Back in the beforetime when we all still had senses of humor about ourselves, the pastor at my church loved to talk about the approach to preaching adopted by our kinda sorta denomination called the Association of Vineyard Churches. “I want to tell you something,” he’d say in self-deprecating imitation, “and if it doesn’t work for you, just put it on the back burner, let it simmer for a while, or just throw it on back. So please don’t be offended…but I feel led to tell you that Jesus loves you.”
This low pressure, hippie aesthetic was a cultural trademark of the Vineyard, a church movement that, like Calvary Chapel, grew out of the Jesus People movement of Chuck Smith, Lonnie Frisbee, John Wimber and many others in the 1970s. That aesthetic exists even today, to such an extent that it caused a rift with the original congregation down in Anaheim when the broader church association wasn’t willing to go Full MAGA a few years back. It’s not that the Vineyard wasn’t theologically conservative in a lot of ways, but that hippie history always created an emphasis on “doing the stuff” that Jesus did in ways that necessarily reduced the emphasis on Correct Opinions that dictated a lot of where the American evangelical church drifted over the last two or three decades.
But to be clear, the pastor’s bit was also a classic preacher joke. To the uninitiated or godless heathen among you lot, a preacher joke is just a dad joke turned up to eleven – with all the potentially funny bits taken out. This was exactly that. It was also a clever bit of self-examination about how being seeker-sensitive – a term used by some evangelical churches to describe a more welcoming approach that doesn’t hit new members too hard and fast on notions of sin, shame and judgment – can be taken much too far. At a certain point, if you’ve got a mind to make disciples, those hard things are things you’ve got to deal with.
Still, it is hard for me to imagine a message any more innocuous than the one promoted in the last few months by He Gets Us, a media initiative of a charity called Servant Foundation. In everything from advertisements on Reddit to multi-million dollar Super Bowl ad slots, He Gets Us has tried to promote what I think you’d have a lot of trouble describing as anything other than simple descriptions of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
For the Super Bowl, they ran this ad. The link at the end sends you here.
They also ran this ad, along with this short essay.
Before the Super Bowl, He Gets Us produced many other videos, too, like this one showing Midjourney AI imagery produced using prompts of love the way that Jesus described it. Forgiving someone who betrayed us. Spending time with prisoners. Clothing the poor. Feeding the hungry. Eating dinner with outcasts. Helping a neighbor in need.
While not an entirely faithful analogy, this video presented a way of understanding the plight of the refugee through the story of Jesus himself.
They also published a video about how the ministry of Jesus was one that resisted centers of wealth and power, embraced outsiders and pursued acts of love and justice even when that sometimes meant breaking the law.
You don’t have to like the videos or the campaign.
Maybe you think they’re pointless and saccharine, unlikely to be helpful in a cynical world. Maybe you think they’re hypocritical, a wild and frivolous expenditure of financial resources that would have been better spent pursuing the ideas contained within them. Maybe you’re a Christian who thinks they’re counterproductive and milquetoast statements that will make it harder to bring people into the true discipleship Jesus wanted. Maybe you think they’re harmless, if a bit silly, on account of the fact that you think just about everything to do with Christianity is completely made up.
I may not agree with most of those conclusions (I do think it a frivolous expense, and I do think they err a bit on the side of easy answers for a man who described himself as the rock who would make men stumble), but I think an entirely reasonable person could arrive at any of them.
Yet for the most part, the conversation and coverage of the campaign has not been about any of those conclusions. The narrative of the He Gets Us campaign has been completely dominated by the question of who funded it and what they must be up to. The graph below is a network map constructed from articles published about the He Gets Us campaign from a very broad dataset from LexisNexis. I’d do our usual explanation of how to read a graph like this, but in this case the explanation is a bit easier. Each dot, or node, is a single article. The ones in bold are articles which include framing around the secret backers of the campaign. Yeah, it’s not the whole enchilada, but it’s enough of the enchilada that nobody’s asking for a to-go box.
In short, no one in the media cared about the ad campaign. The media cared that there was an ad campaign funded by The Wrong People – and heavily promoted this framing.
Thing is, The Wrong People aren’t the wrong people to everyone. Much of the remaining enchilada, therefore, can be largely accounted for by a smattering of folks framing the campaign as being not about the literal Nazis who funded it but about those damned woke progressives who used it to impose their politics on a Gospel message.
And since news reporting in 2023 is so inundated with what we call fiat news, or opinions presented as fact, that coverage was almost never presented with only information for you to process as you saw fit. You see, dear reader, it is very important that you always be guided to the correct conclusions. Contain your shock upon learning that since the beginning of 2023, the density of fiat news language – language meant to tell you how to think about the news – was three times higher for coverage of “He Gets Us” than for the average news article in our dataset. It was also meaningfully higher than for any of our most fiat-sensitive sub-categories, including coverage of American political news.
Fiat News Index – Selected News Topics (1.1.2023 – 2.13.2023)
The result in the popular consciousness was a sort of bizarre apoplexy about an utterly benign, if mindblowingly expensive, campaign to spur people to think about being more loving, generous, forgiving and kind. So while I also don’t think this is how Jesus would spend money, uh…
Meanwhile, in MAGA land…
How does this happen?
How does a campaign to encourage people to love like children, forgive extravagantly, embrace outsiders, speak their minds and still show mercy and grace end up with common knowledge that is simultaneously absorbed by our two disparate tribes as fascist and woke, respectively?
If you look at the people who funded the foundation that funded the ad campaign, watch a couple of the other videos they published that seem to dance on MAGA hot buttons like being canceled and disowning family for their beliefs, then rub your bust of Howard Zinn in a rather special way, you might catch a fleeting glimpse of whatever fever dream seems to have gripped everyone in the public sphere calling it “fascist” or “white-washing.”
