Gen X: The Forgotten Generation That is Replenishing the Church?

If you are a part of Gen X like me, you have probably started to notice that you are now the forgotten middle-child generation. Everyone wants to talk about the Boomers and Millennials… but not you Jan. Which is good when they are talking about how either generation is destroying everything… (even if you know it was Gen X that really did it). Related to that, this one tweet caught my eye today:

I would almost say this could be a compelling argument… if there wasn’t a significant generation between the two that, you know, had jobs and are at the general age when large portions of people tend to get involved with church. There are some anecdotal things I have observed about various generations that may come into play here:

  • Boomers were not as into church when they were teens and twentys as many assume. They might have been forced to go at some point, but so many of them seem to talk like they really stopped going at some point by their 20s.
  • These same Boomers seem to have come back to church in their 30s and 40s., when mortality and the brevity of life sinks in and they figure they need religion before they die.
  • Most people that have been in church know that “losing the youth of today” has been a common sermon trope for over 30 years now… but somehow attendance numbers seem to change little. If you have ever been behind the scenes at a church, you know that “reaching the youth of today” is more about getting money and commitment out of the 30-40 somethings than actually converting teens (which rarely works).
  • If you are Gen X, you know that most of the people you went to school with didn’t really like church. Most didn’t go, and many that did were forced to go by parents. A few believed at most, but kept it to themselves (until some big “reach the youth” event at their church guilt-ed them into doing some evangelism for a brief week at school).
  • Now that we have Facebook, we see that just like the Boomers before them, all of our Gen-X high school friends and family that were not Christian at all in their teens and twentys are suddenly all in church, posting scriptures all over Facebook and acting like they have been their all a long. Its really, really weird most of the time.
  • The current age of Gen-X is gnereally set at 40-54. However, older Millenials age 33-39 often talk about how they feel more in common with Gen X than Millenials. Generational differences don’t break down as easily as statistics would like them to, so you have to wonder what numbers get diluted when arbitrary divisions are used as standardized divisions across different research studies.

I may be reading too much into all of this. But I do know that there is a significant number of people that go back to church as they age. I do know that churches generally have large numbers of Gen-Xers in their midst, that those Gen-Xers generally have decent or good jobs. Therefore, I don’t think it is time to consider how Millenial trends will affect Boomer churches just yet. You can’t forget Gen-X.

Look – Gen-X was the original generation that was Emptying the Pews. We were the ones destroying all of the cool things that Boomers liked, while bringing in weird trends and food combinations. Gen-Xers were the ones that were struggling to get jobs and pay off student loan debt. But then we did start paying off loans and getting decent jobs (not all of us, but a lot of us). Our weird trends became retro-cool. And so on.

But wait! Will Millenials follow our same path? That I am not so sure of. Average college loan amounts are absurdly higher now than they were for us. Jobs are paying less, and are much harder to find for younger applicants. The economy really is in bad shape, but with less hope of anyone being able to fix it short or long term because of noticeably increased partisan divisions. It also seems like we have run out of time to save the environment. And so on. It could be possible that Millenials will follow the footsteps of Gen-X (how we somewhat saved ourselves from the mess that the Boomers left us… yeah, we were the first ones to notice that as well). But it may be too late for that to be possible. It might have gotten so bad that its not conceivable to change now. But I do think Gen-X is going to prop up what the Boomers have built for a lot longer than people seem to realize. Which is kind of ironic if you think about it.

John Cooper and Evangelical Misunderstandings of Pluralistic Society

By now, if you have any friends that are still evangelical, you have probably noticed many sharing the open letter by John L. Cooper of the Christian band Skillet written to former Christian leaders (like Josh Harris) who have publicly renounced their Christian faith. While there are some good points in the open letter about putting people on pedestals before they are ready, most of the letter falls into the typical Evangelical tropes about how every one else is wrong and certain types of Christians are the only ones that are right about the world around us.

