The Great Urban-Rural Divide and the Feudal Pyramid

“The Monday morning after the 2016 election, in a gas station in a logging town in north-west Wisconsin, I asked a group of retired and working men what they thought Trump would do to help them. Ron, a logger, replied: ‘Nothing. Nothing. We’re used to living in poverty, we’re used to it. It ain’t never going to change. How many times we got to tell you that? But you don’t listen.’”[1]

The problem is the Feudal Pyramid.

Seriously.

Rural has been on the bottom of the pyramid for a long, long time. The only way it will ever get out of the bottom is if urban sprawl overtakes and gentrifies it. And then where will it go?

The Feudal Pyramid had God at the top. Then came the king, the nobles, the knights, and finally the peasants. The peasants were farmers, sheep herders, shopkeepers, tradesmen, crafters, crofters—like they still are today. Rural. Country. People “used to living in poverty.”

Where did this system come from?

It came down from the top. From the people at the top of the pyramid. Of course that’s where it came from. Where else would it come from?

God at the top meant challenging the system was challenging God—not a good idea when the church stood ready to torture and burn people who did that. God is what philosophers call a “first cause”—the missing link when you’re trying to explain something by tracing it back through a cause and effect chain and get to the point where you can’t trace it back anymore. That’s when you put a “first cause” in place that gets the whole thing started. You know you’ve reached a first cause when you sound like a parent, “Because I said so, that’s why.”

Nothing caused God, God caused himself. God existed because… because he said so, that’s why. There’s no God exam he had to pass, no professional credentials he had to acquire or memberships he has to maintain, no ethical standard of conduct, no required professional education to stay current, no review board to call him to account. God isn’t accountable to anyone, for anything. He just sits up there on top—way on top—of the pyramid, doing whatever he wants, and everybody else just has to deal.

How would we ever know anything about this totally autonomous and authoritarian God who sits on top of the pyramid dictating everything and everybody all the time without being accountable to anybody or anything?

Because somebody higher on the pyramid told us.

Are we seeing a pattern here?

Rural people like God more than urban people. God in charge? Check. Right below God on the pyramid is God’s “Anointed,” whose job is… well, I’ve never been quite sure what his job is or when or how he gets appointed, which allows for all sorts of improvisation, but as far as I can tell the position can be filled by various people at various times. In Medieval times, they kept it simple:  God’s Anointed was the king.

The USA imported its law from England, where “crown immunity” declared that “the king can do no wrong.” Since God put the king in place, there was no higher human authority than the king. If he screwed up, God could always take him out, which theoretically would keep him under control, but to avoid any debate about whether the king was screwing up or not, crown immunity also declared that the king was endowed with God’s absolute perfection, so it was impossible for him to do wrong—in fact, he couldn’t even think about doing wrong.

Seriously. That was the law. The king wasn’t accountable to anybody—other than theoretically to God—because he could do no wrong. There was nothing to complain about. It was all good.

The New World colonists thought all that sounded like a plan, so they brought the legal concept with them. And when they got tired of the King of England doing no wrong they kept the legal concept of “crown immunity” but gave it the new name “sovereign immunity,” which meant that their newly anointed President (and people in certain other governmental positions) can do no wrong while they’re governing the people who are lower than them in the pyramid. And if their buddies get in trouble, there are also Presidential pardons to pass around.

Seriously. That’s what our law says. Nice to know our legal system is doing its part to keep the feudal pyramid intact.

I still remember learning about all that in law school. “Government has to be free to govern,” our law professor explained, “If you start holding government liable, nobody’s going to want the job.”

Oh well yes of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

God in place? Check. President and his buddies in place? Check. Next came the nobles and then the knights. The nobles were the capitalists and demagogues and one percenters of their day—the wealthy and powerful, elitist and entitled captains of land and industry who hung around the halls of power and fretted over whether they were extracting enough blood from turnips. The peasants grew the turnips. They were also treated like turnips when it came to blood-letting. The nobles funded the knights—the military-industrial complex of the day.

The nobles bitched about the king and his taxes, but not too loudly, and the knights could go rogue but their Code of Chivalry mostly kept them in line, so the whole thing went along mostly as planned—every level of the pyramid accountable to the one above and free to mess with the people below all they liked, and every lower level careful to give due respect and pay their duty to the level above.

Except for the peasants. Being a peasant was a one-way proposition. They owed a duty of servitude to everybody above them, but had no one to lord it over. All they could do was bully each other and complain about the people above—pointlessly, fruitlessly, vainly. Mostly, their duty was to suffer their solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives. Every now and then some idealist would lead an eventually brutally-crushed rebellion on their behalf, but mostly they carried on silently, sullenly, hopelessly… if they knew what was good for them.

That’s what it meant to be Rural. It still does.

“It ain’t never going to change.
How many times we got to tell you that? But you don’t listen.”

It seems that civilization isn’t ready for the people on top governing for the general welfare that poly-sci idealists occasionally dream of. Doing that would make the people on top accountable to the people below.

Not going to happen.

We’re apparently okay with the feudal pyramid and crown and sovereign immunity because we need government and laws and institutions to keep life from being even more solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short than it already is. Which is why the guys (the Founding Fathers’ pronouns are definitely male) who talked about “live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and wrote in the Preamble to the Constitution that one of its purposes of their new government was to promote the “general welfare” also declared that a slave counted as 60% of a person.

The Bible helpfully explains that God never meant for the pyramid to be necessary—what he wanted was a direct relationship with his people, but the ancient Israelites looked around at the kingdoms they were destroying and thought it would be good to have a king like them. The request made God mad and the people were clearly acting like the sinners they were, but God complied with the request, and since then we’ve had the pyramid.

So the pyramid is all our own fault. We asked for it. We wanted it this way.

And where do you suppose that explanation came from?

From somebody at the top of the pyramid. We’re definitely seeing a pattern here.

But like everything else, the pyramid has changed with the times. Now we have another reason to keep it around:  so we can climb it. Or more accurately, to keep the myth around that we can climb it.

Climbing the pyramid is one of the greatest frauds ever foisted on the human race—right in there with “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” As usual, the fraud lands hardest on the people that could most benefit it if were actually true.

The member of the month at the gym where I used to work out was a guy in his early 20’s. One of the “get to know me” questions asked “Who motivates you the most?” His answer: “My dad, who taught me that hard work can give you anything, as long as you can dedicate time and effort.”

The answer is predictably, utterly American. “Hard work can give you anything”—yes of course, everybody knows that. Parents tell it to their kids and the kids believe it. America is the Land of Opportunity; it gives you every chance for success, and now it’s up to you. “Anything you want” is yours for the taking – and if you don’t take it that’s your problem not America’s.

But don’t blame the Republicans, because they’re doing their best to banish government and its character-destroying handouts from our lives so the free market can make everything all better, which is why they voted in unison against the infrastructure bill and since then have been lining up for its evil socialist handouts.

A lot of those Republicans lining up are Rural. They just get smaller shares out in the hinterlands.

Back in the day they’d have a greased pole at the county fair. Guys (always guys) would try to climb it. Everybody would watch and laugh. That’s the myth of upward mobility in action. The pyramid doesn’t want to be climbed. Climb it, and you bring it down, expose it for the system of servitude it is. The pyramid says hey don’t blame the rich if you’re not rich. I mean, give ‘em a break—they’re up there making you work your butt off so they can get rich enough for their riches to trickle (trickle, not flow) down to you. If the people on top help the people below they’ll get lazy, the nobles won’t get rich anymore and then where would we all be?

And Rural is okay with it. Rural loves the Republicans, loves capitalism, “free” enterprise, the “free” market, everything “free.” Rural don’t need no stinking handouts. Rural is content to wait around for the trickle that never comes down.

Go away. Just go away. Leave us alone. We can take care of ourselves out here. That’s what we’ve always done while you townies namby-pamby around. Nothing’s going to change anyway. Thus our hyper-inequitable hyper-privatized hyper-monetized hyper-capitalism keeps Rural in its place. That’s how the pyramid works. All that onward and upward isn’t true, and we know it. Rural people work really, really hard and still don’t get what they want. It’s part of the deal, down at the bottom. Like the man said:

“It ain’t never going to change.
How many times we got to tell you that? But you don’t listen.”

Of course, plenty of Urban people are also game to tackle the greased pole. Why? Why do we keep saying and believing something that isn’t true? Because to do otherwise would be un-American. This is where Rural steps up again. Rural is where the Real Patriots are. Patriotism elevates the boast:  America doesn’t just offer opportunity, it gives everybody equal opportunity—just like Teddy Roosevelt said:

“I know perfectly well that men in a race run at unequal rates of speed. I don’t want the prize given to the man who is not fast enough to win it on his merits, but I want them to start fair.”

Equal opportunity means everybody starts together. No, not everybody wins, but still… no matter who you are or where you’re from, everybody has the same odds. None of that feudal pyramid class system here.

Fair. Free. Every man for himself. That’s Rural.

Except equal opportunity is not true either, and we know that, too. And it’s especially not true in Rural.But that’s another self-evident truth that’s been grooved into our American neural circuits since the beginning:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the .pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”[2]

We’re all equals here in America, divinely ordained to pursue the good life. That’s our creed, and we – “the governed” — declare that we believe it.

