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

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It was reported recently that several warships of the Royal Australian Navy lay empty at anchor because they cannot find enough sailors to man them. This has been an ongoing problem for the Australian defence force. Not too long ago, more than half of the country’s submarine fleet was in mothballs. For the same reason.

Like ancient Rome in its final years, in many western countries people do not want to sign up to a career of service that asks much. It requires them to take orders; to be away for long stretches; and to brave danger. Like ancient Rome, many western nations find it so hard to staff their military with their own local populations, that they resort to hiring willing foreigners. Some even poach their personnel from services in other countries.

If the trend continues, it will be only a matter of decades before some western nations are defended largely by the modern equivalent of mercenaries. Gone are the days when young men joined their nation’s service in droves, whether from a sense of duty and honour, or for adventure and excitement.

If there is any phenomena that tells us something important about the moral collapse of our society, it is this. It tells us that there is now nothing – absolutely nothing – left in the western world for which people are willing to suffer. For which people would deny themselves for a greater purpose, not even their own national defence.

Life in the average secular democracy is secular, comfortable, safe and beige. The main preoccupation of most people is material matters. Money in the bank; shares in the portfolio; paying the rent on time; feeding the kids. But a secular, materialistic outlook has a nasty side effect: it deadens people’s passions for grand journeys and quests. It makes them fretful, fearful, and risk averse.

Stories of ultra-committed men and women who are willing to suffer in the pursuit of their beliefs are now isolated to the movie screen or to history.

It is a glaring paradox of modern life that the people least exposed to danger have an expanding appetite for superhuman movies, and stories about characters who face deadly dangers with bravado. No car chase is too high powered; no free fall from an aeroplane is too swift; no gunfight is too bloody that it can wipe the twinkle from their eye and stop their backhanded jokes.

Meanwhile, in real life, college students are so fretful they need cookies and puppies to recover from hearing or reading viewpoints they disagree with. We have a therapeutised culture, with counsellors and psychologists on speed dial. Enormous numbers of people are depressed, anxious, or are diagnosed with an ever-expanding catalogue of mental disorders (video game addiction!). Drugs are dispensed like candy to deal with it all. Young people – traditionally the most adventurous and reckless – are more likely to be welded to their screens than doing something bold. They are so insular, that young people are reportedly not even seeking romance and sexual intercourse.

It is one of those sociological angularities. The contradictory grit in the wheels. On the one hand, an appetite for bravery and high principle in entertainment. But then, a near-complete aversion to bravery and principle in daily life.

Modern capitalism has led to marvellous inventions that would seem nearly magical to a person living just a hundred years ago. Mobile phones; the internet; interactive computers; fast food; cheap clothing; sleek motor vehicles, all are remarkable achievements of our age. Standards of living are so high that even people who experience poverty in the western world still enjoy food and conveniences that would have astonished medieval kings.

Our standard of material comfort has reached a point where it has become the primary goal of life. Attaining it. Keeping it. Interpreting the world in the light of it. Even negative social phenomena in the west, like crime, is explained in terms of prosperity or wealth. It is a lack of money that makes a person a violent criminal, we are told. Conversely, distributing prosperity will make people more moral.

There is only one sense in which this is true. If a person has nothing then they have nothing to lose. If you have nothing to lose, then a great handbrake on recklessness is gone. That is why the poor are often least guarded in what they say in public, or on internet comment forums. No one is going to sue them. It is why so many reality television shows revolve around people in relative poverty saying brutally honest, even inflammatory things for the vicarious titillation of the better off. Such people need not regulate themselves because they fear no loss. In fact, their lack of a filter may even prosper them.

Materialism makes people tame. It renders people inert. It makes them unwilling to rock the boat and become too much of a social outcast. This is why westerners look out into the rest of the world at people who are willing to give their lives in service to their beliefs and reel back. “That’s radical,” they explain, “and dangerous.”

In the west we use the term “radicalisation” to describe positions that are often fairly normal elsewhere. What does radicalisation mean? It’s very vague. It means different things to different people. But in normal usage here in the west, it now almost always refers to a value system in which human life is put on the line. It means to have a belief system or a set of values for which you would be willing to die or suffer. The fact that this is now described as “radical” – and was not by past generations when they saw the same things we do – shows us the change invisibly happening before our eyes. In the western world, deep commitment to principle unto death is now always considered inherently dangerous, whether it is a maniac waving an AK-47 and a black flag, or an unarmed missionary with his Bible going to North Korea.

