivid example of this was seen recently when an LGBTQ activist demanded the removal of a billboard that featured nothing but the dictionary definition of “woman”. This was deemed a “hate campaign” and “transphobic”.

The strategies, techniques, theories, and continuous psychological projection is nearly indistinguishable from those employed by fascists in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In the name of justice they do injustice. They claim to be guardians of victims yet they victimise and terrorise their opponents. Their aim is also the same as those of classical fascists. True, they are not trying to install a fascist government, but they are certainly trying to obtain social power through a framework advocating an inversion of community values. Like the fascists of the past, they seek to force others to submit to the rules they have decided to impose.

The intellectual groundwork behind this movement is a recipe for the decline of democracy and an ever-expanding attack on Christianity. Which brings us back to the question in the title. Could Hitler get published in the modern academy? Most assuredly he could. In fact, thanks to Lindsey, Boghossian and Pluckrose, he already has.

What are the long-term implications for a society in which Hitler’s politics of grievance are indistinguishable from other scholarship within their highest institutions of learning?

The Future of the West: Perverted and Deluded

the end

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days…. evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3:13)

So wrote St. Paul to Timothy regarding the trajectory of human society.

Notice that St. Paul does not write about wars and explosive catastrophes. These epic events are so beloved by the charismatics who see signs of doom in their morning cornflakes, but they are not mentioned here. Indeed, the scripture writers show remarkable disinterest in providing us with a historical timeline of events regarding what will happen in the future. The apostles are not in the business of equipping us to be professional fortune-tellers.

This has not stopped many people – including good and faithful Christians – looking for current events in the word of God. Nuclear Armageddons, world wars, missile strikes by Iran, and imminent biological threats have each, at different times, been “unearthed” in the scriptures. Some claim that certain symbols in the Book of Daniel or The Revelation speak of Hitler. Or the Pope. Or the President of the United States.

This has always been a temptation for Christians. For example, in 14th century Europe amidst the ravages of the Black Death that killed approximately half of the continent’s population, Christians “discovered” that the scriptures predicted disease and the end of the world in their times. “It must be so,” they reasoned, “for if the horsemen of the apocalypse do not refer to times like oursthen what could they possibly refer to?” The same questions have been asked whenever great evil befalls the human race.

But this is not the sort of information the scriptures offer us about the Last Days. We may be thankful God does not paint out the future for us in lurid journalistic detail, for who could bear the weight of it?

Yet this does not mean the Bible offers us no information at all. In this letter, St. Paul provides us with extremely valuable information. But observe where the apostle’s focus lies; take careful note of what is important in the estimation of the apostle.

For St. Paul is chiefly interested in the moral dimension of the Last Days. If you want to know how close the Lord is, says St. Paul, look at the moral fabric around you and compare it to what has gone before, both in degree and intensity. Look at sin’s prevalence and acceptance. To paraphrase Christopher Wren, “if you want to see a monument that shows us how close we are to the end of days, then look around you”.

For it is precisely the moral context of any age or epoch that shows us mankind’s alienation from God and our proximity to Christ’s return.

Some have argued that St. Paul must be describing all time since Christ’s ascension. They argue this on the basis that all of these sins have always been common to mankind in every era. You could always find greedy people. Or disobedient children.

But the Apostle’s own writing here would tend to suggest he was thinking of a definite future point. He clearly says that these terrible times will come. He does not say that terrible times have already come – even against the backdrop of bloody assassinations of emperors in Rome and the deplorable morality of a pagan people. Rather he says terrible times will come and they will come just prior to the Lord’s return.

What will make the last days terrible? St. Paul answers, “The moral quality of the people”.

During the Last Days we will see sins that are not merely on the charts, but are so extreme, so intense, so common that they will exceed the charts of human depravity. St. Paul writes about people loving money and lacking self-control. Being lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. He speaks of rebellion against parents and ingratitude. He writes about men being conceited and brutal. He paints a compendium of immorality. St. Paul pictures a society in shocking decay, where life becomes precarious, evil becomes the main survival strategy, and goodness carries a great personal cost.

Moral evil, St. Paul points out, will intensify as human society endures. Each succeeding generation will outdo its predecessor in unbelief and in sin.

Thus, what constituted a love of money in the early 1900’s – for example, the Roaring Twenties and the tragic greed for shares that ruined countless lives – may change in form. It may be expressed differently on the surface. Yet the underlying love of money continues and will become all the more severe as time goes on.

If the Global Financial Crisis proved anything it was the existence of epic greed on a scale never witnessed before in human history. Moreover, this was not just limited to a few wealthy fat cats. Large masses of people were so indebted nothing they had was really theirs. And still the lesson has not been learned! Already, so soon after the alleged “recovery,” once again we see large masses of people up to their neck in debt.

roaring twenties

In Australia, the ME Bank issues a bi-annual report on the condition of Australian households. It surveys 1,500 households regarding income, expenditure, saving, and financial stress. The most recent findings show that no moral wisdom has been gained from the global financial downturn. It shows that people no longer even abide by common proverbial wisdom and “save for a rainy day”. Instead, people live close to disaster and ruin. So close, indeed, that it would terrify our frugal forebears:

The report showed that households’ confidence to raise money for an emergency dropped three points below the average since the survey began, and fewer households reported they are saving. The estimated amount that Australians are saving each month decreased by just over 10% during the first half of 2018.

More Australians are also overspending – households who ‘typically spend all of their income and more’ increased 3 points to 11% during the six months to June.

“Clearly, this is a potential tipping point. At the moment, Australians generally can dip into their savings to get by. However, some households may get to a point where there’s no more savings to draw from. Currently, around a quarter of Australian households have less than $1000 in cash savings,” Oughton said.

This is not just an Australian phenomenon. This year it was reported in The Independent that a quarter of British adults have no savings at all:

…the poll of 2,620 respondents in the UK found more than a tenth of the population admit to being ‘terrible’ with money.

