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Online Christian Discourse in Fall 2021

Liberal Christian author Tony Campolo is famous for having audibly uttered the following, which I have censored with asterisks. More asterisked profanity follows.

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a s***. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s*** than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Discussion of hunger aside, with ironic apologies to Dr. Campolo, you probably were or are offended. Why exactly? And why does it matter?

Consider how scripture addresses the topic of the nature of our speech.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
(Colossians 4:5–6 ESV)

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
(Titus 2:7–8 ESV)

In these passages, the focus is not merely on avoiding individual curse words but on sound and gracious speech. This itself is a proper extrapolation from the second greatest commandment. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, not merely to avoid doing things to our neighbor that we wouldn’t want done to us.

Even for now, “f***” and “s***” are still vulgar. The Federal Communications Commission in the year 2021 has still found it fit to keep them public airwaves to a large degree. But they did issue a mere verbal wrist slap to NBC when U2’s Bono, inexplicably hailed by seminary professors as a Christian artist who preaches the Psalms by music while also advocating for legalized baby murder in Ireland, fleetingly uttered “f******g brilliant” at the 2003 Golden Globe awards. But they may be becoming less taboo over time. None of us should be surprised if the FCC lightens up on them in the next decade.

According to linguist John McWhorter, “d***” and “h***” once occupied the level of offense we now attribute to “s***” and “f***.” After all, things of God concerned people far more than things of the human body’s physical functions. As English-speaking Christians, we recognize that there is a difference between using these terms recreationally and proclaiming the biblical truth that God will at some point damn sinners to hell. One is the necessary proclamation of an uncomfortable truth, and the other is hyperbole, perhaps even taking too lightly the things of God. But whether such speech offends depends more on the hearer (and potentially his perception of appropriate or inappropriate setting) than the speaker.

Outside the church, a cultural shift has occurred over the last century. Of the words mentioned here so far, the comfortable terms are those whose background is God’s righteous judgment of sin. The less comfortable terms concern the bathroom and the bedroom. The most universally problematic terms of all nowadays are racial slurs, some more offensive than others, a development that has arguably taken a stronger foothold in the last fifteen years.

Within the English-speaking church, we reject cursing on the level of “f***” and “s***” altogether. Have you ever stopped to ask why, and why these particular terms? It’s not merely their underlying etymological referents. We can have polite discussion of sexual relations in the proper context, but even in these polite contexts, we don’t just throw “f***ing” in the middle of it without some expectation and intention of adversity. And how many English-speaking parents have children who will make it to the age of three without telling a poop joke? We helplessly attempt not to laugh at them while telling our kids not to say them. I even wrote the word there. But if your seven-year-old makes a “s***” joke, you’ll be launching a congressional inquiry as to where he or she learned that kind of foul language.

Why? It might interest our inner linguists, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to change much. Even The Gospel Coalition isn’t going to publish a blog article called, “Why It’s Okay to Use Curse Words and S***.” The offense of such terms is buried deeply into our culture. So long as we care about the scripture passages cited earlier, we avoid these terms and teach our kids to avoid them once they finally figure them out (and they will). All that is to say this: what we — whether in the secular culture or the church culture — consider to be profanity is a matter of culture. When we speak and write, we do so not only with our own hearts in mind but also the ears of those with whom we communicate.

Let me say that again: the heart of the speaker and the ear of the hearer BOTH matter.

Let’s consider two forms of communication that have become more popular as of late. The first one is “Let’s Go Brandon.” You may believe yourself that it isn’t vulgar. Much of your audience believes it is. Sure, the words themselves don’t warrant asterisks, but the intention is clear. If you disagree, would you actually write “I hope Joe Biden gets sexually violated”? “But there aren’t any curse words” wouldn’t excuse that phrase. You’d might as well just say “Eff Joe Biden” because it means the same thing and contains no asterisks.

The second issue is memes and tweets that compare President Biden to Hitler, e.g. “Herr Joe Biden,” compare the COVID vaccine to the Holocaust, etc. Much like how single-word vulgarity can invoke sex (including rape), feces, or divine judgment, these communications invoke a crime against humanity. They are clearly hyperbolic, much like how you “akshully” don’t want President Biden to be sexually violated. They utterly disrespect and reject the fellowship of any and all readers who disagree with you, and they profane our witness. They are not unlike cursing with racial slurs.