Even if it’s not true.

And one place it’s especially not true is—you guessed it—Rural America. But Rural doesn’t care, because equal opportunity is a foundational American cultural belief. Cultural myths are sacred – they’re afforded a special status that makes them off limits to examination. And national Founding Myths get the highest hands-off status there is—especially in Rural, where they’re especially not true. History and hindsight have a way of eventually outing cultural myths, but in the meantime the fraud is perpetrated, and attempts to expose it are shunned and punished as disloyal, unpatriotic, treasonous.

Welcome to Rural, where American myths are sacred. You don’t mess with American myths out here, even if they’re killing you.

If we can’t out the myth, what do we do instead? We blame ourselves. We confess that we weren’t smart enough, didn’t work hard enough, didn’t “dedicate the time and effort.” Or maybe we did all that but in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Guilt, shame, embarrassment, frustration, depression… we take them all on as personal failings, in the name of preserving the myth. God helps a lot with all of that—reminding Rural people every week that they are, after all, a bunch of sinners.

Ironically the ones who see through it are—you guessed it—the people at the top who got in before they closed the gates behind themselves.  Meanwhile, the people below—the decimated middle class, the new poor, the working poor… keep blaming themselves.

“I can’t pay my bills, afford a house, a car, a family. I can’t afford healthcare, I have no savings. Retirement is a joke. I don’t know how I’ll ever pay off my student loans. I live paycheck to paycheck. I’m poor. But it’s not my fault.”

Try saying that to Dad at the dinner table.

Horatio Alger is dead, but the equal opportunity myth stays alive on life support as American parents teach it to our children and elect politicians who perpetuate it, while all of us ignore the data that no, it really doesn’t work. Maybe 150 years ago when Horatio Alger was around. But now? No, not now.

“It ain’t never going to change.
How many times we got to tell you that? But you don’t listen.”

There’s no more enduring version of the American upward mobility myth than the rags-to-riches story codified into the American Dream by Horatio Alger, Jr. during the Gilded Age of Andrew Mellon, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and the rest of the 19th Century Robber Barons. If they can do it, so can the rest of us, given enough vision, determination, hard work, and moral virtue — that was Alger’s message.

Except it never worked that way, especially for the Robber Barons. There’s a reason they were called “Robber Barons.” They were ruthless opportunists aided by collusion and cronyism carried out in the absence of the antitrust and securities laws that would be enacted under the New Deal after history revealed the fraud.[3] But never mind that — according to Roughrider Teddy and politicians like him, government’s job is to guarantee equal opportunity for all, then get out of the way and let the race to riches begin.

There’s just one problem:  Horatio Alger told an urban story—you didn’t go from rags to riches by staying down on the farm.

Oops.

Still, every Rural high school is haunted by the local boy makes good story (usually male pronoun, although these days it’s usually a local girl who makes good). The local boy/girl is an underdog, and everybody loves an underdog—loves the upset, the incredible comeback, loves it when there’s no way but then all of a sudden the bigger, stronger, tougher, richer, better equipped opponent gets a comeuppance. The Rebel Alliance, La Résistance, the Miracle on Ice, David vs. Goliath—too many examples to list—we love them all.

The underdog story is about the reversal of power. The underdog tips over the pyramid. The peasants rise up, storm the gates. It’s not just that the weak win, it’s that the weak win over the strong. The pecking order is reversed. There’s always somebody with more brass, more money, more creds, more of whatever it takes to put us down and keep us there. In school it’s the principal. At work it’s the boss. In life, it’s death. But not this time. This time we win.

Underdogs and Horatio Alger and local kid makes good are the best kind of heroes. Their kind of heroism gives our lives meaning and purpose, sends us on quests and missions, makes us something other than the small, confused, barely getting by people living in a big confusing scary world that we really are. Heroism makes us suddenly bigger, better, grander, nobler, transcendent, immortal—the stuff of legends. Heroism makes us live forever.

Except heroism is Urban, too, and in its heart Rural knows it. Urban is where heroism gets funding. The only heroism funding out in Rural comes from government handouts, which we God-fearing Republicans know are evil.

So don’t get uppity. Who do you think you are? The people on top don’t owe you anything.

And don’t you have some work to do?


[1] The great American fallout: how small towns came to resent cities | Cities | The Guardian

[2] The Declaration of Independence.

[3] A great source for all the American history we never learned is Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism, Bhu Srinivasan (2017).

Goin’ Up the Country—The Great Urban-Rural Divide

I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away
All this fussing and fighting, man, you know I sure can’t stay

Goin’ Up the Country, Canned Heat (1968)

Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.[1]

Poverty with security is better than plenty in the midst of fear and uncertainty.[2]

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Aesop’s Fables (2600 B.C.)

Thinking of moving to the country?

Think again.

And again.

Keep thinking until that dreamy-eyed feeling goes away. Then I’ll order us some cakes and ale and we’ll talk about it. (I’m good with beans and bacon, too.)

And that bit about escaping fear and uncertainty? Yeah right. Fear and uncertainty are so everywhere nowadays, there’s a new Zen proverb for them:

Wherever we go, there they are.

Covid told us we can work anywhere, so why not in Arcadia’s rustic innocence simple quiet idyllic pastoral untroubled bliss? Don’t worry too much about roughing it—Arcadia comes with upgrades—nouveau-chic country home décor, country clothing, tools that feel substantial and life-affirming in your hands, plus microbrew and wild-caught salmon all delivered up the stone steps to your front door. Plus a gig of internet at the local co-working space.

Don’t fall for it. The Covid country craze was mostly a rumor.[3] It’s not that the makers of nouveau-chic country stuff were out to deceive you, the problem is you’re trying to deceive yourself.

I know these things because I’ve spent the last year living in Non-Arcadia. Writing this, I look away from the screen and the view is not just a mountain but a whole mountain range. There’s a life lesson in that view:  getting here isn’t climbing one peak, it’s crossing the whole range. We’ll call it the Great Urban-Rural Divide, and it’s not about geology, it’s about sociology—two sociologies, in fact—urban and rural are so sociologically different, each has its own branch.[4]

The Great Urban-Rural Divide is about worldview. Urban vs. rural worldview has been endlessly polled[5], conferenced over, and written into doctoral theses, but the pollster findings and academic papers don’t capture the essence. To get that, you need to experience it. Worldview isn’t about data and analysis, it’s the whole package of how we think life works—what’s safe and real and true and normal. And what’s not. Worldview runs in stealth mode—it operates in our assumptions, perceptions, prejudices, biases. It does its work while we’re not looking. And that can be a problem.

Worldview on one side of the Divide isn’t the same as on the other. You can’t just cross over and still be who you are now. We’re so used to celebrating our personal power and self-efficacy and freewill that we think if we zap ourselves from our current circumstances to somewhere else we’ll still be us, the same as we are now, living the same kind of life—a few adjustments to make, but otherwise we’ll fit right in.

Nope. Doesn’t work that way.

Worldview creates context. Context matters. We exist in context. We experience life in context. We find meaning in context. We express ourselves in context. We reach conclusions in context. Context is biological, cultural, environmental, temporal. There are huge contextual differences between urban and rural. The differences aren’t just a matter of taste, opinion, political preferences, educational levels, gender identity… the two worlds simply aren’t the same. The people on one side aren’t like the people on the other. Sometimes, the differences are so striking you wonder if they’re the same species.

The Great Urban-Rural Divide got a lot of attention after the 2016 and 2020 elections.[6] It seemed like something new but it’s not. Aesop wrote his fable The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse 2600 years old. It was probably inspired by his experience of visiting Delphi. Aesop was a country boy—his world was poverty with security, beans and bacon in peace. Delphi was bigtime urban—the Greeks thought it was the center (the navel) of the world. Plus there was Apollo’s temple and the famous oracle, and an impressive view of Mt. Parnassos… it must have been quite the scene.[7] Aesop met his end when his stories insulted the Delphians so much they threw him off a cliff. (Or made him jump, some historians clarify. Um… how exactly to you make someone jump off a cliff? Apparently the gods were country people too—legend is they avenged Aesop’s death with famine and pestilence.[8] I’m not buying that the gods were unanimous in their judgment—several of them had some pretty cosmopolitan tastes.)

I have a middle school memory of experiencing the Great Divide at Boy Scout camp in the Minnesota north woods. A troop from the Twin Cities had the campsite next to ours—we often took the same road to the main lodge at the same time. It seemed like I was always walking behind this one guy… He wore sandals and frayed white bellbottoms, had a keep on truckin’ way of walking, and he was always talking, always seemed to have a lot to say, was always holding court, had this cocky self-assurance.

He was like a one man sideshow. Mesmerizing. He didn’t demand attention, he assumed it. I didn’t know anybody like that. He entirely personified everything I’d ever felt when I met kids from the Twin Cities. When we had big dances—like homecoming—whoever arranged that kind of thing always brought in a band from the Cities. Our chaperones kept a wary eye. City kids knew things, did things. They were tough, cool, confident. Their high schools were a jungle. They had gangs. They had cigarettes and sex and beer.

They made headlines. We just read them.

They weren’t like us.

“Not like us”—three words that tell you everything you need to know about the Great Urban-Rural Divide.