It is dangerous because it is a threat to people who live in materialistic torpor. Self-sacrificial commitment to beliefs and principles represents an attack on materialism itself. It says that there are things beyond the material that are worth living for, and dying for. It points to a greater invisible reality that is incompatible with materialism. Materialism works best when you ignore death, refuse to your life into a wider context, and do not contemplate your own mortality. When you airbrush eternity away.

Moreover, any person who embraces a belief so strongly that even the potential loss of his goods and comforts will not restrain him from acting on it becomes a wild man in a materialistic culture. He is truly dangerous because he cannot be tamed. It does not matter what his beliefs are. They could be as peaceful and gentle as you like. But once a man cares more about his beliefs than his own life or material advantage, he is ultimately attacking the fundamental assumptions of safe, materialistic, comfortable, secular, democratic society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Breed of Politician

Huge Tidal wave with man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sims then makes a truly bizarre statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Glimpse of That To Come: The Persecution of Israel Folau

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Israel Folau is a highly competent Australian rugby player and a devout Christian. Recently, he had the temerity to make a public call to repentance by posting on his social media account a meme that more or less contained the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6-9-10. Accompanying the meme was a short text Folau himself wrote in which he stated that unrepentant sinners would go to hell but there was still time to repent.

Although a list of sins were mentioned in the meme, it was St. Paul’s reference to homosexuality that triggered a torrential downpour of outrage. Folau was immediately accused of “homophobia” (although, it seems, not “adulterophobia” or “drunkophobia”), and the governing body of the sport, Rugby Australia, determined he had committed a “high level breach” of the professional code of conduct. He now faces either a hefty fine, or the effective termination of his playing career.

Israel Folau is of Tongan background and was raised a Mormon before converting to Pentecostalism. Despite this sketchy theological history, both Folau and his family have demonstrated a deeper and stronger understanding of the cost of following Jesus and eternal consequences than many orthodox believers. They have clearly imbibed deeply the warnings of Jesus about the inevitable conflict between those who follow the Lord and those who prefer the darkness of rebellion.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus indicates that persecution is a test of ultimate loyalties. At the hour of decision to whom will we be loyal? Is it to Christ? Or can our defection be gained by the unbelieving world with threats, enticements, or compromises?

In a short statement tinted with godly defiance and faith, Folau said:

First and foremost, I live for God now. His plans for me are better than whatever I can think. If that’s not to continue playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.

One of his friends added:

He doesn’t care how he’ll be persecuted in this world, where it’s temporary, but it’s in the afterlife when we all die.

This is a correct diagnosis of the situation regardless of the sophistry of social activists. It is indeed a form of persecution. A man’s career is being ripped away from him not because he is a poor player, or a criminal, or a bad role model, or because has harmed anyone. He is being punished at the highest level for a single transgression: he dared to express the words and teachings of the Christian faith publicly.

The Lord Jesus taught us not to fear men. They can kill the body but not the soul. Rather, Jesus said, if we are to be afraid let us fear the loss of body and soul in hell.

In Israel Folau’s defiance we are witnessing a demonstration of this principle in action. This is what it looks like when you really believe what Jesus said. A genuine faith is revealed in disregarding the wishes of world in order to speak and act according to the wishes of God. In one sense, this is a modern replay of St. Peter’s quiet defiance to the Jewish leaders. Knowing they were about to be beaten and told not to speak in the name of Jesus, they firmly declared: “We obey God rather than men”.

This perspective is apparently taken by Israel Folau’s father who has stated that his son did not breach any contract regarding “hate speech”. In essence, Folau’s father simply assumes that it cannot ever be wrong or illegal to repeat what God has said. Any laws, contracts, or rules to the contrary can be disregarded for the sake of God. Pointing to the sky, the elder Mr Folau told the media: “For me and for him, we try to obey Him”.

A former member of the Federal parliament, Wilson Tuckey, wrote last weekend:

In the days of the Roman Empire, to stand up in public to espouse your Christianity was most likely to result in a trip to the Colosseum for a brief meeting with a couple of hungry lions for the entertainment of the masses. The Israel Folau case indicates that little has changed in today’s ‘progressive empire’.

This is another correct diagnosis, although now realised only by a shrinking number of people. Persecution of Christianity is not merely on its way. It has now returned to the pagan West and is expanding at an increasingly energetic pace. The process took a few decades to get going following the collapse of Christian observance and the liberalisation of stained-glass-window denominations, but the ship is now under full steam.