We shouldn’t use Godwin’s Law to reject any and all comparisons to Nazis. But if you wish to make that kind of comparison with respect to government officials or health care, there are ways to do without distasteful hyperbole.

I’ve come under fire lately for executing a multitude of Twitter blocks. By and large, these are why. No, I didn’t have these thoughts fully developed in mind and think carefully about each one. They were rather swift and determined, even right-brained, and not unlike had I seen cursing from a fellow believer. It took some processing, but I understand this now and stand by my actions.

I hope we can do better someday.

Essays

A Very Serious Statement Concerning Pulpit and Pen

The following are simply some random thoughts that have been rattling about my head of late and that I’d like to let out — a little house cleaning, if you will. One of the first facts we should face is that Pulpit and Pen is an opportunist. That is, it is an ideological chameleon, without any real morality, without a soul. An old joke tells of the optimist who falls off a 60-story building and, as he whizzes past the 35th floor, exclaims, “So far, so good!” But it is not such blind optimism that causes Pulpit and Pen’s coadjutors to think that they can promote mediocrity over merit. Pulpit and Pen embraces conformism with open arms. And if that seems like a modest claim, I disagree. It’s the most radical claim of all.

I use such language purposefully — and somewhat sardonically — to illustrate how Pulpit and Pen keeps trying to legitimize the fear and hatred of the privileged for the oppressed. And if we don’t remain eternally vigilant, it will really succeed. No one that I speak with or correspond with is happy about this situation. Of course, I don’t speak or correspond with quasi-devious, jaded rotters, Pulpit and Pen’s deputies, or anyone else who fails to realize that Pulpit and Pen’s prevarications are not an abstract problem. They have very concrete, immediate, and unpleasant consequences. For instance, solecism is not merely an attack on our moral fiber. It is also a politically motivated attack on knowledge. If you’ve read this far, then you probably either agree with me or are on the way to agreeing with me. Call me a cynic, but it is singularly apt that I haven’t the foggiest idea why Pulpit and Pen wants to rally for a cause that is completely void of moral, ethical, or legal validity. The mere mention of that fact guarantees that this letter will never get published in any mass-circulation periodical that Pulpit and Pen has any control over. But that’s inconsequential, because only the impartial and unimpassioned mind will even consider that the picture I am presenting need not be confined to Pulpit and Pen’s manifestos. It applies to everything it says and does.

What a cunning coup on the part of Pulpit and Pen’s slaves, who set out to overthrow democratic political systems and got as far as they did without anyone raising an eyebrow. Pulpit and Pen does, occasionally, make a valid point. But when it says that it is not only acceptable, but indeed desirable, to commit confrontational, in-your-face acts of violence, intimidation, and incivility, that’s where the facts end and the ludicrousness begins. Pulpit and Pen loves getting up in front of people and telling them that it is the ultimate authority on what’s right and what’s wrong. It then boasts about how it’ll impose ideology, control thought, and punish virtually any behavior it disapproves of one day. It’s all part of the media spectacle that is Pulpit and Pen. Of course, it soaks it up and wallows in it like a pig in mud. Speaking of pigs and mud, Pulpit and Pen’s worshippers claim to have no choice but to remove society’s moral barriers and allow perversion to prosper. I wish there were some way to help these miserable, dim-witted dunderheads. They are outcasts, lost in a world they didn’t make and don’t understand. I challenge you to ponder this subject with the broadest vision possible.

News

A Short Lesson in Fake News Headlining

As I was browsing a Teamsters group on Facebook this morning, I came across a headline that seemed rather relevant to my line of work. It states that Amazon workers are “working without air conditioning, experiencing exhaustion and dehydration.”

Amazon_Warehouse_Workers_Say_They_Have_Been_Working_Without_Air_Conditioning__Experiencing_Exhaustion_and_Dehydration.jpg
Screenshot from article

The scene in the photo is a familiar one to my co-workers and me. Our (not Amazon) hub takes in trailers that look very much like this one, filled to the top with packages to unload. The conveyor belt in the middle can extend all the way to the back of the trailer, enabling us to get packages out without repeatedly walking the length of the trailer. Like the conditions mentioned in the article, only certain areas of the hub are air conditioned. The “work” areas are not. Moreover, my primary line of work is terminal tractors, and most of ours also are not equipped with air conditioning. These days, I’m consuming at least 160 oz. of water, with electrolytes, from the time I enter to the time I leave.