On the country side, “not like us” often comes with a judgmental edge. They don’t get us. They don’t appreciate us. They can’t be trusted. We don’t want them telling us what to do. We do fine without them. The urbanites, on the other hand, don’t seem to care. Yeah, rural is out there, they vote differently but we outnumber them so sucks for them. Rural feels neglected and unappreciated and threatened while urban goes about its noise and haste. Rural is out there doing whatever it is that rural does while urban heads to the oyster bar with friends, with plans to catch the game later.

I was one of the smart kids in high school. My destiny was scripted—I would leave for college and never come back. Nobody knew what people did out there, but everybody knew that kids like me would go do it. It was the way of things. So I went to college where pretty much everybody was a city kid. They were smarter, talked about books and writers I’d never read, liked music I’d never heard, planned to major in subjects I didn’t know about, had been to places I wasn’t aware existed. I ran to catch up. By the time I graduated, the differences were gone on the outside, but there was still a lot of country on the inside.

My college sweetheart and I graduated and got married as the 70’s were making their post-60’s swerve into the 80’s. There was a back-to-the-land movement happening—one of many in a long historical line.[9] Where I came from was suddenly trendy. Living on a farm was suddenly cool. We had Mother Earth News and the Whole Earth Catalog. We had Dylan and The Band moving to Woodstock, Neil Young buying a farm in California, Paul Stookey doing his “John Henry Bosworth” routine in Maine, John Denver singing “Thank God I’m a country boy” in Aspen. We learned to cook vegetarian and make our own granola and yogurt, dreamed of building our very own geodesic domes and nightly guitar and harmonica jams passing the joint around the campfire. Dye-tie, bandanas, torn jeans with flower patches, macrame, peace signs, a broad-brimmed hat like George Harrison’s, some daisies in my girlfriend’s hair…

Arcadia.

My wife and I were a couple years into our marriage (yes, she wore a tiara of flowers) when we joined a house-church group (now I’m an atheist) that talked in awed tones about some families that were starting their own Christian commune in the country. They were actually growing their own food, chopping their own wood, plowing their own dirt, living off the land. We went with another couple for a visit.

Christian Country Utopia turned out to be three couples with small children living in the converted hayloft of a barn—family quarters separated by draperies hung on clotheslines, room heat and oven and cooktop provided by a potbelly stove in the center, lots of tie dye and bandanas and big hats and guitars and harmonicas, also a fiddle—don’t forget the fiddle. They said they had room for more but didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about it. Mostly they seemed kind of worn out, like they could use a hot shower and a laundromat. My wife and I and our friends had thought maybe we’d stay the night. We didn’t. Not enough FOMO to make us stay. Or want to go back.

My wife was a city girl—it was the better choice. Instead of heading back to the farm I became a city kid. We built a city life, raised city kids. Even then, I held onto this self-image of being one of those boys you couldn’t take the country out of. Now and then I’d go on a binge—read books like We Took to the Woods, The Egg and I, E.B. White’s essays about leaving NYC for Maine, Walden, everything Wendel Berry wrote. Once I spent a couple days at a Luddite conference at a Quaker church in southeast Ohio. One of the speakers was an Amish guy who described plowing that morning with his team of horses. I was in raptures—not that I’d ever driven a team of horses pulling a plow, it just sounded way cool. All that while building a career as a JD/MBA in management consulting and law. Go figure.

My career hit its stride when I switched from corporate, securities, mergers and acquisitions to estate planning and family business succession planning for agricultural families and their farms, ranches, and Main Street America businesses. I played my country boy card to the max while I cultivated a city boy law practice (I personally rarely met with our country clients—local people handled that).

Fast forward to today.

I said I didn’t want to leave where we were, but that’s a lie. I’m here because of an unresolved case of Goin’ up the Country. I hadn’t gotten my visions of Arcadia out of my system, and now here I am, living at the end of the world in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere not on the way to anywhere. Yes the view of the mountain range is something. Yes the air is clear. Is that enough to live on?

No.

Before we moved here my wife and I took a road trip looking for new affordable places to live. Where we ended up wasn’t on the list. It should have stayed that way. We were having an ice cream in a small town one day, watching the people and all the pickups and ag haulers and equipment rumbling by when my wife had an epiphany. “I get it,” she said, “All the stuff we think is so important, it’s not to these people. It’s not anywhere in their world.”

Not anywhere in their world. They’re not like us. We’re not like them. There’s a mountain range between us.

I’ve been out of law practice for several years (for reasons unrelated to the rural/urban thing, so I won’t go into them), but I thought hey why not, maybe I’ll fire up the estate planning practice again. It lasted exactly one client meeting, where I sat there thinking “if I have to do this for a living….”

That’s when the despondency began in earnest.

I had to find a new word for how I felt about living here that went beyond “depressed.” I settled on “despondent.” Despondence comes from a different place in your psyche. It’s deeper, thicker, heavier. It’s not about losing the struggle to be motivated and hopeful and upbeat, it’s a tangible emptiness that soaks into your whole body. Hope and courage, vibrancy and vision aren’t just gone where you can’t summon them, you don’t even want to—there’s no point in it, they don’t exist.

I looked into a new career in economic development and urban and regional design—you know, stop complaining and figure out how to turn this into the kind of place I’d like to live. I did some informational interviewing—the Dean of one design program listened to me describe where I lived. “Have you thought about moving?” she asked.

I know, I know… I’m acting urban. I need to get over myself, embrace my inner rural. Got it. Guilty as charged. But sometimes I think if I never see another pickup or hear another long-haul truck roaring down Main Street my life might be good again. That, and not having the guy with an open-carry pistol strapped on one hip and a Bowie knife on the other wishing me a “blessed day.” Then maybe I’d feel some of Aesop’s peace and security (not that it ended all that well for him).

Numbed. Shocked. Stunned. PTSD. Despondency will do that to you.

Lately I’ve been reading psychiatry books about things like death and stress and trauma. Turns out there was a lot packed into my unresolved country boy identity. I’m grateful for a chance to deepen. I’m working on a plan to come back to my senses, re-create myself.

I’m workin’ it.

And you?

I’d say think, think, and think some more, and then take some time for cakes and ale in fear, and enjoy some plenty in the midst of fear and uncertainty.

There’s a lot to be afraid of here, too.


[1] The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse – Fables of Aesop  Eliot/Jacobs Version,

[2] Library of Congress Aesop Fables (read.gov)

[3] Despite the pandemic narrative, Americans are moving at historically low rates (brookings.edu)

[4] Difference Between Rural and Urban Sociology | Compare the Difference Between Similar Terms

[5] For a long list of poll results and analysis, see Similarities and differences between urban, suburban and rural communities in America | Pew Research Center  May 22, 2018.

[6] Donald Trump and changing rural/urban voting patterns – ScienceDirect

[7] Delphi – Wikipedia. Delphi – HISTORY.

[8] Aesop – Wikipedia

[9] Back-to-the-land movement – Wikipedia

Dobbs Isn’t About Abortion

Protestors act like the overthrow of Roe v. Wade is about the law—about Constitutional rights, privacy rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, etc. It’s not.

The Democrats and progressives have taken up the cause on that basis. They’re wrong.

The demise of Roe v. Wade isn’t about anybody’s legal rights. It’s about the Bible. And since the people thumping Bibles in the USA’s public arena these days are Christians, it’s a Christian issue.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is about the Christian Right’s takeover of American law and culture.

That’s it. That’s the whole story.

We need to get that.

Argue all you want about laws and rights. Go ahead, occupy the outrage high ground. But do that and you miss the point entirely. The point is that the Christians have overrun the gates, gotten inside the walls, and now they’re running the government.

Just like they planned to do on Jan. 6.

Only this time they pulled it off.

That’s not just anti-Christian rhetoric, it’s what the Christians themselves think. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization supporters are celebrating because the case puts God back in charge of the U.S.—the way God always intended it to be.

If you’re going to protest and debate and argue and make your case, talk about that.

Talk about that openly and in public. Talk about it like people who have retained the ability to think might actually hear what you’re saying.

Everything else misses the central point.

To the Christian mind, Roe vs. Wade stood for the scandalous idea that pregnancy is biological. That’s not Christian. Pregnancy is not a biological issue, there’s a living soul in there—it’s a human life. So now we’ve got one human lifeoccupying space inside another human life, and pitting one against the other is wrong. They both have The Right To Life. To think otherwise is to plot murder. Murder has been against the law ever since God wrote “Thou shalt not kill” with his finger on a stone tablet and handed it to Moses. Roe put the mother’s rights over the baby’s, but God meant it when he said “Thou shalt not kill,” so Roe made God really, really mad, and he’s been punishing the U.S. ever since. And for just as long, Christians have been doing their duty to restore God’s law, which they finally achieved when their delegates on the Supreme Court adopted Dobbs. God’s law is back in charge, which is why women who get abortions are now criminals.

I swear I’m not making that up. Go back and listen and read what the Christians are saying and doing about Dobbs, and you’ll be convinced.

All of that is so disgusting that I can hardly stand to write it, and you can hardly stand to read it. But it’s what Christians think. The Christians who don’t think that way are heretics, and they know it.

I know that’s what Christians think because I was a Christian myself.

