The Anglican Church of Tasmania Sells Up

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(Photograph: ABC, 2018)

The Anglican Church of Tasmania is selling 55 churches and a considerable portfolio of other properties.

Its survival strategy appears to be congruent with its sister branches elsewhere in the Western world. Having haemorrhaged most of its believers as a consequence of no longer proclaiming anything of worth, it has astutely recognised that the only way to keep the religion lumbering on for the immediate future is to approach the church in much the same way that a corporate headquarters approaches its outlets: cull the weak, close the unprofitable, sell the fat. In other words, the ruthless application of economic rationalisation.

The sell-off will raise about $30,000,000 for an estimated 200 survivors of abuse at the hands of Anglican clergy in Tasmania. But it is likely that the sale will generate three times that amount which will then be ploughed back into the very parishes that were unable to sustain the churches they sold in the first place. It thus kills two birds with one stone. It neutralises the issue of abuse survivors and also creates cash.

If there is anything that demonstrates the unenviable conundrum of the Anglican Church, it is this. With congregations in free fall decline, the only means to raise liquid revenue is to sell their property. But raising money for your heart by selling one of your kidneys is never going to be a sustainable strategy.

The financial situation of the Anglican Church more broadly reflects its theological situation where it increasingly represents a hollowed shell, propped up by the pillars of tradition which are so flexible in meaning as to reach the point of utter indifference. The rotting edifice is occupied by ageing liberals and once-radicals from the 1970’s who seem to think they can capture the affection and attention of people by being edgy and “not stuffy”. Such as allowing the Vagina Monologues to be recited in their churches.

In any case, the Bishop of Tasmania Dr. Richard Condie has his work cut out for him since he not only faces the burden of a rapidly thinning flock but also opposition from the very faction of theological liberals that have worked so tirelessly to shrink the number of souls in his cure.

They describe him as “fundamentalist” because he believes what St. Paul wrote about homosexuality. The bishop has even made statements in which he hints at the centrality of scripture. He has said that within the Anglican Communion there has been an “…erosion of confidence in the truth of the Bible that has led to an erosion of teaching about sexuality, the uniqueness of Christ, the resurrection, about abortion, euthanasia, and all kinds of things, such that this is not recognisable as historic biblical Christianity“. In other words, the communicants and clergy of the Anglican Church, many no longer recognisably Christian, are in desperate need of evangelism.

It gives one some indication as to how far off the ranch the Anglican Church has travelled when a “fundamentalist” within their ranks is anyone who believes the Bible. It also explains why they have a shortage of Christian communicants. To have churches brimming full of Christians, you need to present actual Christianity, oddly enough.

My sheep hear my voice and they follow Me… But they will not follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.

Sex for Breakfast, Death for Lunch: The Sons of the Sexual Revolution (Part I.)

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This is a three part feature series written in response to the van attack in Toronto which killed 10 people. Part I. considers some of the male-centric identity groups that have appeared in the last decade. In Part II. the Toronto terrorist’s particular sub-culture – the “incel” movement – is explored in more depth. Part III. finishes the feature series with a demonstration of how orthodox Christian theology can answer objections, philosophically overturn the new morality, offer renewal to the damaged, and properly interpret the sociological forces at work in our time.

  1. Unfinished Business: The Sexual Revolution
  2. Pick Up Artists (PUA)
  3. Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW)

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION

It may not seem that our society is lurching toward a crisis point when you are squirrelled away in a warm home on a rainy morning.

Life seems to trundle on with apparent normality; the sun continues to rise, the seasons come and go. And yet, for all of this, the substructure of our civilisation is being dismantled by the ongoing effect of the sexual revolution which in the past week has turned lethal. Within Western nations there are ferocious disagreements about the proper constitution of sexuality, gender, and family and since these things are so elemental to the human condition, everything is touched by the conflict – law, religion, sport, entertainment, and politics.

The upheavals in these domains have plunged Western society into troubled airspace. Issues of sexuality, family and gender are centrepiece moral and ideological conflicts. It is fair to say that an internal war is being fought over the regulation, identification and management of sex and gender. In the process, the foundations that have been taken for granted by Christian civilisation are being smashed apart along with the institutions that once adorned them.

Many examples could be provided to illustrate how far this revolution has spread. Just this week The College Fix published the findings of a video experiment. Students planted small yellow signs on the grounds of five Catholic college campuses that read: “God’s Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman“. The student researchers claimed that every sign they installed was vandalised or removed within minutes. Some were tampered with by college staff while others were interfered with by students, but none lasted longer than ten minutes. A couple of these signs were later replaced with pro-homosexual marriage signs which were, of course, left undisturbed.

The fact that this quiet tussle occurred within the institutions that the Roman Catholic Church charges with propagating a semblance of a Catholic worldview in their people, shows the depth to which the ideas of the sexual revolution have penetrated and how much further they have yet to run. University campuses are at the forefront of the cresting wave, breeding a new generation of radicals. What we observe is not encouraging and does not bode well for the future.

Conflict is the summary word. Far from bringing harmony, the sexual revolution has engendered vast conflict. Sexual and family conflict have exploded in severity and volume. Scandals in respected institutions are common. Worse, much of this is now aired publicly for broad consumption which exercises a further warping effect on people’s minds and hearts. The more people hear, see and read of sexual mayhem across the complex of human interaction, the more it encourages suspicion, feeds pharisaic codes of behaviour, and expands the appetite for pushing boundaries.

Revolutions have a habit of spiralling out of control. The sexual revolution, as a distinct cultural force, is no different which is why sexual issues are now among the most savagely fought over within our society.

As competing forces interact revolutions create enemies within and without. Factions coalesce, often implacably opposed to each other. Rivalries form; outcast villains reinvent themselves; schools of exclusive thought emerge; and enmities harden. For some people, the initial triumphs of the revolution are enough. They become the conservatives. In other circles, the boundaries are still too tight, too fuddy-duddy, and must be pushed even further. And so radicalism turns in upon itself, creating feverish hothouses of intellectual agitation. These, in turn, grow their own offshoots. As centres of agitation blossom they come into conflict with each other, a good example being the recent rivalry between lesbian feminist groups and transgender feminists.

Two weeks ago, we saw the dynamic of radicalism at work. The sexual revolution has bred a new and unique form of terrorism which targets gender.

Much of the world now knows the name Alek Minassian, who killed 10 people in Toronto by driving a van down a sidewalk. Minassian is the latest instalment in a list of young men who commit mass murder due to their sexual grievances which they have transformed into the manifesto of victimhood and oppression.

Alek Minassian belonged to a men’s movement known as the “involuntarily celibate” or “incel”. The incel movement is obsessed with sexuality and gender. It often lurks in cyberspace’s shadowy fringes where incels can connect with each other without too much scrutiny. Even so, their forums do get shut down sometimes. This is because incels have an uncomfortable tendency to sink into violent fantasies involving rape, murder, or the active harassment of women. They tend to encourage each other toward deviant or predatory behaviour that in some cases is criminal, and in other cases should be taken as a coded plea for psychiatric assessment.

But incels are not alone. Minassian’s vile act has caused the spotlight to fall more brightly upon a wide range of male-centric gender movements that are growing alarmingly across the world as the sexual revolution introduces more destabilisation into human relations. Each movement is an outgrowth of the sexual revolution in its own right, but interestingly, in some cases may be seen as a grotesque act of protest against it. It hardly need be said that each is putrid and vile in its own way.

This confederation of male movements – despite the fact they sometimes violently disagree with each other – do share a number of things in common. First, a negative view of women (and of modern society, supposedly run by and for women). Second, a distorted view of sexual intercourse. And thirdly, a putrescent view of masculinity that is strongly informed by Darwinian fantasy.

PICK UP ARTISTS

“Pick Up Artists” (PUA) or the “seduction community” consists largely of men who languish in the teenage fantasy that they can transform themselves into a living Adonis and have women fall at their feet left and centre. Whereas most teenage boys, even at their most hormonal, never lose the ability to distinguish between their fantasies of female availability and the stark limitations of reality, the men who are drawn into the PUA community seem to be locked into the fantasy with a childlike obsession.

