Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Faith, Fear and Prudence

Christians are entering troubled times.

I suspect we are already well on our way into a thick and rather gloomy forest, but because the sunlight has been diminishing only a very little bit with each passing step, some of us have been less attentive than others about exactly how far into the underbrush we really are.

When Alex Jones’ InfoWars was recently deplatformed by Apple, YouTube (Google), Facebook and Spotify, few evangelicals noticed or cared. Most have no idea who Alex Jones is in the first place, and many of those who do recognize the name are still getting their news from CNN or other mainstream sources that despise Jones and his ilk and view them as unwanted and amateurish competition.

In any case, Jones’ speedy purge perturbed few. I would argue we need to start paying a bit more attention.

Conspiracy Queries

Alex Jones is regularly called a conspiracy theorist and a purveyor of “fake news”. Many people will simply say good riddance, and that the world is better off without his opinions floating around the airwaves. And indeed, Jones may be a prophet, a sensationalist, a loony or simply an opportunist. I have not watched enough of his work to say with any finality, and it doesn’t really matter what I think in any case. Whatever his motivation may be, Jones is asking questions powerful people do not want asked. If some of the issues on which he pontificates occasionally leave him open to charges of being an attention-seeker or even a bit paranoid, it remains the case that he articulates numerous concerns about our society that are not only perfectly legitimate but in dire need of being raised.

Either way, Jones’ audience is massive. His website has been ranked as high as 330 in the U.S. and 3,237 worldwide by Alexa. Even his detractors concede he has at least two million weekly listeners. Rachel Maddow, the most-watched leftist cable TV talking head, draws similar numbers on a daily basis, but she is propped up by a major network while Jones built his own base from scratch. Whatever the legacy media may think of him, he has the attention and support of a not-insignificant percentage of American citizens.

Yet despite his reach and huge number of subscribers, in a matter of hours Jones was all but stripped of his ability to make a living without the slightest hint of due process or recourse to rule of law. Ouch.

Me and Alex Jones

Now, I’m not here to rank Jones’ deplatforming with the great injustices of all time or huff and puff about the failure of Western democracies to anticipate and curtail the unprecedented power of a handful of unelected social media moguls who now dictate to the world what it can hear and what it can’t. That ship has sailed. I am simply interested in pointing out that our cosy, civilized Western cocoon of free speech, human rights and predictable legal rulings no longer exists. Poof! Gone. If somebody with a big enough voice wants you silenced, you will be silenced. It will happen quickly and efficiently and without any avenue of appeal. If you haven’t thought long and hard about what you will do the morning after your presence is no longer tolerated in polite society, you will find yourself well behind the curve and in a tough place.

Evangelical Christians ought to start thinking about that. After all, me and Alex Jones have a bit of a thing going on. Maybe you too. We hold a non-trivial number of the same unfashionable opinions. I believe abortion is a sin. So does Alex Jones. I believe the homosexual lifestyle is immoral and displeasing to God, and that “gay marriage” is a travesty, even if many are disinclined to make much noise about it. So does Alex. I believe God created two sexes and that there are not half a zillion legitimate gender options. So does Alex. I believe ideology-driven parents who give hormone blockers to their children or have their sex organs mutilated are not only unfit to parent but probably unfit to vote. So does Alex. I believe widespread Christian belief and practice would make America and everywhere else better places to live. So does Alex. And I could go on.

I know we hold these views in common because Alex Jones broadcasts his thoughts on these subjects vocally and frequently. Thus I am not convinced his summary eviction from the public square is entirely to do with his opinion on immigration, which is absolutely mainstream.

Silence is Golden

Now, I suppose we Christians could all stop talking about anything considered controversial, and some would argue that we should, and that we should simply emphasize the gospel message, which is, after all, what we are here for. The problem with taking that position is that gay marriage and child mutilation are not the end game. Not remotely. We have a long way to go before we hit Sodom and Gomorrah territory, and our collective descent into the moral abyss is just beginning to pick up speed. At some point, no matter how tolerant, libertarian and uninvolved you hope to remain, some new entirely unanticipated enforced social horror will touch your life in such a way that you can no longer just keep going along to get along. Or perhaps the powers that be (or much more likely, the social media powers that be) will simply rule the gospel outside the bounds of public discourse. It is, after all, intolerant, absolutist and discriminatory.

Hopefully at that point you will have spent enough time reading the word of God and looking at the life of Christ to decide how you are going to handle yourself. After all, there are certain similarities to be observed between the nature and methodology of the opposition to Christ in the first century and that of the opponents of Christianity today.

Then and Now

The Lord Jesus was rejected by the Jewish religious elite. Like today’s media and social media elite, these people had limited direct power. They were, after all, doing business at the whim of the Roman government, just as our North American opinion-shapers serve at the pleasure of the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Also, much like the complaints of our elites about the fakeness of the non-legacy news or the potential for facts and opinions to hurt tender feelings, the concerns of the first century Jewish religious elites were only superficially moral. The blasphemy accusations they lodged against the Lord were nothing more than phony cover for fear of declining public influence and loss of political significance.

Likewise, the accusations of offending protected identity groups that are leveled against modern believers by the Left are transparently insincere. The ire they direct at Christians has no discernible connection with genuine love or concern for marginalized identity groups. Their so-called outrages are frequently staged, their talking points constantly shifting and mutually contradictory, and their injured parties more often than not entirely hypothetical. It is power politics, plain and simple.

Shame, Shame, Double Shame

Further, it was impossible for those who most passionately hated the Lord Jesus to have him legally put to death. To make that happen, they had to not only appeal to a higher authority, but also lie and shamefully misrepresent the facts of their case on the one hand, while on the other attempting to intimidate Roman politicians into going along with their sham proceeding in order to keep the peace and avoid loss of face.

Again, our situation has its similarities, in that prosecuting any sort of legitimate legal case against us for expressing what are considered to be transgressive opinions is a long and complicated process that our opponents would rather bypass if possible. The laws of the land do not yet give them quite enough latitude for the frivolous charges they are fond of leveling (though in Canada they are getting close), and few have the patience to go through the process. To get at Christians via legal means, they will have to browbeat the lawmakers into submission.

The Tools at Hand

In the meantime, the Left is working with the tools it has at hand, and will certainly do more of it. Social shaming, silencing, public release of personal information, job loss, intimidation, targeting family members, banning from financial platforms like PayPal and Patreon (which are effectively public utilities at this point) and even vigilante violence are going to become increasingly common.

Expect shortly to find to your horror that you are very well acquainted with some poor soul who is in the process of being publicly toasted like a marshmallow. (I mean this figuratively, of course, but the effects of comprehensive public humiliation are not to be trivialized.) It may be your pastor, or one of your elders, the old lady from down the pew or a more outspoken Christian co-worker. It may be your child or your wife.

It might be a very good idea to think through right now how you intend to respond when asked what you think about the person with his life on fire, and what the consequences of your answer may be. Otherwise, instinct and fear may impel you to respond exactly like Peter: “I do not know the man.”

You may or may not wish to go that route.

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Undoctored photo of Alex Jones courtesy of Michael Zimmermann under CC BY-SA 4.0

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