Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sun, 10 Jan 2021 00:50:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 http://assertivespirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-AS-Aonly-512x512-32x32.jpg Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com 32 32 “Not My Christianity”?: Moving Toward Healthier Responses to the Attempted Coup http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/09/not-my-christianity-attempted-coup-responses/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/09/not-my-christianity-attempted-coup-responses/#comments Sun, 10 Jan 2021 00:50:34 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1176 This week has felt like quite the, well, year in the US, hasn’t it? Specifically, the last few days. In this blog post, I plan to respond to one strain of responses to the seditious coup attempt that led to the first breaching of the US Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 since 1812: the “Not MY Christianity” rhetoric. See, I totally understand the impulse to fully disclaim the twisted toxic kind of spirituality on display during this insurrection....

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This week has felt like quite the, well, year in the US, hasn’t it? Specifically, the last few days. In this blog post, I plan to respond to one strain of responses to the seditious coup attempt that led to the first breaching of the US Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 since 1812: the “Not MY Christianity” rhetoric. See, I totally understand the impulse to fully disclaim the twisted toxic kind of spirituality on display during this insurrection. But as you will see, while I think it’s important we fight back against this kind of unhealthy spirituality, I think it’s also important we inquire more deeply into its roots lest we miss out on many of the lessons this horrific set of events and its precursors have to offer us.  

After all, this attempted coup came wrapped in signs saying “Jesus saves” and the singing of “Amazing Grace” and under the auspices of a cross. News articles here and here talk more about the unhealthy ways Christian symbolism was used during Wednesday’s seditious storming of the Capitol.

My Early Socialization into Christian Bothsidesism

Here’s the thing: I totally recognize the impulse to disclaim these actions as “not having anything to do with Christianity”—associating them with not being REALLY Christian.

Believe me, I’ve been there. As I’ve stated many times before in this space, I’ve actually been socialized into a moderate right-leaning denomination that taught me to do just that—to disclaim all violent actions done by those who claimed to be Christians.

As though it was ever as easy as that.

Ironic that we also believed we could never be without sin. (Mine were a complex bunch.)

Our Theological Bothsidesism

Especially because, as I’ve stated before, my peops were just as, if not more, horrified by those who identified as Christians who were theologically and politically to our left.

See, we didn’t think either of those groups were REALLY Christian. I mean, maybe we’d see them in heaven—after all, that was up to God, after all—but we were deeply disturbed by the idea of that, too.

From our view, it was pretty clear that the blatantly aggressive Christians, those supporting the empire, wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven. (Well, to be clear, I don’t really know about that now, but I do really hope not.)

What We Were Blind To

But as I can see now, as a scholar of stress, trauma and conflict communication, we were completely blind to the ways our toxic Christian nice (which I’ve talked about many times, starting here) was enabling the bullies while doing an extreme injustice to the more progressive Christians, through participating in their demonization (I’ve talked, for instance, about socialism as a “devil term” to be fought at all costs here).

We were also completely blind to the ways our right-leaning political views went way beyond the rhetoric of “nice” to enable the bullies in our midst, and had concrete consequences that hurt people.

And we were completely blind to the ways our false equivalencies that were just as, if not more, concerned about left-wing and right-wing Christians were ripe to be exploited by fascists and authoritarians known for their whataboutisms and bothsidesist propaganda.

And I’ll be honest—as I’ve noted before, it took me decades to figure this stuff out myself—and the journey wasn’t easy to get there.

Those Who Did Not Have Ears to Hear—or Ability to Reflect

The thing is this—a lot of us as “moderate Christians” were so busy tut-tutting about “those other Christians” that we failed to be properly introspective about our own complicity in bigger systemic problems.

Many too many of us were so d*mned caught up in our own sense of moral rightness about not being like either camp, and in what I’m calling here the Doctrine of Non-Assertiveness, that we failed to see the dangerous ways that the rhetoric and policies of militant masculinity, of white supremacy, of toxic xenophobia, etc. had already taken hold in our consciousnesses.

