I have stayed away from Donald Trump news for a while since it gets so annoying, but some of it is impossible to avoid. Truth be told, there are some policy decisions that I have liked, such as his Supreme Court choice, the tax plan (mostly), and scaling back on regulations that helped encourage investors. There are also things that are not so great and even predictably stupid, such as the disaster of a healthcare plan, the annoying Russia thing that won’t go away, trade tariffs, and dumb comments from him. But Donald Trump is a weird politician, seemingly impervious to scandals that would crush other politicians. This whole absurd saga with a pornstar that he allegedly had an affair with and paid hush money to is a great example of this. Many of us already cynically think that at least some politicians get involved in shady stuff anyway, but can you imagine if a “normal” politician got hit with a scandal like this? It would be politically disastrous, and yet for Trump, people’s reactions are kind of just like, “Oh yeah, well, there’s Trump for ya.” At the same time, his approval numbers are low despite the economy doing well, which is normally something that correlates with high approval ratings (whether the president actually did anything to truly affect the economy or not). He is some mutant politician; the things that would normally destroy a career don’t affect him that much, and the things that would normally help a politician don’t really assist him.
I have been reading about the horrifying case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics as well as for USA Gymnastics. It is astonishing, sad, and infuriating that he got away with it for decades, ruining so many lives and even leading to the loss of life as a couple of people committed suicide, partially as a result of his crimes. This is a man who already was sentenced to 60 years in prison for having tens of thousands of images of child pornography and videos of him molesting kids. Now, over one hundred victims have come forward to share their stories, making certain that even an elixir that doubled the average human life span would not allow him to ever leave prison.
He is a grotesquely evil man, and in many ways he is more dangerous than other traditional criminals because he is the kind who befriends people and gains their trust before abusing their beloved children. The bitterness and anger that his victims unloaded on him the past few days to go along with the anger of the wider world is richly deserved. Here is a piece of human garbage that one victim aptly called “a spawn of Satan.” A coach who sent over 100 girls to Nassar for treatment, ignorant of what was happening, said to him out of guilt and anger, “Go to hell,” a sentiment that is probably shared by even those people who generally have a problem with the doctrine of hell. If he were put in a room with every father of those girls to beat him in whatever way they chose, that would still be too light a sentence.
And yet, as Christians, we are to believe that if he were to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved and given eternal life. At first glance, such a statement makes even Christians uncomfortable and downright enrages atheists. Sam Harris finds such a belief to be utterly unjust and disgusting. Harris has never made an argument that has impressed me, but I understand his emotional reaction here; it seems deeply unfair. Sure, Jesus saves sinners, but come on: There’s a massive difference between a serial child sex abuser and someone who cheated on a test or has mild anger issues.
As many know, the very controversial Senate race in Alabama is over with the Democrats winning a big victory in an overwhelmingly conservative state. The big reason for this victory, other than the fact that Roy Moore was already pretty unpopular to begin with, was the sexual assault allegations on Moore and the accusations that he went after under-aged girls when he was a young man. Many viewed these accusations as credible, including a lot of conservative Alabamans, which is why there were over 22,000 write-in votes (many of which cheekily voted for Nick Saban). Moore denied these allegations (though he seemed to change his story a couple of times), and his defenders complained that to punish Moore for them was to invert the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Moore was not convicted of anything and likely never will be, so why give an ounce of credibility to the accusations?
I think this line of thinking is mistaken and forgets to evaluate Moore’s situation carefully. Now, I’m the first person to tell people not to overreact to headlines, and I generally think it is deplorable that people jump to conclusions regarding people’s guilt. We’ve seen how doing so can destroy the lives of people who are actually innocent, such as Officer Wilson in the Michael Brown case and the Duke lacrosse players. Still, there is a difference between having enough evidence for a criminal conviction (which should meet a very, very high standard) and enough evidence for rational people to smell that something stinks. The evidence against Moore doesn’t meet the former right now, but I think there is enough to justify people’s reluctance about him and for him to face some consequences, such as losing an election (which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t exactly some hefty punishment).
‘Tis the season for sexual assault/harassment allegations, apparently, as several prominent celebrities have gotten hit with them and eventually saw their careers bite the dust. First there was Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and then others in entertainment and media followed such as Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer. Politicians were not immune, so figures such as Roy Moore (R), Al Franken (D), Trent Franks (D), Blake Farenthold (R), and John Conyers (D) were accused of sexual assault and/or harassment.