Persecution takes many guises, whether it be the grotesque intellectual contortions of millennial identity politics, or vaguely-defined institutional rules, or kangaroo tribunals that seek to silence Christian dissent.

The time is fast approaching when Christians will become – willingly or otherwise – radicals in a strange new culture, as laws and frightening mobs are used to try to control the preaching, believing, and practising of Christian teachings. This is not going to get better. Anyone who thinks the pendulum will swing the other way, outside of the sheer grace of God, is deceiving themselves. Rather persecution is only going to get worse. Moreover, it will become more systematic and organised with time.

As Matthew Henry wrote centuries ago, Christians are never so well prepared for eternity as when they “live loosely in this world”. The lesson therefore is this: be not so strongly attached to anything in this world that you would not immediately leave it for the sake of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow thee,
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure
Come, disaster, scorn and pain
In thy service, pain is pleasure
With thy favour, loss is gain.

The Charismatic Movement: The Degraded Cultural By-Product of a Secular Age

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The charismatic movement is predicated on the idea that it is the modern outpouring of the Holy Spirit as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Each charismatic person fully expects to be able to perform (or to learn from their numerous “schools”) the same works that were witnessed in the early Church.

Charismatics commonly appeal to a passage that appears early in the Acts of the Apostles. There, St. Peter preaches to a large assembly after the miracle of Pentecost. During his great sermon St. Peter quotes the Prophet Joel and and tells his hearers:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.(Acts 2:17-18)

Despite St. Peter’s explicit application of this passage only to those who spoke in foreign languages that morning, this is taken by charismatics as a proof text for the claim that these spiritual works will continue as a normative experience for the Church.

They, thus attempt to replicate these works (and others). Not only prophecies, but healing and visions about the future. They believe Holy Spirit manifests himself with ecstatic worship, spontaneous outbursts of emotion, and the speaking of tongues – glossalalia. The charismatic movement is restless and energetic in searching for new manifestations and experiences of the Holy Spirit, and this has caused the movement to spiral into increasing extremes. Today you can find everything within its pale from the fraudulent to the occult; from practices that are bizarre to those that are grotesque.

One of the fountainheads of the movement is Bethel Church in Redding, California. Bethel Church originates and popularises spiritual practises that are frighteningly indistinguishable from the New Age movement. Unfortunately, these ideas tend to spread outward from Bethel since the church operates a “School of Supernatural Ministry”. Here its students learn spiritual arts in something reminiscent of magical arts at Hogwarts.

Bethel claims that the Holy Spirit is active in their institution and people. They go so far as to claim that the tangible presence of God appears during their worship services (as in this official video). This “presence” looks exactly like craft store glitter released from air-vents in the ceiling sometimes with a few feathers swirling around allegedly from the wings of observing angels. As the glitter floats in the air, the pastor Bill Johnson cracks jokes, children point as if they were at a birthday party, and hoots can be heard from the audience.

Like the unbelieving world in our time, charismatics pride themselves on being loud and “messy”. Their services are boisterous and rowdy. Rowdiness is taken as a sure sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Quiet, discipline and restraint are typically viewed with suspicion or disdain. Thus, hooting, shouting and whistling, once the preserve of football matches, are ubiquitous in charismatic worship. It is behaviour that is modelled by pastors within the movement. It is not uncommon for a pastor to begin his sermon with a loud roar of excitement.

It demonstrates the extent to which the movement has adopted its norms of behaviour from the sporting and entertainment world. Indeed, popular cultural references are seamlessly interwoven with their preaching. To choose but one example among thousands, Passion Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota gives an annual performance of Jackson’s Thriller. The church looks like an absolute nightmare, with zombies shuffling through green fog in a graveyard and people painted up in the grinning, voodoo visages of the undead.

But Passion Church seems untroubled by the admission of dark, creepy worldly ideas about death into their church. Instead, they claim that people are led to “overcome their fear” and “step into faith” through the performance. Or put another way, you can lead people to Christ through Michael Jackson’s pop music.

Meanwhile, at Bethel Church, Jenn Johnson – the daughter-in-law of its pastor – goes even further with the deification of popular culture. She has given a number of presentations in which she reflects on the Holy Trinity, If you thought that nobody would ever dare to apply pop culture to the Person of God himself you would be greatly mistaken. In her presentations, Jenn Johnson describes the Holy Spirit as being like the “genie from Aladdin”. She says the Holy Spirit is “blue”, “funny”, “sneaky”, “silly”, and “fun”.