From the beginning, Cooper displays an ahistorical ignorance of the fact that Church leaders have been leaving the Christian faith in significant numbers for as long as Christianity has existed. In the past, these people that changed faith affiliations (or even rejected faith of any kind) typically were shunned or ignored more than they are now, but I’m not seeing any proof there are currently any more than there were 10, 20, 30, etc. years ago. The number of attendees at Churches seems to be dropping due to the Exvangelical and EmptyThePews movements, but leaders are still coming and going just like they always have.

Most of the open letter is filled with Cooper being shocked that people who change their religious beliefs would want to share those changes with others. Of course, I have never heard of evangelicals extending the same idea to recent converts to Christianity – most “New Christian training materials” and “beginner Christianity books” encourage people to go out and share their new faith with others from the start. Why wouldn’t that go both ways? According to Cooper:

“I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance… I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused?”

I wonder if he ever realized that they are sharing now exactly because they are embarrassed, ashamed, confused, etc. Maybe they feel like they need to undo the damage they have done in the past. Sure, they might be afraid that they are getting it wrong again. But – newsflash – they probably weren’t that sure about their Christian faith when they were believers as well.

You see, this whole “how can they be so quick to share their unbelief” attitude comes from this subtle idea in evangelical circles that everyone really deep down knows that Jesus is God, and those that say they are not following Christ are just lying to themselves and others. Therefore, when someone finally converts to Christianity, this is why they can go out boldly declaring the Good News from the very beginning: they have just acknowledged what they knew deep down all along. However, when someone decides to go back into this supposed self-denial of the reality we all know deep down… they should hold back, not say a word, and be ashamed that they got something wrong once and might get it wrong again. Quite the double standard.

It’s also weird that Cooper’s second point against “being real” is itself being real and very cavalier with the way he treats other people’s differences in beliefs. However, the real kicker is this statement:

“So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.”

Cooper means this as an insult, but it is actually the most true statement in his entire letter. This thought is actually true of all of us no matter what we believe or how long we have believed it. If you are honest with yourself, you realize that your beliefs are always evolving, even if they still fit under the same category for years or decades. You can only be the voice of truth for whatever evolution you have in your life at that time. Whether that is within the same category of religious belief or if it changes from one to another, it is still all you can do: be a voice for your truth where you are at that time.

(Of course, many are in denial about their changing beliefs, or pretending changes are not happening – see Trump supporters and the changes they have made to their faith beliefs while denying they are happening – but that is another issue.)

But let’s say you disagree with the idea that beliefs can evolve. Let’s say you believe you make a big change in some belief system and then stay there for 20+ years. If it is true that this belief will not evolve, then you should be able to speak up about your belief on Day 1 or Year 20 – because it won’t change for a long time. Then, when it does finally change (and therefore you would be getting ready for another long period of little change), why not speak up again then? If our beliefs aren’t constantly changing, evolving, maturing, going to different systems, and so on – then why not speak up from day one of a big change?

Again, it comes back to the fact that no matter what you believe, you can only speak the truth about where you are at that moment of evolution (or non-evolution if you see it that way).

Then Cooper’s third point is the most cavalier one on the list – he completely misunderstands what people mean when they say “no one is talking about the real stuff.” Yes, we all know people have talked about it and written about the “real stuff” for centuries. This statement is usually a rhetorical device that is utilized to refer to how actual contextual/practical discussion of hard issues is often effectively shut down in many churches today. Not just “hard stuff” in general – there is always an acceptable list of “hard stuff” to talk about at every church (although not all of it really falls under the true banner of “hard”). Anything that contradicts main beliefs or tenets of various churches is quickly shut down or forcefully re-routed to pre-determined answers. Yes, people are handing out nice, neat answers in books about the “hard stuff,” but no one is talking about it with individuals in ways that helps them wrestle with and dig through the hardness of those hard things. Big difference.

Next there is the jaw-dropping statement that showcases Cooper completely misunderstanding how the world functions, when he has the audacity to say that Christian beliefs about generosity, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and turning the other cheek are exclusive to Christianity. He is in a band that has toured the word and claims to have many friends of other faiths… but doesn’t understand that these ideals are common to many other belief and non-belief systems?

“And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/king of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard…. So why then would a disavowed christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings?”