The fundamental premise underpinning the PUA movement is the belief that women are susceptible a range of seduction techniques. You do need need to be particularly attractive for these techniques to work. They have a life and power of their own independent of the man wielding them. So much are these techniques regarded as a sovereign panacea that it forms the internal narrative of the subculture. The literature of the PUA community abounds with stories of fat, middle-aged, bald, sweaty men who walk into a bar alone at the beginning of a night, and leave at the end of the evening with one (or perhaps two) gorgeous women on their arms. The claim that men can obtain dating prowess through process alone is an article of faith within the PUA community. They truly believe that their techniques can more than compensate for kilos of extra flesh or sketchy personal hygiene.

The techniques themselves are risible. For instance, one technique called “negging” encourages men to subtly attack a woman’s insecurities with backhanded compliments that allegedly will then make her work for his approval. A PUA might look at a woman’s shoes, for example, and say, “Wow! Nice shoes. They look comfortable” or, “That’s a lovely dress. I saw a lot of people wearing that shade last year“. It is believed that negging makes a man more interesting to a woman. PUAs explain that the average woman is habituated to receiving flattery and compliments from men and associates this with weakness. Therefore a man who “negs” her will seem more interesting, less docile, and project the allure of confidence.

All this is based on the much-ballyhooed claim within PUA circles that women fall for jerks and predators while they merely “friend zone” nice guys. Street wisdom of this sort is the foundation for many PUA techniques. It’s the sort of conclusions one would draw if they observed merely a narrow slice of human interaction, such as the goings on in a rowdy bar. Such is the childish nature of the foundation into which the community places its faith. Nonetheless, the PUA community energetically asserts that these techniques work and, when properly applied, will enable a man to have sexual relations with virtually any woman he desires.

The Guardian, in its review of an expose of the inner working of the group, made this observation:

The jargon of the art, as explained in both The Game and The Layguide, is aggressive and militaristic. Going into clubs and deploying your newly found techniques is called “sarging”, supposedly named after someone’s cat but inevitably evoking “sergeant”. The woman you want to seduce is the “target”; her friend might be an “obstacle”; a male friend who accompanies you is your “wing”. These latter terms were taken by Mystery from the film Top Gun, in an apparently unconscious tribute to that film’s fervid atmosphere of homoerotic competition. The places in which seduction is practised are known collectively as “the field”, as though the protagonists were soldiers or spies. If they come home with a woman’s telephone number, a basic token of success, they write a “field report” and post it to the internet for appreciation and commentary. (“Sad sack artists”, The Guardian, 2005)

Give the character of the “seduction community” it is not surprising to discover that the PUA community consists of a few highly promiscuous men and many, many virtually celibate men. There is a smattering of men in between these extremes who can “pull” dates and have intercourse. They are involved in the community because they want to refine their abilities and pull better dates and have more intercourse.

This produces a group dynamic in which the majority lovelorn defer to the promiscuous, who represent (in their eyes, at least) the apotheosis of the art of seduction. The most promiscuous PUA are held in awed reverence. They take pretentious nicknames like “Mystery” and are attributed nearly mystical powers by the men in their orbit. The writings and media materials of these “seduction artists” form the basic manifesto of the group. In some cases, having sexual intercourse with multiple women and then writing about how they did it seems to be their full time occupation.

Such an obsessive focus on sexual intercourse suggests a severe dysfunction. This is confirmed by one former PUA by the name of Neil Strauss. Strauss became an iconic figure within the community and his writings continue to form the backbone of PUA techniques. Nonetheless, he has since abandoned the community and published an expose of it. He describes the way his mind worked as a PUA:

While waiting for his drink, Strauss falls into conversation with a group that includes two middle-aged tourists and a young woman. The woman is in her 20s – tanned, blond, wearing denim short-shorts. Game-klaxon! I watch to see how Strauss will react to her, only he doesn’t. He chats with the tourists, about nothing much. Then he chats with her, about nothing much. And then he walks away.

“The old me would have been performing everything for her attraction,” Strauss says when we’re out of earshot. “Thinking of sex with her. Or how to lure her away from her boyfriend, what have you. Even in, like, a work meeting – if there was a woman in that meeting, everything I said was for her, to get her phone number afterwards.”

If this seems abnormal, it’s because it is. It represents the substructure of a mental disorder, perhaps several. Interestingly, the dysfunctional nature of this behaviour was apparent to Strauss while he was still a practitioner of “the art” and a luminary within the PUA community.

Yet even when he reached a point where he wanted to pull away from the community, he was unable to disentangle himself. The inability to stop a destructive pattern of behaviour is usually a criteria for a psychiatric disorder.

Strauss reflects on this period of his life with a classic illustration of addiction:

He kept on spending, by his reckoning, “thousands of hours, thousands of dollars” in bars – preying. It was a lifestyle, Strauss says, that fast became “a recipe for self-hatred”.

Ultimately, Strauss discovered that a lifestyle built around radical promiscuity – both the practice of it and the teaching of other men to behave in this way – was neither healthy nor satisfying. He realised that the lifestyle was actually the external projection of a troubled and unstable psychology. The uncomfortable boundary line between his personality and the techniques he promoted is a topic addressed by several feature articles written on him by magazines and newspapers.

It is remarkable to consider that the fevered jetsam and flotsam of a troubled psyche can constitute the lifestyle advice pursued by thousands of men in the PUA community. It is a little like following the lifestyle advice of a doctor who is a cocaine addict and a kleptomaniac: the dysfunction of the expert tends to invalidate the advice he offers because it calls into question its true genesis. Nobody wants to (or ought to) base their life on the outflow of another person’s psychological disorder. That’s a recipe for making the madness spread.

By opening up his psyche to trained therapists for the first time, Strauss learned he had quite an assortment of mental and emotional conditions. In short order, he was diagnosed with anxiety syndrome, depressive disorder, two forms of sexual disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “It was like a hammer hitting me on the head,” he says. “I really thought I was normal.”

The misogynistic qualities of this community are self-evident insofar that even to subscribe to these ideas requires a degraded and monochromatic view of women as a mandatory prerequisite. The average PUA views women not as people with their own inner life but primarily as a means to his own gratification. The PUA is seeking gratification of sexual desires as much as the gratification of his ego and pride, and it often seems this latter distinction means more to them than sexual release itself. Having sex is an accomplishment that attracts a certain status within his circle. It’s not dissimilar from a group of hormonal teenage boys who boast to each other about the girls they’ve kissed.

The female quality that matters most within the PUA subculture is physical attractiveness. In fact, it is quite normal for a PUA to refer to women as numbers on a sliding scale ranging between 1 and 10. “I saw a 9.5 talking with an 8 the other day, and I went straight in to get numbers from them both“. Women are viewed essentially as disagreeable and evasive robots who will, nonetheless, dispense the desired action if you punch in the right programme.

In the world of the Pick Up Artist, men must take their cues from nature. They must be dominant and in control of conversation, since women (even if they deny it) have an innate evolutionary desire to be dominated. They must also be flashy and showy, like a male peacock. Indeed, “peacocking” is a term they use to describe wearing some distinctive article of clothing or jewellery – perhaps a feathered hat or an oversized skull ring – in order to stand out from the crowd. They are inspired by apes and lions and the dominant postures these display to assert themselves over females. They attempt to practice the same subliminal body language cues which allegedly make women swoon in submission, or at least, make them unconsciously more susceptible to submitting to a sexual advance. Thus it is that relationships, according to the PUA community, are not about the love and delight a man discovers in a woman – her mind and spirit as well as sexual intercourse – but about sex and the techniques required to get it.

Strauss, in an interview with The Atlantic, give some insight into how extreme it gets:

It’s true, that’s when I went to such an extreme that everything’s a technique. The guys would practice taking photos with each other to see how they could look more dominant in a photo. They engineer their behavior to such an insane degree.

It is a sub-culture that is so lunatic in its method – like the formulas of a mad scientist who thinks he has cracked the secret to immortal life – that only a particular kind of person could ever be drawn into this sub-culture. The requisite quality is a simple faith in techniques and programmes to penetrate the mystery of relationships, which nobody illuminated by real world experience could ever maintain with a straight face. But an attendant quality within the PUA community is either a severe lack of social skills or personalities that approach sociopaths where manipulation and power are the keys to the entirety of the human existence. Worryingly, their own materials seem to testify that the closer to true sociopaths a PUA approaches the more successful he appears to become. It does not say much for the community at large.