Also concerning is the fact one in 10 admitted they typically spend more than they earn.

And 28 per cent sometimes go over budget.

Additionally, the study also found one in 10 adults over the age of 55 don’t have a penny put away for their future – compared to 38 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds who are already saving.

Of course there are cases where people experience financial disaster due to no fault of their own. Such people are deserving of compassion and support.

But one of the leaders of the financial group that commissioned the report could not help but point to the self-inflicted nature of the situation. It is not that many of these Britons do not earn money. It is simply that they are unable to control themselves.

They cannot govern their own impulses. And so they spend.

“But our results found people are more prone to splurging money on things they don’t need, rather than saving it and it’s this that has the greatest impact.”

And more than one in 10 admit they often spend their money as soon as they get it.

In the last month, fifteen per cent of respondents have spent money on cigarettes, and 58 per cent have bought chocolate or sweets.

Four in 10 have splashed the cash on a takeaway, with 45 per cent opting for one at least once a month.

Lovers of money are frequently impoverished.

selfcontrol

But self-control is evaporating right across the landscape of human experience, not just in the realm of money. St. Paul taught us that as we approach the last days we should expect to see an explosion in the number of people who are unable to control themselves. We should expect to observe a general loss in the ability of people to restrain their appetites; to discipline their desires; to be governed by the mind and not by transient emotions and lusts.

To an unprecedented degree we see this very problem emerging at a galloping pace in Western culture. Self-control is fast diminishing.

A hundred years ago people would have associated drunkenness and violence with a lack of self-control. But a lack of self-control was much less of an issue in a society that used corporal and capital punishments; had high expectations of personal behaviour; and demanded people take full responsibility for their actions. Nobody thought to excuse their bad behaviour on the grounds of a difficult upbringing, or one’s parents, or society at large. Nobody would have taken it seriously. Moreover, overall there were far fewer opportunities for people to truly lose control of themselves. Western society still had a Christian backbone and regarded personal morality as a public matter.

Yes, there were infamous Victorian brothels or gin joints that offered people some scope for their sinful impulses. Morphine addiction might have been enjoyed by wealthier men – as Sherlock Holmes was famously portrayed as using by Arthur Conan Doyle. A person might be able to be violent in the family home and rule it like a malignant tyrant. But the censure of polite society was heavy. Drunks were reviled. Wife-beaters were held in contempt. And sexual impurity was so scandalous it could ruin career and reputation (not to mention body and mind should one contract a sexually transmitted disease).

All such intemperance was held to be shameful and was denounced by top-hatted leaders as evident evils.

V0041979 The dance of death: the dram shop. Coloured aquatint by T. R

But as society has grown more affluent it has also grown more lax in the policing of morality. Opportunities for people to behave without inhibition continue to expand, just as St. Paul predicted. Sin has intensified because it has gained traction, popularity, and social approval. Sin is also aided by technology. Technology can be a great blessing. Discoveries and inventions of all kinds have been ordained by the grace of God so that the human race can expand and truly “fill the earth”. Unfortunately, in the hands of sinful men and women, technology also provides the means for the promotion of sin.

One realm in which we see this vividly is in modern entertainment.

New forms of entertainment now focus deliberately and calculatedly on tacky, sleazy, and childish aspects of uninhibited conduct. Their much-ballyhooed “stars” are encouraged to be aggressive, dirty mouthed, oddball, and blatantly sexualised. Reality television shows like Love Island even try to give promiscuity a certain glamour. Its contestants consist of scantily clad men and women who are thrown together into intimate situations, with the crackle of sexual expectation constantly underpinning conversations, choices, and behaviour.

Love Island displays camera footage of contestants in bed together. Contrary to all notions of moral purity, unmarried contestants sleep together in the same bed. They are filmed as they engage in intimate caressing and stroking. In recent episode a male contestant was shown running his hands over a female contestant’s buttocks, hips and body as they lay in bed together. A day later, the female contestant who had been fondled told the camera team that she needed time to warm up and therefore “nothing risky happened”. She added that the male contestant she was in bed with “was keen”, as if this were a striking flash of insight.

Unmarried sex is portrayed as normal and exciting across entertainment platforms. In movies, television shows, and video games audiences are seldom shown examples of noble self-restraint and honourable conduct because virtue is not the goal. It certainly is not the goal of reality television. This is because moral conduct is insufferably boring to a society that neither fears God nor cares about their personal accountability before him on the Day of Judgement.

God has promised that his wrath is upon the sexually immoral. Yet this is a trivial matter to most people in the Western world who have been successfully deceived into thinking that there is no God (or if there is, he is a liberal, jovial Santa Claus-type figure who will never punish and never condemn). Most people now believe that we are not created beings. They ascribe human beings some place in the world of animals. This downgrade in human dignity supposedly permits behaviour that even the beasts do not engage in. Most of Western society now thinks there is no absolute moral law that is binding on the human conscience. They laugh at the Final Judgement.

It is hard to believe that it was only a hundred and twenty years ago, in 1896, that the first on-screen kiss was filmed and shown as a Vitascope movie aptly titled The Kiss. This short movie, less than 30 seconds long, simply showed a middle-aged man and woman kissing each other. Despite its tame content by 21st century standards, the film resulted in moral disgust both from the media and from churches. Several years later, another short kissing film was actually censored by theatres.

vitascope

A hundred and twenty years later the moral quality of entertainment has plummeted to depths the average person could not ever have imagined in the 1890’s. Film now includes nude sex scenes of all kinds; full frontal nakedness; casual sexualised language; not to mention gratuitous violence in which human beings are bloodily hacked apart for horrific effect; and a fascination with dark spirits, demonic activity, and re-animated corpses.

Yet, it will not end here, of course. The development of 3D virtual reality systems opens new frontiers. Entertainment system builders are scrambling over themselves to combine sex with new technology.