Every society has its own definitions of what counts as good. And while it is true that there is no proof of a universal morality, many of these systems do match up with Christianity…. often while pre-dating when Jesus walked the Earth. In fact, any student of Old or New testament studies knows that the Bible made explicit references to laws for good and evil that were copied from other – often earlier – religions.

Cooper is just a mouth piece of deeply self-centered form of Christianity (a very real form, even though it is self-centered) that thinks it is the moral epicenter of good in the universe. Cooper might be shocked to find out that many leaders and members that leave the faith end up leading great lives (despite his ascertain to the opposite). Many Christians that stay in the faith end up having their “lives fall apart” while they “sink in the sea.” Really its all over the place: those that leave Christianity and stay are both as likely to have a great life as they are to have it all fall apart.

Assuming that people who leave Christianity have horrible lives and no reason to tell their story is one of many forms of bias and hatred that the church extends to those that leave. Ironically, this hatred only encourages more to leave. I don’t think Cooper even realizes how he probably chased more people out of church than he convinced to stay with his open letter. Many have grown tired of how the church misunderstands its place in a pluralistic society.

The Problem of False Binaries

In many ways, metamodernism is all about binaries, conundrums, paradoxes, etc. However, the distinction that metamodernism makes about things like binary concepts is how two different ideas can often co-exist in the same space. Sometimes this coexistence is easier to define, and other times it is not.

However, I’m not sure if you can just throw any two random ideas or concepts together and just assume there is some way they will coexist, or even that there is a way to swing between the two in metaxy. For example, while modernism and post-modernism make interesting ideas to either fit together paradoxically or to swing back and forth between, not all ideas form a solid binary pairing to build a paradox out of – at least, within the current limitations of our understandings of logic.

In politics, it would seem that this problem can also be further extended when false binaries are introduced to the conversation in a way to equally erase both sides. You see this a lot in “both political sides are equally bad” arguments. For example, someone on one political side will say something that is historically or legally racist (“go back where you came from”), and people on that side will ignore historical and legal precedent to try and prove that this statement is not racist. People in the middle of both sides will pull out some kind of “both sides are equally bad” argument to just end the fighting rather than deal with the blatant racism. This will usually be supported by some problematic false binary meme:

The image above is a popular meme shared most often by moderates and independents. However, if you examine it for a minute, you begin to see that the two different sides on this graphic are not comparing two, well, “comparable” sides together, creating a false binary.

The first evidence of this is the fact that there are self-labeled White Supremacists and Nazis in our country, and they have generally attached themselves to the extreme conservative side of our current political spectrum. Also, there are those on the right that claim they are not racist, but they support the actions of the self-proclaimed White Nationalists and Nazis on their side. And while there are many on the Left that will hurl “Nazi!” and “Racist!” statements as insults (even occasionally at those that may not deserve that title), that does not change the fact that there are people that claim titles like “white nationalist” that are, in fact, racist.

However, the bigger problem comes with the insults being hurled at the Left in this diagram. had they chosen “Socialist!” or “Communist!” – that would have been a more accurate binary. There are those on the Left that are proudly Socialist or Communist. However, the insults depicted here are not equivalent to “Racist!” or “Nazi!” They are far worse.

“Libtard” is combination of “Liberal” and “Retard.” “Retard” is a hateful slur against people with disabilities. They are real people that should not be turned into insults in a partisan war. “Racist” or “Nazi” are labels that people can and do choose for themselves, but no one should be called a “Retard” or any form or mixture of the word, because disability is not an insult.

“Pussies” is using a part of the female anatomy as an insult, and there is also no place for this kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior. It comes from a view point that hates women and their bodies, and therefore sees them as a source for insulting terms. You should not use parts of the female anatomy as an insult, period.

There you have the false binary: taking words that can actually describe people (“Racist!” “Nazi!”) and comparing them with words that should never, ever be used to describe others (“Libtard!” “Pussy!”) in fake sense of both-sides-ism. Yes, I realize that all of those terms and others are thrown out in political arguments as insults. But to be clear: if someone is a racist or Nazi, that should be called out and confronted. However, there is never a reason to use disability or women’s anatomy as insults.