For the past five decades the Christian Right has been meticulously advancing, imposing, and enforcing their Biblical worldview on USA law, economics, and social life. The Christian Right movement began in response to Roe v. Wade. That’s a fact. Really. You can go back and trace it. Prominent evangelical luminaries such as Jerry Falwell and Francis Shaefer led a counter-revolution against what they perceived to be a decline in Bible-based social morality. Their initiative encouraged evangelical Christians to become politically active and offered popular support and funding. The initial goal was to make Biblical worldview normative. The end game was Christian Nationalism – a return to the USA’s beginnings as a “Christian nation.”

Now they’ve won their end game. And, drunk on their victory, they’re looking for more messes to clean up in the name of God. Just take a look at Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion.

Trump holding the Bible in front of St. John’s Church was the perfect iconic moment for the Christian Nationalist agenda. Pundits miss the point when they snicker about whether Trump knows what’s in the Bible. He doesn’t need to know—all he has to do is brandish the Bible, and the gesture says everything that needs to be said.

“Bible – that’s who we are. We are here to divide and conquer. We are here to create winners and losers, us and them, sheep and goats, wheat and weeds. We do as the Bible does – we separate and polarize, we advance our worldview and agenda at the expense of yours, and we are not afraid to act like the Bible’s people of God and use force if we need to. We have God on our side, but just in case we also have guns.”

Back in the day. I and my fellow Christians cheered for the Christian Right (not called that yet), prayed for them, believed in them. God forgive us, we didn’t know what we were doing. We had no clue that what we were cheering for would morph into fake truth and Christian Nationalism and believe-whatever-conspiracy-theories-you-want-and-the-more-bizarre-the-better. We didn’t see that a greedy, selfish, delusional mindset would take over the American mind, turn us to self-absorption and stupidity and the loss of community and the common good and pit us irreconcilably against each other.

Anti-Dobbs protestors think they’ve got such an airtight case that the Christian Nationalist social agenda is in open defiance of Constitutional rights such as voting, gender equality, and the separation of church and state that they don’t even need to talk about it. I mean, everybody knows that.

They need to talk about it. Everybody doesn’t know that.

That these things are an issue at all is because of a fatal flaw in the system. Our very Constitution was flawed in its creation by the Biblical Western Civilization European White Male Dominance that saturates its worldview. Racism, misogyny… its all in there. We were taught differently when we went to school, and we learned our lessons well. And now, the Christian Right, drunk on its newfound power, wants to make sure we can’t teach our children what really happened back then.

Democrats and progressives don’t talk about these things. They’re afraid to. I have never understood why. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t get to the real issues in your speeches? What’s the point of always cowering, being afraid of the hack job the media and the bigots are going to make of what you say?

You’d think we’d be sick of it and ready for something new. But no—Christianity’s new power to control the public ideological framework keeps our brains small and stupid, makes sure we never grow up, never talk about things that matter, never get past the psychological maturity and emotional intelligence of middle school.

We need to talk about things that matter.

And the Christian overthrow of our government matters.

We Made It All Up

God exists the way the USA and France and Pakistan exist – the way the Yankees and Lakers and Manchester United exist… the way Apple and Tesla and… well, you get the point.

Nations, sports teams, corporations – any group, class, organization you can think of – all of them exist because we think they do. They aren’t out there in the cosmos waiting for us to recognize their existence. We believe them into existence.

A bunch of guys in powder wigs decide they should have a new country, and they all buy into the idea. They believe it into existence. They write a Declaration of what they have in mind and they all sign it. They follow it with a war, then they write a Constitution, elect a first President and Congress…. 

That’s how institutions come into existence. Somebody gets an idea, a bunch of other somebodies get on board with it, and then they turn their idea into an institution. They give it a legal structure, adopt mission statements and strategic plans, somebody designs a flag for it, somebody else designs and sews uniforms, street vendors start selling swag with its colors, it prints and spends money, takes out loans and buys real estate and puts up buildings, sells things and stages events.… The psychological term for all that is emergence — the invisible idea everybody believes in takes on visible structure — it emerges into existence, becomes a shared reality. You can see, hear, taste. and touch it. It’s a part of things. Before long, it’s been around forever.

All thanks to the human ability to believe in an idea until it becomes a communal reality.

Patriotism and fandom and brand loyalty and religious devotion aren’t out there existing apart from anybody’s opinion on the matter, keeping track of who believes in them and who doesn’t and making a to-be-punished list of people who don’t. They only come into being because of the belief, intention, and follow-through of their believers. Take away belief and emergence and you don’t have a country or a team or a whatever – all you’ve got is a dreamer or a bunch of dreamers making things up that never take shape, never emerge, never become reality.

All you’ve got is a great concept that never gets produced.

Your people and my people never get together.

But keep in touch. We can do lunch.

To my new atheist way of thinking, belief plus emergence is how God, the Bible, Christianity, and all the rest of the God religions came to be.

God emerged into existence.

That’s heresy of course. “Heresy” is what happens when unbelievers think. Unbelievers can’t help but be heretics. If they were believers, their brains wouldn’t process heretical thoughts. But since they’re not, heresy comes naturally – it’s the standard fare, just another day at the office. They root for the Astros instead of the Cubs. They kneel for the National Anthem. They think high school kids shouldn’t have the “freedom” to open carry at school. And on it goes. Heretics all – because they don’t believe.

Believers, on the other hand, can’t be heretics. Belief won’t let them. Belief keeps its onward Christian soldiers marching smartly off to war. There’s no breaking ranks in believing. Heresy requires thinking outside the lines of belief. Galileo had to turn himself in to Rome because there’s no way a believer could think the earth goes around the sun. The Bible has it the other way around—everybody can see that. You can’t go your own way and be a believer at the same time. No getting out of line.

God can’t be a heretic either. God knows who he is, and the idea that he could have doubts about himself is ludicrous. True, some of the stuff God says and does and believes about himself is pretty out there, but God is entitled to be as out there as He wants. He’s God, after all. We believe God into an indescribably unattainable level of existence where all normal rules of behavior are off – including when God does things that would be criminal if we were talking about you and me. God can be as cruel and brutal, contradictory and arbitrary as he wants. God’s got to be tough enough to keep order – just think what humans would do if he let them. If sometimes what he does stretches the bounds of our theology, well, so be it. Besides, it’s useful to let God get away with stuff. Like war. The things that happen in war are crimes. But since God is okay with war – the Bible says his name is “Man of War” – then we can be Men of War as well. Thus the crimes of war are legalized.

How convenient.

When God emerged, we believed him out as far awa y from us as we could– we put him in a dwelling place of his own called Heaven – somewhere way out there beyond the edges of the universe. We decree that He’s sacred and we’re profane. He’s immortal, invisible, God only wise — omnipotent, omniscient, almighty — and we’re none of the above. He’s insanely, incomprehensibly rich and powerful, and he lives forever. We have this funny saying about people being “richer than God” but of course we don’t really mean it. Rich compared to God? Not a chance. Even the nations are a drop in the bucket compared to Him.

We think of God that way because we need God to be that big, that incomprehensible, that unapproachable. We need God’s presence to be so holy and powerful and scary that we have to tie a rope around the priest’s ankle so we can drag him out if he missteps while he’s inside the Holy of Holies and God can’t help himself and just lashes out and wastes him. We need God to dwell in unapproachable light, where there is no shadow or turning, to be right and true and just beyond reproach, no matter how abusive and sadistic and criminal he is in his agitated moments. God is the master of all that is mysterious, all the things that bug us, everything we can’t and never will figure out. God is the monarch of life and death, and all things comprehensible and not. We need to give him lots of space.

So of course we’re not going to venture that we just made the whole thing up – that we made God up. Mess with a God like that? Are you kidding?

But then we stop believing and now the unthinkable becomes possible. We become instant heretics. To our unbelieving way of thinking, the whole emerged reality of God and his religions is free to come a-tumbling down. We bring it down when we stop believing. It all burns up, crashes into the sea, vaporizes. Talk about special effects.

And that horrible God? We can be rid of him, too.

Just like that.

The brains of the human species hold onto beliefs for a long time – centuries and millennia, eras and eons – transferring belief from one generation of brains to the next generation of brains, far beyond the Biblical seventh generation. Thus God lives forever and his religions endure and outlast each faithful generation.

Stop believing, and it all ends.

God ends.

Imagine that kind of world of you can. You probably can’t. You might not want to. You’d have to be a nonbeliever to do it.

“I made it all up” sends everything we’ve ever known about God and his heaven and his creation whirling around the room like a balloon off its tether. Suddenly all those people, all that worship, all those holy lands and holy places, all that cosmology… all of it scattered, broken, discarded, despised, rejected. We created it all by belief. We destroyed it all by unbelief.

These kinds of thoughts are so radical, so extreme, so distant, so… wrong, just plain wrong… that our brains don’t want to go there. But they can, and will, and do…

If we stop believing.

I know, because it happened to me. Going from being a Christian to being a heretic was a turbulent flight for a long time. But then the air got smoother. I got used to my new apostasy. Life without my prior sense of always being under the thumb, under scrutiny, always having to figure it out, reconcile all the contradictions, solve all the conundrums, all that scrambling to explain and justify God… all of it faded away. God vanished – and when He did, the tempest, tumult, and trouble that were always required of believing in God ended. My new ways of thinking weren’t nearly so turbulent. I could just… well, sort of… think.