As she recites this list of attributes shared by both Disney’s cartoon character and the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, her voice trembles with a straining-to-be-meaningful emotion. We are to understand from these flutters that turning a cartoon character into an icon of the Holy Spirit is deep wisdom. (See: video compilation).

The movement is so filled with “lying wonders” and gimmicks that one could write a multi-volume encyclopedia and still not exhaust the material. For example, the charismatic movement has developed a practice called “fire tunnels“. During one of these rituals, a person wishing to receive blessing will walk between two lines of congregants. As they do so, people on either side pray over them, lay hands on them, praise their qualities, and infuse them with “fire”. There is usually a great deal of hollering, hooting and whistling, and the recipient of this blessing frequently shakes or falls to the ground overwhelmed with the spiritual energy they have received.

According to the Gospel Coalition, the leaders at Bethel and others within the charismatic movement have also practised “grave soaking” or “grave sucking”. This practice involves touching or laying on the graves of great evangelists or saints in order to absorb the spiritual power (“the mantle”) from their bones. Although there has been some back-peddling from this practice, Pulpit and Pen published an article last year in which they offered photographic evidence of “grave soaking” being conducted.

FOUR POINTS

What are we to make of the movement? I think there are four sensible conclusions orthodox Christians can arrive at.

1. The charismatic movement is immutably anarchistic: Like rebels who take up firearms in the street, and shout to the heavens that they are freemen who will not heed the laws of the king for they have found a deeper truth, so the charismatic movement is also shaped by a deep longing for freedom from the “restrictions” of God’s word and law. To achieve this, the movement has a spaghetti tangle of pathways to follow that enable them to pursue their own inclinations and desires.

Spiritual anarchism is the direct result of legitimising claims of special revelation (“the Holy Spirit told me”). Since every charismatic is potentially a prophet like Jeremiah or Moses, and since their prophetic ramblings are taken seriously by other charismatics, each learns that they have a special authority. Although they claim to subordinate this authority to scripture, history has long taught us that such subordination never in practice occurs.

Imagine a society where citizen was elevated to a Supreme Court judgeship. The resultant discordant crackle of legal interpretations would be impossible to measure against any outside standard, even if every citizen claimed his authority was subject to the constitution. If everyone is a Supreme Court justice, to what degree does the constitution really hold authority?

2. The charismatic movement is functionally relativistic: Relativism is the doctrine that truth is not universal or objective but is individually discerned. Everybody has their own truth because the basis upon which each person discerns “their truth” is different. Truth differs according to person, situation, context, culture, time, and so on.

As philosopher Hillary Putnam correctly identified, the result of the doctrine of relativism is that it becomes impossible to believe that one is in error. For if there is no truth beyond the personal belief that something is true, then one can never hold their own beliefs to be untrue. Relativism, therefore, gives rise to an independent reality that is ungovernable by any facts, claims, authorities outside of the individual.

Charismatic claims of special direct revelation places them in precisely this situation. Few charismatics ever believe they are in error, because it is not possible for them to be so. Their special direct revelation thus forces them to function on the basis of relativism.

Imagine a charismatic walks up to you and announces, “The Holy Spirit told me that you must move to Minnesota“. Consider the tension in this claim.

The charismatic is saying that God the Holy Spirit is issuing you a command. You are being commanded to move interstate. This is a divine revelation from heaven, and since it comes from the Holy Spirit, it logically shares co-equal authority with the scriptures.

But here lies the conundrum. How do we know that this prophecy is actually authentic?

Even charismatics are forced to admit that there are many false prophets, faked prophecies, charlatans, tricksters, and frauds in their movement. They have to admit this because the sheer volume of demonstrable error is overwhelming. They will even accept that sometimes spiritual claims can be inspired by evil spiritual forces. Given this, how is any person to determine whether a revelation is true or just another fraud? For there is no independent authentication.

This results in a long, muddy quagmire over which the carriage of reason cannot travel. Each charismatic person claiming the “mantle” of prophecy believes themselves to be authoritative mouthpieces of God and therefore cannot be subject to correction. But, each charismatic who receives a prophecy must also accept it or interpret it according to their own inner revelation and they likewise cannot be subject to correction. Moreover, one charismatic can countermand another charismatic’s revelation by simply receiving a super-ordinate revelation.

So a charismatic who says, “The Holy Spirit told me you must buy oil stocks by the end of the week“, can be rebutted by another charismatic who says, “Well, the Holy Spirit told me that this prophecy was not for me and I must not listen to it“.

Even when a false prophecy is accidentally believed – like the apocalyptic warnings over Iran or North Korea which never eventuated – those instances are simply dismissed on the basis someone had a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit, or someone muddled the message, or did not have enough spiritual insight to interpret it.