Instinct and Morality

For better or worse, the murder of innocent children is a contentious debate topic between Atheists and Christians. This is usually in relation to Old Testament commands from God, and how modern people should “instinctively know that premeditated / brutal murder of innocent children is wrong.” A lot could be said about whether events recorded in the Old Testament really happened or not, but that is a post topic for another time. I wanted to briefly dig into how “instinct” is mis-used here.

Whether killing children is wrong or not is a question of morality, not instinct. Instinct is a pattern of behavior in response to stimuli. Instinct would not look at a child and say “it is wrong to kill this child, so I won’t.” Instinct would kill the child if it was perceived as a threat, or otherwise just leave the child be. To instinct, murder is not right or wrong – it is only a response to certain stimuli.

This is important because we have to realize that morality is not something we are born with like instinct. Morality is a social construct that we can give a definition for at any given time, but that definition also changes over time. The people that recorded the premeditated / brutal murder of children in the Bible did so because their social construct of morality at the time did not see this as wrong, or even “brutal” per se. Again, this is a huge topic to explore, as the ancient world was often dog-eat-dog, might-makes-right, you-died-too-bad-who cares. But the reality is that they had a different moral standard back then.

The point being: morality is not some absolute truth that we are just now figuring out the one right construct to apply to it. In order for there to be one right moral code that we have to figure out as a species, morality would have to be a rational being that can understand thousands of languages and historical culture changes in order to let us collectively know what is “morally correct.” In other words, in order for there to be a universal morality, this morality would have to be able to understand new inventions like the Internet, and let us know how moral codes apply to our actions there. It would also have to have learned English at some point in order for us in America to understand it, as well as for it to understand the unique way Americans think about morality in our language.

Some would say that this is proof that God exists. Well, not really. it just proves that you can’t reject the idea of God while relying on the concept of “Universal Morality” as a global guide for humanity. Universal Morality would need to be a rational being – i.e., a god – in order to do so.

The more accurate way to look at morality is that it is a social construct that is evolving all the time. For example, the ancient Israelites had a different moral view on the killing of innocent children than we do now. Did you know that term “genocide” wasn’t coined until the 1940s as a way to describe the atrocities committed by Germany in World War II? Why didn’t Universal Morality have us label it a thing before that? Because Universal Morality is not a thing – we evolved the social construct of morality to say that this thing Germany did was wrong, and then we gave it a new word (genocide).

I know that some people are really convinced that across all time and all cultures, certain moral codes have remained true. Kind of… but also not really. It is true only if you generalize these concepts to gloss over important cultural norms. But that was not day-to-day reality for most people that had to live with those norms, and there are also still big differences across the globe and back through time. Overgeneralizing practical morality to derive Universal (historical and cultural) Morality erases cultural differences than made each culture unique.

It also means that in 100 years, people will look back at even the most enlightened among us and say “wow, did they get morality wrong!”

To me, this does not prove God exists in the least, but it also makes it pretty inappropriate to take 2019 Western American sociocultural normed moral codes and apply them as proof for or against God or Goddess or gods or supreme beings. Calling your sociocultural moral codes “instinct” is just passing the buck to some nonexistent Universal Morality or Supreme Being, claiming that one of these genetically programmed you to believe what is right and wrong. You and I need to take responsibility for how we have been influenced by our modern sociocultural context, and how we have chosen to follow those influences as a guide for what we do or do not believe in.

Why is Trump’s Border Wall Seen as Immoral When Existing Border Walls are Not?

One of the more debated positions of the liberal side of the “Battle for Trump’s Wall” is that the Trump Wall is immoral. To be honest, I can’t claim that all or even most of the left believes, but there are some that are very vocal about that aspect. Of course, anyone that hears this statement on the right will latch on to it and use it as an attack point against any criticism of Trump’s Wall (even if that criticism said nothing about morality of Trump’s Wall). “If the Trump Wall is immoral, should we also tear down what is already in place along the border? Or is only the NEW wall immoral? Or is it that the new ‘fence’ that Trump wants to build is immoral because Trump called it a ‘wall’?”