Imagine that.

The Religion of Polarization

It’s no mystery that extreme political polarization has coincided with the rise of the Christian Right and its Christian Nationalist agenda.

The Bible offers a polarized worldview:  God’s side is good and true; the other side is evil and wrong. Biblical worldview was formulated thousands of years ago in the desert sands by a warlike and ambitious nomadic tribe and is grounded in their tribal God’s like and dislikes — who’s great in God’s kingdom and who’s not, what it takes to be commendable and what gets you in serious trouble, and on it goes, an exhaustive rule book of celestial surveillance and human compliance.

Christianity furthers Biblical polarization.

Us and Them.

Sheep and goats.

Wheat and weeds.

With us or against us.

Children of God and children of the Devil.

Sons of God and the Sons of Perdition.

Saved and unsaved.

Born again and born in sin.

Spirit and “the flesh.”.

Redeemed and enslaved.

Righteous and unrighteous.

Taken and left behind.

And on it goes for a couple thousand Biblical pages.

Worldview creates culture — culture is worldview embedded in the minutiae of daily life – all the tangible and intangible institutions, norms, expectations, assumptions we rely on to define “reality” and keep things “normal.”

For the past five decades the Christian Right has been meticulously advancing, imposing, and enforcing their Biblical worldview on USA law, economics, and social life. The Christian Right movement began largely in response to Roe v. Wade, as prominent evangelical luminaries such as Jerry Falwell and Francis Shaefer led a counter-revolution against what they perceived to be a decline in social morality. The initiative encouraged evangelical Christians to become politically active and offered popular support and funding. The initial goal was to make Biblical worldview normative. The end game was Christian Nationalism – a cultural return to the USA’s beginnings as a “Christian nation.”

The end game is now within reach. Trump holding the Bible in front of St. John’s Church was the perfect iconic moment for the Christian Nationalist agenda. Pundits miss the point when they snicker about whether Trump knows what’s in the Bible. He doesn’t need to know – all he has to do is brandish the Bible, and the gesture says everything that needs to be said:  “Bible – that’s who we are. We are here to divide and conquer. We are here to create winners and losers, us and them, sheep and goats, wheat and weeds. We do as the Bible does – we separate and polarize, we advance our worldview and agenda at the expense of yours, and we are not afraid to act like the Bible’s people of God and use force if we need to. We have God on our side, but just in case we also have guns.”

Lately, Texas and Florida have aggressively pushed the Christian Nationalist social agenda in open defiance of Constitutional rights such as voting, abortion, and gender equality. Texas has further introduced the Biblical enforcement technique of deputizing citizen vigilante enforcers. (For the Biblical version, check out the chilling story of Phineas in the list of Bible verses at the end of this article.)

The ripening of the Christian Right into Christian Nationalism and its normalization in federal and state culture has become so normal that we don’t see its polarizing assumptions. I didn’t see them when I was a Christian — I just accepted them as the truth about how life is. Christianity is based on belief, and its Biblical worldview assumptions come with the belief package. If you’re a believer, it doesn’t occur to you to step aside and think about them. You don’t ask, “Is life really this way?” “Does life really need to be this way?” You don’t question if we’re better off for being divided up into Biblical categories of who’s in and who’s out.

Biblical worldview and its package of polarizing assumptions have been operating in western culture for millennia – little wonder, then, that history keeps replaying the same old same old. More division. More us and them. More I got the truth and you don’t. More draw a line in the sand and dare you to cross it. More enemies. More war.

You’d think we’d be sick of it and ready for something new, but no — Biblical worldview evokes nostalgia and stokes rage – sad and mad that things aren’t good like they used to be. Belief in that worldview keeps us small and stupid — makes sure we never grow up, that the cultures of our societies and enterprises never get past the psychological maturity and emotional intelligence of middle school.

There’s a popular misconception that Jesus was somehow not part of the ancient Biblical worldview — with its murderous God and blood-thirsty religion — that he was born into. I used to think that way when I was a Christian. All of us did – Christians still do – there’s this perception that the Christian God had been reformed somehow, that he was kinder and gentler. But now that I’m not a Christian, I don’t see through the lens of belief anymore, and instead see Jesus not as the negation of that worldview, religion, and God, but the epitome of them.

Gentle Jesus meek and mild? No way. Jesus was a rabbi in a religion that loved to quibble endlessly about every “jot and tittle” of religious practice, reducing devotion to its minutiae. Jesus went around provoking the religious establishment, picking fights. He was defiant, feisty. He was a master of the verbal smackdown. He prodded the crowds to choose sides. He lambasted the minutiae lovers, scolded his followers, berated his own mother, flipped off his own family. The angels descending in a heavenly chorus were wrong – this guy wasn’t about peace on earth, goodwill toward man – he came with a sword – he said so himself.

He came to divide.

He came to agitate civil war and family division.

He came to taunt the Roman Empire.

He came to win in the name of God.

And the religion that others founded in his name has carried on what he started.

No I’m not a utopian. No I don’t believe in world peace. No I don’t think there’s any chance at all I’ll ever see anything but dismal divisive Biblical worldview during my lifetime. I’m not trying to promote something better – I don’t think there is such a thing. It’s just that sometimes I get in a mood where I can’t help but wonder….

What would life be like if our outlook wasn’t so unthinkingly invested in polarization?

What if conflict and competition weren’t the dominant energies running the world?

What if we were willing to do the hard work of dealing with complexity and contradictions instead of storming and rampaging?

Would life really be all that boring, would the economy really tank, would all of us suddenly lose our good character if we didn’t have to always know who’s side you’re on, who’s got more money and bombs, who owns that land and those resources that the rest of us have to pay for?

And on and on… so many obvious questions we never ask.

We don’t because it would take species-wide brain surgery to get us to the point where we think to ask them and do the hard work of finding meaningful answers. Not going to happen. Not ever. We’ll go extinct first. A liberal arts education would help, but it won’t be enough, and besides who can afford it anyway?

I used to wonder how the Christian Right could be so supportive of a President who so obviously wasn’t Christian – at least not what I used to believe was a Christian. But then I understood how the Christian Right that began when I was a Christian has now devolved into the Christian Nationalism we thought was such a good idea back then. Now that the goal of “restoring” the USA to its intended status as a Christian nation is within reach, the drive to the prize is irresistible, so that political leaders and their news media start to act just like God acted in the Bible as he carried out his nationalist agenda. Authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, brutality, war, law and order, genocide… it’s all there in the Bible.

And once you get to that point, you’re “free” to create whatever Christian Nationalist “truth” you need to attain your final goal of imposing your political will on national culture. So now we’ve got truth the Biblical way – truth you believe into existence, assumed truth, unthinking truth, it’s-okay-to-believe-whatever-you-want truth. The Big Lie truth. QAnon truth. Fox News truth, Texas and Florida truth. “Freedom” truth.

It makes me sick truth.

Polarization is the rule of the day. It became normative thanks to the Christian Right and the Christian Nationalists. They didn’t make it up, they just made the Bible the new American political rulebook.

Sucks for the rest of us.

Just a few of thousands of examples:

 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30 ESV

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Matthew 10:34-36 ESV

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Matthew 25:31-33 ESV

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-24 ESV

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left… Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his anger… And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Matthew 25:31-46 ESV

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” Matthew 13:24-30 ESV

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44 ESV

Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. … The Lord said to Moses, Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.  He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” Numbers 25: 6-13 ESV

Subjective Objective Reality – It’s Complicated… and Complex

Objective knows.

Subjective believes.

Reality needs both.

Objective does complicated. Think organizational chart nodes, arrows, lines… linear, hierarchical, systematic, intellectual, orderly, predictable, solvable, scalable, recursive… control, rules, authority, supervision, duties, reports, obligations, pecking order… STEM, formulas, metrics, mechanics….

Subjective does complex.  Think Venn Diagram overlapping and interacting circles, shifting magnitude and color… nonlinear, intuitive, relational, emotional, unpredictable, unsolvable, idiosyncratic… dynamic emphasis, trends, fading in and out…. liberal arts, creativity, improv….

Objective + subjective = complicated, complex reality.

The way reality really is.

We don’t get much reality these days. We don’t get objective to deal with complicated, and we don’t get subjective to deal with complex. Instead, we get the worst of neither – a toxic corrosive chemical intravenous cocktail of unreality we can’t unhook, injected in ever-escalating doses to satisfy our ever-escalating addiction to it.

Take away objective input and subjective balance and what do we get?

We get septic ideologies and the excesses of the rich and famous, the celebs and sycophants, the glitz and glam, the bad boy barons behaving badly, the ratings-rule-so-we’ll-say-and-do-anything-to-make-a-bigger-buck crowd, the economic and educational elites who don’t realize that’s what they are, the whole crowd of fat cats and bikini bodies that we in our moral superiority all agree are morally despicable but we want to be just like them.

We get adrenaline and cortisol as the drug of choice, keeping us in a state of outrage powered by the outrageous — individual and collective amygdalas running full-out, stoking the rage, stabbing us with the drive to survive, revving the fight or flight mechanism, keeping the trigger finger twitchy.

We get “truthiness” and “we create our own reality” and “all news is fake news” and “do your own research” and “freedom” cutting the tether of substantiality, sending us spinning off to the Lost in Space Land of the more bizarre the better, sowing the wind of nutcase-ness and reaping the whirlwind of reality unhinged.