For those who do not know virtual reality technology involves a user wearing a headset that contains high-definition projectors or screens that can simulate an alternative world. The user can interact with the simulation to different degrees as he turns his head, or motions with his hands, or walks around. The technology is designed to simulate an “alternative reality” to an extent that traditional screens cannot.

Phone or television screens show images in a defined frame. The frame is the screen itself. A television screen, for example, usually has a black plastic border around it. A mobile phone screen is edged by the shell of the phone casing. In both cases, the screen has a measurable surface; a beginning and an end. These sorts of screens exist within a real environment. For example, the family television in a living room shares the environment with furnishings, ornaments, windows, floors, and people. With little effort, you can lift your eyes from the moving images on the screen and look at something that is real.

Virtual reality headsets, on the other hand, are meant to be fully immersive. They are designed to block out as much of the real environment as possible and replace it with a simulation that is as realistic as possible. The illusion is heightened by allowing the user to interact with the simulated world; by giving him some degree of control over what he sees. The aim is to create a bubble of fantasy that approximates to real life.

An article published in September 2017 in Asia Times documents the eagerness with which sexual content is now combined with new entertainment products:

“Every time a new technology is introduced into the market, adult content always tends to be the new technology’s earliest and most eager adopters,” Hahn said. “This happened in the past [with technologies] like VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, and is now happening on VR.”

According to Google trending analysis, people search for VR porn far more than for VR games and sports. Currently, around 38% of VR headsets are purchased by people who want to enjoy adult content, while 3% of all VR users pay an average of US$35 for adult content.

By 2025, the VR adult-entertainment business will be worth an estimated $1 billion, third-largest in the VR sector after video games ($1.4 billion) and content related to America’s National Football League ($1.23 billion), Hahn said.

The effort and energy that is now being expended to expand the boundaries of sexual sin is staggering. The full pornography experience includes virtual reality headsets, gadgets that produce scents, and devices that are attached to the genitals. It is a grotesque technological monster that aims to give a person the nearest approximation of sexual activity without actually involving another person:

To create lifelike intimate sexual experiences in the virtual world requires a combination of visual, sensual and intellectual components, which is made possible with gadgets such as VR headsets, scents emitted from the device, and synched vibration of intimate parts.

“To fully gear up for VR sex now requires at least US$10,000. That’s a very expensive [sexual experience],” Hahn said.

Michelle Flynn, director and owner of Lightsouthern Cinema, who has more than 10 years of experience in the adult-entertainment industry, expressed excitement at the new technology.

“VR porn provides more realistic experiences and greater immersion,” Flynn said. “Instead of being a spectator, you become a participant. It is so immersive that when the performer leans into the camera when you are watching, you move your head back too.”

What moral “progress” has been wrought by the entertainment industry since the Vitascope kissing film of 1896!

Another measurable demonstration of St. Paul’s principle is seen in the way people eat.

Food requires self-control. This is necessary both in the selection of food that is eaten and in the actual amount consumed. In the past, people could seldom overeat. They could indulge only at certain points in time which were almost always tied to a communal celebration. Harvest festivals, religious days, or wedding ceremonies would be observed with feasts and banqueting. Sometimes these could continue for many days. Yet, outside of these times, people’s eating was limited by several unavoidable forces that acted as restraints.

The first was the imperative to perform daily manual work which was often time-consuming. The second force was the natural limitations on food production and storage in pre-industrial societies that made economy a necessary virtue for survival. In other words, a person could not regularly overeat because too much of their time was spent in work, and food was rationed so that it lasted for the period between harvests.

In the modern Western world no such limits exist anymore and the result has been an explosion in sloth, obesity, and people who destroy their own health with food. Neither is such a lack of self-restraint isolated only to Western nations. Sin is, after all, universal. And if the West has a cultural backbone of Christian virtue, other historically non-Christian nations have no such heritage and are even less resistant to sin.

Thus, food-related diseases are rapidly appearing in the Third World. There are obesity epidemics occurring in places traditionally associated with hunger, like India. In fact, there is now a 5% morbid obesity rate in India and it is rapidly galloping upward. In a country of nearly a billion people, this translates to fifty million overweight people with millions more growing obese by the year. But South Africa leaves them in the shade. In 2015, around 65% of its population were obese.

It was relatively difficult for most people to be obese a hundred years ago, and because of this historical fact, obesity is often explained away as a government problem, or the effect of technological development, or as a by-product of the industrialisation of labour. Like many human problems, obesity is seldom examined as a moral problem. Seldom is obesity even seen to have a moral dimension – for that would require personal responsibility – even though our eating is unquestionably governed by moral choices.

Television shows like TLC’s My 600 lb Life reveals the morality behind eating. It documents the lives of people who have reached gargantuan proportions. These people never deny themselves food. They consume far more than is necessary. In all cases, they will easily eat in one sitting as much food as a family of six might comfortably share between them. Moreover, as the television series investigates their lives, their personalities come to the forefront. Even under the scrutiny of the cameras, what is often revealed is selfishness, laziness, self-pity, and a habit of bullying and blaming others. One of the ways in which these ugly moral lapses work their way out is through gluttony.

600lb

Some of these people reach the point of immobility before they decide to change. The solution they hit upon is surgery. Of course, the assumption behind weight-loss surgery is an absence of self-control for the rest of a person’s life. Since these people cannot control themselves, an artificial constraint must be placed upon them by literally cutting away their stomach or using gastric bands to squeeze it.

The latest development in the loss of self-control is the emergence of movements that seek to redefine what is healthy. Like other forms of identity politics, the basis for doing this is not empirical science but an ideological fantasy.

The “body positivity” or “size acceptance” movement is now at the forefront of enabling people to delude themselves that they can be “healthy at any size”. This is a movement that quite openly aims to overturn the concept that slender bodies are beautiful, and it particularly attacks the idea that some people are more beautiful than others. “Every human body deserves to be celebrated regardless of size,” they say. Thus, fat people should be able to wear what they like. There should be fashion models of different degrees of obesity. Fat people should “feel comfortable in their own skin”. You can have “beauty at any size”. These are the keystone slogans.