If, instead, you look at the images in the videos of refugees with brown skin, the people screaming disrespectfully at police and the people wearing masks during a pandemic (LOL, sheep!), then go read some of the admittedly watered-down platitudes on the He Gets Us website and meditate in front of your first edition of The Art of the Deal, all the while intoning “Kari Lake can still win, Kari Lake can still win,” your mind’s eye may fathom how a dramatized reading of some basic stuff said by Jesus of Nazareth in a commercial is really part of some elaborate NWO, CRT, woketivist plot.
But here’s the thing.
Even if the sources of funding had been pure as the driven snow or the messages of the videos a Jonathan Edwards-style sinstravaganza with lots of Beth Moore and David French insults to placate the theobros on Twitter, I think the result of the campaign would have been exactly the same.
Because the reason the He Gets Us campaign got caught up so fully IN the widening gyre isn’t because it was too woke or funded by fascists. It is because its primary purpose was to extract the Gospel FROM the widening gyre.
The widening gyre is our term, borrowed from Yeats, for the political environment created when we move from a coordination game to a competition game, which we believe took place in 2016, if not somewhat earlier. It describes what happens when our political identity becomes existential. It describes why we Americans live in two different realities, and why nearly every single issue, no matter how remote it might seem to our political lives, is now auto-tuned to the narrative of our political tribe.
The He Gets Us initiative is not only aware of the extent to which the Christian church in America has become enmeshed in this Widening Gyre. It is explicit that its core goal is to take it back. Their agenda – and they correctly and honestly call it exactly that – is to turn Jesus from “a tactic used to intensify our deep cultural divisions” back to “the world’s greatest love story.”
From politics to sexuality and religion, so many of us feel like our values, beliefs, and identities are under attack by the ideological “others” around us. Many perceive those who differ with them on issues of justice, dignity, and humanity as not just wrong or misguided but also as evil. As enemies. We often see these “others” as close-minded, selfish, hypocritical — and if we’re honest, many of us respond in kind. The more ideologically defensive we become, the more we are willing to sacrifice things like kindness, patience, and the respect and dignity of others for the sake of victory — the righteous ends justifying the dehumanizing means. And it’s tearing us apart…Whether it’s hypocrisy and discrimination in the church, or scandals both real and perceived among religious leaders, or the polarization of our politics, many have relegated Jesus from the world’s greatest love story to just another tactic used to intensify our deep cultural divisions.From He Gets Us has an agenda
This matters to me. Strange as it may sound to those unaffected by it, division in the church over opinions about governments and leaders has caused more pain and separation in my life than almost anything else in the last two decades. If you’re agnostic, atheist or subscribe to another faith, I recognize that may not be your experience. That’s fine. Replace the church with any cultural institution you deem important that has been subsumed into the widening gyre, and I think you’ll see some of what I see. I see how the tribal impulse to win within the widening gyre has corrupted so much that was good about us.
I’ve even written about it. And I came to a similar conclusion.
What does the path of history tell us? What does the aftermath of one of America’s greatest natural disasters and human tragedies tell us? What can we do to survive and escape a Competitive Game that doesn’t allow us to pull away from the table? If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the investment industry, or at least have an interest in financial markets. If you’re in the investment industry or in the financial markets, you like to win. So you’re not going to like my answer.
We play. And we lose.
The story of history, I think, is that the only way to defuse a Competitive Game is to win by eliminating your competition, or to choose to play a Collaborative strategy even when you know it is sub-optimal.
There is a time for war, and that is usually our instinct. But there is a time for sacrifice, too. In 529 A.D., Benedict of Nursia chose sacrifice. At a time where the Competitive Game had so gone off the rails that Rome fell into ruin, Benedict and his adherents isolated themselves from society and devoted themselves to service, industry and memory. The result of their efforts was isolation, poverty and celibacy. It was also the preservation and creation of much that was and is good about European culture and society. They preserved and practiced techniques for making foods and wines. They preserved writing, language, literature and histories. Agricultural methods and metallurgy. They were the Foundation during the collapse of the Empire.
What about us? What can we do?
We can start by laying down our right to take offense. We can be unfailingly committed not only to the principles of freedom of speech, but to the value of free expression and exchange of ideas. In other words, by not pursuing the counterproductive, obstructive aims of the worst cartoon the otherwise brilliant Randall Munroe ever made. We can be vulnerable, we can let our opponents assign us identities and titles we would never adopt for ourselves without complaint. We can believe the best about people, even if we know it may cause us harm. We can give up our right to be right.Source: Before and After the Storm, or Make America Good Again (Epsilon Theory)
In the end, I think that’s the part that He Gets Us didn’t get. They thought that if you could marshal enough financial resources, enough powerful creatives, if you could maximize engagement and tether it to a message that was memetically powerful enough, then maybe, just maybe, you could take something beautiful that got sucked into the polarized, tribal, deeply unserious gravity well of the widening gyre and rescue it.
But it doesn’t work that way.
You can’t fight the Widening Gyre by trying to pull something you want to salvage out of it.
You fight the Widening Gyre by rebuilding the thing you want to survive outside of its pull.
Like everything else worth saving from this idiotic period in history, the solution will not come from the top down. It will come from the bottom up. Not by trying to convince the tribalists that they’re corrupting or conflating a good thing with their tribal aims, but by forging a new tribe built around the ideas worth saving.
“Party entirely distorts the judgement, and destroys the taste. When the mind is once infected with this disease, it can only find pleasure in what contributes to increase the distemper. Like the tiger, that seldom desists from pursuing man after having once preyed upon human flesh,”
Oliver Goldsmith circa 1762
A dismal assessment of the state of affairs, I think, but not wrong.
Wow, the things you miss if you don’t watch the Superbowl! I watched 2 or 3 of those ads in the piece but then was reluctant to go further. I get it already! I wonder how much they spent.