The “game” appeals to the mindset that supposes everything can be reduced to a technology, a program to follow. “Think of tonight as a video game,” Mystery instructs his students before taking them out sarging. And so it attracts the kind of men who are super-analytical but interpersonally hobbled. As Strauss wryly notes of the eventual population of the dream Los Angeles seduction house: “The point was women; the result was men. Instead of models in bikinis lounging by the Project Hollywood pool all day, we had pimply teenagers, bespectacled businessmen, tubby students, lonely millionaires, struggling actors, frustrated taxi drivers, and computer programmers – lots of computer programmers.” The sell is that, with the special techniques they learn from Mystery and other gurus, the ubergeeky can often give a convincing simulation of being a regular human being, even if, like one sarger in this book, they are in fact near-sociopaths.

MEN GOING THEIR OWN WAY

“Men Going Their Own Way”, usually abbreviated MGTOW, is another sub-culture that has congealed in the “manosphere” over the past decade. Unlike the PUA sub-culture which consists largely of the would-be promiscuous, this community consists of men who commit to living a life without romantic obligations, without children, and without strong attachments to society and the national community.

Adherents of the MGTOW lifestyle claim that society has become so feminised it is now actively hostile to men as a deliberate policy of administration and governance. This hostility toward men is primarily seen in the uneven sentencing between genders who may commit similar crimes (judges and courts come under special censure by the MGTOW movement), but these men also decry the gender ideologies pumped out by universities as well as the generalised marginalisation of male pursuits in modern culture. They argue that the Western world was built by men, yet has now embraced a feminine ideology that leaves no room for full-blooded male expression and identity.

Like many social protests, there is a kernel of truth behind the trappings. There is merit to the argument that the roles of men as fathers, workers, builders, creators, and leaders are no longer really honoured and supported. Unfortunately the MGTOW movement goes much further than this to assert that the remedy is to abandon society altogether. Many MGTOW will claim that any man who does not identify as part of the MGTOW sub-culture has become a useful idiot of the social feminisation programme. Furthermore, the men who defend the social system and the place of women are “white knights”. A white knight is any man who has become docile and deferential to both women and the feminised social system.

MGTOW claim that men have been emasculated across a range of domains. Sadly, it is not difficult for MGTOW to find ample evidence of the unfair treatment of men. Unlike the men’s rights movement, however, they do not posit solutions and therefore do not even attempt to work for change. To do so is pointless MGTOW argue because the social arrangement is so wildly unbalanced in favour of women that any change is scotch-taping a gaping crack or rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. Since the cards are rigged to yield aces for women, reforming the card table is pointless.

Instead, the MGTOW solution is to disengage from work, social obligation, children, and politics, and above all, to disengage from women. For most MGTOWs this involves embracing a bachelor existence and making no effort to look for a long-term relationship. This does not necessarily mean all MGTOW forswear sexual relations; some MGTOWS will engage in sexual activity with prostitutes or have a string of short term relationships with women. Such sexual relationships are considered acceptable within the sub-culture providing the relationship is entirely about the man’s gratification and serves his desires, goals and interests. He comes first.

This means that MGTOW typically relate to women with a conscious and premeditated lack of attachment, even with those they are having sex with. More advanced MGTOWs actually embrace their virginity or celibacy and commit themselves to keeping it – something known as “the full monk”.

Given this attitude toward sex and relationships one might be forgiven for thinking that MGTOW must be a relatively niche phenomenon, perhaps isolated to a smattering of disgruntled men, cracked misogynists and borderline misfits. It is hard to imagine too many men forgoing sexual relations for the sake of a lifestyle philosophy.

(One of the reasons God planted sexual desire into the human creation was to propel the two genders together and cause them to both need and desire union. To surmount this God-given impulse requires a great deal of rebellious effort. Martin Luther once observed that sexual desire arose from the original command God gave to his creation to “be fruitful and multiply”, and consequently, the yearning for sexual congress “was the last thing to die in man”.)

But far from being limited to a bag of human odds and ends, the MGTOW movement and various localised versions of it – such as the Japanese “herbivore men”; the soushoku danshi (“grass eating boys”) – now boast a significant and growing number of practitioners of this lifestyle. In Japan, 60% of men in their twenties, and 70% of men in their thirties are now classified as “herbivore men” with no interest in romantic or sexual relationships at all.

The rise of this phenomenon has caused something of a moral panic in Japan. A lack of romantic enthusiasm among their young men combined with rapidly declining population does not give demographic cheer. It is worthwhile seriously weighing up the long-term societal damage. It gives us some inkling into the population cost that a movement of this sort could one day have.

Although there are some regional distinctions between soushoku danshi and MGTOWs – MGTOW are a lot more aggressive in promoting their ideas unlike their Japanese counterparts – yet the worldview of both shares the common disengagement with traditional male roles:

Yoto Hosho, a 22-year-old college dropout who considers himself and most of his friends herbivores, believes the term describes a diverse group of men who have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. “We don’t care at all what people think about how we live,” he says.

Many of Hosho’s friends spend so much time playing computer games that they prefer the company of cyber women to the real thing. And the Internet, he says, has helped make alternative lifestyles more acceptable. Hosho believes that the lines between men and women in his generation have blurred. He points to the popularity of “boys love,” a genre of manga and novels written for women about romantic relationships between men that has spawned its own line of videos, computer games, magazines, and cafes where women dress as men.

Fukasawa contends that while some grass-eating men may be gay, many are not. Nor are they metrosexuals. Rather, their behavior reflects a rejection of both the traditional Japanese definition of masculinity and what she calls the West’s “commercialization” of relationships, under which men needed to be macho and purchase products to win a woman’s affection.

Neither does the MGTOW movement only encompass burnt out adults (young or old) whose dating or marriage experiences have turned them cynical and jaded. The media has reported on a growing number of teenage boys who are entering the movement as early as the age of 15. These represent a distinct and significant sub-set of the the movement – the TGTOWs: Teenagers Going Their Own Way. For these teenagers, relationships are fraught with the potential for abuse, dysfunction, pain, and breakdown. and many of them are deeply mistrustful of women. They have seen girlfriends make accusations against male relatives or friends, or they have had horrendous familial experiences. They thus choose to disengage early and seek for a life lived in secure solitude inside a small controllable circle.

It is a view of the self and of broader society that is close to a kind of moral solipsism: “the self is all I can trust“. Other TGTOWs maintain nearly exclusively male friendships, play a staggering amount of video games, work a minimal job, make no progress toward the usual accoutrements of adulthood like home ownership, and satisfy their sexual impulses with pornography.

A distinct flavour of revenge permeates the MGTOW movement. It is impossible to encounter any tendril of the movement without being exposed to its acidic hostility toward women, non-MGTOW men, and the social structures that hold a nation together. This thirst for vengeance is reflected in a recent MEL magazine expose of the MGTOW sub-culture. The quotes from its adherents shine a very strong light on the deep sense of alienation and anger these men seemingly experience:

MGTOW (pronounced “MIG-tau,” at least per everyone I spoke with) is a worldwide social phenomenon and online community of heterosexual men who have chosen a lifestyle that avoids legal and romantic entanglements with women at all costs. A Man Going His Own Way values self-ownership above all else, believing that he — and only he — has the right to decide what his goals in life should be. He refuses to surrender his will to the social expectations of women and society since he believes both have become hostile toward him.

Some MGTOW make a pledge of celibacy. (“Cut off the **** supply and raise awareness against the millions of chicks that use men and disrespect our natural role.”) Some engage in sex with prostitutes exclusively. (“The only honest women.”) Others sleep with tons of women; they’ll just never marry them. (“Even if a man has only three lovers in his entire life, he is getting more than his own grandfather — who had to marry her first.”)

The movement’s prescription is to vent its rage and punish the whole of society by deliberately opting not to fulfil any constructive or meaningful role in it. To varying degrees (since some MGTOW are quite successful men), its adherents choose social parasitism as a lifestyle. In its most extreme manifestation they purposefully build nothing, contribute nothing, serve no one, and do not participate in any form of familial life. Additionally, they actively preach hostility against the institutions that hold society up and promote a corrosive attitude of ambivalence and mockery toward these.