Some of Us DID Become More Introspective and Aware

Of course, some of us did recognize—and the tools that ironically had crept in (partly through study of the Bible, but also from wise practices of listening carefully and openly as we were able to people of different traditions—helped us gradually realize the real state of things.

That Christianity as a whole was—and is—a gigantic dysfunctional family. That even those who decided to fully leave its ranks still came from this family. And if we are to break this family’s intensely strong patterns of intergenerational trauma, we really need to face the problems of this dysfunctional family—including the ways our own unhealthy tendencies are often rooted in where we came from—head on.

Analyzing the Whiplashy Gaslighters That Claim Not to Be Complicit While Supporting Most of the Rhetoric

The thing is, not everyone is so introspective. Others I know switched in a whiplashy dizzing pace from promoting alt-right propagandistic talking points one moment about the election being stolen—the very type of rhetoric that laid the groundwork for and egged on this attempted coup—to the next moment disclaiming the aggression.

These people don’t have to say that aggression on “both sides” would be wrong for me to know they would be quickly evoking these kinds of false equivalencies if I pushed them.

And that’s the problem with cordial hypocrisy—it can beget the appearance of reason and empathy when someone is actually supporting evil. And they will gaslight you if they need to to maintain the “moral high ground” for themselves.

Defending “the Moral High Ground” at Expense of Truth and Reality

Let me say this again—the type of “Christian nice” that supports the rhetoric and policies behind the attempted coup while disclaiming the violence of the attempt actually cares more about their own senses of morality at others’ expense, and at the expense of truth.

Because here’s the truth—the rhetoric and the policies and the violence are, and have been, a package deal with this occupant of the Oval Office. Experts—including me but definitely not only me by a long shot—have been telling anyone who listens that since at least 2015.

So for anyone to say that they disclaim the violence while propping up the rhetoric and policies—is either delusion or disingenuous, or both.

Why It’s So Tempting to Just Dismiss the Attempted Coup’s Abuse of Christian Symbols

Again, I get the impulse for those of us not doing this to dissociate from the far-right and those trying to pretend they haven’t been radicalized—to dismissively say the violence is not okay, or they’re “not real Christians,” and leave it at that.

That’s a natural trauma response, to distance ourselves from those things we find morally disgusting. And let’s be clear—this kind of fascism, both in rhetoric, policy, AND violence, is and ought to be deeply disgusting. It’s just that the subtle forms ought to be just as disgusting as the extreme ones.

Here’s the thing, though—none of us is immune from the dysfunctional patterns in this really disturbing family so many of us identify with.

I’m not saying we have to be the person who must have close relationships with those  the far-right unhealthily aggressive forms of Christianity at our peril.

Recognizing My “Good” White Family’s Complicity in Slavery

What I am saying is this, and let me continue to use family history as an important analogy here: Awhile back, thinking carefully about the stories I’d grown up with that taught me how incredibly evil slavery was, I dove into Ancestry.com to make sure my family didn’t own slaves. I was honestly relieved when it seemed that we didn’t.

Until this summer, when I was listening to a book on the history of cod (yes, the fish), of all things, only to find that that industry, which was rooted in one of the towns much of my family had lived in New England, was deeply complicit with the slave trade.

Hm…..it seems living in the North didn’t remove our family from the consequences of white supremacy and privilege. Now THAT was uncomfortable, but an important discomfort for me to sit with.

Soooo….Let’s Talk about WWII

When I realized that, and started reflecting on the last four years, I realize that something similar had happened with how my peops taught us to be on the “right side of history” regarding WWII and Hitler and the Holocaust.

See, as I’ve discussed here before, I was raised among a people who claimed deeply to hate Nazis. They told us stories about Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom, etc., etc., etc. When I grew up I also learned about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Churches that resisted Hitler.

But at the same time, I was taught with shake of head and clucking of tongue that Europe had become “so post-Christian.”