The problem here is that one side of the debate is unnecessarily over simplifying the belief of the other side. Which we all know happens on both sides. But for now I want to focus on this specific misunderstanding, and expand on the differences between the existing system of walls/fences and the proposed new additions from Trump.

The existing system of walls and fences and technology has been effective for a long time – bringing illegal border crossings down to the lowest levels in decades, while making many border cities some of the safest in the nation. However, the side effect of that has been that migrant workers have changed tactics: they now come in legally to visit and overstay. That is where more than half of illegal immigration comes from currently: overstaying.

Now typically, officials just turn a blind eye to people that overstay as long as they don’t break any laws, which most undocumented immigrants are glad to comply with. Less law enforcement entanglement, less chance of getting deported. I live in Texas, and we see this all the time. But no one will write on it, no one will expose it, no one wants to bring a light to it. It just stays under the surface. Why is that? Because the flip side is that this situation creates a work force of millions of undocumented workers that business owners (especially in the South) take advantage of. These business owners pay these workers less than the law requires for minimum wage, and typically abuse and exploit them (because they will avoid going to the police at all costs).

So while conservatives are all trying to get in “sick burns” on the Libs for looking at new and existing walls differently… the existing wall is causing a scenario that leads to the abuse and exploitation of human beings that are made in God’s image. It would be nice if conservative beliefs led them to look beyond politics to the people behind the rhetoric, but oh well….

So now about the proposed wall. We now know that power tools can easily cut through the current wall/barrier/whatever design quickly, so this wall will not keep drug dealers out. They already keep power tools accessible for the current fences. We also know the Trump Wall design only extends 6 feet underground, and does not have the $10+billion extra dollars needed for anti-tunnel technology or designs deeper than that, so it won’t stop people from tunneling under it (in fact, the actual cost for what Trump wants to do may be $38 billion or more). It will only stop people that walk across the border.

That scenario does not describe how most criminals cross our borders. And we also looked at how undocumented immigrants (most of them migrant workers) have gone to other methods to get to the U.S. rather than illegal border crossing. There is only one group of people that try to walk up to our borders: people seeking asylum. They don’t carry power tools or tunneling equipment with them. Even if they had these tools, they wouldn’t bring them because they are literally just trying to present anywhere at the border.

So the new border additions are only effective against stopping asylum seekers. Any criminal elements trying to hide in these groups (which there really aren’t that many that we can verify, but people always ask) would be equipped to get through the current wall design, but would do so only after separating from the caravans in order to avoid attention.

This is why Liberals see the Trump Wall additions as immoral, especially those that are Christian. The Bible is very specific about welcoming foreigners (which includes those seeking refuge). The new wall additions are designed to stop refuge seekers from doing so (because once these groups gain asylum, they take tax money away from corporate bail-outs and war machines – and the upper 1% can’t have that). Again, this all goes under the heading of why the new Trump Wall is seen as immoral.

At this point, people on the conservative side of this debate will bring up the Gang of 8 and how it was a proposal to build more walls that Democrats supported not too long ago. So why won’t they support more walls now? You really need to look more into what the Gang of 8 deal was. If you really know what it was, you would know how highly inappropriate it is to bring it up in relation to Trump’s Wall plan. The specifics and details between the two are so vastly different from each other that there really is no comparison. Its like people that say the Bible and the Qu’ran are the same book because they both talk religion. The Gang of 8 had a lot of people on the liberal and conservative sides against it, but it was more of a comprehensive immigration reform package that looked at laws, border technology, and fencing – the exact stance that Democrats today are taking (and that Trump and the Republicans are opposing).

Look, I am from Texas – I have know of many people that live along the border. Don’t start with the “so many gangs crossing the border and causing crime!” lines. That is all made up stories from certain media outlets. People who live along the border itself often don’t really see that much of a “crisis” happening there. Then there are the times that people living near the border just lie about who they got in shoot-outs with.

To me, this whole debate is a just a way to avoid dealing with the immorality of our entire immigration system – one that is designed to create a slave labor force for the elite to abuse and exploit. But hey conservatives – you keep trying to pwn people for deciding to have different stances on different types of walls/fences, while continually ignoring God’s commands about how we treat foreigners in our midst.