The body positivity movement has very quickly morphed itself into a victim group. This demonstrates something of the psychology of identity politics and the complete intellectual anaemia of Western culture that such a thing could be taken seriously. In a world that still knows starvation, the absurdity of overweight people claiming to be victims, or the risible notion that someone is “brave” for being overweight and wearing a bikini in public, demonstrates how bottomless is the pit of irrationality.

Despite the foolishness of their assertions the body positivity movement has learned the lessons of identity politics very well. It understands how to pull the levers of manipulation and the importance of enlisting the liberal media to their cause. Almost lock, stock and barrel, it has copied its strategy from other successful identity movements. This is why it is experiencing unqualified support in the liberal media. It can also command an army of outrage like other identity groups. One need only consider the fury over Netflix’s new series Insatiable to see this in action.

Body positivity advocates have dressed themselves in the garb of oppression. They claim to have been bullied at school for their weight thus demonstrating the systemic discrimination against fat people, no different from the “hate” experienced by other victim groups. They point to slender models in advertising and claim this is dangerous. It is dangerous, they say, because it teaches young women to starve themselves and hate their own bodies. “This kind of advertising,” they assert without evidence, “is harming young women. It is telling every teenage girl, ‘You are not good enough’.

The body positivity movement has invented terms like “body shaming” or “fat shaming”, which are roughly congruent with terms like “victim shaming”. These terms are so construed as to encompass any criticism of obesity or any negative opinion whatsoever about a person’s appearance. This extends even to common and logical associations such as the relationship between obesity and inactivity.

Activists in this movement, many of whom are obese women, will appear on cameras and insist that obesity is merely the normal state of their particular body. They will often claim that they perform extensive physical activity and eat healthily – as was the case of one advocate who weighed over 300 pounds and visibly struggled to fit into the studio chairs. These claims are flatly biologically impossible. Nobody who eats a mostly vegetarian diet and performs extensive daily physical exercise would possibly be able to approach 140 kilograms. Yet the obvious lie – so clearly contradictory of objective reality – is seldom allowed to be challenged without shrieks of “insensitivity” and “body shaming”.

Other key concepts  in the movement include “structural discrimination”. This relates to the alleged oppression inherent in an environment that is not designed for people of their girth. For example, seats in an aircraft are frequently too small for overweight people. Doorways may be too narrow. Aisles in some stores may not be navigated comfortably by mobility scooters. Rides in amusement parks may exclude people over a weight category. Some surfaces may crack or break when walked upon.

None of this is interpreted as a sign that a person has become so overweight that they have exceeded the spectrum of sizes for which the built environment was designed. Rather it is interpreted as a subtle form of discrimination. Builders, designers, architects, and engineers are constructing the world for the slender and thereby marginalising and excluding the obese. This is presented as being similar to the now infamous “microaggressions” that have become sources of tremendous concern to college students.

The ultimate aim for the body positivity movement to enrol these concepts into the pantheon of public virtue. They want to force the world to accommodate them. Aircraft will need to provide them with broader seats for the same price of an airfare as someone who might be given a smaller seat. Stores should be mobility scooter friendly. All clothing lines should come in gargantuan sizes. And “body shaming” should become so politically incorrect and dangerous that eventually it is regarded as “sackable” evil. Some progress has already been made toward the goal with the banning of the “Are you beach body ready?” advertisements in the London Underground. These advertisements showed a fit woman and were decried as unrealistic and exclusionary.

Taken to its logical extension – and given the ever-expanding waistlines of citizens in the Western world – it will eventually become very difficult for any health advice about obesity to be issued to people.

If there is one thing that definitively marks Western culture in the last few decades – and will continue to mark Western culture into the foreseeable future – it is the development of sophisticated frameworks to deflect personal responsibility for the choices and problems in one’s life upon others.  A smoker, for example, will blame tobacco companies for their cancer. Or the government, because it once allowed tobacconists to advertise their products. The liberal press will try to exculpate the poor for quite literally burning up their precious money on cigarettes. And now a whole movement has come into being that not only celebrates overweight people under the guise of “acceptance”, but actually encourages obesity by trying to suppress inconvenient information or bullying people into silence who would appeal to the verdict of medical science.

St. Paul foresaw this many centuries ago. If he were to visit us in the 21st century, none of this would have surprised him, and it should not surprise us that this sort of delusion will continue to increase. Western society is bound to get sicker, fatter, more economically precarious, more sexualised, more obsessed with pornography, more perverted, and ever more thoroughly riddled with other forms of evil.

St. Paul’s warning to Timothy enables us to make predictions about the direction society is heading. Of course, the Lord can – and frequently has – radically altered the course of history to fulfil his plans. Nothing of the future can be known for certain, other than what God himself has chosen to reveal to us. And, as human creatures, we lack our God’s perfect omniscience and must never fancy ourselves wiser than our Maker. Yet thanks to his word, we are able to see something of the future unfolding before us.

As the days grow darker and immorality and vice more omnipresent, we can find our consolation in the certainty that the Lord’s return is growing closer. God will not allow the darkness to long envelope the world, for he is a God of light and justice. It is an exciting thought that our Lord may descend upon the clouds in the very near future.

The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.(Romans 13:11)

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Fatherly Comfort in Times of Trouble

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ACKNOWLEDGING THE TROUBLES OF LIFE

Man is born to trouble,” said Eliphaz to Job, “as surely as the sparks fly upward.”

This is not a truth that we always want to acknowledge. When the sun is shining and life is good we hope that it will never end. We always want good times to roll on forever. Any reminder that trouble might come our way is hit out of field by the human psyche with all the force of a top baseball player.