Defending Our Virtue and That Of the “True Church” Erased Part of the Story

And here’s the thing: because we were so busy “right-siding” ourselves to the type of Christianity that had resisted Hitler while insisting that Europe, not the complicit church in Europe, were the reason people had left church in droves, we failed to realize the broader picture we needed to know to cut out the gangrene inside of ourselves and our broader community.

We were so busy looking down on Europe for being “post-Christian” that we failed to fully recognize the strengths they had in learning their own lessons better than we had.

We were so busy looking down on Europe for being “post-Christian” and congratulating ourselves for being better than that that we failed to recognize how much damage was caused by the church in that era.

Restoring the Whole View

Because plenty of churches went along with Nazism, kowtowed to it. Very few churches actually worked against the system by signing on to be part of the Confessing Church system, part of the resistance.

By saying the resistors were the only real Christians, we failed to see the whole picture. By doing that, we failed to see how exactly Europe become “post-Christian.”

Now, in light of the last four years in which f*scism has been steadily arising in the US out of disturbingly deep roots, I can see how it happened.

Why It Would Make Sense for America to “Become Post-Christian”

And if large swaths of America ends up “post-Christian,” let me be clear. It will do so at least in part as a way to try to heal themselves from this unhealthy dysfunctional family and some deep-rooted intergenerational trauma.

Trying to tell such people that “that’s not real Christianity” is, respectfully, both accurate and inaccurate. After all, let’s be clear: many healthier strands of spirituality DO exist in Christianity, as many dysfunctional families have safe, reasonable members.

But it also makes sense that those who have been deeply wounded by the bullies in Christianity would blame those who don’t stand up against its bullies. Who proclaim a doctrine of non-assertiveness.

We Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Keep Doing Our Best

This doesn’t, of course, mean that the healthy people and organizations who still identify as Christian ought to be perfect or anything—we all have our limits in what we can do to speak truth to power—but we can all do what we can do.

And we are rightfully blamed if we don’t do whatever we can do to make things safer and hold the bullies to account, especially when they come carrying a cross and draped in a flag.

What Can We Do?

So, then, what should those who have reasonable spiritualities, or just those who are reasonable, do after this earth-shaking yet predictable and traumatizing coup that carried with it such Christian elements?

Let us do the following:

  1. Keep Speaking Truth to Power! Assertively call out not just the violence but also the unhealthy theologies that made this possible, including the doctrine of nonassertiveness that comes with Christian nice. Disclaim this specific event, yes—but also call out the broader patterns that it’s tied to.
  2. Keep Pushing For Healthier Policies and Rhetoric! Keep pushing for and vote for policies and rhetoric alike that helps fix as many of the issues this incident and the last four years have brought into high relief as possible. That includes calling the perpetrators to be held truly accountable—all of them.
  3. Care for Ourselves and Others Through This Stressful Time. Recognize our own natural stress responses that come with this intergenerational trauma that comes with unhealthy Christianity that gets all wrapped up with toxic masculinity and white supremacy, etc., and work through our own stress cycles (and go to trauma therapy where we are able and have access) to deal with our own parts of the trauma.
  4. Be Reflexive About Bigger Patterns and Our Part in Them. Examine ourselves and our own traditions, whether we still consider ourselves part of them or not, for signs of unhealthy toxicity to be shifted to break the trauma cycles.
  5. Educate Yourself. That includes listening carefully to those who have been hurt by the bullies and the theological abuses in the church (BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+ folx, etc.) for help in diagnosing and healing these broader problems.
  6. Be a Witness to Fight Back Against Gaslighting. Write down these stories of what you’re learning about the toxic sides of things and how to heal them. Pass them on to others and to future generations. Keep the efforts going, friends!