The ultimate result of this complete dispersal of revelatory authority is that nobody is ultimately correctable. Nobody’s claims of truth can be proved or disproved by anyone else. This is why virtually nobody in the charismatic movement ever holds their own dreams, visions, prophecies or voices to be untrue, no matter how violently they disagree with reality, with facts, with scripture, with history, or even with other charismatics.

This leads to a galloping relativism as well as an imperial disposition that allows transparent charlatans and corruption to flourish within the movement. For who is to say that a charismatic pastor imprisoned for taxation fraud did not truly receive a revelation from the Holy Spirit who “told him to guard the Lord’s money from the unbelieving Feds”? If a charismatic believes it is true, his theology teaches him that it must be true. And who is one charismatic to deny the message of the Holy Spirit to another?

I once witnessed the full moral crookedness of this relativism vividly demonstrated in the fallout of a very tragic situation. A charismatic man in our community who was married to a delightful lady, had an affair with another woman. He then abandoned his children and took off with his mistress. Even while he was living in a state of separation pending a divorce, this man still claimed that God was directly giving him messages.

His graphically sinful conduct; his abhorrent lack of self-restraint; the unbelievable pain he inflicted on a very sweet and gentle woman did not give him the slightest hesitation in firmly believing that for all of his wickedness he was still genuinely in touch with the Almighty.

That is relativism to the max.

3. The charismatic movement is deeply materialistic, consumerist, and temporally focused: For all of their spiritual hocus-pocus, the movement itself is fuelled significantly by a thirst for “my best life now”, wealth, health, success, and power.

The website of nearly any charismatic church will contain terms like: “vibrant”, “fulfilling life”, “overcoming fear”, “health”, “relationships” and so on. These websites seem to have compiled every self-help buzzword in existence. They advertise a particular lifestyle characterised by ecstatic worships and “power” over all of their temporal problems. The focus is squarely on the temporal, the here-and-now.

In charismatic belief, the good life starts now. Thus people should experience healing, financial success, and all of the good things of life. Now. In tangible, measurable form.

4. Far from representing the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the charismatic movement is the terminal stage of a decayed Christianity. The charismatic movement is the polluted by-product of a toxic, ungodly culture. It does not subvert the world. Quite the reverse. It has been thoroughly subverted by the sinful spiritual debris of the age. It is what you get when you freely pour the acidic sludge of an ungodly, shallow and materialistic culture over the clean marble of Christianity: the acrid, stained fragments left over from this acid bath is only “new” in the sense that most of the original substance was deleted.

Everything about the charismatic movement distorts God. The movement presents God as a kind of granddaddy hipster and shows little regard for God’s supreme holiness and glory. If a person can seriously believe that glittery sparkles in the air is the glory of the Lord, then such a person has no comprehension at all – as much comprehension as the cattle have of the beauties of the stars – as to what the glory and majesty of the Lord really is like. When one has been in the true presence of God, like St. John beholding the exalted Christ, they fall on their faces as dead.

This distortion of God’s Person manifests in the triviality of their worship.

For example, there are few charismatic experiences not accompanied by laughter – sometimes even referred to as “holy laughter”. They laugh during sermons; during prayers; during healings; during fire tunnels. Bill Johnson cracks jokes and the congregation laughs appreciatively even as the “glory cloud” of God’s holy presence supposedly appears. Comedy is next to holiness, as is the nearly ceaseless turbulence of noise, motion, and music that is omnipresent at all charismatic services. People sway, they bob like Hasidic Jews, they shriek, they jitter and fall to the ground. Some wave their hands in the air. During services people run around, or walk or skip, while others stand listening to the sermon, while others sit, or others roll on the ground. There’s hollering and cheering. The band plays a nearly ceaseless sound track.

The concept of worship as a shared experience, orderly and disciplined to reflect the holiness of heaven and its King, has fled. The texts of scripture that say, “Be still and know that I am God“, could never be observed under such conditions. It seems that silence and deep reverence is only for the angels of heaven. Or, perhaps for the dead, cold Christians of the past (and present). But for the children of the fresh outpouring, the approved order is a kindergarten level of restlessness.

The charismatic movement actively feeds the narcissism that is frighteningly prevalent in the culture. The charismatic movement turns each man into an authoritative prophet who is beholden only to his own revelations.

It feeds on the present cultural fascination with supernatural powers by turning everyone into a Harry Potter. This mysticism and solipsism is deeply attractive to the culture, for it grants a hidden significance that none but the enlightened can reach.