Makes me wonder about the time frame of the last two “painful” decades, and sorry that you have experienced that by the way Rusty. I was thinking it coincides with the micro-targeting of ads and content enabled by social media and the uptake thereof by the broad population, especially Facebook. I believe there is likely a relationship there.
This time frame also corresponds with the unleashing of dark money on our body politic. Christian nationalists are most definitely a thing, which became quite clear for all who have eyes to see on January 6, 2021.
Thanks for joining the conversation!
I think that WOULD be different, so a very good observation. You may be 100% correct, at least in the underlying intention. But speaking personally, it isn’t the sense I get from their more ambitious agenda, which exists firmly in the space of the top-down; that is, changing the conversations all of us are having and the way that all of us think about a certain thing. By definition, I think establishment of a community outside the widening gyre has to be very explicitly small in scale and scope, at least at first, and most importantly has to pursue a direct, concrete goal (e.g. modeling and encouraging Christlike community outside of a framework of political co-option) rather than an abstracted one (e.g. changing politics and society by changing the way everyone thinks about who Jesus was and what Christianity is about).
Given how hard it is to do the first of those two things (I’m very, very bad at it) and how easy it is to attempt the second by throwing a lot of money at it, I really, truly am empathetic! It is not hard at all to imagine good intentions.
Tens of millions of dollars. Pretty wild, really.
In case you haven’t seen it, you might enjoy a podcast that Ben and I did together around that time. I’ve probably written 40,000 words on the topic of the narratives and common knowledge underlying a few different strains of Christian Nationalism, but have not had the heart to commit any of them to a final essay or book yet.
This is a fascinating idea that I would like to read more about.
If I understand, you’re also implying that The Gyre can only be overcome through some amount of divergence and selection of ideas and groups. Anything too monolithic, at this point, will just be sucked back in. No matter how attractive its message may be to some or even all of us.
IOW, for every Benedictine sect we know from history, probabilistically there must have been 100 or 1000 or more very similar groups to them doing the same things as they were. At the sect level, they failed to make our historical accounts and/or any anti-Gyrological impact,
And yet, on a group level, probabilistically their existence and independence from one another was also required for human civilization ultimately to survive The Gyre and continue.
A bunch of interesting questions arise when we add modern technology to this mix. If I understand correctly, modern technology has tended to accelerate the generation of
rhinosEnthusiastic Gyre Participants vs how it was in Benedict’s time. How will technology affect generation of these anti-gyrological cells analogous to the Benedictines?
Or, has technology perhaps usefully increased the size of the objects that can be pulled from The Gyre, assuming that the would-be rescuer sects or cells are small enough in scope but not necessarily so small in scale as before?
Positively AND perilously, I think.
Just so, and very cleverly put! That’s our theory behind the Pack, anyway. We think an epistemic community can be sustained at a higher scale than before so long as the scope remains sufficiently narrow. I still think that scale is well below “all of us.” But to expand on the peril point above, I think that social media is not just a multiplier or accelerator of memetic content; it is a transformer, an epimemetic overlay, if you will. It is very hard to do anything on social media and not be subject to the gravity of the gyre.
Shhh! We don’t use words like ‘sects’ and ‘cells’ (even though that’s exactly what we mean) because the Nudging Entities have already neutralized them with ‘religious’ and ‘terrorist’, respectively. Yours in service to the Pack …
Thanks for another outstanding piece Rusty, I’ll read and further digest it for a third time later.
There are certain aspects of the mainstream American Cultural scene where I am a complete heathen - defined in this case by not watching the Superbowl or TV sports in general. Even if the game is good the excessive hype and ad-pitching is a turn-off, and the slopes are empty on SB Sunday!
How have other countries fared culturally from a decline in Church participation? Have their communities become as divided as ours in that process, or have they maintained a greater civility (than us) in spite of it? Many European countries have had drastic declines in church attendance/religious affiliation, yet it seems that they aren’t suffering the same strife as us and I wonder why ie. is there something we can learn from them? Some Pack members live in Europe, so would be curious as to their input since my 4 years in Vienna as a teen in the late ‘70s is….ahem….outdated.
Thanks for sharing the link Rusty. I don’t recall if I listened to that one when it came out or not. I’ll give it a listen and be curious if you mention William S. Lind.
Twitter is good for discovering things and I came across this researcher there. I always wondered why a certain kind of intelligent social media troll always seemed to be so enamored with the idea of “cultural marxism”. If any of you readers have ever found yourself uttering that ridiculous phrase, you best know where it comes from and what song you are singing by repeating it.
I can’t help myself from being extremely cynical on this topic! I’m wondering if Church is such a business in Europe. Anyone can found a religion here if they can convince the IRS to give them tax exempt status. I imagine that just like with other types of incorporation, part of the genius of our system is being able to fill out some paperwork, pay a fee, and start a business, I mean church.
There is a lot of scholarship about the causes of disparate paths in religious sentiment / participation experienced by Europe and America, so I’d be short-changing it quite a bit to summarize (and like you, I’d be interested in first-hand accounts as well).
Speaking personally, however, I think the bigger question has less to do with participation than with cultural integration. Evangelical Christianity has been deeply embedded in American culture for a very long time, and to an exaggerated degree relative to most developed nations. I don’t think that changes in cultural integration or participation are major causal mechanisms for present division, but the Church in America, like our university system and our news media, were certainly among the first institutions to get drawn into the political widening gyre. Other cultures are experiencing their gyres, too, but I think the mix of institutions “caught up” in them will differ pretty materially based on the nature of its integration into the culture in question.
No, although the threads of Christian Nationalism active today are surprisingly disparate in philosophy. Some are largely harmless and normal, and simply crave an America that is more culturally Christian in nature without some aim to achieve that through coercive means. Others are reformed kinda sorta theologians and monarchists literally pining for a Christian Prince. You’d find more of the political paleoconservatives in this camp. Others are dominionists who, once you cut through the silliness, are effectively ecclesiocrats, convenient since their polity allows them to declare themselves the apostles at the top of their would-be ecclesiocracy.