There are more things, I’m sure. But this ought to give us something to be going on with, as the Brits say.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let us work to honestly and openly fight against the unhealthy intergenerational trauma patterns both in and outside of the Christian family, and may we keep working for a literally healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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When Christian Nice Demonizes Self Care http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/02/when-christian-nice-demonizes-self-care/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/02/when-christian-nice-demonizes-self-care/#respond Sun, 03 Jan 2021 05:26:52 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1170 So this past week I saw a post by a male Christian that suggested in the new year we “serve others rather than ourselves,” and I wanted to analyze today all the many problems with that much-too-prevalent statement today as a one-size-fits-all rule. And especially put it into the broader contexts of societal hierarchies that help demonize self care for many populations in unhealthy ways. In short, this blog post will unwrap how this kind of theological false dichotomy, when...

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So this past week I saw a post by a male Christian that suggested in the new year we “serve others rather than ourselves,” and I wanted to analyze today all the many problems with that much-too-prevalent statement today as a one-size-fits-all rule. And especially put it into the broader contexts of societal hierarchies that help demonize self care for many populations in unhealthy ways. In short, this blog post will unwrap how this kind of theological false dichotomy, when applied, can do great damage, and why we should work hard to get past it, both in the new year and always.

My Background and Context for This Discussion

Okay, so there are a lot of directions I could go with this analysis as a communication scholar who grew up as a pastor’s kid in a moderate denomination in the Midwest US. Let’s just say I’ve seen this kind of statement—that we should serve others, and not just serve others, but more than and rather than ourselves—A LOT.

When you grow up around something, it seems normal to you. When you grow up around a chronic issue you often don’t even realize it’s a problem—or at least could be a problem for a lot of audiences, in a lot of contexts.

Such is the case with statements like this. It took me until I was regularly studying and teaching about conflict styles to realize how incredibly unhealthy many spiritualities around service and self-care were.

Disclaimers Before We Go Further

Note: I’m speaking here ecumenically of Christian-informed spiritualities and theologies. I’ve seen a lot of this attitude in my moderate denominational upbringing, but I’ve seen it in other more progressive Christian contexts too, and in fact in other types of spiritualities as well, especially in my white middle class Midwestern upbringing.

I’m addressing Christian contexts here both because this is what I know best and also because Christianity is the religion with the loudest voices in the US context. And the unhealthy twisting of perfectly good ideas—like serving others—is causing a lot of damage when it creates shame and moral disgusts in vulnerable populations.

That damage is what I’m focusing on here. In doing so, I’m building on several past themes addressed in this blog, including the toxic side of Christian nice (I addressed this in a series starting here), questions around moral disgusts (I addressed this in a series starting here), and questions around god terms and devil terms (I addressed this in a series starting here).

Diving In: What Conflict Styles Have to Do with Self- and Other-Care

Here’s what I’ve realized: many swaths of the Christian church—especially those with strong “Christian Nice” components like the ones I grew up with—see the conflict style of accommodation to others as the highest form of spirituality.

Statements like the above are usually the ways these types of things are expressed.

The Theology Behind Accommodation as God-Term

The theological logic behind this false dichotomy often goes like this: Satan and Adam and Eve both put themselves first, and asked for things for themselves. By doing so, they were disobedient to God, and essentially became enemies of God. In this theological view, taking care of God and others is seen as a god term—something to be defended at all costs, while looking out for yourself is seen as a devil term (things to be fought at all costs).

The conclusion from this is drawn that when Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, he’s not really talking about loving yourself. The idea is that with our fallen natures, we already automatically do that. It’s part of our fallen nature, after all—something to be fought internally and externally.

I Don’t Think This Theology’s All Bad—It’s Just Partial in an Unhealthy Way

Let’s be clear: I don’t think this view is fully rotten through and through. I think it has valid points in parts. I mean, we all have times when we look out for ourselves at the expenses of others, and times when we should be serving others more than ourselves. But it’s just not nearly nuanced enough to fit reality well. And because of that, it has often been harmful, as I will explain.

