November 9, 2023

Polarised: Gunning Down Activists and Tearing Down Posters

The Polarised World: Part One

This is a still picture from a video of a 77 year old former law professor gunning down two environmental activists who had blocked a road in Panama as a protest. A video is also available on Twitter. I won’t link that.

Note the spent casing as it jumps from the gun. This is the picture of a murderer.

He gunned them down in cold blood. Twitter went wild. Wild with anger. And delight. Yes, with delight. And also with irony. Comments such as:

This picture is meme-worthy as hell, not gonna lie.

Well that’s all good then. Someone’s gonna make mileage from it.

The Polarised World: Part Two

Meanwhile this is a picture of “good girls” in New York (their father says he raised them to be good at least), tearing down pictures of kidnapped Israelis who are now in secret locations in Gaza, hidden by Hamas and being used as bargaining chips. When challenged they yelled “F… the Jews”.

Despite that, despite their actions, their father can see that perhaps they are justified in doing it. Though he drew a line at the use of the “F” bomb.

Once again Twitter went wild. Meme-worthy I suspect.

The Polarised Post-Christian West

Welcome to the polarised, lawless world. We cannot escape it. Good old globalism has brought much to our doors, including the conflicts from around the world. Turns out we are as deeply polarised in the modern West, and increasingly as deeply violent in our responses to this polarisation.

We can no longer say these things are external to us. They are us. Of course they always were. There’s been violence everywhere at every time, but the global conflicts, the cultural divisions, are widening the cracks. The culture wars in the West are threatening to break out into actual war.

This is not going away. We are fracturing. We recently held a referendum in Australia that the Prime Minister said was a step towards unity. The unity boat has sailed. The unity boat has sunk. Only those who live in a bubble (and the Prime Minister lives in the biggest, most hermetically sealed bubble of all, Australia’s capital, Canberra) could possibly think that we can politic our way of the huge fissures in our times.

We’ve been looking for something to glue us together for a while. Something to underpin what we think is right and true and good, now that we have decided that Christianity is none of those things, or indeed the opposite of them. What’s true, right and good today? I am! My actions are! I will justify them in any way that I can and flip the middle finger to anyone who suggests otherwise. Or pop a bullet in their neck. Or tear down their missing poster.

And so we scratch around looking for something else to bring us together. And all we are doing is drifting apart. No, tearing ourselves apart. Polarising from each other. Here we are in a seemingly nuanced, diverse world (that’s what we are being told anyway), and all we have is light/dark, day/night, right/wrong.

Seems we still want law. But we want our law. My law. And any culture that steps away from God’s law finds, to its surprise and dismay that it can’t keep up with the number of laws that need to be written. That’s why in the Garden before disobedience set in, there was one “No” and a million “Yeses”. Now? The No’s outstrip the Yeses, and counting.

The post-Christian West has no framework from which to argue its case. About anything. Everything is a stand and deliver. A fatal shot to the neck. A mindless tearing down of the faces of the innocent. Welcome to the world that things such as identity politics have delivered us.

Welcome to the ahistorical world in which the killing of six million Jews has been forgotten, so much so that 102 Holocaust survivors in Australia recently penned an open letter that included these deep concerns:

But we will, won’t we. We always do. But that’s even to admit we know anything about history. We’re raising the least historically-educated generation in history who can pick a micro-aggression on a university campus at 100 paces, but can causally, and with a cold heart, tear down pictures of kidnapped children.

Now I’m a political conservative, so expect a certain airbrushing of the Left’s history in our education system. Yet even I was astonished that when my daughter studied Nazism in upper school history, all its horrors were unfolded. But when she studied the rise of communism, there was nary a mention of the gulags, or the hatred of the Jews by the communists.

The West is post-Christian and post-historical. The West is post-historical because it is post-Christian. All that exists is the here and now, and a barely contained rage at something or someone.

And an uncontained rage that seems to come from the other direction: this time progressive activists being murdered in cold blood by an older white dude with a gun. It’s horrific. And, clearly, according to Twitter, ironic and meme-worthy. What have we become?

Polarisation: How To Flourish as a Community

I’ve got a new book coming out. It’s called Futureproof: How to live for Jesus in a culture that keeps on changing. I’ve written a chapter on polarisation. Why? Because that’s the future. That’s the present actually. And a post-Christian West is simply going to fracture into smaller and smaller parts. We’re poles apart and drifting further. Whitegoods and trips to Bali won’t salve it. Identity politics or reactionary politics won’t solve it. As much as I admire much about Jordan Peterson, he won’t solve it either. Though I think the recent ARC conference in London was asking a lot of the right questions.

Yet some of you reading this will see the ARC conference as part of the problem not part of the solution as I do. So, undoubtedly, my views will polarise some of you. I can live with that. Can you? Some people can’t live with that. Some people clearly have to kill over these ideas.

Is there any hope? I don’t call my book Futureproof for no reason. I do think that the diminishing of the church in the West is a critical reason for the polarisation. But that also means that I believe that the return of the church in the West can be the solution. That it can bring about a sweet unity beyond identity or reactionary politics. The bubble of Canberra won’t solve this. Only the bulwark of Christ’s church will.

I say this, among other things, in that chapter as I explore the cultural, polarised mess that was the island of Crete in which the Holy Spirit had birthed the church of God through the Gospel of Christ (a veritable tri-unity of work):

Paul’s letter to Titus is a great example of doing relationally
rich life together as God’s people. And it’s helpful as we
discuss polarisation, because the wider societal life of
Crete (where Titus was working among the churches)
seems to have been toxic, to say the least. Crete had a
reputation for exhibiting some challenging behaviours:
the words “lazy”, “liars” and “brutes” come to mind (Titus
1 v 12)! Paul’s description of Crete makes it seem like a
cheap package-tour island of personal pleasure. Yet he
wanted to ensure that the Cretan church “hit different” to
the rest of the island’s inhabitants.
The surrounding cultural chaos and relational debris did
not have to define the church. Paul instructed Titus to shape
an alternative Cretan community. This change was focused
on Christians and would only be possible by the power of
the gospel—yet it would also be good for the whole society.
Paul’s instructions to bondservants, for example, aimed to
ensure “that in every way they will make the teaching about
God our Saviour attractive” (2 v 10).

I say a lot of other stuff in there too. Stuff I’m known for. Stuff about culture and social trends. But let me be super clear. It’s the church of Jesus Christ that will model true unity to a polarised world. Not that that church will accept everything through its doors. Leave your identity idols and your reactionary idols at the door. Or at least bring them in and allow the good news of Jesus to melt them down and expose them as the “fool’s gold” they consist of.

Our hope is in the gospel transforming society. And yes, in doing the Christian framework again in the public square. Let’s not forget that. I’ve got a whole chapter on that in there too.

But until then, buckle in. We’re set for law professors gunning down progressive activists. And we’re set for progressive activists tearing down posters. And we’re in for a wild ride. Time to pray.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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