Going to steal that one! “would-be ecclesiocracy”
We may be witnessing the last desperate gasp of a dying system. No way would all these centers of power over the centuries give it up without a good fight. But the lawsuits from institutionalized pedophilia may be the nail in the coffin so far as some of the largest churches go. I believe that plays a pretty significant role in this time frame as well.
The Roman colosseum was finished in 80 AD. It was estimated that it held 50,000 to 80,000 spectators.
A decentralized bottom up tribe was forming, challenging the centralized government. Several of the followers of that tribe were used as bait for entertainment for the Make Rome Great Again crowd.
I wonder if the urinals had this WOKE cartoon on the wall of the coliseum.
Last Sunday’s Super Bowl featured a scene from the owner’s box of the, IMO, emperors and/or high priests of capitalism. I found it interesting that they included WOKE and MAGA sponsors to maximize the revenue for for the broadcaster.
By the way, for new readers to Epsilon Theory, this is one of the few forums that does not go down the rabbit hole of ad holmium screaming discourse.
Welcome to Epsilon Theory.
I joined for selfish, financial reasons and found that there’s lots of stuff going here, with some of it related to finance.
Thank you Rusty.
Always a pleasure to hear from you, Jim!
I guess that The Pack is going to have to start the Albertian Order of Leibowitz (or Guinn or Hunt) to preserve what is good in this world so it can eventually happen all over again (as per Fiat Voluntas Tua). It is quite disheartening to withdraw from the world but I see no benefit in being a voice crying in the wilderness trying to battle ignorance, misinformation, manipulation, and greed. But it is the only logical course of action to my thinking. Jesus was a threat to the status quo during his lifetime and apparently still is according to the reactions.
Historically in Europe the church filled the role of social media today - it told the peasants how to think, in cooperation with the political and financial elites (apparently bishoprics were bought and sold). I think the decline of churches may have something to do with their declining usefulness to elites for messaging.
Sometime about 2005 I got tired of how little my pentecostal church knew or cared about what the Bible actually said, and spent a year attending a different church every week. Of about 50 Christian churches of various denominations that I visited, I found only one which seemed to take any direction from what Jesus asked us to do. The rest were basically social clubs, like my church was. I like the messaging of He Gets Us, although none of it reached me. Like 802rob, I was doing something else.
Possibly the levers of power are more concentrated in America than they are in Europe, making America a more desirable target for plutocrats. If they can distract Americans, they get freer rein to apply American power to further their private interests around the world.
I don’t understand the obsession on how much was spent on the videos. Do they send a positive message? That should be the emphasis, which is the point about Jesus’s teachings. We spend billions, literally, on electing losers from two stupid teams. We spend trillions, literally, on stupid conflicts that we should not participate in, not the mention the millions of lives damaged or lost. Yet, I see so many people focusing on how much was spent. I wonder how many here would be open to having their own finances fully made public and open to “advisement”. Brian
Rusty drops another excellent piece with a particularly poignant closing:
“Like everything else worth saving from this idiotic period in history, the solution will not come from the top down. It will come from the bottom up. Not by trying to convince the tribalists that they’re corrupting or conflating a good thing with their tribal aims, but by forging a new tribe built around the ideas worth saving.”
It’s been over a decade since I last read de Tocqueville, but I seem to recall he took notice of how these bottom-up solutions (locally derived/determined vs. central gov’t diktat) in the early years of the United States worked surprisingly well. Whether the allusion here was intentional or not, I still applaud it!
The challenge of building something new, something worth saving and protecting, without an Atlas Shrugged version of Colorado waiting to be populated by those more interested in playing cooperative games in a ring-fenced-type of domain is steep, but you, Ben, and the rest of the Pack continue to provide light at the end of the proverbial tunnel through your thoughts & observations - I appreciate you all.
Like everything else worth saving from this idiotic period in history
It is truly a stupid time to be alive.
Personally, I was just curious because I’m pretty sure that’s the most expensive ad spend there is in America. I can appreciate the values Jesus talked about AND ask who managed to gather the dough and what they might have hoped to achieve in doing it.
Interesting thought. I would posit (without any proof) that they are both concentrated but different. American (new money) plutocracy has been an intense competition-game for far fewer centuries than the European old-money Aristocratic Oligarchy. American culture has had fewer centuries to adapt to …… inequality, among other things.
Nepotism and connections (beziehung in Austria) are a fact of life everywhere, but the lineages are much longer in Europe.
Having gone back to Europe a handful of times in the past few decades, I just don’t feel the same tension there. Could be different since Covid and Ukraine, idk, but doubt it. When we visited in 2019 there was some concern on our part on how Americans were currently viewed, would we feel any negativity? The refreshing answer was “none whatsoever”, with more than one local explaining the reason was that “Americans who visit here are interested in things beyond the confines of their own country. You are not the problem, and should feel welcomed”.
There is hope, even if ferreting out the useful takeaway messages is challenging
All fair! I still think the sheer amount a silly AND I think it’s OK to acknowledge something as silly when there are other sillier things going on AND it wasn’t my money so I’m not particularly fussed about it.
Thanks for joining the conversation. Hope to see you around these parts!
You’re included in that, too! Thank you!
I was vaguely aware of this effort, and tuned out what I assumed would be pro-forma reactions that are rarely helpful.
But having read this excellent post I’d like to make an observation:
Every marketing effort separates us into the sold and the unsold. We rationalize our choice, seek what affirms that we made the correct choice, and then feel superior to those who made the opposite choice.
IOW: The process of marketing creates the effect that the content of this marketing effort seeks to overcome.
That leaves us with the sold, the unsold, and people on both sides who are made uncomfortable by a cognitive dissonance they feel but don’t fully understand.
