Jul 9 2016

Confessions of a Privilege Addict

[Note: I realize that some of you will not agree with my perspective here, but this is my story, so…}

Hello, My name is Alden, and I am a privilege addict.  

I’ve known that I was privileged (although I never thought of it in those terms until recently) since I was a child, and I have relished every minute of it.  I know that many of you will doubt or dispute this, as I have never been part of the “1%” and have usually hid my elitist arrogance, but it’s true. 

I believe that humans are inherently tribal in nature; our brains, as my daughter recently explained to me, naturally categorize and order things in order to attempt to understand them. We do the same thing to ourselves, categorizing and ranking ourselves within the greater culture. As children, we are dependent upon others and finding our way in the world outside of our immediate family (or sometimes even within the family) can result in insecurity. The sooner we organize ourselves–finding our tribes, so to speak–the sooner we will achieve some sense of security and belonging.  

As a typically insecure child, I found security in my birthright categories:

  1. I was an American, living in the best and most powerful nation in the world. In a world where war was the norm, there was confort in knowing that we could blow up any nation that challenged us. And yes, there is still some comfort in knowing that in spite of the threat of terrorism, we could destroy any country we wanted to.  I have no real comprehension of living in a country where being invaded is a very real possibility.  I am privileged to be an American.
  2. I was a Christian, living in a Christian town in a Christian country.  It was a small town, with perhaps one Jewish resident. Better yet, I was a Lutheran, belonging to the largest and most impressive church in town, which also happened to be the most theologically correct church (and yes, I still believe that, but my belief now is based on study, not culture).  We were superior. There was no persecution of any kind for a Lutheran in Minnesota.
  3. I was a male. “Man” was the default.  Adam was a man, Jesus was a man, etc. “Man” was the generic label for humanity.  This was kind of a mixed blessing, as males had more expectations put on them than women.  We had to learn to be providers, we may have to go to war, etc.  However, these decisions were in our power, as men were the leaders. 
  4. I was white.  In my home town, we were all white.  And, being all white, we could be benevolently and safely non-racist. Everywhere I went, it was clear that white was the norm. Jesus was white, Santa Claus was white, the President was white, and nearly everyone on television what white.  It was obvious that whites were the majority, and the norm, and that it was in our power to be gracious and accepting of non-whites.  It was in our power.  

So there I was.  And here I am, a straight white male Christian middle-class employed American, with a great wife and children, living in an idyllic setting in a peaceful, small town in Oregon.  I am privileged, and I enjoy it very much.  From the comfort of my climate-controlled home, I can view the hate and hurt of the rest of the world, and pretend to have empathy.  

But, I know I can’t. I will never understand what it is to grow up being one of the not-privileged.  Not really.  Twice in my life I have been in situations where I’ve faced armed policemen, but I’ve never experienced it as a black, an Hispanic, or a Native American. I’ve never interviewed for a job as a woman. I’ve never been refused service or the right to marry because I’m gay, or been reported as a terrorist because I speak Arabic. 

I know I am privileged; I am the norm. I don’t feel guilty because of it; as Lady Gaga sang, I was born that way. I admit that I am glad that I am privileged, because I know that my life is a little bit (or a lot) easier because of it.  I am addicted to being privileged.  I like it. I can’t change the fact that I’m a straight white American male, but I can admit that it makes me automatically privileged, and acknowledge that it’s wrong.  To make the Declaration of Independence a reality–where all men are truly equal–I have to be willing to sacrifice my privileged status; that’s the way equality works. 


Mar 16 2016

How Not To Become A Liberal

One of the greatest fears a conservative has is that of becoming a liberal. The next greatest fear is that someone you know will become a liberal.  In these confusing times, I thought it would be helpful to give a bit of advice on how to stay solidly conservative.

  1. Avoid the Mainstream Media.  News outlets like CNN, NBC, The Washington Post, and PBS will constantly challenge conservative thinking and values by quoting liberal sources and facts.  Stick with news sources that you can trust to provide you with good, common-sense conservative information, like FoxNews, Breitbart, The Blaze, and folks like Rush and Sean Hannity. You need to have your conservatism constantly reinforced.
  2. Don’t listen to your children, especially if they attend public school or liberal arts colleges. If you can’t indoctrinate homeschool your children in a good, science and philosophy free environment, there is no telling what kind of liberal concepts they will adopt. It’s common for schools to teach things like equal rights, which in reality is just a way to erode white male privilege, and unproven scientific theories like evolution and climate change. They will try to challenge your conservative ideals, and they may even make sense. But ignore them anyway.
  3. Regular Evangelical Church Attendance.  There’s no better way to fortify your conservatism than to surround yourself with like-minded conservative Christians, and to hear good, Evangelical Bible teaching. But, beware of those churches who talk too much about grace and forgiveness; grace is just a slippery slope toward liberalism.  And, in that same vein:
  4. Don’t Read the Bible on your own, especially the Gospels, without a good conservative Study Guide or Devotional.  Reading the Gospels without external guidance is a sure way to start thinking like a liberal.  It’s very easy to misunderstand Jesus’ teachings on social justice, loving your enemies, and not judging sinners, which on their face can seem contrary to the conservative evangelical doctrines we hold dear. If you have to read the Bible on your own, read it in small bits, so you can avoid taking the verses in context.