But God’s word tells us about reality. It gives us the true shape of life so that we do not live under a cloud of the world’s lies. The Bible corrects our nearsightedness. Scripture will not permit us to be victims of the devil. Thus, God in his majestic truthfulness testifies that trouble is an inescapable part of life for a Christian. St. Paul goes so far as to say that no true Christian will live a trouble-free life on this earth.

This does not mean that every Christian’s troubles will be the same. Some may face extreme situations like martyrdom and exile from their homes (like the Christians in ISIS occupied territory). Others may simply face the daily weariness of work and family, and the mental struggle of living in an ungodly world.

There is, after all, a deep existential tension of being a Christian in the 21st century. There must be. There should be. Nobody can love the world, writes St. John, and love God at the same time (1 John 2:15). Friendship with the world, says St. James, is enmity with God (James 4:4). Given this, Christians can feel like they belong to a shrinking number of the sane. The irreverence and ungodliness around us can torment the mind and soul just as the things Lot saw in Sodom caused him great distress (2 Peter 2:7).

Sometimes Christians experiences trouble as the by-product of the sinful nature. Even as redeemed people, we can make misjudgements, be rash, and come to wrong-headed conclusions about things. We can make bad decisions. There are a legion of examples.

Pastor Tim Conway once related the story of a friend. This young man married a woman who was a local beauty pageant winner. His godly friends counselled him against the match. They could see her true character but like many eager young people, he saw only the surface. Shortly after the marriage the young man discovered his bride was contentious, ill-tempered, and disloyal. She withheld herself from him sexually, had flirtations with his friends, and eventually ran away with one of his buddies never to return.

Christians can (and do) make errors of judgement. We do not always faithfully observe the teaching of scripture, wisdom and the Church. Even Christians can make choices that plunge them into years – perhaps a lifetime – of trouble. No wonder the scriptures tell us to consult the words of the Lord frequently. Meditate on God’s law day and night, writes the psalmist (Psalm 1:2). Joshua commands the people to not only think on God’s word, but to have it continually on their lips (Joshua 1:8).

It is supreme wisdom to adapt our behaviour to God’s will. To walk circumspectly and thoughtfully. For this will keep us from falling into sin. It will prevent us from piercing ourselves with many needless sorrows.

But sometimes we do not stray from the narrow way of Jesus. At times our hearts are overflowing with praise to the King. Our fellowship with God in prayer can be so rich it is as though we walk in the perfumed gardens of Eden with the Lord. At times Jesus can draw us so near to the extent we can almost wonder if we are about to enter heaven. At such times, God’s holiness falls on the heart, we long for more and more righteousness, and his word is life to us.

And then trouble can come.

This is a paradox indeed! Trouble can come when we believe ourselves to be following most closely on the heels of the Master. This has been the discovery of many godly men and women throughout the ages. They often built the Kingdom of God under the weight of trouble. Amy Carmichael, the Irish missionary who spent fifty-five years in India saving girls from temple prostitution, was bedridden in her latter years. Why did such trouble come to such a powerful missionary for the Lord?

We can wonder about this. Why do difficulties sometimes come when the heart burns for the Lord and for the fulfilment of his righteousness? This is a mystery, but there is comfort from the Lord. For though a man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward, God is the Saviour and Father of all who believe.

TROUBLE, NOT SUFFERING

Notice that I avoid the word “suffering”. In the modern world the word “suffering” is an impaired word. For a start it is commonly linked to ill-health. “Poor Mrs Oliphant,” we say, “she suffers from arthritis.

Under such repeated usage dinned into our ears, we come to associate suffering with a continuous state usually afflicting the body. This raises the high bar on what constitutes “suffering”. People can mistakenly conclude that unless you have Big Bad Stuff going on in your life it is not suffering. The word tends to excludes many painful human experiences. “Oh, you are getting harassed at work? That doesn’t sound so bad. The rest of your life is OK. Can you really call it suffering?

The word “suffering” also evokes fear. It conjures up terrifying visions. It excites painful anxiety. “What kind of suffering am I to endure?” we may fret, “What is going to happen to me?

Such anxiety may be difficult to avoid but it is wrong. It is evident that by God’s grace most Christians do not experience the worst of life. Some brave Christians (whose reward in heaven is undoubtedly very great) do indeed undergo a baptism of fire and their lives are admittedly very difficult. But such Christians are always compensated with abundant joy and grace so that like St. Paul they are enabled to sing even while in the stocks of prison.

Nonetheless, this kind of deep hardship is not a general rule. It does not seem to be God’s intention that his Christian people be kicked to the curb. In fact, God richly blesses his children with many joys both temporal and spiritual. His Church – as a rule – does not go about in ceaseless mourning. God has made a time for tears but also a time for laughter, and for most Christians, there is indeed more laughter than tears.

Thus it is neither healthy nor wise to meditate on the difficulties of others. Neither should we get caught up in the stories of the disgruntled who seem angry at God for their pain. It is not for us to judge the invisible spiritual forces or God’s mysterious purposes. Neither is it up to us to work out all the details of someone else’s life. It is not our place to judge the Judge of All the Earth. A speculative mind on the issue of trouble is polluting.

God has set before us lives to ponder in scripture. These people were no strangers to trouble. But the lives he offers to us to consider are ultimately triumphant ones. All of them. That should be the focus. For as Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones once preached, “Some Christians seem to think that God wants them for the same reason the devil does: to torment them.” Such thinking always arises from error and it produces a calumny against God. God is a Father to his people. That is a solid, unassailable truth.

Thus the word “trouble” is better. For a start it is more expansive. It covers a lot more ground and includes the full panoply of Christian struggle. From the minor to the major.

FATHERLY COMFORT

The Letter to the Hebrews contains comfort for anyone who experiences trouble.