A great article. I was extremely active in my Church community for over 50 years doing public service, outreach, leadership, etc… It’s a Presbyterian church. Many don’t know that our country’s form of government was founded on Presbyterian structure and I grew up with the motto of “Decent and in Order” e.g., following a decent path with a fair order gave voice and power to everyone. That all got shut down when a call for a new pastor imploded because of a “Woke” movement within the church and local church governing body. Instead of dialogue and rule of law it was bent towards my way or the highway. Very sad but, it lead me on a different path to trying to make a difference one to a couple of relationships at a time. I think that is a bottoms up approach. It takes time and I wonder if there are ways to be more effective with practicing and teaching compassion, listening and forgiveness.
I think the writer of Micah (an old testament book for those not familiar) had it correct - " Love kindly, do justice and walk humbly with your God"
Thanks again for a great piece or is it peace…
Wonderful. I had always memorized it as “love mercy”, although of course the translations are split about 50/50 between kindness and mercy. I am split, too, I think. Although in general I find I need mercy more than kindness!
I am glad you wrote this piece, I too was sort of confused at how this series of ads managed to draw so much negative attention. Not only is it not saying anything controversial or divisive, it is trying to help people put an end to divisiveness.
I mean, the specific arguments it makes are a little bit of a stretch to fit the particular political divisions and controversies of today. “Jesus was a refugee”. Hmm. I guess in a very loose sense of the word you could argue that. Also, there is this:
But whatever, far dumber things have been said toward much less respectable ends in expensive TV commercials. At end of the day, it’s a 30 second spot trying to just get you interested in what Jesus might have to teach about how we live with each other, and it does that.
Or, it should have done that. I’ll add to the responses that Rusty observed, at least among leftists. (I speak as someone whose entire social world comprises leftists, even though I no longer consider myself one.) There was certainly the response of “Who funded this?” and “What are they up to?”, but I find that these are just corollaries of a certain defensive hostility toward religion, or anything considered traditional. I think this factor is important to understand why certain narratives have the influence they do over the left. The left views all traditions with suspicion at the minimum, if not outright hostility. This because it is psychologically important for leftists to believe they are in rebellion against tradition and institutions (even though they are often especially dependent on them), and to believe that they are smarter and more advanced than the stupid and backward masses. This isn’t to say that rightists never think this way, but rather that for the left these tend to be core motivating desires that their political and social beliefs must satisfy. And I would say that since this is absolutely part of the water in which leftists swim, they are largely not cognizant of these thinking patterns. Again, I say this in criticism of my former self, and not just other leftists.
They reject things like He Gets Us not because they find the arguments invalid, but because it is common knowledge on the left that traditional institutions’ primary purpose is to oppress and manipulate the ignorant masses, and there is no institution more traditional than Christianity. As such, nothing Jesus might have had to say about today’s problems can be taken seriously, a priori. Here is the almost subconscious line of reasoning that is occurring in their minds:
If Jesus’s teachings are relevant to today’s problems, this implies that other things Jesus had to say might have been valid. If some Jesus’s teachings might have been valid, then they all might have been. If Jesus’s teachings might all have been valid, then it is possible that everything else Christianity teaches is valid, since Christianity is based on the worship of Jesus and the following of his teachings. If that’s true then it might also be possible I should at least partially accept the institutions of traditional Christianity. It also means that it is the stupid and backward masses who were right all along.
There is no interest in examining what Jesus or Christianity might have to offer, because the idea that they have anything to offer is a threat to a core psychological desire. And so instead the question is not “What did Jesus teach?” but “Who did this and what kind of oppression or manipulation are they trying to impose?”
I am still encouraged though, because one thing that I think often is forgotten in how narrative changes and affects people, is that narrative and common knowledge are not decided by democracy. You don’t need to convince everybody, or even most people. The people who are really far on either side of the gyre won’t be convinced no matter what ads they see. You’re aiming for those few people who don’t have strong allegiance to any faction, and hoping that a few of them become that small minority of highly influential, passionate intransigents, who are the ones who really direct social and political change (to the extent anyone is responsible for it), You’re really just looking for that one little girl who is going to blurt out that the emperor is completely naked, and won’t shut up about it. The 1963 March on Washington had 250,000 people in attendance - but they were there following one extremely intransigent preacher who would not be satisfied until he had transformed the whole nation. So you could look at these ads as casting a wide net looking only to catch a couple fish.
After reading the past 30 replies to your post, I’m less sad and more hopeful.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Another insightful read Rusty and a great comment thread.
For someone with top down credentials Jesus lived his life on earth from the bottoms up. Thank God.
Until next time anyway. (Mind your P’s and Q’s)
@rguinn Curious what the narrative engine is saying about the resurgence of accusations of Satanism. Seems like it has migrated from 4Chan and QAnon (Democratic Satanist Pedophile Pizza Basements) to everywhere (Sam Smith at the Grammys, Rhianna and Damar Hamlin at the Super Bowl). Is this the logical next step of the gyre where everyone who doesn’t agree with us is now either a Nazi or a Satanist, and thusly 100% Evil, justifying any and all measures to destroy them?
I’m not sure there’s a direct equivalence between bizarre made-up theories about pizza joint basement rings and Sam Smith literally dressing up like the devil or Balenciaga doing literal ads of kids in bondage. The former is nuttery, while the latter are things which, while I’m happy to provide a lot of latitude for artistic expression, I can also understand people thinking is rather especially designed to irritate them.
That’s another thing about a widening gyre, I guess. Once everyone figures out that you can make the ghosts the other tribe sees seem real from time to time, they seem to enjoy taking advantage of it. I’ll take a look at the machine, but in my experience those are periods when it’s admittedly pretty hard to make heads or tails of it.
Another very interesting post, in case you’ve missed or forgotten it:
I’ve been writing about my views on this topic extensively over in the Metaphysics thread but I’m still learning about the ET framework and these comments about the transition from a “coordination vs. competition game” were clarifying.