Although it may be tempting to regard this movement as too silly for words, it cannot be denied that their strategy is plausible. Any widespread male withdrawal from social life would lead to adverse long-term effects. For this reason the MGTOW movement should be considered potentially the most destructive of all the misogynistic movements, because while this movement is not an immediate danger to life and limb in the way that the incel sub-culture has become, yet by growing to a critical mass (and it is growing rapidly) its effects would be far more destabilising and hazardous.

MEL’s expose gives a good taste of their attitude toward the world at large:

Most MGTOW will tell you it’s more of a philosophy than a movement, punctuated with a serious helping of ZFG (“zero f***s given”). MGTOW are unapologetically selfish and, unlike men’s rights activists, aren’t looking to change the status quo, but instead trying to opt out of marriage, fatherhood, cohabitation and/or whatever else society expects of them — like a flock of indifferent ostriches.

Smitty the Great Oneanother MGHOW, employed a slightly more combative analogy in his description to me: “MGTOW are the Viet Cong of the gender war. The men’s rights activists don’t like us because, while we agree with them on some things, we won’t be their cannon fodder in a war we know they can’t win. Pickup artists hate us because they can’t make money off us. Feminists hate us because we won’t fight them. And women hate us because we won’t give them what they want.”

The MGTOW sub-culture produces streams of video content on the internet that tends to focus on the worst excesses of feminism (such as the infamous “Trigglypuff” recording), or instances of poor female behaviour. Interviews with women who lament the lack of male attention they receive are quite popular, and are taken by MGTOWs as evidence that the movement is gaining traction. Videos of feminist speakers, protesters, academics, or bullies are almost ubiquitous.

Given this preoccupation with poor female behaviour, it is not surprising that at the hub of MGTOW philosophy lies very negative views of women. Women are almost always presented as unreliable, entitled, spoiled, ruined by feminism, spiteful, arrogant, unfeeling, hurtful, money-hungry, and dangerous. Avoiding romantic entanglements is typically presented as a self-protective behaviour.

Digesting a steady diet of skewed materials of this sort, women are spoken of in terms that would curdle milk. Terms like “slut” or “whore” as a normative term of reference for a woman is quite usual. Women are sometimes referred to by their genitals. The abuse is not coherent. On one hand women are often insulted for being “ugly”, fat, stupid or insufficiently attractive but on the other hand, attractive women are attacked because they are attractive. Their appearance opens them to excoriation for their clothing, makeup, or poise. Their sexual activities are speculated over with malicious satisfaction.

Women who have professional qualifications – such as judges, doctors, lawyers or politicians – are regarded as innately dangerous. The common assumption among MGTOWs is that professional women will always act to the detriment of men. It is a striking historical inversion insofar as it resembles the attitude seen among radical feminists of the 1970’s for whom all men were agents of a mythical patriarchy.

Clearly the men involved in the MGTOW movement are angry and resentful. The community crackles with rage and hostility, and this is not only directed outwards. Sometimes the guns are turned upon their own, as MEL magazine notes:

I found the last three weeks I spent in the MGTOW Manosphere to be, for better or worse, reminiscent of 6th-grade recess — playful, petty and short-tempered. Make no mistake: These guys are bullies. Or as they put it, “Turning betas into men is a group effort, no one is in charge … and a good amount of time is spent shooting flaming arrows at each other for no apparent reason.” Immature? You bet.

A typical example of the profanity-laced commentary can be found on this forum (caution: contains extreme language and seriously degrading content). Below is a typical sample, censored for moral purposes:

You guys out there who aren’t Australian, don’t understand just how ******* **** women in Australia are. The courts, the laws and the police are totally against men, the police are the worst white knights you could ever imagine too. Unless you are Chad Mc**********, Australian women will not be nice to you, even during general interactions in a social environment. They’re totally ****, I mean I wouldn’t even **** an Aussie girl with someone elses **** let alone my own (again).

The above sample of MGTOW discourse hints toward a classic MGTOW narrative, which may be described as “The Lamentation of a Good Man“. These are saccharine mini-autobiographies in which the author will describe himself as good-looking, hard-working, athletic, adorable, funny, clever, and basically an all round excellent egg. Despite these qualities, his relationships either do not last or he cannot enter into a meaningful one. Women treat him poorly. He does not find the relational Shangri-La.

The lamentation usually concludes with the MGTOWs revelation that his experiences have proven that women are shallow and fickle. They cannot recognise a good prospect when it is right in front of them and can never be trusted. Of course, it does not occur to these men that their conclusion and its self-serving premise is so tragically flawed that it actually reveals their problem.

Like most sub-cultures, MGTOW embraces a spectrum of men from those who want no children or long-term relationships but are happy to have temporary relationships, all the way to the ultimate fulfilment of the MGTOW philosophy which is disengagement from the broader economic and social structure of his country, and going “off the grid” altogether. At this extreme, MGTOW allies itself with other conspiratorial groups that also preach against the federal government, although the MGTOW solution – to hide away in a cabin somewhere as a completely self-realised individual – is a passive response that does not fortunately lend itself to violent behaviour.

Our True Theology is Revealed in How We Handle Money

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What shall I do? I shall pull down my barns and build greater. (Luke 12:18)

  1. Our true theology is revealed by our approach to finances
  2. Jesus presents the radical view
  3. Covetousness is the weakness of man
  4. St. Augustine describes the two motives of covetousness

1. There are very few things that reveal our true theology as precisely as our approach to finances. A person may profess to be deeply faithful to Christ. He may radiate piety, smiling humbly and making references to God all the time. Or she may regularly attend church, never absent from the pew. An external performance of Christianity is as old as the faith itself. And yet, our Lord takes pains to teach us that if our theology has not reached the wallet and chequebook – if the way we view finances are no different from the shrewd unbeliever – then our faith is, at best, questionable.

Our relationship to money – and indeed, to goods more broadly – tells us a lot about where we are in our relationship to God and the extent to which we trust God to be our provider. It shows to us the extent to which we are truly content with God. When we are content with godliness, this will manifest in both satisfaction and gratitude for the things we possess in the sure knowledge that all that we have (and no more) has been given to us by the express design of our Father for our own good.

Our attitude toward money is a great revealer of the quality of our conversion. Whether we are fretful about losing our property; worried about the markets; or whether we agonise over the future tells us much about the authenticity and depth of our faith. And, of course, how joyfully we give to others – “for God loves a cheerful giver“. Giving generously is particularly demonstrative of true conversion, for mankind in his dead nature is never tempted to divest himself of his money. He does not struggle with the inborn impulse to hand money over to others.

Quite the opposite. The prevailing sin of mankind is to be covetous, avaricious, greedy and grasping, which is why St. Paul could describe money as the “root of many evils”. On one hand, man ceaselessly wants more than he has. On the other hand, he holds jealously to what he has gained already, like the proverbial dragon guarding his store of gold.

The Lord addresses these impulses in the human heart many times during his ministry. Always, Christ directs us to a new view of life that must become the “new norm” for a true Christian. It is a view of life in which our relationship to things and money is radically altered. Where the bare frame of our human outlook is coloured in with divine realities, eternal priorities, and with a preoccupation with God and his kingdom.

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2. The view of life that Jesus teaches is neither comfortable (for it demands living by faith and not by sight), nor is it congenital to our inborn nature (because it makes eternal, invisible things the priority of life). Moreover, what Jesus teaches is starkly realistic and people have never liked stark realism in any generation. “Life is short and uncertain,” Jesus says, “and you could die tonight. So stop living in the fantasy world that everybody else lives in. Stop worrying about money and goods. Start labouring for the treasure that does not fade or spoil, a treasure in heaven that lasts forever“.  Jesus tells us that a man’s life – his true security and happiness – does not consist in the abundance of what he has.

This point is established by Christ in the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Of all his parables, this represents one of the Lord’s most stinging rebukes during his ministry. It deals directly with man’s natural covetous desires, although it is only part of a much longer discourse on money and worry. Nonetheless, even without the rest of the context, it still clearly reflects Christ’s low tolerance for greediness, and equally clearly sets out the new view of life that Christians are to have. Yet it has often been ignored within the church because its message is unwelcome and difficult, especially as times have become more prosperous and every individual has more to lose.

One theologian observes:

The world, Christian as well as pagan, in each succeeding age, with a remarkable agreement, utterly declines to recognise the great Teacher’s view of life here.