And this is what floors me the most: you can point out how millions of human beings are being abused and exploited by the current system… and the most common response from many people is “there is nothing immoral about expecting people to follow legal immigration!” No one ever says anything about that aspect – but the people that use this re-direction response just want to completely ignore what was pointed out as the real source of immorality. Amazing.

And even if you want to look past the moral aspects of the wall, there are the specifics of how the Trump Wall will not work, and how many, many experts are speaking out against it. First of all, you have experts on international border walls using existing walls from three different places around the globe to examine how Trump’s Wall plan will not work:

http://hir.harvard.edu/article/?a=14542

Then you have a U.S. Conservative think tank calling Trump’s Wall plan impractical, ineffective, and expensive:

https://www.cato.org/blog/border-wall-impractical-expensive-ineffective-plan

Of course, geologists have weighed in as well on the problems with everything from the planning to the timeline to the construction of Trump’s Wall:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/vast-geological-challenges-building-border-wall-180962072/

Then you have historical experts looking at how medieval walls and other historical defense barriers did not work that well (despite what Trump claims about them):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/01/10/trump-says-medieval-walls-worked-they-didnt/

And finally when it comes down to asking actual border agents what they need (apart from mentioning political stances), less that half a percent mention additional walls/fences:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/us/politics/border-patrol-wall-immigration-trump-senate-democrats.html

(Interesting how in that last article, higher level Customs and Border Protection officials tried to invalidate the results of the survey by saying that Border Patrol agents were not asked to propose solutions – when the results from the survey clearly showed they were asked for solutions. Whoops.)

But the reality is that many of us feel that Trump’s Wall plan as an addition to our current system is an immoral expansion of a system that already supports immorality. But this is not an absolute either/or stance, where we believe that the only other option is to get rid of border security and all fences or walls. This is a complex situation that needs reform and solutions that are more nuanced than “build a wall!” And yes, it may seem contradictory to some to say that current walls are working AND we don’t need Trump’s Wall plan… but it’s not really contradictory at all. It’s really not even that “metamodern” per se (but might seem that way to those from an extreme modernist mindset). Trump’s Wall plan is not just a generic “build a wall” plan, but a specific plan to build a specific wall to keep specific people out while not addressing most of our current immigration issues.

(Featured image photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash)

The Problematic Satire of The Babylon Bee

Satire is usually defined as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Satire always has an underlying message that intends to get people to react. If people react to your satire in ways you don’t like, but then respond with “it’s only a joke”… then you really don’t get satire. And probably should stay away from it.
 
The Onion is a typical example of satire. They often get it wrong, but when they get it right they do so by ridiculing those in power. Some people refer to this as “punching up” – using satire to criticize and expose the problems of those that hold power and influence,
 
A very inappropriate usage of satire is when people do things that are referred to as “punching down” – using satire to mock and ridicule people that don’t hold the power in this country (especially groups like feminists, Native Americans, people of color, etc.).
 
This is why I don’t like the Babylon Bee. It is run by white Christian males, and it likes to use satire to mock and criticize situations related to actual, real discrimination and bigotry in this country. Yes, I know they make fun of white males, too. Doing that does not negate the other stories they run.
 
For example – women, Native Americans, and most people of color have always suffered from various forms of government retaliation in this country, even to this day. The Babylon Bee wrote a satirical story trying to make the point that we no longer have any fear of government retribution in the U.S. The “stupidity” that it was trying to ridicule was the idea that there is “government retribution” in this country.
 
The problem is, there is still government retribution. Even worse, they made the story about an unnamed woman. They were literally trying to ridicule women for saying they face government retribution…. when women still do in various ways.
 
And before you go off on “no there isn’t any government retribution any more”… I would just point at the hundreds of government watchdog groups that are specifically looking out for this and bringing up multiple cases every year against our government for doing so.
 
Also, before you jump into a logical fallacy of “whataboutism”… yes it is much worse in other countries. But that doesn’t mean that people have no fear of it here.
 