I personally think that the origins of what I’ll call the “all-competition-all-the-time game” go back to at least the 1600’s with the beginnings of the “scientific” revolution. Our infatuation with measurement and technology has led us to the point where we no longer believe that anything else has any inherent value - aka any reality.
Hence our lives have become completely political because we literally admit of no other reality when it comes to a person’s voice. All is power. All is politics.
The widening gyre has been a long time coming.
I am complete agreement that “solutions” need to be grassroots ,aka bottom-up. BUT - Being itself cannot be bottom up. Being is top-down and there just isn’t any escaping it.
We live in a “bottom-up” ethos because science is a bottom-up endeavor and science has become our collective religion. We have to collectively acknowledge something “higher” - something top-down - if we’re ever going to come up with any lasting and impactful bottom-up solutions. Science itself isn’t up to the task.
The widening gyre is what it is BECAUSE it acknowledges no top-down authority. That suits the platform owners and rent-seekers just fine and dandy because they can basically run a psychological war-time economy from both sides and harvest the madness.
Interesting! So far so good I’d say. I do, however, find myself spending a bit too much time in this epistemic community, sometimes to the neglect of my in-person community (aka family). I think that will always be a challenge with epistemic communities that we need to watch out for.
I work for a community foundation, and our bread and butter is administering donor-advised funds. What I find interesting and slightly scary is how fast David Green was identified as the main donor. They used several layers to create anonymity, and it was quickly uncovered. The Signatry is a faith-based donor-advised fund administrator located in the midwest. One important feature of a DAF is the ability to stay anonymous, and the DAF sponsor is considered the grantor. I’m not sure how it was uncovered that David Green contributed to The Servant Christian Foundation which is likely a supporting org, that then granted to a DAF to pay for the He Gets Us campaign. One of the main features of a DAF was shredded.
This directionality you mention reminded me of this ~9 minute video I watched the other day. It’s family friendly and IMHO imparts a wonderful message for anyone. I came across it when searching some of his lyrics that go “you’ve got to visualize wealth and put yourself in the picture”. I appreciate the pack knowing that others may actually watch it and get value from it. I am enjoying having a community of thought partners, which is I guess the job ET does for me these days. It doesn’t need to be grandiose. KRS One Explains the 5th dimension along with the innerspace and the innerman - YouTube
Who is talking about Being? We’re talking about doing. I think it’s possible you may be overthinking this just a tad.
Yeah, it’s a weird thing when you see it in the wild.
People who have any exposure to wealth, non-profits, corporations and any large-scale institution know that there is not an institution in the world that does not have tendrils, relationships, cross-ownership or other history with some foul, loathsome person or organization (not that I’m saying that about Green or anyone else). As a culture, we’re very selective and seemingly arbitrary about the ones we choose to focus on, but when the mob decides, that focus is insanely powerful. So not terribly surprising to me the DAF got pierced tbqh. Think Truett Cathy / Chick-fil-a, or Bill Gates and anything, or the Clinton Foundation, or David Green, Hobby Lobby, or JK Rowling. Whatever someone thinks about them and how they’d like to manage their “exposure” or “support” for things those individuals are somehow associated with (which is their business), if they think that the things they’re choosing instead aren’t likely to have practically identical or worse connections, that’s a pretty stunning display of naivete. Doesn’t mean you can’t pick your affiliations to suit your values and preferences, but man, what a minefield.
It’s a bit like the NFL / Gambling example we brought back up recently. The issue isn’t about whether holding calls are correct - it’s that there’s several instances of holding on every play, and the decision to call a hold here or there is at once easy to defend and concerningly arbitrary.
You had to bring up the holding call to the KC guy! These Chiefs colored glasses say that was the right call.
Had to do it. Remember, Cowboys fan, so I’m delighted to see the Eagles lose. And you’re right, it was an accurate call per the rulebook. Zero doubt. So would about 30-40 other calls in the game have been.
Likewise, Bill Gates is a meddling, technocratic knob from the nudging oligarchy. And the Cathys have given money to organizations like Focus on the Family that have taken very public political positions w/r/t gay marriage, etc. By the book, zero doubt about those things. And also there are about 4,000 other restaurant owners and tech billionaires associated with people and organizations that would curdle our blood who, for whatever reason, we don’t hear a peep about.
Guess what I’m saying is that it’s OK to pick our spots for moral indignation if they’re the ones that stand out to us, but it’s also a pretty good idea, as you did well, I think, to spot when there seems to be a really, really active campaign to direct our collective anger at a repeating small group of them.
Life would be exhausting if we didn’t pick our spots. I’m not a big fan of a particular chicken chain, but I have no clue where my money goes 99% of the time.
Thanks for sharing this. He’s a great storyteller! And I really do think that what he’s describing is closer to how things actually work.
I genuinely believe that they are inseparable and that it’s the “decapatation of being” (Eric Voeglin term) that is ultimately what enables the widening gyre.
I understand that not many people see it that way, but it is what my own life experience has taught me.
Just have to say that The Epsilon Theory algorithm told me that it’s been a while since you’ve posted.
While I do not post often, I read most every forum and just have to say that (fully realizing that this entire post is basically a non sequitor) I love your handle.
I live in a city with very low quality BBQ and I swear my mouth just starts watering when I see things like “KC BBQ Guy.” It really sparks my imagination to think about how good your BBQ must be to take on that handle.
Thanks for posting and congrats on that win!
I went back and listened to the full podcast, I had not. Really, really good! I learned some stuff.
A few reactions:
There’s a full doctrinal spectrum between full “replacement theology” and various degrees of preterism that exists within the American evangelical church. At a minimum, I think I would describe it as consensus that many of the references to Israel in the Old Testament are at least metaphorically relevant to the modern church, if not much more literally. Most of the protestant church in general (evangelical and otherwise) has a pretty favorable view of Jesus being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and promise, so it’s not an entirely wacky undertaking to see some of those metaphors take shape. In the New Testament, Jesus himself describes the cup as a new covenant, so we cannot completely escape the continuity implied.