3. Jesus begins by warning his audience to: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness” (Luke 12:14).

The fact the Lord urges his hearers to be energetically on guard suggests that covetousness is subtle and common. If a Christian is not on his guard, Jesus implies, and does not learn to think with kingdom mindedness, he will surely be overpowered by a view of life that is acid to Christianity. Like the seed that fell among the thorns, he will soon find the gospel choked in his life by the love of riches.

Note that the Lord refers to all kinds of covetousness. Covetousness is not simply the desire for more than we have. It is not even breaking the laws of God and man for the sake of gain like Judas Iscariot, although this is certainly the result of covetousness. Rather, covetousness also includes holding onto that which we already have and the attendant belief that life is not worth living if we lose our possessions, comforts, and little luxuries.

Jesus describes an industrious farmer who gets a bumper harvest. He is giddy with delight, for now he can pull down his barns – actually, enormous underground granaries – and build bigger ones, and retire. He can spend the rest of his life taking his ease, eating and drinking, and having parties.

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It is a significant example of covetousness for our Lord to have chosen.

Jesus often turns our concept of vices on its head, attacks our safe definitions, and drills down to the attitudes beneath them. Note how the rich man in this parable does not provide a typical illustration of what people generally think covetousness looks like.

The rich farmer does not seem like he is desperate for more. Quite the opposite. Here is a man who has finally reached a point where he judges that he “has enough”. Enough for what? Enough for a long retirement in which he can wallow in his wealth, living a life of ceaseless pleasure. It is a testament to the ever-current nature of the gospel that if we fast forward to the 21st century, we discover exactly the same widespread disposition among millions who make it a serious goal of their lives to reach easy retirement, so that they might hit a golf ball around a green or spending hours relaxing in local cafes.

God’s answer to such a disposition: “You fool!“. The fact that God speaks directly in this parable – which is uncommon in Christ’s parables – strongly suggests that this is not merely an illustrative story but a cautionary biography of a real person. A biography enhanced with Christ’s heavenly knowledge.

In any case, God refers to him sternly as a “fool”. A biblical fool is an insensible man who thinks himself clever when he is not. In his stubborn pride he refuses to hear or repent, and thus places himself beyond all correction or redemption. If this farmer was an actual historical person, then he had evidently not listened very obediently to the message of Ecclesiastes in which the preacher describes the very phenomenon Christ illustrates. Ecclesiastes observes that men who labour all their lives and store up wealth frequently do not enjoy their earnings, but die and leave it to others to enjoy.

Why is the man a fool? Because, having finally set everything up for a pleasure-filled existence, his life was going to end that very night. The earthly paradise he longed for would not materialise because the stopwatch of his life’s span had run down to zero. He had held on to things that he could only keep temporarily. And since everything that falls into our hands is ours only for a fraction of time, and since we are eternal souls, wealth and goods can never be the source of our happiness and joy. To live for them is madness.

The parable underscores the serious reality of life which ought to underpin our handling of finances. The reality is this: even if we gained the whole world, the day will soon arrive when our soul will be demanded of us and we must give an account before the Judge of all the earth.

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4. St. Augustine addressed the issue of covetousness in his sermon (Sermon 36) on the text of Matthew 19:21: “Go sell all that you have and give to the poor“. In this sermon, St. Augustine presents the two major motives behind covetousness or avarice. He also goes on to argue that for a Christian – when he is renewed by the Holy Spirit in both mind and soul – the same motives remain, but are now purified and changed in focus and orientation. Instead of drawing the soul downward, those motives are set free to draw him upward.

This concept of corruption is a central feature of St. Augustine’s theology, and it makes a vivid reappearance in the 20th century through C. S. Lewis’ writings, especially the extended application of this principle in his book The Screwtape Letters.

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St. Augustine explains that all human desires are, at their root, desires for God. Whether it be food, sex, drugs, money or music, behind every human yearning is a keenly felt emptiness, as if the soul had fallen into twilight and were vainly seeking to ignite the lamps with sodden paper. Man is a fallen creature, writes St. Augustine, and therefore does not realise his soul’s true need and does not seek for God. His soul cries out for communion with his Holy Creator but wretched man that he is! He tries to slake his thirst for an eternal God by indulging his sensual appetites. He engages in a relentless search for more – more money and more pleasure – as if the sheer volume of an unsatisfactory delight will eventually fill his need. So it is that “man is always restless until he finds his rest in God.

It is a striking theology that C. S. Lewis expands upon. “It is not that our desires are too strong,” writes Lewis, “but that they are too weak.” If we really desired abundant happiness we would seek it in Christ, the “Joy that man has always secretly desired”. Instead, man’s mind is so numbed and blunted by his fallenness that he thinks a bit of money or a new car will satisfy him. Lewis uses the illustrations of children stubbornly making mud pies in a puddle in the backyard because they cannot imagine what it would be like to go for a holiday to the beach.

This twisting of man’s desires and motives is a recurrent feature in St. Augustine’s writings. As in many of his pastoral writings and sermons, St. Augustine personifies virtues and vices. Of covetousness he writes:

What says avarice? “Keep for yourself, keep for your children. If you should be in want, no one will give to you. Live not for the time present only; consult for the future…” Thus avarice did enjoin one thing: “Keep for yourself, consult for the future”. 

Covetousness (or avarice), says St. Augustine, is motivated by the two impulses of keeping for oneself and laying up for the future.

“Keep for yourself,” says avarice. Suppose you are willing to obey her, ask her where you shall keep your gains? Some well-defended place she will show you, a walled chamber, perhaps, or iron chest. Very well, now you apply every precaution. Even so, perhaps some thief in the house will burst open the secret places; and while you are taking precautions for your money, you will be in fear of your life.

Or, it may be while you are keeping your store, he whose mind is set to plunder has it even in his thoughts to kill you. Lastly, even though by various precautions you should defend your treasure and your clothes against thieves; defend them still against the rust and moth. What can you do then? Here is no enemy without to take away your goods, but one within consuming them.

St. Augustine echoes Christ’s teaching here that our goods and money are simply never secure, regardless of our best efforts. Certainly, we can keep try to keep our money and property safe, but there are numerous cases of burglaries that have gone terribly wrong and someone has been left dead. Or banking errors that have seen people’s money leeched away. Or inflation or volatile markets that sees the value of every dollar erode away until it is worthless. Or, our goods become worn and damaged by mould, rust, or other forms of decay.

When covetousness demands that we “keep for ourselves”, it is a fictional demand. For even with our best efforts nothing that we have, from books to furniture to money, can be kept. Everything will pass from our grasp in time, one way or another.

No good counsel then has avarice given. See she has enjoined you to keep, yet has not found any safe place where you may keep.

Let’s consider her next advice, “Consult for the future”. But for what future? Only for a few and uncertain days.

She says, “Consult for the future,” to a man who may not live even until tomorrow. But suppose him to live as long as avarice thinks he will… [suppose] that he grow old and come to his end: when he is bent double with old age and leaning on his stick for support, even then he still hears avarice saying still, “Consult for the future.”

(The number of elderly retirees who have been caught in investment scandals in recent years have skyrocketed. Much of this has come to light in the current banking commission exposing poor industry practices. In some cases, people well advanced in years have taken out loans for properties that they would not live long enough to pay back. Others made more and more exorbitant investments into the millions. It is a technicolored confirmation of St. Augustine’s observation that even old people can continue to live in the delusions of covetousness.)

For what future? When he is even at his last breath she still speaks. She says, “for your children’s sake”. If only we could find that old men who had no children were not avaricious! Yet to even to childless elders, who cannot even excuse their sinful greed by pretending to have family affections, she still ceases not to say, “Consult for the future.”

…so let us look to those who have children. Can they be certain that their children will possess what they shall leave? Let them observe the children of other men. Some lose what they had by the unjust violence of others. Other children lose what they had by their own wickedness, consuming everything they possessed. So it is that the children of rich men can remain poor.

…But a man will say, “My children will possess this.” It is uncertain. I am not saying that this is a false claim, but at best, it is uncertain.

But now suppose that their inheritance of your estate is certain. What do you wish to leave them? What you have gotten for yourself. But everything that you have gotten was not left to you. Yet you have it. If you have been able to get possessions that were not left to you, then they will also be able to get what you have not left to them.

St. Augustine then shows how these motives can be more properly directed in a heavenly direction:

Thus have the counsels of avarice been refuted… Now let righteousness speak. The words will be the same, but they will not have the same the meaning.