On the one hand, it is undoubtedly good that women are willing to speak out against misconduct and that some of these figures, who had gotten away with this behavior for years if not decades, finally saw some consequences for their actions. On the other hand, all of this has given us more evidence of how fractured America is along party lines. Both parties are trying to claim the moral high ground, not because they seem to really care about morals (if they did, they would police themselves a lot better) but because it is politically advantageous to do so while painting the other side as monsters. Consider how some of this played out regarding Roy Moore:
This feels familiar: A blockbuster DC movie comes out to negative critical reviews though positive fan reactions. Like Batman v. Superman, Justice League is not nearly as bad as many critics make it out to be, critics who seem to suffer from groupthink and who keep expecting DC to be like Marvel. Still, while Justice League is coherently written plot-wise, it has frustrating short-comings that again could have been easily avoided like former DCEU mistakes. In fact, what ultimately made this movie just okay was because the DCEU listened too much to whiny critics who wanted bright colors, no tension, and incessant quips like Marvel movies instead of trusting its own darker and mature take on comics. Thus, Justice League is an awkward movie, one that has some of Snyder’s darker tone but also Whedon’s light-heartedness that clashed. It culminated in a last fight that was much like Age of Ultron‘s: CGI minions to destroy, flashy lights, and altogether no tension while fighting a dull bad guy who was way less threatening than he should have been.
Ironically, the fact that Rotten Tomatoes seemed to delay its score for Justice League was actually harmful to the movie. Still, before you feel sorry for Warner Bros., they were ultimately the ones who forced a two hour limit on the movie, forced a Marvel-like humor onto it, and rushed everything instead of more patiently building a world. That is all their fault. And that horrific thing called Suicide Squad is all on them as well. Just threw that in there because that movie was so bad that it defied explanation.
Another terrible mass shooting hit America recently, this time in the small town of Sutherland Springs, TX. Devin Kelley attacked the town’s First Baptist Church on a Sunday morning and shot and killed 26 people, many of them children. He was shot by a local man after the carnage and then fled in a truck, and he was pursued before he eventually crashed and killed himself. The scene at the church was described as horrific, with blood everywhere and dead bodies littered on the floor. The nation once again reacted in anger, sadness, horror, and confusion.
In that anger and confusion, we once again have seen people targeting their political enemies, something that never seems to fail to happen. Many people have called for stricter gun laws, and if you disagree with them, they’ll react in disgust and basically accuse you of being an accomplice in such mass murder sprees. We have to do something, they say, and if you don’t agree with their “something,” you’re automatically a bad person. Others have championed the fact that Kelley was fought off by a citizen with a gun, possibly preventing further shootings elsewhere. Such people argue that those who want strict gun laws are naive control-freaks who want to take away basic rights of self-defense and resistance against potential tyranny.
Such “discussion” gets tiresome pretty fast, especially when a tragedy like this weighs so heavily. While it is understandable that people will get emotional over this (people should get emotional over this), emotion often makes for poor solutions and poor policy. What is needed is sober-minded reason, and in actuality, if people have a firmer grasp on logic, it helps to have more charitable discussion.
Now what I mean by “charitable” does not mean that you can’t dish out firm or harsh criticism. After all, I eviscerated Shaun King for his utterly stupid response to the Las Vegas shooting. Still, I clearly argued why King’s article was built on worthless arguments as opposed to simply attributing all sorts of bad motives to him without evidence. And that’s what’s needed: An evaluation of evidence and argument, not knee-jerk reactions to satisfy anger. Thus, I mean “charity” to be the avoidance of attributing the worst motivations to your opponent (unless you have good reason to) but instead trying to understand what his argument is and answer it. Such evaluation needs some basic understanding of logic.
I often like listening to podcasts of various sorts when I eat (sports, politics, or theology), so I looked for one while eating lunch today. I checked on what podcasts were available on the sports/culture website The Ringer because while I care little for their takes on pop culture and politics, they do have some good sports content, especially concerning the NBA. Surprisingly, the newest podcast for The Ringer NBA Show featured Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong NY, and he talked with the website’s founder Bill Simmons about Lentz’s relationships with NBA players and other celebrities. Simmons is a unique and entertaining (if often annoying) voice in the sports world, building his average guy brand as “The Sports Guy” first at ESPN, but he is far from a religious person. In fact, he admitted that Lentz is the first pastor he’s ever had on his podcast. This seems to be part of Lentz’s media tour for his new book, as he recently showed up on The View.