Disintermediating central church authority would be nearer the mark. Since such authorities may be corrupt, inefficient, unfocused on small, regional concerns or outright evil, I don’t think it’s fair to malign more distributed polities. For both religious and secular reasons, I think there’s remarkable risk in the modern apostolic model. And there’s also a rich heritage of itinerant preachers and circuit riders playing a pretty important role in the development of American society, especially in the southern and western frontiers in the late 18th to mid-19th century. Like anything else, decentralization from central ecclesiastic authorities can produce good and bad outcomes. I think we’re witnessing some pretty bad ones. I think history can show us some really good ones, too.
Very true. Still, I think (and this is an unusual POV) that this group forms the well-spring of support for MAGAism that has continued unabated. Polls consistently showed a belief before the election among *even *non-charismatic Christians that it was God’s will that Trump win, and a meaningful portion who believed he had been prophesied to win, which is pretty surprising considering that the distinguishing line between charismatics and non-charismatics would be a belief that the modern church can learn God’s specific will so explicitly. There was a real merger of political and religious belief systems in a way that seemed independent of some doctrinal differences most people would have guessed would slow the tide of “the prophesied president” narratives.
I understand the emotion! I also think we can hold a few ideas in our head at once. Justice, grace and mercy needn’t be enemies.
I’m not sure about that. I expect it would depend a great deal on when people were asked. I wrote about this at some length in Even When I Lie, where I argue that there are two existential myths for the two tribes, each of which at various points compels individuals to believe they will never get a fair shake under our present institutions. At that point they convince themselves of a lot of things. That dishonesty (e.g. Fox News and the recent election revelations) can be justified to offset the “unfair shake” is one. That political violence may be warranted may certainly be another.
I think attributing inherent violent / anti-social tendencies to those who mistrust an institution like the news media which has, at times, earned that mistrust with interest, however, is likely to miss the mark often and by a lot. I would say much the same for those who caused billions in damage and many severe injuries in protests a couple summers ago, and for similar reasons of despair about ever getting a fair shake from certain of our institutions. Justice, mercy and grace have an important place in each case, I think.
In my early 20’s while living in downtown Indy for an internship at Mother Merrill, the only church I found that really seemed to be real, was an inner city almost exclusively Black church. I had spent most of my earliest working years in minority communities, so I was open to try and was blessed for it.
There’s a guy from my area that grew up in an Amish community that started a church in downtown Gary. He’s the only Caucasian in the church. And there’s the son of Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker - Jay. If anyone has stripped all bastardization out of church, it’s Jay. I donated to his Revolution Church a few times - penitence for continuing to attend our long superficial church, where all are welcome - so long as they act, look, dress, and speak like us.
I have personal experience with the limitations of doing. At my best (which is sporadic), I hold Being AND Doing together, not as separate things Being OR Doing.
Of course, Craig. And yet I feel that it’s helpful sometimes to be able to talk in simple terms about growing our own food or homeschooling or connecting with people in person without having to be on constant defense against metaphysics gatekeeping.
I’m not a religious scholar or reader of scripture, mostly what I know about doctrine is from what I was taught growing up and how I’ve come to interpret things based on what my family members say about their version of Christianity. This is the central aspect of that broad-brush religion though, isn’t it? A new covenant that meant charity, love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek – i.e. a repudiation of eye for an eye and vengeance as religion. A break from tradition.
So that is why it will never make sense to me how people who supposedly embrace the love of Christ and are supposed to attempt to emulate his values get all wrapped up in the final judgment. Apocalyptic types are the ones that do as far as I can tell. I’ve got apocalyptic types in my family and others that are focused on the love message. I find the apocalyptic types to be ones overly concerned with being right… and there’s a whole other ET thread on that subject! And I may be one of the judgmental ones in seeing things this way but I’ve had more than enough of their naive self-righteous gaslighting in my life so I’ll have to ask for some of that grace you mention.
All of the above are my opinions, strongly held based on my experience of Christian religion and faith and the events I’ve witnessed unfolding over the decades. Many apocalyptic types have little faith IMHO. I can’t say whether that broadly applies to Pentecostals and/or Charismatics though, I don’t have any direct experience of these religions.
The apocalyptic / millennialist thing seems to be very cyclical! That is, we go through periods where eschatology is everything to ones where it seems to fade into the background of major movements in the church in America.
That’s what is so peculiar, maybe even unique, about this current movement underpinning a lot of Christian nationalist pressure and narrative creation. Eschatology is deeply embedded in the ideas. Nearly all of the big promoters are futurists or partial preterists, meaning they think most of what has to happen before Christ returns hasn’t happened yet. Nearly all are post-millenialists, meaning they think that the church and Christian values will (and must!) rise to leadership before Christ’s return. And increasingly, many adherents subscribe to the genie-in-a-bottle view of God, positing that He is only capable of influencing the world at the request of Christians. This last view, a sort of bizarre doctrine of “charismatic Deism”, if you will, was largely driven by a preacher named Dutch Sheets, whose 1990’s book Intercessory Prayer is effectively canon for many charismatics -and whose messaging in the last few years has formed the core language of the narratives at the intersection of MAGA and the evangelical church.
While the apocalyptic obsession may look the same, it’s actually a very different point of view from the doom-and-gloomy apocalypse of the rapture obsession of the 90s. But as you might imagine, it’s one that effectively sees cultural change as a primary goal of evangelism for its eschatological purposes, rather than as an effective result or output of evangelism whose purpose was salvation/glorification.