“Keep for yourself,” says the Lord, “consult for the future”.

Now ask Him, “Where shall I keep?”

You shall have treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches, nor moth corrupts. Against an enduring future you will be able to keep it! Come, blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

How many days this kingdom will last for is shown by the end of the passage. After He had said to those on his left hand, “these shall go away into everlasting burning”, to those on his right hand He says, “but the righteous into life eternal.”

This is consulting for the future. A future which has no future beyond it. Those days without an end…  neither preceded by a yesterday nor succeeded by a tomorrow. So then let us consult for this future. The words which avarice spoke to you are not different from this, yet by them is avarice overthrown.

But what am I to do about my children?”

Hear on this point also the counsel of your Lord… I would be bold to speak through His mercy; I would be bold to say something, not of my own imagining, but of His pity.

Keep then for your children, but hear me. Suppose any one should lose one of his children… This is man’s condition. It is not that I wish to see it, but sadly we see cases of it. Some Christian child has been lost. Perhaps you have lost a Christian child.

But you have not indeed lost him. Rather you have sent him before you. For he is not gone away, but only gone before. Ask your own faith: surely you too will go there too? The same place where your child has gone.

Does your son live? Ask your faith… Consider with Whom he is. If any son were serving at the Court and became the Emperor’s friend, and were to say to you, “Sell my portion, which is there, and send it to me; would you find what to answer him?”

Well, your son is now with the Emperor of all emperors, with the King of all kings, with the Lord of all lords…

Easter Sermons: Banal, Saccharine, and Boring

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When St. Paul preached on this hill in Athens nearly 2,000 years ago, his “Easter sermon” turned the city upside down and became one of the most influential in the history of the world. Not much danger of that happening with the trite, cliched efforts of modern pastors, clerics, and theologians.

At Easter it has become customary to hear straining-to-be-meaningful sermons that aim either to emotionally energise a congregation, or otherwise attempt to apply the resurrection of Christ to contemporary political and social issues. Some preachers are unwitting comedians, as they offer hilarious examples of what happens when orthodoxy is derailed and an ersatz Christianity is transposed over the top. The result veers between contemptible and ridiculous.

This year did not disappoint. Dutifully, newspapers reported the sermons of a motley cast of popes, bishops, princes, pastors and priests whose pronouncements from pulpits around the world, when taken together, constitute a powerful emetic.

A small sample is sufficient to give a flavour of Easter in 2018:

Pope Francis used his Easter sermon to talk about refugees, immigrants and Syrians. Last year, he used his Easter Sunday sermon to talk about tragedy, misery, and disaster in the world with very little mention of the themes that the Apostolic writers were wont to associate with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection: themes like sin, repentance, forgiveness, and spiritual regeneration.

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Pope Francis offers to the crowd the glad tidings of Easter, with sermons featuring strong messages about geopolitics, including immigrants, Syrians and refugees.

To be fair to Prince Charles, he is not a preacher by vocation but if he is ever crowned king, he will receive the appellation “Defender of the Faith” and will become the head of the Church of England, which implies the need for a minimal theological awareness.

It is with great relief to all that Prince Charles demonstrated that he would not be out of place among the muddle-headed prelates of the Church of England as he delivered a patented woolly message on Good Friday reminding everyone about the great similarities between Islam and Christianity. So great are these similarities, that it is a matter of extreme befuddlement to the Prince as to why there is no peace between them.

The Prince reminded everyone that Mary is a shared figure in both Islam and Christianity, and having thus established this striking, cosy closeness between the faiths, appealed for everyone in the middle east to lay down their shoulder-held missile launchers, and to live at peace as friends. The Prince’s message is bound to make a big difference to the geopolitical situation, with many thousands of people heeding his words. For what militant in Syria does not hang, bat-like, from every word that proceeds from the His Highness’s mouth? Just like bishops of the Church of England, the Prince has acquired the habit of public hand-wringing, virtue-signalling, vacuous lamentation, and “calls” to masses of humanity to immediately cease their evil ways because their evil ways are simply not very nice.

This year, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gave his sermon in the presence of an art installation made from hundreds of dangling articles of refugees’ clothing, transforming Canterbury Cathedral into something resembling a Mad Hatter’s laundry room. The Archbishop did make a heroic effort to sound like an Anglican clergyman who actually believes things in the New Testament, although his Easter sermon was richly interspersed with references to bombs and terrorism in Egypt, giving the impression that any mention of the resurrection was a somewhat irritating excursion from his real topic of interest, that being geopolitics in the Near East.

In Australia, the Anglican Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy was reported to have given a sermon imploring Anglicans “not to run away from challenges”. Following this sermon of dazzling substance, she was so swept up in the awe of the resurrection that she immediately addressed the major sporting scandal running the rounds in Australia, involving high profile cricket cheats. The Archbishop was most concerned that the cricketers should forgive themselves, which she opined was going to be one of their foremost challenges – the forgiveness of God not even rating a mention.

Perhaps one of the most preposterous articles was written by Robyn Whitaker, a theologian whose interests include “gender, sexuality and ethics”. One online profile states that she has expertise in feminism and gender equality.  Whitaker’s article asked readers to focus on the race of Jesus of Nazareth and to think about his skin colour.

Other clerics and would-be religious leaders decided that it was best to boil the texts of the scripture dry, and get down to the residue of a few basic principles. “Hope” is always a popular one, or sometimes “renewal“. Vague concepts like these are quite plastic. Even a borderline-competent public speaker can use a theme like that as a launching pad for a peppy talk to boost the morale of their listeners. The resultant sermon typically sounds like it could have been lifted from a life coaching manual.

Finally, there are those sermons that bear titles which imply that the meaning of Easter is opaque and dark. It is no longer clear in a world of modernity, colour and excitement. Titles like “Why Easter still matters” or “What should the resurrection mean to you?” arrogantly suggests that the resurrection of Christ is an impenetrable historical story, remote and alien to the listener.

This is just a small sample, mind you, of Easter sermons. The banality is endless, and it comes as a considerable relief to turn from these “clouds without water”, as St. Jude would describe them, to the fountains of living water from the scriptures. For in contrast to modern clerics, the New Testament begins from a very basic supposition.

The New Testament takes for granted that this supposition is clear to anyone.

It is quite simply this: something of tremendous consequence was accomplished when Jesus died on a crucifix outside of Jerusalem. This has shifted the invisible order of things, and this alteration of the spiritual reality in which humankind lives reached its apogee three days later when Christ rose from the dead, the true King of all the Earth.

Not one of the apostolic witnesses asks the question, “Why does the resurrection matter?“. Not one of them attempts to make the resurrection applicable to their hearer’s context. Not one tries to blend the resurrection story into a morality fable about slavery or the machinations of the Roman senate and their greedy imperial taxation schemes. Not one tries to boil it down to a string of saccharine, safe buzzwords – “it’s all about love, folks!”.

No, the inverse. The apostolic assumption is the resurrection, if truly believed by the reader, is significant in a way that will be obvious to anyone. It is quite clearly a testimony that requires no interpreter because the very fact that a man has risen from the dead is sufficient of itself to establish his primacy in the constellation of ideas and opinions. It justifies his claims; it underscores their merit; it overturns all competition; it empowers his gospel. A person who reads of the resurrection, who believes it, and who earnestly, deeply seeks for Christ in the silence and stillness, will find him.

The best kind of sermon in our times, therefore, is one that follows the apostolic example. It is the sort of sermon that invites people to believe and seek for Jesus himself. Not to seek for “hope” that Aunt Sally will get better, not to seek for “renewal” of our finances in 2018, neither to seek to mine the text for forgettable sentiments to spray upon contemporary political issues. But, rather to be made aware of the heaviness of our peril. Of our imminent approach to judgement and ruin. To be broken and contrite in our reflections upon ourselves.

And thus to seek for Jesus himself: the Lord of Life who welcomes properly penitent souls. The One who can transform a person’s inward life and give him a deep sense of the beauty of holiness; the ugliness of sin; a thirst for godliness; a hunger for God; and the unspeakable joy of tangible, deep communion with our Creator, Friend, and Redeemer.