It comforts in three ways. Firstly, by reassuring readers that Jesus is a faithful and compassionate high priest whose heavenly intercession is truly efficacious. Secondly, the letter gives a long list of people who were able to face many difficulties through their faith in God. Faith is not just an esoteric feeling, the letter tells us, it takes concrete forms. The letter shows us how to have faith. Thirdly, the letter provides us with answers. It teaches us that our troubles should be regarded as God’s fatherly dealing with us.

There is far too much to mention all at once. But reading this letter prayerfully, with special attention to Hebrews 11 and 12, will surely offer substantial joy, comfort and strength. Here are some thoughts.

The chapter opens with the following statement:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

This truth comes first because it is the foundation of peace in the turbulence of the storm. If we do not believe that God created all things then we do not have the sort of faith that can receive God’s comfort.

It is not sufficient to simply “believe” in God’s creative acts on an intellectual or mental level. We are surrounded by talk of evolution and the Big Bang. The unbelieving world operates on the basis of this grand deceit and pummels the Christian relentlessly. Unbelief is so ubiquitous that it can chip away – slowly at first – at the Christian’s certainty. Evolution and Big Bang cosmology can quite easily leak into the mind of the Christian so that he plays a double-game. One the one hand he can persuade himself that he believes in creation, while in his heart he doubts and secretly thinks these theories have validity.

A conviction of creation must be deeply internalised so that we come to see that Christ stands behind every painted surface in the universe; whether the rise and fall of a leaf, or the roll of thunder, the rays of sunlight. We must know that Jesus governs all creation.

If this is our faith, it transforms into a source of comfort. It is a great encouragement to know that we can pray to the King of Creation, a King who governs not merely a nation, but all existence. This is the King who sculptured the planets and ignited the stars. If he can do that which is very great, can he not help us in our times of trouble? Can he not perform miracles of grace in our lives? Most assuredly, he can.

The writer goes on to provide a long list of saints who accomplished things by faith. Many of these saints – in fact, all of them – endured struggles of many kinds. But by faith in the Living God, they not only endured, but triumphed over them.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8).

Here the writer emphasises faith in God as we plunge into the unknown. Times of trouble can be frightening precisely because often we do not know what is going to happen. The unknown can make our trouble seem unbearable. Will I be ruined? Will I be outcast? Will I be killed? Will I lose my faith?

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Abraham also was sent on a journey into the unknown. He left behind all that was familiar and safe. He did not know where he was going. He journeyed in the dark but he had the faith to believe God would look after him. And God led him safely all the years of his wandering.

The writer goes on:

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

By faith, Abraham and Sarah did the impossible. They produced a child when Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah’s barren womb was unquestionably dead. No child had been conceived within her for 90 years. Her past history with childbearing – that is to say, zero children – could have left her with little hope for the remaining years of her life.

For indeed the years had made their mark on the pair. No doubt both were grey-headed and growing gaunt and feeble. They had been allowed by God to age to the point where they were past all possibility of reproduction. Physiologically it was impossible. Barrenness had been a source of trouble and grief in their lives. And God now promised to relieve them at the point where it seemed they had missed the boat.

Yet, hoping against all hope, and believing against all belief, they had faith in the promises of God. God used the material before him. He caused Abraham to desire his wife; and he caused life to flare into existence inside Sarah. After such a long wait, she experienced the joy of being a mother.

In times of trouble; in times of sadness, loneliness and grief we can wonder whether God will ever come for us. Will joy ever lighten our way again? We may sometimes patiently wait and pray for a long time. But faith is always rewarded in God’s economy. And the longer we wait, the greater the reward tends to be. This should serve as a great inspiration to cling to the promises of God in his word. To take him at his word in faith. To keep praying, to keep doing good, to keep plodding heavenward. It is a Christian cliche, of sorts, but it is nonetheless moving: keep on keeping on.

In the 12th chapter, the writer tells us:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Sometimes Christians experience trouble due to God’s corrective discipline in our lives. The writer tells us that this discipline is for our good. It is intended to make us more holy and thus more ready for our meeting with the King at the end of the world.

When God lands blows upon his children in the form of troubles, he does so out of fatherly concern for their soul. Perhaps we are starting to flirt with spiritual danger. Perhaps we are growing cold or arrogant. Perhaps we are hardhearted and need the carapace of self-regard cracked apart. Perhaps we have sinned (or are sinning) and need to be yanked back onto the path of Jesus.

Whatever the case – even if sometimes we may not know the reason for it at all – this corrective discipline, the writer assures us, produces peace and righteousness when it is finally over. Correction and discipline does not feel pleasant for the moment. It is painful and grievous. We do not like it. But the results make it well worthwhile. It leads to the Christian surrendering bad attitudes, habits or desires and learning to love and follow Christ more wholeheartedly. It leads to a life that is more abundant. A life that is brimming with Jesus. A life that is more flourishing like the tree planted by a spring, with its branches that grow over the wall heavy with fruit (Genesis 49:22). It leads to a life that is more joyful, more complete, more rich, more free, and more godly.

It leads to a life that is more full of Jesus; He who is the source of all goodness, joy, laughter, peace, and righteousness. He who is the light of the world.

The Throne Wobbles: The Political Assassination of Pope Francis

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Once more sexual scandal rocks the Roman Catholic Church. But underneath the surface a vicious civil war is being fought in a deeply divided church. Allegations of cover-up are the daggers. And Pope Francis faces a political assassination.

The Roman Catholic Church has fallen upon hard times of late.

Across the world, sexual scandals are exploding like ACME dynamite in a Looney Tunes skit. Each one rocks the church to the core.

Just in this year alone there have been scandals in Chile, Australia, Pennsylvania, Guam, and Honduras. There are dozens of victims – if not hundreds – going back over decades. Investigators have identified hundreds of perpetrators, which now include some of the highest ranked clergy in the world: bishops and cardinals. Some of these have been convicted in secular courts. A cardinal awaits sentencing in Australia.