We get confused and threatened and hang-wringing opposition that still believes there’s good in everybody so we can’t just give up on the bastards, we need to reach out and collaborate, compromise, negotiate, and bipartisanize our way to the family photo shoot — preferably without the arsenal but I’m sure we can all agree to keep the progressive cousins out of it otherwise we won’t be America anymore, and then what would we do if we can’t tell our children upward mobility bedtime stories anymore?

That’s what you get when you lose touch.

That’s what you get when objective and subjective don’t come to dinner together anymore.

Meanwhile those of us who, like me, just have to write stuff like this are dutifully playing out the role of the nerd in middle school chemistry class who can’t keep his mouth shut and just has to make a crack about the dumb jock in back who’s going to pound him for it.

We just can’t help ourselves.

We should learn to help ourselves.

I mean, Covid is over, right? I mean, it is isn’t it? So that means it’s time for capitalism to lead the way again – I mean, it will, won’t it? So how about the nerds just agree to shut up? If we’re unlucky enough to ever get noticed, all we get for a reward is another pounding.

You’d think we’d learn.

We need to learn.

We need help.

We need reality.

Reality is complicated – we need to figure it out and put institutions and organizations and models and checks and balances in place to control it and then be accountable for what we do and think and say and for God’s sake check the damned lies at the door. We need people like that, and we need to listen to them.

Reality is complex – we need people who aren’t stuck to agendas or caught in nostalgic backwaters or revelations of the illuminati but who can instead improvise and innovate and manage for the sake of the rest of us until we’re assembled into a safe grouping of common welfare… and check the damned idealism at the door. We need to listen to them, too.

Is there anybody like that out there anymore? And if we met one, how would we know?

Simple rule:  My guess is that if we ever met one, they would be somebody you’d like. You’d be sitting there maskless sipping your espresso and thinking this is someone I could hang with – just be around soaking in the confident vision and self-respect that comes from accessing both sides of the brain. This is someone who can think and feel. Someone who can dissect and integrate. Someone who’s safe to be with, so I don’t have to be so guarded, always watching what I say. Probably someone who is over the need to rant every now and then… but maybe not entirely. Probably they would admit to the label “progressive” even though it gets them kicked out of the family photo and the bedtime stories, and even though they realize that Bernie’s too old and AOC and the Squad… I mean, no offense, but after all they are… I mean, young and… um, I mean, you know… not white.

[Sigh]

It’s tough to find friends these days.

We need friends – reality friends. We need reality. We need objectivity and subjectivity to help us create and understand, channel and guide, articulate and empathize our way through life, through tricky times and troubled waters.

Like that’s going to happen.

Like it will – in time.

Like we hope it’s before the Dystopian Reality Show we’re living in actually stops being reality TV — which everyone knows isn’t reality – and actually becomes reality.

Or something like that.

Never mind. I guess I lost the thought.

Something about reality.

For more:

Complex versus complicated problems (fastcompany.com)

Smart Leaders Know the Difference Between Complex and Complicated. Do You? | Inc.com

JohnKamensky.pdf (businessofgovernment.org)

Amazon.com: It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business (Rotman-Utp Publishing): 9781442644878: Nason, Rick: Books

Subjective Vision, Objective Evaluation

Go ahead – believe, dream, envision, get inspired, think big.

But then evaluate. Stop believing and take an objective look at what it’s actually going to take for your Big Idea to happen. Or if you already quit your day job, take the time for a good, hard, long, skeptical look at what’s actually happening. It might not be too late to grovel your way back.

I wish I’d done that. I never got out of the subjective phase – never achieved enough escape velocity to get free of belief. I was an elite believer – a professional’s professional. I know belief like a worthy foe — all its wily, fraudulent snares.

Beware the evaluation that never gets out of belief. Belief validates itself, admits no outside counsel. Belief doesn’t want data, doesn’t need to make a budget or do market research. Belief believes – that’s its only job, and it’s the best at it. If you want evaluation you’ll have to look elsewhere. Objective assessment –- rational thought, science — thrives on doubt. It begins with the assumption that whatever it has concluded is wrong and begs you to prove it. Not so with belief. Belief has a zero tolerance policy on doubt. To doubt is to not believe, by definition. Belief doesn’t want you to know, it wants you to… well, um, believe.

Belief has no ethics, subscribes to no code of conduct. It isn’t accountable, doesn’t answer to independent, unbiased assessment. It’s free to do what it likes.

Belief don’t need no stinking facts.

In the world of belief, there’s no such thing as “independent and unbiased.” Belief rewards its own, destroys its dissenters. The polarities of belief and knowledge repel each other — an attempted interaction between a rationalist and a believer never ends well. Belief has too much at stake – it must prevail or there’s no belief anymore – doubt will wipe it out. With belief there’s no recognizing the delegate from the opposite faction. Nobody but us, no case but ours. Fact-checkers? We’re not listening la la la la. Religious doctrine? Stay out of it, we know what’s true and you don’t. Clergy or politician misbehavior, moral lapses, illegalities? Boys will be boys — we’ll give ‘em a mulligan. Batshit conspiracy theories? Have at it – the more bizarre the better. Fake news? “Do your own research”? “Freedom”? Go for it – it’s your right.

I know these things because I’ve lived on both sides. I spent over two decades as an evangelical fundamentalist cultist Christian believer. When I first started drifting out, I became a self-helper, which turned out to be the exact same religion. Both were about belief. There was no reality other than what you believed. You took flight and never touched down. Nobody called you to account, they just cheered you on, chanted more, more, more, higher, higher, higher.

Nobody ever heard of Icarus.

Christianity claimed to be accountable to its source code the Bible, but that was a sham. I was a Protestant – the religion Martin Luther founded with his sola scriptura doctrine – everybody can and should and must read the Bible for what it says to them, and the religious authorities can keep their mitts off your personal revelation. That makes Protestantism unaccountable by definition. It’s up to you. Make it say what you want. No wonder there are so many fundie whack jobs out there.

I was one of them. I ought to know.

Fortunately, I haven’t ridden the pendulum to the other side, haven’t transferred the focus of my belief to rationalism or objectivity or any other legacy of the “Age of Enlightenment.” (Spare me! Aren’t we being a little pretentious with our title?) Rationalism’s most ardent advocates are just another kind of believer. Same with a lot of atheists, who are more obnoxiously evangelistic than we were back in the day. I’m an atheist myself, but I figured out early that I wasn’t going to make it a substitute religion.

Belief of any kind is a shut-down when it comes to evaluation. It’s incapable of objectivity. Evaluation is not its job. What’s it good for? Shooting our brains full of dopamine, which they love. Dopamine inspires us, gets us moving. Gives us dreams and visions. Makes us feel hopeful. Empowers us with a sense of meaning and purpose. Stuff like that. It’s hard to argue against a dopamine high. People love that shit. Okay, do it if you need to. Just don’t do what I did all those years – all those wasteful, addicted, self-sabotaging dopamine high years, all those years of following my believing dreams from one flameout to another.

When you ask, “How’s this going to work?” or “How’s this going?” don’t listen to belief’s opinion. If your friends share your beliefs, welcome and love them, but all of you need a shot of perspective. You won’t get it from somebody who’s super-critical and cynical either, because those are signals that you’re probably dealing with somebody who’s operating with the weakest and most deceptive form of thinking, which is belief masquerading as rationality.

No, instead, find people who don’t care — people who don’t need things to go one way or the other in order to convince themselves they are valid or alive. It’s okay if they think your ideas are cool, big, inspiring, whatever… but ultimately you don’t want them invested in whether your dreams and visions play out. Find people that if you crash and burn they might just turn and look away from the wreckage and leave you there to deal. If you’re going to listen to people, listen to people like that. They’re your friends – your real friends.

Same with facts and data and trends – they might be leaning in your direction, but they’re only numbers. Sit alone in a dark theater and repeat to yourself, “they’re only numbers, they’re only statistics” until you’re convinced, and then take another look at them. Beware your own perverse ability to make them speak your language, make them love you. If they fawn all over your idea, push them away. They’ll break your heart one day. It’s not worth the thrill in the meantime.

Detachment. That’s what you want. People who respect you (they have to respect you, or get out of there fast) but don’t need to like you or need you to like them. Inspect yourself, the people, and the data like you’re checking for tics, and if you find more than one, run screaming from the room. Scour speeches and articles and analyses for biases and assumptions and calculate how much they’re warping the results and conclusions. Calculate the naysayer’s score, then round it up – way up.

Go ahead and tell your friends and family. Be grateful for their support. They’re here for you. That counts. They’ll probably think you’re nuts – not a bad thing. They might be swayed by your belief. That’s nice. But unless they’re in it whatever it is — with you, not just for you, don’t ask for more. You’d be better off if you find out what your detractors think, and then shut them up. They won’t be convinced by your belief. They’ll want RealThink. They’ll give you a reality check. That’s what you want.

Especially don’t give any weight to idea people. Idea people go through life deflecting – a likeability habit which makes it seem like they’re engaging, but they’re not. Ideas are everywhere and always and inexhaustible – so plentiful and abundant that they’re worthless. What matters are ideas of substance and commitment — the ones where somebody backs them with action and money and whatever else they can, and only then do they say “I like your idea.”