Thus the new follower is suddenly swept into a world where they can receive secret messages, can cast healing spells, learn easy answers to all problems, and obtain special powers. It is as though they had stepped through a wardrobe into the land of Narnia. The reason they can enter this magical domain is because they are special. They have hidden discernment and insight. This is the very message that Samuel’s Mantle – a prophetic training school in Canada – gives its would-be students. Unlike other Christians, they have a particular anointing and a special calling.

To such a depth of magical delusion have some in the movement sunk, that charismatic “supernatural students” have even attempted to raise the dead as though it were a skill you could learn like sport or moves in a video game. The Gospel Coalition reports:

People in the Bethel movement believe that raising the dead should be something we aspire to. As a result, some Bethel students formed a Dead Raising Team. They go to the morgue to practice raising the dead. They also listen to the radio and try to beat ambulances to accidents to raise the dead or heal the injured before the ambulance arrives. From all accounts, they have yet to raise their first corpse.

Christianity Today reports that in 2008, two Bethel students were involved in an accident that left a man stricken at the base of a 200-foot cliff. The students believed that the man had died and so they tried to resurrect him by prayer. They waited until the next morning to call emergency services. Thankfully, the man survived but unfortunately, he remains paralysed.

Worst of all, the charismatic movement cheapens everything to do with the Blessed Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is presented as a force or a genie who is at the constant beck and call of the summoner. Receiving the Holy Spirit “fire” is as mechanical a process as an engine injecting fuel into a cylinder. Yes, the Holy Spirit is a divine Person, but apparently He functions very much like an impersonal force or energy field.

St. Paul tells us that he “purposed to know nothing” among the Corinthians, “but Christ and him crucified”. As always St. Paul was in perfect harmony with our Inerrant Lord who taught us that he would send the Holy Spirit to exercise a very specific ministry. For the Holy Spirit would not point to Himself; the Holy Spirit would not glorify himself; neither would he be “funny” and “silly” like a blue cartoon genie.

Rather the Lord said of the Spirit: “He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you“. The Holy Spirit’s work, says the Lord, would be to convict the world of unrighteousness and unbelief, and teach people about judgement.

When Christ is glorified and righteousness, repentance and judgement are declared, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is truly at work. For the Spirit does not direct men to himself, but always to the Son. The Son, in turn, points men to the Father via himself.

In charismatic circles, this divine order is entirely turned on its head. For what do charismatics emphasise and preach? They emphasise the Person of the Holy Spirit. Which Person of the Trinity receives the most attention in their gatherings, their literature, prophecies, and activities? The Holy Spirit. Which Person of the Trinity is glorified and exalted, called upon, and attributed power and strength? The Holy Spirit.

You do not end up at charismatic worship when you seek Christ and him crucified above all. You do not end up with charismatic worship when you repent of the world and the values and attitudes that are invisibly infused into it – the narcissism, self-indulgence, self-seeking, desire for prominence and power, the emotionalism that triumphs over many minds.

And you will never end up as a charismatic if you see yourself honestly and without affectation, as an unimportant servant of Christ who is privileged to have any calling at all. If you are desirous to be the smallest in the kingdom of heaven – to be a vessel that is emptier and lowlier so that it might be more at the disposal of Christ – then you will never succumb to the thirst for power and glamour; for razzmatazz and the spiritual sensationalism of the charismatic movement.

St. Paul in the discharge of his ministry teaches us the remedy against all degraded religion that would exalt the self:

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, let us make it our aim to excel in regarding ourselves as “nothing” but servants. Like St. Paul, we ought to strive to be ever more empty of self-regard and increasingly “small in our own eyes” so that we will not fall victim to the devil’s schemes. We know he tempts men with multiple forms of pride, and there is no pride as dangerous and subtle as religious pride.

As servants, let us humbly enthrone Christ on the highest pinnacle of our regard and affections. Let us flee from any desire for spiritual status or prominence. Let us forsake the noisy and revolutionary; the worldly and novel and experimental; and let us set our hearts to follow the Shepherd on the path of righteousness. “My sheep hear my voice,” the Lord said, “and they follow me… they will not follow a stranger for they do not know the voice of strangers“.

Indeed, true Christians do follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. We look to the unchanging Father for our guidance, and we find our strength and hope in the unparalleled majesty of the Son of the Living God “who is the same yesterday, today, and forever“. Follow him.

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.

xerox tower

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.

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?

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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?