I hope you have found this helpful.  It may sound like a daunting task, but take comfort as you look around at the millions of other people desperately hanging on to good old American conservatism.


Jan 27 2016

Things the Apostle Paul did not say

I think my favorite kinds of sermons are those that I can riff off of. Not audibly, of course, but I tend to think tangentially anyway, so I like a sermon that raises points that I can explore while I’m sitting in church. Even better if I continue to think about them afterwards. They don’t have to be great sermons, as long as they provide food for thought. (I do not, however, enjoy a sermon that causes me to mentally analyze every bit of tortured logic and twisted scripture. It may be a great exercise in critical thinking, but it’s neither edifying nor fun.)

In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard one of each. I will talk about the good one. The topic was love, and referenced a few good quotes by Paul that got me thinking about what Paul did not say, which leads me to my topic today.

THINGS PAUL DID NOT SAY

Let holiness be your highest goal. (1 Cor. 14:3)

And above all these put on correct doctrine, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)

Without our church I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)

Owe no one anything, except to judge each other, for the one who judges another has fulfilled the law.  (Romans 13:8)

The greatest of these is truth. (1 Cor. 13:13)

And there’s more, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Paul was undoubtedly the master of proper doctrine and logic. He bragged about winning an argument with Peter and the rest of the church leadership. However, Paul was, at heart, a softie. He was concerned about widows and orphans, the poor and the weak of faith. In Paul’s mind, everyone had value, and had gifts to share. There were no favored classes, and no one had the right to judge anyone else (even themselves).

What has happened to Paul’s message that grace is a gift, and cannot be earned?  That God loves all of us unconditionally, and we should in turn love others unconditionally?

It seems that in today’s evangelical circles, putting love first makes you a liberal. Love is conditionalized, as it seems to be a scarce and finite resource, not to be thrown around indiscriminately. Or, perhaps the definition of love has been retooled in a type of Platonic dualism; we can love in a universal, ideal sense, but we must be careful who we love in a practical, earthy sense. We love sinners Platonically, but not incarnationally. We love refugees, just only where they can’t touch us. We love the GLBT community, but not as equals.  

And that’s what happens when you start to think about what Paul (and Jesus) really said.

 


Apr 2 2015

How FoxNews is ruining conservatism

I probably shouldn’t single out FoxNews here, but they are the most well-known bastion of the uber-conservatist media.  And yes, I think the collective conservative “Fauxnews” media is destroying conservatism, resulting in incredible snafus like we are seeing in Indiana, and the fact that Hilary Clinton (who has a less than 50% approval rating) has a substantial lead in current polls over any Republican presidential hopeful.

Here’s the problem: Fauxnews is not presenting a “fair and balanced” view of anything.  They do provide one very good service, and that is to highlight stories that are typically ignored by other media outlets. However, it is a mistake to take any of these stories at face value, because what is being presented is a nice, conservative fairy tale meant to either motivate well-meaning conservatives, or to pacify them.

The conservative Fauxnews media is simply preaching to the choir, without really educating on the issues. I see a number of posts on Facebook where a conservative site has an outrageous headline about something Obama or Clinton have supposedly said, only to find that when you read the actual quote, they didn’t really say that at all.  The fauxnews retelling is more than spin; it’s misleading, and occasionally bordering on fraudulent.  But well-meaning conservatives trust many of these fauxnews sources, and don’t bother to fact-check.

Conservatives (as well as liberals), develop a kind of group-think.  It’s a form of tribalism, a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about, and which I’ll talk about in the future. There is a very strong need for many people to share the same opinions as the tribe, and will willingly adopt them without any real critical thinking (even if they think critical thinking is happening). The tribal presuppositions are such that everything becomes colored and conclusions are almost predetermined.

The danger is that conservatives will become more and more ignorant, and are in danger of becoming completely marginalized, even if they are the majority.  It’s so easy to embarrass a conservative right now that it’s – well – embarrassing.

The best way for conservatives to hold their own politically is not to create a conservative virtual reality to exist in, but to take the red pill (Matrix reference) and see what reality looks like.  Take a look at the issues the conservative media is reporting, then go to the sources, and find out what is really going on.  Analyze, and develop your own opinions. I almost never read or watch conservative news; at most, I read the bottom of the screen when I’m on the elliptical at the gym (Fox is always on).  Instead, I look at WaPo, CNN, etc., and then Google stories I’m interested in for varying opinions.

Will Rogers identified this problem years ago when he said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”  Fauxnews isn’t helping the problem, it unfortunately is the problem, and it is ruining conservatism.