How different Easter would be if clerics took their cues from St. Paul and preached the resurrection as the Apostle did. No mealy-mouthed sugary sweetness here. Rather St. Paul preaches the resurrection as a divine command to the human race; an urgent and non-negotiable summons to repent and believe. And he does so with the unstudied impetuosity of a man who knows of that which he speaks, is unswerving confident, and knows that he is conveying the authorised message of God to the world:

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you…

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

Aspiring to Servanthood: The Transforming Power of Humility (Part I.)

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PRIDE AND HUMILITY

It was a job so terrible only a Christian would do it“.

So it was said of the midwives who served in the East End of London during the early 20th century. Midwives laboured up to their neck in squalor, disease, and mortality. All tragic byproducts of poverty, alcohol, and violence. Who would wish to work with such people under such circumstances?

Only a Christian.

In hellholes around the world, you find “only Christians”. They do jobs no one else will do. They are found in the places too dangerous; doing work too revolting; caring for people too broken for any one else.

It is Christianity alone that creates servants. Not Buddhism with its serene meditative calm. None of the thousand Hindu deities inspire missionary love. Not Islam with its fiery dogmatism. Certainly not animist religions with their efforts to squeeze power from nature. Only Christianity. Because only Christianity has at its centre a living King who became the Servant of all mankind.

Humble servanthood is so much the product of the Holy Spirit that Christ taught it is not possible to be one of his people without also becoming a servant. Aspiring to servanthood is a mandatory marker of true Christianity. Such profound self-lowering attends all authentic conversion:

 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servantand whoever wants to be first must be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Being a servant has never been popular. Despite the language of service still hanging limply from the lexicon – “serving on the counter“; “serving my country” – the true subordination of oneself for the sake of another is a dead practice in our culture. We need only look at politicians to see the nakedly self-serving character of their craft, notwithstanding the pretence to “public service“.

Humility has always been the leper among virtues. It is a virtue despised by the thinkers and movers in this world.

The German philosopher Nietzsche, to select one example, claimed that humility was nothing more than the subversion of the strong by the weak. Humility, Nietzsche claimed, was just a fiction created by people with “slave morality”.

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Later, the influential psychologist Abraham Maslow claimed that the highest level of human fulfilment would be a stage he termed “self-transcendence”.

Maslow argued that if a person’s needs were fulfilled, their personality would expand into a star-burst of wonderful self-sufficiency, creativity and competence. They would reach their full potential and crack out of their cocoon as amazing enlightened beings. No wonder Maslow was popular among the Human Potential Movement of the 1960’s.

Outside of Christianity, one must search hard to find any philosophy or scheme that is founded on humility. Rather, the human story seethes with pride. From kings and queens swanning around in diamond encrusted robes while their people went hungry, to popes assuming divine titles and having their fingers kissed by the men and women they claimed to serve. Even in our own time we see ample news coverage of people grasping for power, privilege, wealth, fame, control, and the fulfilment of appetites at the expense of others. Few hands reach for the scrubbing brush of servanthood, and nearly all of those are Christians.

In fact, humility is frequently diagnosed as a disease of the mind or defect of character. Talk to people about taking the lowest place, putting yourself last; letting others go first; and being content to be unnoticed by any but God, and it will not be long before adjectives like “doormat” or “spineless” or “weak” will come at you like stones. Humility is seen as psychological defect needing correction. More self-esteem is the fix! It is considered a flaw that is detrimental to your health. To be humble is to be weak. Ignoble. Contemptible. Unworthy of respect. A human punching bag.

Christ speaks to this cultural delusion with sparkling and uncompromising clarity:

“Truly I tell you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The struggle of the convert is largely the fight to forsake the tentacles of pride that wrap themselves around the soul like a hungry octopus. Human nature is proud. By birthright we are selfish and conceited. Fierce in absurd self-admiration. Constant in self-idolatry. Desirous of elevation and applause.

C. S. Lewis wrote that the essence of pride is comparison. Pride, Lewis observed, always wants to be in some sense better than someone else:

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre.

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over.

I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?’

The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree.

Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not.

They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.

I would add to Lewis’ observations. Pride is also about deceit.

St. Paul says that if any man thinks of himself as something when he is nothing he deceives himself. Pride is self deception. But if a man wants truth then humility will eventuate. The essential characteristic of humility is truth. You desire truth in the inward being (Ps. 51:6).

The more a person sees the truth about themselves the greater their humility will be. This is because humility is not a form of conscious, unwilling abasement. That’s merely the imitation of humility and quite as bad as pride. A person can still feed their pride on fake humility. “Well, I didn’t get the attention I wanted but that’s because I was being humble and more virtuous than those who did“.

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Humility is about reality. When the painted layers of self-glory are sanded away, a man will eventually come to the real surfaces of his true being. And we have it on God’s authority that what a man will find is not nice or worthy or good. We are not self-actualised beings (sorry Maslow). We did not make ourselves (sorry Darwin). We are not powerful and self-sustaining (sorry Nietzsche). Quite the reverse.

No good thing dwells in me, wrote St. Paul. Not one thing.

St. Paul saw the reality of his own being in the blinding rays of Christ’s perfection. And he saw so clearly that he completely disowned himself. I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. But Christ lives in me.

Paul saw the reality about Paul. And when he did, he crucified him.

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That is the nature of humility. The nature of truth. This is authentic conversion that breeds a deep yearning to serve out of gratitude and love for Jesus Christ.

Book Review: “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions”

The long read: a review of David Berlinski’s book, and his treatment of the arguments of militant atheists.

TDD

(Book Reviewed: THE DEVIL’S DELUSION, By David Berlinski.)

David Berlinski has the distinction of being both an educated and intelligent man which is not at all the same thing. Neither has his long march through academia sandpapered away his sense of intellectual curiosity. In this book, he investigates with an uncompromising independence of mind the nonsense so often breathed by militant atheists in the name of “science”. It is too easy to accept atheistic claims because their views now circulate through our environment like the thin fumes of an odourless gas. Berlinski’s book is an excellent antidote to this intellectual numbness.

He writes what he knows. Berlinski holds a PhD in philosophy and also has engaged in molecular biological research at world-class universities, so he possesses worthy academic credentials for the book he has chosen to write.

Berlinski is a critic of evolution and maintains a sunny disposition toward intelligent design – the theory that biological life shows unmistakable evidence of creative purpose. To criticise evolution is almost enough to render him a leper among the academic community regardless of his impressive intellectual accomplishments. It is axiomatic that he who criticises evolution will find it progressively harder to be unsympathetic to God or “religion”. And to allow “religion” – or worse, God himself – to enter into the airless box of the secular empire is a nightmare of such proportions that atheist writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins can scarcely describe it without resorting to apocalyptic language.

Both Dawkins and Harris (et al) come in for scathing rebuke in this book. Whatever Dawkins and his ilk may think of themselves, Berlinski is deeply unimpressed with the vacuity of their arguments especially those that appeal to “science” to establish their atheism. In fact, the title of the book is a none-so-subtle stab at Dawkin’s own magnum opus of polemic atheism, “The God Delusion“.

But whereas Dawkins’ work is exceedingly poor, Belinski’s is exceedingly good. Berlinski crafts solid and logical expositions while Dawkins draws liberally upon nearly every irrational argument ever discovered by humankind over the literate portion of its history. Reading “The God Delusion” is an exercise in frustration for this very reason. Rarely have I ever wanted to hurl a book so forcefully against the wall.

For people who can spot rhetorical fallacies, Dawkins amply illustrates the danger of presuming ourselves to be wiser than our craft. Like nearly all celebrity atheists, Dawkins writes as an amateur philosopher, historian, textual critic and theologian. Unsurprisingly, his iconic book – be it ever so thick – is emblazoned with the author’s ignorance from cover to cover. In contradistinction, Berlinski writes to his strength. Trained in philosophy and systems analysis, Berlinski deftly places his finger on the weak points of atheist rhetoric and crumbles their contentions into a finely-ground powder.

The thrust of Berlinski’s argument is that atheists misapply science in order to give atheism a legitimacy it does not deserve. He argues that atheism consists of a mass of conclusions without the slightest shred of evidence. In other words, the brand of militant atheism pushed by the likes of Dawkins and Harris are based on twaddle – it is sophisticated twaddle that many people struggle to penetrate in our educationally deficient age, but it is still twaddle. In fact, early in The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski suggests that is every bit as much a pseudoscience as mumbo-jumbo ideologies that have circulated through human minds over the last century, and perhaps also destined be consigned to the dustbin of history.