Lastly, be cautious about the pivot. If you’re pivoting from one unsubstantiated belief to another, stop it.

Just stop it.

Now.

If you’re pivoting because you originally relied on data and research and information that maybe was good once but now things have changed and it’s a whole new world out there… then, yeah, go ahead and pivot. Just pivot into something with substance, not another inspirational belief dream wouldn’t-this-be-cool vision.

So follow your heart. Be a subjective visionary. Go for it. Make your dreams come true.

But then figure out how to deliver. Be an objective evaluator. What’s it going to take, what’s it going to cost? What’s it going to look like when you get there, and how will you know? What do you need to know that you don’t? How are you going to find out what you need to know that don’t know already – especially the stuff you don’t even know that you need to know it?

And when in doubt, sit down and wait until the dopamine high passes off. Better have the inspirational hangover first, before you embarrass and impoverish yourself again.

I ought to know. I made a life of it. Now I’m a recovered beliefaholic. I’m like a nonsmoker who used to do three packs a day – the most obnoxious kind of no-tolerance don’t-tempt-me skeptic. I’m for you, but I would spare you if I could.

But I probably can’t. You like the dope too much.

See you at our next meeting. Tuesday night. Methodist church basement.

We Didn’t See it Coming

And now that it has, we don’t know what to do.

Of course we don’t know what to do. We’ve never been here before, we’ve never done this, we don’t know anybody who has, so how should we know what to do?

We didn’t see it coming. We weren’t prepared. Nobody told us. Nobody told us things really could melt down, that you can really get to a place where the center doesn’t hold. We didn’t know these things could really happen.

But then they did, and here we are. Oh yeah, we heard, we read about them. We entertained ourselves with them. But the real thing? No. Not here, not now, not us. Never us. But now it’s us, and we’re clueless.

All our institutions, all the systems, the programs, the back up plans, all the Plan B’s and contingency plans and escape routes, all the provisions laid up, all the people we thought we could trust, the people in charge, the people who should know, all the paid grownups who take care of boring stuff like how they keep the lights turned on and why the food keeps coming – they all checked out early and now they’re gone where we can’t find them.

They didn’t know either. They just kept using all the same old jargon, reciting the same old lines, pretending things were still the way they used to be, how things used to work — either that or they just made shit up that everybody with any brains knew was shit but people flocked to it anyway, I mean what else was there? They fed the fire instead of putting it out, fed it with the same old burned-out charcoal chunks of what used to be a fire but now is just ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

The other adults – the ones who don’t do stuff, they just explain it, they were frozen. They knew too much, they tried to tell us how things work and what was going to happen if we didn’t so something about it, but nobody listened, nobody thought they were any good for anything. Well, half of us thought so anyway. Half of us thought they had nothing to offer, while the other half thought they were the only ones who could save us, but the first half was louder and more into believing things than knowing things, which is easier because doing your own research means filling up with more fantasy to believe so you can keep faking your way through life.

Until you can’t anymore.

And now, while that half keeps faking it and making shit up and trying to gut the life and substance out of everything, the half that has known all along, has seen it coming, has actually done the research, that half is also stuck in all the ways things used to be, so they keep trotting out all the old ways like decency and discourse, listening and knowing, compromising and collaborating – nice sounding stuff that apparently used to work, but now when they talk about it they sound like a bunch of old codgers trying to assure us the everything is alright, just give it time, things will work out, no need to fear, no cause for panic. They do that so we will stay calm, but we see through them, we know better, we feel what’s going down and we know that our feelings don’t lie.

It’s like everybody who’s talking is lying – one half because they actually believe their own lies and the other half because they’re so blind and stuck and unoriginal that they don’t realize reaching back to the times when things weren’t like this is effectively telling lies about the way things are now.

So now here we are – chaos, crash, crisis… disintegration, destruction, disorder… ruin, rubble, randomness… the poetic thesaurus for how to say that everything has fallen apart and my god this was never supposed to happen, nobody thought it ever would, we thought we could hold things together but we couldn’t and now we can’t so look at it — look at this mess of our own making and it’s our fault because we never thought we would have to clean it up, look at this smoking husk of everything we thought belonged to us but it turns out somebody else had the right to repossess it.

So how does it feel?

The wheels came off. We ran off the rails. Things came loose, everything fell apart. The bottom fell out. The top blew off. The walls caved in. Things went sideways. We drove off a cliff. We hit bottom. We’re in a tailspin. We’re going down. It’s the perfect storm, the perfect flood, the perfect earthquake, tidal wave, tsunami. We’re lost in space, out at sea, out in left field. We lost our bearings. Our foundations shook. Our sea anchor broke loose. We drifted off. We’re sunk. We’re lost. We’re screwed. We’re dizzy, disoriented. We went from unplanned, unpredicted, and unforeseen to unimaginable, uncontrollable, and unrecognizable. There’s that saying about the inmates in charge of the asylum. Now they are. The nut cases’ nutty ideas have gone mainstream. Reality has inverted, flip-flopped, turned inside out. What is, isn’t anymore. What was, will never be again. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

That’s how it feels.

Only worse.

Everything is always worse. The news is always bad. It’s always something. Just when we think it can’t get any worse it gets worse. We go from bad to worse to worst to so-off-the-charts-worst there isn’t a category for it. There’s never a break, never any let up.

Yeah, I get it. Things have been bad before – that’s the lesson of history and blah blah blah. We’re supposed to buck up, tough it out, stay the course, keep our chin up, quit being so negative, keep up a positive mental attitude, stop whining, stop feeling sorry for ourselves, cut with the entitlement already.

Yeah right. Like any of that’s actually going to help when you can’t think straight, can’t hold a coherent useful thought. Maybe this has happened before, but it’s never happened to us, never happened now.

We didn’t see it coming.

I didn’t see it coming.

And now that it has, I don’t know what to do. Of course I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been here before, I’ve never done this, I don’t know anybody who has. So how should I know what to do? How should I have known what this would be like?

War:  Religion’s Religion

Christianity’s religion is war.

Christianity believes in war, worships it, celebrates it, builds shrines to it, collaborates with empires to advance it.

Christianity’s roots run deep into an ancient religion that christened its God as “A Man of War.”

“The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.” Exodus 15: 3 ESV

A Man of War is the perfect God if you’re a band of nomads that wants to destroy other tribes to make room for itself. Create that God and give Him a singular goal of genocide, and you’re home free. First you terrorize the people you want to destroy, then you attack and take no prisoners. Finally you install a national leader (God’s “Anointed”) who will act just like God, and enforce laws and social norms that punish any civic slacking.

“The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,”
Exodus 15:  14-16

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.” Deuteronomy 7:1-26

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury.” Psalm 2:1-12

“You are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms; with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider; with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer; with you I break in pieces man and woman; with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth; with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman; with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock; with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team; with you I break in pieces governors and commanders.” Jeremiah 51:20-26 

“Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.” Jeremiah 48:10

Those were Jesus’s roots. His own arrival was heralded in a way that made it look like there was going to be a 180º turnaround:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:13-14 NKJV

There was no 180º turnaround. “Peace on earth goodwill to men” might be the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the human race. Here’s what Jesus had to say after he grew up and got famous:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:34-37 ESV

Talk about bait and switch.

Sounds just like the USA two millennia later.

Jesus went on to lay out his plan for a glorious future.

“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, open to us, then he will answer you, I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” Luke 13:22-28 ESV

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Luke 13:22-28 ESV

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “Bind him hand and foot.” “Cast him into outer darkness.” All because some poor dude didn’t come in black tie.

Remind me not to go to that wedding.

I didn’t think that way about the God of Ancient Israel and His “Son” Jesus when I was a Christian. Honestly, I just never saw it. I read the Bible cover to cover several times, read some passages dozens, hundreds of times… and never saw God the Sociopath that I was supposed to tiptoe around and do everything I could not to piss him off. Like any sociopath he was likeable when he was in a good mood, and I guess I just figured it was always going to be that way. There were some people who were more afraid of the weeping and gnashing and binding stuff than I was, and their appeasement came at a high price. But I never thought that way. I wholly bought into the “peace on earth goodwill to men” fraud.

Back in my willfully-blind-and-ignorant-in-the-name-of-Jesus days, I even bought into George W. Bush’s installation of a new Christian religion in the USA that was even more Biblical than any of us realized at the time. 9-11 was the trigger point, and suddenly it was the Crusades all over again. I confess, I felt warmed and filled when W promised we would take out all those infidels who hated us just because we existed. He was on a mission from God – God “told” him to “fight these terrorists in Afghanistan.” And so he did, and I was among those who cheered as our tanks rolled into Baghdad.

My delusional ignorance was helped along by the fact that I didn’t know anything about the history of Christendom (and the other Abrahamic religions). They didn’t teach us that at school – I only got the saccharine and sanitized version of mostly American history — not the dismal recitation that if you publish a book about it today, your book will have a good chance of being banned from the public library (not to mention the school’s or the university’s). It’s only because about a decade or two ago I woke up to an awareness that I had no clue about the world my kids were growing up in, and started to study and research in order to find out.

Amazing what a few years of intense study will do for you. You might even start thinking again.