So, sorry/not sorry to all the Christian males out there for ruining your week by raining on your “let’s have a laugh at the expense of women’s justified fears” parities via The Babylon Bee. Just because it is a joke to you, that doesn’t mean it is a joke to other people out there as well.

Civility Never Was That Great of a Thing. Time to Let it Go.

With all of the the talk about “civility” recently, I have been trying to figure out exactly when American became a civilized nation. Was it after we invaded this continent in the first place, pushing aside the original inhabitants (often in violent manners)? Was it after we started a war to gain independence? Or maybe it was after we stopped justifying slavery as a civilized norm? Was it after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the whatever-you-call our current wars? Or maybe it was after we finally gave all people the right to vote and participate in society equally? What exactly does “civility” mean in a country with a history of violence and mistreatment (both here and abroad) like ours?

Of course, maybe all of the calls for civility would not sound so hollow if so many had not just now started saying anything at all. I mean – black churches were burned… no calls for civility. Immigrant children were separated from their parents… and no calls for civility. The LGBTQA community faces constant attacks, death threats, and harassment daily… and no calls for civility.  But a handful of rich white people lose a dinner while some others call for more to be harassed…. and stop the presses! We need civility NOW!

And the weird way people cherry-pick religion to support their new-found desire for civility? Especially when they didn’t say a word when white supremacists marched; or when our leaders said horrible things about people with disabilities, about women, about Muslims, about all kinds of people? Take, for instance, how Bob Vander Plaats focused on how Jesus told people that have disagreements to go and meet with those they have the disagreement with. Of course, the scripture there does not say “first” like Plaats misquotes it as, and secondly, he conveniently leaves out how Jesus again and again spoke out harshly against those he disagreed with publicly – many that He had never met. Plaats makes it seems like the only Biblical way to respond to disagreements is to privately meet with those that you disagree with, or else keep it to yourself. The Bible is not that black and white on this issue by a long shot, and it is unfortunate that Plaats would misrepresent scripture like this.

To a certain degree, I do agree with Plaats that we should get to know people before demonizing them – but I wouldn’t make that an absolute rule to live by. In many cases, it wouldn’t be safe to meet those one disagrees with (I wouldn’t recommend a woman go meet with someone from GamerGate, for instance). But we also have to realize that there is a lot more to be done after we get to know people. Plaats’ scenario is not the solution, it is a place for some to start. Plaats described where he got to know a leader in the LGBTQA community, and they stopped demonizing each other. But the problem is, both sides often can’t have both of their stances in society. We can’t can both “marriage quality for all” AND “traditional definition of marriage” as the law at the same time. It is good that they learned how to get a long. But someday, one of them will be deemed “wrong” by society. One, day, one of them will have to stick with their side and be on the wrong side of society, or change sides.

Sitting down for coffee with those we disagree with will help us get along better with certain people, but will not solve the problems in society if that is all it does. “Civility” is a call by the privileged to stay at the coffee table when they suddenly see society getting up from coffee talk and taking away their privileged spots.

But I still have a problem with people thinking that our society was all that “civilized” in the first place, or that we really need to hang on to it (if it was). Maybe it is because I live in the South and we see through civility so easily down here. People will say “bless your heart!” as way to tell you how ignorant they think you are. So many people live out civility in cities where racism is still rampant. So many people claim to be “civilized” while still being racist themselves. Civility is just too low of a target.

Mike Caulfield made an excellent point that we need decency rather than civility:

Civility is often a push-back to conflict, as a call to ignore disagreements and just get along (even though that is not really what it should be – but that is another issue for another time). Decency is how we treat people even when we disagree – or even how we call out people that aren’t decent to others (sometimes decency requires you to stand against those who aren’t decent). There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But if your response to finally receiving some push back for the way you treat others is to scream “we need civility!!!!” when you have never done so when others are mistreated, that is not decent. Civility – for too long of a time – has kept different standards for different people. You can’t have one response to one type of harassment (telling men to grab women by their….) and another response to another lesser type of harassment (getting booted out of a restaurant) and still be “decent.” But you can have different responses and still be “civilized.” Civility never was that great of a thing.