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Any student of history will recognise that similar “scientific” pretensions arose in the 19th century within the radical left. Their “scientific ideas” obtained the status of inviolable fact even when the implementation of them caused incalculable harm. The originators of communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, boasted that their Utopian ideology was thoroughly scientific in nature. Likewise, the more extreme anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin also supposed that their theories were somehow underpinned by a foundation of science.

Berlinski challenges this by pointing out that appealing to “science” is a little like a leader of a People’s Republic appealing to “democracy”. It is a principle that can be used to give a justification for practically anything. Berlinski wryly points out that atheists refer to science share an uncanny similarity to the claims of spiritualists to be receiving messages from the other world:

The title of Victor Stenger’s recent book is: God: The Failed Hypothesis – How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Stenger is a professor of physics. He may have written the book, but it is science, we are to understand, that has provided the requisite demonstration. Like a nineteenth-century spirit medium, Stenger has simply taken dictation. [Emphasis in the original].

Importantly, Berlinski invites the reader to consider atheism as if it were a piece of flotsam or jetsam floating down the crowded river of human history.

Although militant atheists like to suppose that “atheistic science” is objective truth – the only truth indeed and therefore a license to bulldoze any other belief – Berlinski suggests that militant atheism is actually a reaction to social and political events within the modern world. Unwittingly, militant atheists are merely reactionary puppets:

Does any of this represent anything more than yet another foolish intellectual fad, a successor to academic Marxism, feminism, or various doctrines of multicultural tranquillity? Not in the world in which religious beliefs overflow into action. For Islamic radicals, “the sword is more telling than the book,” as the Arab poet Abu Tammam wrote with menacing authority some eight hundred years ago. The advent of militant atheism marks a reaction – a lurid but natural reaction –  to the violence of the Islamic world.

But the efflorescence of atheism involves more than atheism itself. Of course it does. Atheism is the schwerpunkt, as German military theorists used to say with satisfaction, the place where force is concentrated and applied; and what lies behind is a doctrinal system, a way of looking at the world, and so an ideology. It is an ideology with no truly distinct centre and the fuzziest of boundaries. For the purposes of propaganda it hardly matters.

Berlinski goes on to puncture the bizarrely self-congratulatory attitudes taken by militant atheists, shown in the galloping ego that runs through their work. Militant atheism often seems a kind of club for schoolboy toffs who award each other grandiose titles and share an unreal bubble where they can snicker at others less fortunate than themselves while lunching on mother’s sandwiches. One example is their predilection to calling themselves as “the Brights”, presumably in contrast to the rest of us who must be “the Dims”.

Oddly enough, militant atheists find it very difficult to understand why the Dims do not share their elevated self-evaluation. Berlinski writes:

…members of the scientific community are often dismayed to discover, like policemen, that they are not better loved. Indeed, they are widely considered self-righteous, vain, politically immature, and arrogant. This last is considered a special injustice. “Contrary to what many anti-intellectuals maintain,” the biologist Massimo Pigiucci has written, science is “a much more humble enterprise than any religion or other ideology.” Yet despite the outstanding humility of the scientific community, anti-intellectuals persist in their sullen suspicions.

Scientists are hardly helped when one of their champions immerses himself in the emollient of his own enthusiasm. Thus Richard Dawkins recounts the story of his professor of zoology at Oxford, a man who had “for years… passionately believed that the Golgi apparatus was not real.” On hearing during a lecture by a visiting American that his views were in error, “he strode to the front of the hall, shook the American by the hand, and said – with passion – ‘My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.'” The story, Dawkins avows, still has the power “to bring a lump to my throat.”

It could not have been a very considerable lump. No similar story has ever been recounted about Richard Dawkins. Quite the contrary. He is as responsive to criticism as a black hole in space. “It is absolutely safe to say,” he has remarked, “that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.”

There are multiple examples of this sort of hubris lampooned by Berlinski. Of course, in addition to the vast storehouse of material drawn upon in the book, one could readily add the moralising articles that appear in publications like the Scientific American.

Over and over again, militant atheists claim (despite examples to the contrary, like the infamous Piltdown Man hoax) that scientists are honour bound to respond to evidence. Scientists accept that they are in error when there is proof. This represents an extraordinary nobility possessed by scientists alone.

Yet, an uncompromising submission to truth is a virtue that has been known to ordinary people and to scholars in many disciplines – including theology – for several millennia. To salute the practice of intellectual humility as if it were historically recent and isolated to practitioners of the scientific method, (or worse, to believers in atheism), is to demonstrate profound self-preoccupation.

As Berlinski notes, militant atheists transit from reasonable claims into the territory of dogmatism. They assert that science is a good thing, a claim to which nobody would object because the scientific process has undeniably produced many good discoveries.

But they cannot stop at that point. They thunderingly declare science to be the only good thing, superior to every other human endeavour, with the power to confer upon scientists themselves a moral quality unknown to the Dims. They then assert that scientists are the premier good people because they are the most intellectually honest vessels. And then, as if the balloon of their pomposity were not inflated to grotesque dimensions already, they then point the collective finger at religion and blame the sum of human evils upon it.

Berlinski succinctly deals with this:

The physicist Steven Weinberg delivered an address [at the “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason, and Survival” conference]. As one of the authors of the theory of electroweak unification, the work for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize, he is a figure of great stature. “Religion,” he affirmed, “in an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

In speaking thus, Weinberg was warmly applauded, not one one member of his audience asking the question one might have thought pertinent: Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for Zyklon B, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental ballistic missiles, military space platforms, and nuclear weapons?

If memory serves, it was not the Vatican.

Every morally sensible creature accepts that religion can be a force for evil, and frequently is. None of this surprises knowledgeable Christians. This is precisely what the Christian religion predicts. There really should be an inexhaustible kaleidoscope of quarrelling religions, each tailored to the various predilections of mankind’s evil heart, because the devil is the father of lies and many men are eager to be deceived.  Religion gives a thin glaze of respectability to impulses that are barbaric, greedy and cruel.

But the conclusion that science must always be an unadulterated good and that scientists are of sanctified character, always honest and always pure, is sheer claptrap. Anyone with regard for history will know that scientists have participated enthusiastically in atrocities and horrors, equal to the most fanatical scimitar wielding religious extremist. The most odious regimes have produced scientists who violated the laws of man and God in experimenting on people. Scientists have engineered nightmarish weapons and developed theories, like eugenics, that thinking people find abhorrent.

This discussion really crosses into moral theology, and Berlinski takes the time to address the concepts of good and evil. Militant atheists enjoy tossing these words around like confetti, but studiously avoid explaining why their definition should be accepted by anyone else.

Berlinski cites Dawkins:

“Perhaps,” Richard Dawkins speculates, “I… am a Pollyanna to believe that people would remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God.”

To which Berlinski cynically responds:

Why should people remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God? Do people remain good when unpoliced by the police? If Dawkins believes that they do, he must explain the existence of the criminal law, and if he believes that they do not, then he must explain why moral enforcement is not needed at the place where law enforcement ends.

Understandably, Berlinski cannot resist quoting Sam Harris on the issue of morality since Harris veers, like a car driven by a drunkard, from arrogance to fatuous philosophy:

Sam Harris has no anxieties whatsoever about presenting his own views on human morality… “Everything about the human experience,” he writes, “suggests that love is more conducive to human happiness than hate is.” It goes without saying, of course, that Harris believes that this is an objective claim about the human mind.

If this is so, it is astonishing with what eagerness men have traditionally fled happiness.

The book is packed with a rich vein of these observations, as Berlinski proceeds to deconstruct one argument after another, never stopping for too long at any one place.

He uses words sparingly. He has trimmed nearly all the textual fat from his writing, leaving the reader only worthy substance. The book is therefore pithy, with a lot of material packed into every short section.

The attentive reading will find himself re-reading sections, and pondering over them long afterwards. Indeed, The Devil’s Delusion is a book that warrants being read multiple times, if only as a refresher into the unutterable absurdity that is atheism, notwithstanding the sophistic lipstick smeared awkwardly upon its pompous features, as it tries to cavort on the dance floor, flaunting the tattered boa of “science”.