Christianity isn’t the only religion whose religion is war. I wonder if there are any religions that don’t worship war. Religions tend to ally with nationalism — nation-states have all the people and money and tools of war, and religions have the power to make sure God is on our side, so it’s a good match.

Here in the USA we’re not supposed to have a state religion, but twenty years after W we do. It’s called Patriotism. The Patriotic God is basically the Christian God with special icons – mainly the U.S. flag, best displayed in the back of a pickup with other patriotic flags (Trump, the Confederate flag). Plus there are football field sized American flags, since football is the official U.S. Patriotic sport – the NFL version comes with its own month-long homage to the military-industrial complex, which the coaches honor by wearing camo.

Christmas 2021 – the first official Patriotic Christmas – gave us Christmas cards with photos of families proudly displaying Patriotism’s most bad-ass icon – the assault weapon. In time, the cards themselves will no doubt become religious icons as well – along with the slogan “Kill a Commie for Christ,” which I swear I’m not making up.

And then there are the central patriotic doctrines — such as “one nation under God” and “in God we trust,” both of which Pres. Eisenhower thought we needed to have during the Joseph McCarthy anti-Commie days. (Eisenhower also warned us about the military-industrial complex in his farewell address. Was he having second thoughts? It would make me happy to think he was.) And speaking of Presidents, USA Patriotic religion requires that every Presidential speech must end with a routine invocation of the Patriotic daily double of God and the military — “God bless our troops, and God Bless the United States of America” – a grand tradition dutifully carried out for as long as I’ve been paying attention. Oh and let’s not forget political “prayer breakfasts,” where there never seems to be any praying going on, unless you count speeches as prayers.

But now I’m just being fussy.

We even have a Patriot Pope — he who shall not be named – who held up The Book in what might be the most pathetic, brainless, insulting, and scary gesture ever made in the name of Christian Nationalism. And we have Patriotic hymns (mostly C&W), and even though we’re out of Afghanistan (after having betrayed our friends – another Christian tradition), we still have a Patriotic Holy War against that other warlike Abrahamic religion and its followers (even if they are mostly peaceful, as even W had to admit).

Finally, we have a Patriotic religious code word — “freedom” — which believers can chant as a way to instantly identify each other – kind of like how the ancient believers used their fish symbol. And once they know who’s on their side, they can form “freedom” truck convoys to screw up the supply chain more than it is already and further drive up inflationary prices while they’re at it – all so they don’t have to get a shot or wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic that so far has killed a million of their fellow citizens.

But who’s counting?

I always wonder, if they cut themselves on a rusty rim changing a tire, would they get a Tetanus booster?

And on it goes.

War is a human survival skill – driven by the same male dominance instinct that gives us rams head-butting and bulls rutting. War is instant proof that we’re still creatures, still deeply, inconsolably afraid to live, so we have to figure out ways to kill and die, and fantasize about imaginary states where we can live forever and get to do blissful things (maybe do donuts in our big-ass pickups on the tundra, without some wussy liberal whining that it’s bad for the environment).

And as for the losers who will be hanging out in the outer darkness weeping and gnashing their teeth, well, they deserve it.

We’ll never get over war. There will be wars until our species is no more – at least, as long as our species includes males, which is pretty much the same thing. We are doomed with perpetual war. Religion tries to dress up the whole depressing, toxic, criminal mess and mostly succeeds in the minds of its believing but unthinking members. And “peace on earth” still gets trotted out at Christmas, along with the Second Amendment munitions stash.

All of which gives a whole new meaning to “Peace out, dude.”

Peace out… as in extinguished.

Forever.

In the name of God.

The Underdog Religion

Christianity is the underdog religion.

Or so it wants you to think.

We love the underdog story — we know what’s coming, but we love it anyway, we can’t get enough. We love the upset, the incredible comeback when the chips are down and there’s no way but then all of a sudden the bigger, stronger, tougher, richer, better equipped opponent gets a comeuppance. History and Hollywood love this story – the Rebel Alliance, La Résistance, the Miracle on Ice, David vs. Goliath… way too many examples to list.

Madison Avenue and Wall Street love this story.

Politicians and voters and world leaders love this story.

Economists and American Dreamers love this story.

Everybody loves this story — it’s embedded in individual and collective brains and culture — a standard narrative, paradigm, metaphor, archetype.

I won’t say the Bible or Christianity invented it, but both are full of it, and their fingerprints are all over western history and culture, which can’t hurt their claim to its patent. Ancient Israel loved the story — Gideon and his 300 soldiers pared down from 32,000, David vs. Goliath, David and his ragtag band of “mighty men” …. Then Jesus came along and perfected it:  the backwater small town kid, the bastard son of an unwed mother and a blue collar dad; the kid with the unexpected religious streak who hung out with a tough crowd, always on the outs with the religious elites.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46 ESV

“And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

“And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:15-17 ESV

And so it goes.

Anybody who’s ever lived in a backwater small town knows the “who do you think you are?” response Jesus got when he tried to bring his gospel to his hometown.

So he mostly stays away, gathers followers like rabbis are supposed to do, takes his teaching and miracle show on the road. But then he meets a predictable end – pisses off too many people, they make trouble with the law, and he ends up brutally executed.

But then… Resurrection! The ultimate comeback to end all ultimate comebacks!

It was “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (Max von Sydow as Jesus, John Wayne as the Centurion) – and it still is, over and over, in church and out of it – not just the Jesus story but the Rocky story and Star Wars and the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches books… and countless thousands of other variations on the same theme.

Why do we love the underdog so much? Psychologists and scientists have their theories (we can relate, they give us hope, etc.) but ultimately it’s about a reversal of power. It’s not just that the weak win out, it’s that the weak win out over the strong. The pecking order gets reversed, for all to see. That’s the part of the Jesus story the Apostle Paul particularly latched onto:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV

Did you notice that phrase at the end – “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” All this putting the rich and famous and educated elites in their places sounds great, but let’s not get carried away. We need to remember who’s at the head of the table.

Once I was hosted at a swanky restaurant that didn’t take reservations by a businessman who ate a three martini business lunch there nearly every day. The line was out the door and down the block. We walked past everyone, he greeted the Maître d’ by name and our party went straight to a table.

Power.

Nice work if you can get it.

We want that. We want to be rich and famous not so much to be rich and famous (which would be nice) but to be powerful. Most of us spend life on the wrong end of the short straw. But not this time, not in the biggest stakes game ever played. This time we win. This time the weak and lowly and not so wise put those uppity elites in their place. When we were kids it was the adults. When we went to school it was the principal. At work it was the boss. And on and on – always somebody with more brass, more money, more creds, more… something, anything to put us down, keep us in our places, slap us with “who do you think you are?”

But not this time. This time it’s our turn. This time we rub their noses in it.

Our motives aren’t always so pure when we get to win.

We’re good sports, but not now, not this time. But we can be forgiven for that. We’ve been ashamed more times than we can count. About time they find out how it feels.

But this is God we’re talking about. Why is He so concerned about people being more powerful than Him? I mean, He’s God. He has a permanent hall pass, a permanent reservation where they don’t take reservations. Take a look at that other phrase — “to bring to nothing things that are.” God, it seems, has a vindictive streak. You think you’re so hot, just you wait – God will knock you down a few notches. Let’s take a look at the passage featured in Handel’s Messiah:

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2 ESV

Read the Bible closely, and God is more like Emperor Palpatine than Jesus meek and mild, and His grip on things is more like Darth Vader keeping the Evil Empire in tow. He’s angry, derisive, vindictive, and vicious. Genocide, infanticide, rape, murder, homophobia, xenophobia… you name it, it’s on God’s rap sheet.

Christians know that – or they would if they would actually read what the Bible says about their God – but they excuse it all. They say that God is “good” and “loving” and “kind” and “merciful” — never mind that he’s got a temper – that “his wrath is quickly kindled,” that His M.O. is to “break them with a rod of iron.” Geez. Seems obvious we’re dealing with a sociopath here, but believers make excuses for God like the abused makes excuses for the abuser. He’s a nice guy when he’s off the bottle, but when he’s not… God is a nice guy when he’s not instructing His people to destroy a city and leave no survivors except the women the soldiers want to rape.

Obviously God is not exempt from “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Same for his closest associates. The story of how Solomon came to power reads just like Michael Corleone tightening his grip on the family. 1 Kings 2 ESV Thus Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, could say of Trump’s Stormy Daniels mess, “We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.’” 

A mulligan. A do-over. The perks of power.

Can you spell “corruption”?

And it all gets sold as an underdog story.

Not in Madison Avenue’s wildest dreams.

That’s the blinding power of belief in action – belief when it has metastasized beyond fundamentalism, even beyond extremism, all the way to its most inexcusable, unspeakable, unthinking form.

I never saw any of that when I was a believer. I thought God’s power was cool. I thought I and my fellow Christians were cool. God’s throne room is the scariest place ever, and we got to go in and stand where it was safe.

No, not safe. Definitely not safe. More like a place of unimaginable shame, if we had known it for what it really is.

For more:

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants: Gladwell, Malcolm

Psychology of the Underdog | Psychology Today

Why Do We Love Underdog Stories? Psychology Weighs In | Psychology Today

The science of why we love to root for underdogs – Vox

Why do we root for the underdog? (bcm.edu)