Things That Don’t Bother Me (As Much As Others Think They Should)


I’m all over the map on political and social issues (and sometimes off it). My friends and family tend to be more consistently on one side or another of any given fence. I do not claim this speaks well of me. A person’s ability to “see all sides” of an issue can result in detachment, passivity, or paralysis. Most who achieve great things are single-minded.As a “progressive conservative” (I just made that up, but think I’ll claim the label), I am often not bothered by things that others think I should be bothered by. Some attach dark meanings and motives to my not being bothered, but that doesn’t bother me either.Following is a (very, very partial) list of “Things that Don’t Bother Me,” accompanied by a brief, inadequate indication of why not.

The unprovability of things spiritual, including the existence of God.

I’ve blogged and written enough about this to bore myself, much more a reader. Suffice it to say, if these things lent themselves to proof, I would find them both less interesting and less valuable. Would you only want to watch sporting events for which you knew the final score in advance?

The decline of western civilization.

Most days, I think we exaggerate the past heights from which we’ve supposedly declined. I say this not because I buy the current line that the past is primarily a boiling cauldron of oppressive “isms” and exploitations from which we can be delivered by right thinking and growing consciousness. I say it because I don’t think human nature and behavior have changed very much over the last thousands of years. Take any slice of human history and you will be both amazed by human achievement and appalled by human cruelty and foolishness. So-called progress is a bit like ‘Whack a Mole.” Extend human life spans and wealth, get rid of slavery (mostly), and improve women’s lives on the one hand, and, at the same time, weaken social ties, spread moral confusion, and abort the young by the millions on the other. It is especially puzzling to me when people of faith are the ones wringing their hands over the state and direction of our society? When has Caesar ever been our friend (even when invoking God’s blessing at the end of every speech)?

The size of the income gap in America.

Moving to a very specific concern for many, I don’t care that rich people have way, way, way more money than poor (or even middle class) people. (And than me.) And I don’t care whether the gap is growing or shrinking (of course it will grow, as inevitably as the sunrise, unless we invent more and more ways to take it away from the rich without discouraging them from making more of it—in which case there will be less to take). I think measuring the income gap is a lousy way to measure justice in a society. What I do want to know is whether most everyone has a reasonable shot at the things necessary for a reasonably successful life: food, housing, education, safety, health care, and the like. If society structures itself so that we all do (we’ll disagree on whether it should be an opportunity or a guarantee), then let the rich pile up as many riches as they can. (I lean toward a minimal guarantee.) Both the community and the individual have responsibilities in this equation. And it’s clear to me that we’re not there yet.

I think measuring the income gap is a lousy way to measure justice in a society.

Charges of “white privilege,” “microaggression,” “cultural appropriation” and the general rhetoric of current activists.

These are shaming terms, coined largely by white academics, to use as cattle prods against the bovine majority who do not think clearly but want to think well of themselves (the goal of much of our therapy culture). We want to be good dogs (to change the animal metaphor), and calling dogs bad names in a stern voice is effective for potty training. This terminology reminds me of the language of my fundamentalist childhood (“backslider,” “carnal,” “hard hearted,” “worldly”) and of socialist “re-education” camps in China under Mao (“running dog capitalist,” “anti-revolutionary”). If it were actually effective in lessening racism and the like, I wouldn’t complain much (though I might still object to their jargony stiltedness), but I think them worse than useless. They have temporary effect, especially on the young, but in the long run human beings rebel against being shamed. It drives people away from church and it discourages people from supporting the very causes the terms are invented to support (and which usually deserve support). It even drives people to vote in ways that defy logic. MLK appealed to our higher natures; current activists (mostly white) call us names.

The decline of religious (read ‘Christian’) affiliation and participation in the west.

First off, this decline (assuming the social scientists are accurate) is more than off-set by the explosion of the Christian faith in the other parts of the world. If numbers are important to you, then there is some comfort (and things to learn) in the numbers. But even if the decline is only localized, I say “let it continue.” The church and its causes have not been strengthened by token cultural support over the centuries. All the better if there is no advantage socially or economically or politically to being a believer. I don’t celebrate religious persecution (which is widespread in the world), but I do look forward to the day that no one is in church who is not either committed or seeking. Jesus started with twelve (and an unnamed support cohort). Early converts were put through rigorous testing if they wanted to join (by society through persecution and by fellow believers through high standards). It won’t hurt the church, as church, if we move back closer to those times.

I’m just getting started but already have gone on too long. I realize these pronouncements may make me look like a slacker—a label I often earn—or worse. Perhaps what I’m really arguing for is wisdom: right priorities coupled with right action. At the heart of wisdom is discernment (separating wheat from chaff). It’s a quality I desire for myself and for my community. To the degree that we achieve it, we will be bothered less by the flux and will work more effectively for permanent things.