And it is not only children who have suffered from clerical abuse, but also seminarians. These young men, some of them scarcely more than teenagers when they began their priestly training, have been abused by men who claimed to be their shepherds. They were harassed, groomed, and coerced into sexual relationships with clergy who were old enough to be their uncles. It has been revealed that rampant homosexuality is virtually the norm in some seminaries around the world.

In July of this year, Lifesite News reported the claims of seminarians in Honduras. They complained:

“We are living and experiencing a time of tension in our house because of gravely immoral situations, above all of an active homosexuality inside the seminary that has been a taboo all this time,” continued the young men’s letter, “and by covering up and penalizing this situation the problem has grown in strength, turning into, as one priest said not so long ago, an ‘epidemic in the seminary.”

An article published by the National Catholic Register, also in July, made the following claim:

In a letter written to the seminary’s formators that was subsequently circulated in June to the country’s Catholic bishops, the seminarians asserted “irrefutable evidence” exists that a homosexual network pervades the institution and is being protected by its rector.

The article goes onto allege that high-placed clergymen had sexual relationships with young seminarians. This is not only a breach of Roman Catholic doctrinal teaching on sexuality and a violation of the vows of celibacy that priests are meant to take in the sight of God, but surely a clear instance of more powerful individuals taking advantage of inexperienced and relatively less powerful young men:

Similar to the charges surrounding Cardinal McCarrick, who reportedly engaged in a long-standing practice of pressuring seminarians into sexual activity with him while he was serving as bishop in two New Jersey dioceses during the 1980s and 1990s, Auxiliary Bishop Jose Juan Pineda Fasquelle of Tegucigalpa has been accused of engaging in homosexual interactions with Tegucigulpa seminarians.

And, just as the revelations regarding Cardinal McCarrick have provoked troubling questions about what his brother U.S. bishops and the Vatican knew about his interactions with seminarians and about why nothing was disclosed publicly for so long, the Honduran allegations call into question the actions of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

While Cardinal Maradiaga — a key confidante of Pope Francis who is coordinator of the “C9” group of cardinals advising him on reforming Church governance and the Roman Curia — is not himself the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct, he is now under fire for appearing to have disregarded a wealth of evidence of homosexual misconduct by Bishop Pineda, whose resignation as auxiliary bishop was accepted by Pope Francis July 20.

The Honduran seminarians’ letter reportedly was not met with praise for having come forward in June; Cardinal Maradiaga instead accused the seminarians of being “gossipers” who wish to portray their fellow seminarians in a bad light, according to sources in Honduras.

The same article reports allegations that more than half of the seminarians in the diocese are homosexuals – something that could never be known if these men were celibate.

These are not victimless sins. This is evil that damages people’s lives forever. Sexual abuse and harassment inflicts terrible wounds on people’s souls and mangles their capacity for trust and faith. Nothing could be more aptly described as the work of Satan than the sexual abuse of children and the sexual coercion of young people since it fundamentally destroys and impairs their human flourishing.

It is not only the horror of the sexual perversion itself that is nauseating. It is also the rank hypocrisy.

The perpetrators and their abettors are the same men who claim for themselves some kind of apostolic authority, and therefore some kind of moral privilege. They even dare to take unto themselves the title alter Christus – that is, “another Christ”. Could there be anything that better qualifies as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? When a man preys upon the vulnerable like Satan, and at the same time to pretends to be “another Christ”, he has reached a degree of hypocrisy never approached even by the Pharisees.

St. Jude tells us that such men are: “…wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” These words surely affix themselves to these grotesque moral and religious mutants. The text also comforts the Christian with the reminder that judgement will most assuredly occur.

THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE

The conclusion is inescapable. Dark cesspits have formed within the Catholic organisation. They steam and bubble and release the fetid odours of sin which until now have remained out of the public eye due to an active effort of concealment.

But a great exposure is taking place. This is not just driven by the findings of courts. It is also being driven by high-ranking clerics effectively spilling their guts to the media. They have sought to “out” each other. They have targeted each other with accusations. They have stamped question marks over each other’s reputation.

It is a vicious political bloodletting that in a previous age would have resulted in piles of bodies, unceremoniously tossed into graves, jewelled daggers firmly inserted into backs.

It is now transparently clear that the Catholic hierarchy is at war with itself. Cardinals are taking potshots at each other. Bishops and priests are weighing in. Both traditionalists and liberals within the church have tried to cast the blame for cover-up and deception upon the other camp. Herein we see the principle that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Both sides are using it to damn the other.

Some clergy are jockeying for position. They sense that fresh vacancies will soon be open in the upper ranks when senior clerics are purged. Others have battened down the hatches in the hope that the storm will pass and their careers will be unaffected. Still others are spinning their wheels so fast to rewrite history that they have nearly started a small tornado.

Much of the heat has arisen due a former Apostolic Nuncio by the name of Carlo Maria Viganò.  A few weeks ago, Viganò released a lengthy testimony that named prominent and powerful clergy who, Viganò claims, knew of the deplorable behaviour of Cardinal McCarrick but did nothing to stop him.

Most damning of all Viganò has claimed that Pope Francis was told about McCarrick as far back as 2013, and singularly failed to take action. The letter seethes with a spirit of moral retribution. If you want people to resign for their failures, Viganò says, then begin with yourself! Viganò seems to suggest that if Pope Francis wants heads from among the top then he will most certainly get heads: and one of the first to roll will be his own.

It is the first time in living memory that any highly-placed member of the hierarchy has publicly denounced the head of the pyramid: the pope himself. The Roman Catholic Church operates under a strict code of secrecy and silence, which Father Raymond de Souza outlined in the Catholic Herald just a few days ago:

Whatever the truth or falsity of the claims made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in his “testimony” calling for the resignation of Pope Francis, it is indisputable that he spectacularly violated the pontifical secret he swore an oath to keep.

That is an earthquake for the Vatican diplomatic corps and the Roman Curia. The “pontifical secret” which binds them is not the confessional seal, nor is it as grave as the conclave seal for the cardinal electors, but it is most serious. After Viganò it will never be the same.