Most people have read about the tragic shooting that occurred in Las Vegas recently, where a 64 year old man, Steve Paddock, open fired from his hotel room upstairs down at a crowd during a country music concert. Fifty-nine people are reported dead with over 500 wounded. It was the worse mass shooting in modern American history, and everyone is reeling and trying to find answers. It is no doubt an evil event that causes both sadness and anger.
Of course, whenever tragedy like this strikes, it doesn’t take long for people to politicize it in order to further their own preferred narrative in a way that is both transparent and idiotic. I get that people are angry and grieving and trying to look for ways to make sense of this, but some people are reaching far into the deep crevices of their own rear ends to find whatever they can to shout at their political enemies. It is both intellectually dishonest and pretty insensitive to the actual tragedy.
Last weekend, we were treated to a bunch of kneeling by NFL players during the national anthem. The Steelers didn’t even come out on the field because they could not decide what to do as a team. Unsurprisingly, this caused a lot of division (what else is new these days?); stadiums across the country booed the players, and social media exploded with people denouncing the players as unpatriotic or defending them as brave people taking a stand (figuratively speaking). For people who just want to watch sports without having people trying to shove their political ideologies down their throat, the whole thing was only worthy of eye-rolling and annoyance.
As you may remember, the kneeling started with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who, despite having a few productive years for the 49ers, only became a household name because of his kneeling stunt. He said he was protesting systemic racism among police against blacks. While he got a lot of publicity, there really was no movement started, so although the media kept the narrative alive because they claimed he was blacklisted by the NFL due to this, most of the country didn’t care that much. Why? Because he’s just a guy playing with a ball (and he’s not even that good anymore), and given his interviews, he’s also not particularly great at forming coherent arguments.
A while ago, I wrote a blog post giving a nuanced look at an unfortunate decision by some of the professors of our seminary to post an inside joke on Twitter… where, you know, everyone on earth can see it without understanding any context. I criticized them for that, but at the same time, I also pointed out that ignoring context and loudly screaming “Racist!” was also foolish. You can do both: Criticize the professors for doing something unwise but also understand the context of their picture and why it’s not racist.
Unsurprisingly, my article got some blow back (it also got a lot of support), though none of this blow back dealt with the main argument. Instead, what got a lot of attention was a throw-away line in the article (again, in the context of actually criticizing these professors for posting that picture on the internet):
Given our hyper-sensitive culture these days, where even stating bare facts like “There’s a very high rate of single-motherhood in the black community” can draw accusations of racism, it was foolish to post that online. That’s not to excuse our hyper-sensitive culture, but surely a joke like that is not worth the controversy and potential damage to the witness of the professors as well as that of the seminary.
Many people latched on to this line with great offense (though I’ll repeat, it had little to do with the main argument, and it was a comment about the culture as a whole which honestly shouldn’t be that controversial). “How dare you call people hyper-sensitive!” “You can’t fault people for how they feel!” “You shouldn’t invalidate people’s emotions!” So on and so forth. What is interesting is that virtually all of these comments came from Christians.
This honestly squares with my experience both from within and without the church when people’s emotions are criticized. These days, when someone is told he is being too sensitive, that his anger is unjustified, that his jealousy is irrational, or that his hurt feelings have no bearing on the truth of a matter, the typical response from him and others around him is to have varying levels of anger and shock. The implicit assumption is that emotions are always uncontrolled responses, always valid, and ultimately unassailable.
The problem with this line of thinking for Christians is rather simple: It is far from a biblical stance (not to mention counter-intuitive if you really think about it). The fact of the matter is that the Bible implies that we are accountable for how we feel and that our emotions can very well be wrong. Notice what I did not say; I did not say that how you act due to your emotions can be wrong, though that is of course true. I said the very emotions you have can be wrong, sinful, selfish, or irrational if they are unreasonable and/or come from a wrong heart. As unpopular and surprising as this is for many Christians (and especially non-Christians), this is what Scripture teaches.