I think this combination and its perfection as a tool for the widening gyre create some decades-level staying power for some of these ideas.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Mofos like him need to focus on rooting their tree in the message of Jesus instead of trying to cram that camel through the eye of a needle. Thus saith Laura! I’ve found this NAR researcher to have helpful resources on this religious threat to American democracy. I think it’s very hard indeed for people outside of charismatic communities to believe what is happening. | How is Dominionism Getting into Politics? Meet the Apostles and Prophets of the NAR (Video)
I’m just going through my inbox here over on the West coast and right before reading your reply I’d seen the latest Dr. Pippa newsletter, which I heard about here on ET. She was making the case that the UFO/balloon stuff we’ve been hearing about is essentially defense spending as the new QE. She linked to this FP piece about how the “spiritual warfare” narrative is being leveraged in Russia by their elites and orthodox religious leaders. Russia Fears Western Psychic Attacks Made me think, what a weird time to be alive – psyops masquerading as spiritual warfare while we watch the reintroduction of sky and ocean as the battleground territory in the digital era.
I do believe history is more circular than linear but I’d say it’s true nature is fractal, not cyclical. We are driven to progress socially, to the dismay of the fearful conservative. I say that with love as we do need all personality types to make this thing go round.
Do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
-Don McLean, American Pie
I’ve benefited, IMO, with a happy Christian childhood.
It’s not unusual in the US to have someone ask you:
Do you believe in God?
Or “Are you Saved?”
To the first question, I now prefer Joseph Campbell, the author of the Power of Myth, who answered, “Which one?” “There are literally thousands of them”. However, I politely, would not say that to most people.
The second question, needs more explanation.
Somewhere, somehow, as a child, I came across a poem about Abou ben Adhem. (The fable is about an angel writing, in a book of gold, the names of those who love the Lord. And is mine one, “says Abou?” “Nay not so”, replied the angel. Abou said, “Put me down as one who loves his fellow man. And, of course, when god publishes the list, Abou’s name is on the top)
That’s my kind of God I thought. If I truly love my fellow man, that kind of God would not throw anybody out of his pack.
Fast forward to my middle age when I was talking to a friend of mine, at work about religion (maybe 35,000 feet over the midwest). We were both brought up with Christian. He asked, “Are you saved Jim?” I recited the childhood poem. “I’m sorry Jim”, he said calmly. “You are going to rot in hell.”
Now here I am, as an Epsilon Theory pack member , analyzing risk using the concept of min / max regret.
Financially, I would not take the risk, of course.
However, I would take that risk (lovingly) along with Abou and I say, “No”
Note: I’ve spent most of my life feeling bad that I could not viscerally feel being saved.
A: Define God for me, just so we are on the same page.
Put me down with Socrates – the beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms.
When I was younger I was more prone to receiving messages emanating from within. I still get them sometimes but not as often. Anyhow, one that arose from within me back when was en français: j’accepte tous (I accept it all).
Perhaps not the thread most precisely aligned with the topic, but close enough.
John McWhorter is usually one to take a fairly clear-eyed and full-hearted approach to his ponderings, and this one discusses a shift in the Civil Rights era that he believes hijacked the necessary, earnest, and good movement and turned it into a divisive abstraction. The money quote:
"There is a natural human tendency in which action devolves into gesture, the concrete drifts into abstraction, the outline morphs into shorthand. It’s true in language, in the arts, and in politics…"
I understand why you put it here. Thanks for sharing a free link as I don’t have a NYT subscrip and sorta get miffed that everyone seems to assume you do!
I’m confused after reading this opinion piece. For a linguist and culture guy, he never does say what he means by “woke excesses” in the piece.
I also wasn’t sure if he really made his point about 1966 being a defining point in time as he had to use the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to attempt it, which is just confusing given the temporality of his argument, e.g. I had to re-read this a few times and still don’t get his construction here:
“Figures like Carmichael and Black Panthers Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and H. Rap Brown fascinate from a distance, with their implacable fierceness and true Black pride shocking a complacent “Leave It To Beaver” America. Plus their fashion sense — the berets, the leather jackets — was hard not to like. It all made for great photos and good television. But at the time, affirmative action and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, supported by those white “cats” responding to the suasion of people like Wilkins and Martin Luther King Jr., were making a real difference in Black lives, central to encouraging the growth of the Black middle class.”
I don’t think he got the job done as I’m not really sure what the point of this column is. Why am I reading this now? Why is he claiming a universal towards performativity here when there are many people, such as myself, who are immune to the performative and the siren song of group think. Seems like the always-popular fundamental attribution error to me! I’m not a subscriber though so not part of the NYT pack.
Given the summary of the article, I’m curious how he sees his project as action over rhetoric. What is your take, James?
I recommend reading his prior columns, or even better, listening to his discussions with Glenn Loury on Substack. What McWhorter is trying to parse is effectively when the rhetoric and goals of the Civil Rights movement changed from a cooperation game to, in essence, a competition game. And I think he would argue that ‘woke excesses’ are in part due to this competition game, with the current vogue to consider racial relations in the US as a zero-sum contest.
As far as the specific dating, note that McWhorter had already stated that the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were laws of the land by 1966. I think what he was saying in the quote you excerpted is that the Carmichaels and Cleavers of the world were choosing to ignore the still-ongoing real progress being made by MLK, LBJ et al. I felt it was relevant and poignant.
I am curious whether he ever mentions the influence of the FBI’s operations. I noticed he mentioned Hoover, who was fresh in my mind after reading this book review yesterday in the Guardian. ‘He was certainly a racist’: J Edgar Hoover and a history of white nationalism | Books | The Guardian
Jim - I hope we have the opportunity in Nashville to talk further about this, as it is a territory of great interest and intention for me. For now, suffice it to say that I believe the common conception of “being saved” is often associated with a reward and punishment system that determines a future outcome of heaven or hell. “If I am saved now, I can get into heaven later.” For me, I associate it with being saved from myself - as in whoever would gain his life must lose it. And it is here and now and for all time too.
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