Archbishop Viganò justified the revelation of details he learned on the job on the grounds that his conscience did not permit him to keep corruption hidden. He brazenly invoked the mafia term omertà to speak about the code of silence he was breaking.

Curial officials and Vatican diplomats take their oaths very seriously. I have known dozens of them, many as close friends, and the norm is that they quite punctiliously refuse to discuss even routine matters that cross their desks.

For example, 10 days before the papal trip to Ireland, I asked an old friend, a current official in one of the Vatican congregations responsible for bishops, whether in fact there were any tribunals set up to judge bishops foreseen in the motu proprio of Pope Francis, Come una madre amorevole. He would not answer. I had not asked for any particulars, just whether it was even happening. (Pope Francis confirmed that such a case was underway on his return flight from Dublin.)

And the Vatican takes the oath seriously too. The VatiLeaks affair of a few years ago involved stolen and leaked documents by one who violated his oath, the butler of Benedict XVI. He was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced (though eventually pardoned).

Supporters of Pope Francis argue that the accusations have arisen primarily from the traditionalist camp of the church because so many traditionalists loathe the pope. Viganò is sometimes described as a traditionalist.

Indeed, supporters of Pope Francis turned their guns on Viganò very quickly. There are now allegations that he also is tainted. The New York Times reported that Viganò has been accused of hindering a sexual misconduct investigation in Minnesota. If this is true, it marks Viganò out as another hypocrite trying to stiff the pope.

The progressives in the Roman Catholic Church see the traditionalists as people who want to turn the clock back to the medieval period; to go back to Latin, arcane rituals, and a loveless moral legalism. They claim the “trads” feel threatened by Pope Francis because his vision of a humbler, more humane church is a threat to their power and their vision.

A lot of traditionalists made their careers, after all, by being public warriors of a hard Catholic morality. They mouthed the conservative lines of the previous popes with an eye to getting a bishop’s mitre or a cardinal’s hat. With Pope Francis, all that work seems to count for nothing! That’s why they are so happy to torpedo a reigning pope, the progressives say. It is an act of revenge. It is spite.

There is probably quite a bit of truth in this.

On the other hand, the opponents of Pope Francis claim that something shady has been going on. They say that Pope Francis has done little to combat the abuses in the church and his public speeches of contrition and prayers are not enough to deal with the problem. The traditionalists accuse Pope Francis of being a scarcely-Catholic ultra-liberal left-winger, influenced by liberation theology. They claim his theology is scrambled and unclear. They also view him as an ecclesiastical tyrant. The pope is political animal, they claim, who fights with the viciousness of South American cutthroat politics. He stacks the Vatican with his own “yes men” and engages in petty retribution.

Pope Francis is possibly all of these things. It is hard to know for sure, given the crackling hostility within the Vatican. This “Holy City” is a hothouse, steamy and humid with petty grudges and politicking. It is a jungle where senior clerics hate each other venomously.

Father John Zuhlsdorf alluded to this very atmosphere on his blog earlier this week:

When I working in a Curial office I was at first rather taken aback by the style of letters I had to write, with flowery – to American ears – phrases and formulae. Why not just get to the point? What’s with acknowledging receipt of “Your Excellency’s is most esteemed letter under date of…”?

I eventually figured it out. The elaborate courtesy and formulae allowed people to sincerely disliked each other and vehemently disagreed to continue to communicate and get things done.

Francis is certainly in a difficult position because he heads a church that is rapidly becoming ungovernable.

The Council of Trent worked hard to give the See of St. Peter the illusion of a divine mandate and thus the guarantor of unity. But the 16th century polish – although very hard-wearing and long-lasting – can be softened and removed by modernism. Thus the shine is off. The papacy is fast regressing to the murderous intrigues of pre-Reformation skulduggery. The papal office itself is now contested territory.

Up until now, the crackle of gunfire has been muted. The war has been fought behind curtains. Shots in the dark. Whispers and rumours. Political signals and coded snubs.

But now the conflict is in the daylight. There has been a drive-by shooting at high noon. The gunman that pumped the trigger is Viganò.

And his ambush has worked, at least so far. Pope Francis is politically and morally crippled. Discussion about his fitness is omnipresent from the Catholic in the pew, to the secular media, to the clergy themselves. Benedict XVI proved it was possible to resign the job, and he quit due to age. Why couldn’t Francis step down too?

The question now on everyone’s lips, which Pope Francis has so far publicly refused to answer, is: “What did the Pope know and when did he know it?

According to the Spectator, the evidence is mounting that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick. Yet Pope Francis has given no denials. Instead he flatly refused to address the Viganò testimony, telling journalists that they should judge the credibility of the accusations for themselves. He has also preached a homily recently in which he spoke of silence sometimes being the only acceptable response to false accusations.

The implication, with all the subtlety of a sack of hammers, is that the accusations are preposterous and beneath the pope’s dignity.

Now, it is quite possible that Pope Francis is a hapless casualty of the internecine conflict within the Roman Catholic Church. It is also quite possible that Pope Francis is as stained and tarnished as large numbers of senior clergy appear to be. We simply do not know.

All we know for certain is that Pope Francis has plenty of enemies. Many are his religious “brothers and sisters” – what a lovely lot! We know that there are large numbers of conservative Catholics who see Pope Francis as dangerous and heretical. Some have even prayed for his death, as one Polish priest was disciplined for doing recently.

We also know that Francis has plenty of friends who play hardball and show no mercy.

There’s a lot of water left to flow under this bridge.

We must take Solomon’s wisdom to heart and judge the case with balanced scales. This means we must let the situation run its course and sensibly, patiently, and intelligently wait for hard evidence to emerge before arriving at conclusions. For nobody deserves a trial by media, not even a pope, and nobody deserves to be condemned and hanged on the basis of Tweets, rumour, innuendo, and hearsay.