Naturally, this being a Teamsters group on Facebook, some commented that Amazon workers should unionize in order to prevent this kind of thing. I suspect many of them didn’t actually read the article. And obviously, if our being unionized doesn’t earn us air conditioned hubs, terminal tractors, or delivery vehicles, it’s downright illogical to think Amazon workers will fare any differently just because they unionize.

Now that you’ve had a short education in such things, let’s read some of this story.

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — A group of East African employees is asking retail giant Amazon to improve working conditions at an eastern Minnesota warehouse.

Employees at the Eagan facility made the request at a Monday news conference called by the Awood Center, which defends the rights of East African workers, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

The employees allege they have experienced exhaustion, dehydration and injuries while working without air conditioning. Workers said the conditions are particularly difficult for Muslim workers who are celebrating Ramadan and observing a strict fast.

“Recently, I couldn’t work because I needed water,” Nimo Hirad, an order picker at the facility, said through an interpreter. “I got so thirsty, I couldn’t even swallow my saliva. I ended up breaking my fast and drinking water two days in a row.”

How might we approach this? Maybe we need a conversation about the extent of required religious accommodations. Perhaps we should have a conversation about whether doing warehouse work in June without drinking water is a bad idea. The headline writer here appears more interested in making Amazon look bad and not offending any cultural sensitivities.

Amazon later announced that they were reducing quotas for workers celebrating Ramadan, which—if Amazon were unionized—would probably be met with several grievances filed by non-Muslim employees who were presumably forced to make up the gap.

I think I’ll go get a glass of water now.

News

Now Writing at Things Above Us!

The all-star team over at Things Above Us has brought me onboard as a writer. My first article is about how changes in NASCAR’s points system may reflect negative societal changes. The rest of the blog is much more worth checking out and subscribing to.

IMG_3969
A restart at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2014. Photographer: Garrett O’Hara.

Moka Thought will continue as an outlet for things that don’t fit within Things Above Us.

 

Short findings

“Gideon Knox” reviewed J.D. Hall’s book in 2013

My own browsing of Amazon.com today revealed a customer review of J.D. Hall’s book, Help, Mom! There are Arminians Under My Bed! written by “Gideon Knox,” a known pseudonym for Hall.

Customer_Review

J.D. Hall is best known as the leader behind the Pulpit & Pen discernment blog. Gideon Knox is the name of his LLC and the name under which he left a comment on my blog back in 2016.

Update 2: The following exchange contains new information on this matter.

Kathryn_Andrews_on_Twitter___He_stated_the_Amazon_account_with_the_name_Gideon_Knox_is_registered_to_his_wife_s_email__He_did_not_specify_who_actually_wrote_and_submitted_the_review__Either_way_it_s_not_a_legit_impartial_review_…_https___t_.png

Update 3: I somehow made this post blank for about 1.5 hours. Kind of weird, but its up now, I hope.

Book review

How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint by Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft. How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2016.

Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and King’s College whose name may be known to older evangelicals as one of the signatories to Evangelicals and Catholics Together (1994). He also describes himself as a former Calvinist.

In How to Be Holy, Kreeft lays out a theology of sanctification intended for members of nearly any theistic religion. As a popular-level book, it tends to avoid such longer terms as ‘sanctification’ in favor of such descriptions as hinted on its cover as ‘being holy’ and ‘becoming a saint.’ As a Protestant approaches the book, one may be inclined to believe that the title refers to justification, but its content is indeed more towards sanctification, and “Becoming a Saint” isn’t referring to Vatican canonization. It’s also important to note that despite the sound of the title, Kreeft is not arguing for the possibility of perfect sanctification in this life. As a theology of sanctification, however, it suffers from its Roman Catholic theological underpinnings and a hermeneutic which fails to account for the immediate context of individual scripture verses.

Continue reading

Essays

“Grid girls” ban reveals motives, blurs cultural lines

Formula One announced yesterday that they have now banned the practice of using “grid girls” during Grand Prix weekends. The move follows similar recent actions from the World Endurance Championship and Formula E.

For the very uninitiated, Formula 1 is widely considered the peak level of single-seater, open cockpit, open wheel auto racing. It races in twenty-one countries annually, garners an annual television viewership of 350 million people, and is worth $8 billion USD (just the corporate ownership, not including the teams). F1 might seem to be small fry in the United States. Worldwide, especially in Europe, it commands much attention. Continue reading