So yes, that’s the much too limited deal—and a big part of the problem is that it doesn’t even take into account the nuance the Bible itself provides in key passages. Never mind that Jesus never really set up a hierarchy between loving God, others, and ourselves in that statement in the New Testament. Never mind that Jesus himself modeled time away for self-care. Never mind that Jesus and the prophets regularly spoke up against accommodating to the wrong types of people and unhealthy rhetoric and systems.

This Partial View of the World Is Disturbingly Zero-Sum

What this limited theology does in essence, unfortunately, is set up a zero-sum theology of the world in which those who follow it, especially those who are already vulnerable, are being hurt even more. Stick with me and I’ll explain how.

As a reminder, a zero-sum view of the world is one that sees the world as made up always and forever of winners and losers—and ONLY winners and losers. In other words, in this view of conflict, if one person wins, another person always loses.

So in other words, if you advocate for your needs at all, then God and others must be losing.

Breaking Down the Dichotomies

There are loads of problems to zero-sum views.

Sure, some things ARE zero-sum. Sometimes someone wins and another person loses.

But both stress research and conflict studies shows that the literally healthiest ways to go about things can involve a benefit to both parties.

In short, in the healthiest ways of thinking and being, it’s entirely possible to both love your neighbor AND yourself at the same time.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or thing.

Reaching Toward a Healthier Model of Mutuality

Let me say that again, for emphasis: in many cases, you can love yourself AND your neighbor at the same time. 

It doesn’t have to be serve others to your detriment—which is often what seeing accommodation as the healthiest form of spirituality leads many to. It can be take care of yourself so you can healthily take care of others, and seek help from others as you need it. And others can take care of themselves and also ask for help as they need it.

Each of us has strengths and weaknesses, and areas of expertise, and can help each other mutually with them.

It can be a beautiful thing.

Sometimes the Accommodation Message Is Apt

But here’s the thing: there ARE people who do need to hear the fact that we should love others more than ourselves. This is why this kind of statement is there in the Bible. For narcissistic personalities and others with a lot of privilege, this kind of statement is totally situationally on the mark.

But We Ought Not to Overaccommodate to the People Who Need the Message Most

And unfortunately, often those kinds of people who need the serve others message have been accommodated to too much, both in the church and out. This kind of one-size-fits-all accommodationist theology unfortunately, viscerally, because it sees accommodation and service to others as the highest good, much too often ends up serving these kinds of unhealthy and corrupt individuals.

And, let’s be clear—this is how fascistic authoritarianism, white supremacy, and other abusive systems ends up being served by this theology.

When Competition Is a Healthy Conflict Style

This is why, as liberation theology so rightly points out, there’s so much in the Bible about speaking truth to those who exploit others. See, the Bible doesn’t see accommodation as the highest form of spirituality in all situations. On the contrary, the Bible thinks it’s important to speak truth to power and corruption.

Healthy Self-Care as a Form of Resistance

And self-care, as I’ll explain, can be an important form of resistance within that framework.  

Let me explain.

Here’s the thing: it’s important to do what we can to take care of ourselves. And it’s important to do what we can to take care of others. It doesn’t always have to be zero-sum—often it can be collaborative, where we work to assertively take care of both our needs and those of others.

And yes, sometimes there are winners and losers, and that needs to be adjusted. Sometimes other unhealthy individuals make it zero-sum whether we like it or not.

When “Serve Others Not Yourself” Becomes Projected Shadow

Unfortunately often it’s the privileged and the narcissistic folks who are the ones who deliver this “serve others rather than yourself” message out to others.

This often turns out to be a form of projected shadow, which means that it seems to be something people aren’t dealing with themselves so they’re pushing it outward to ask others to take up their slack.

In short, those who share this message too often tell others to serve others because (1) they themselves wish to be served; (2) they themselves are not good at serving or humility and want others to do that for them. Other share this message unwittingly on the behalf of these individuals and groups. Ultimately all of these efforts enable those unhealthy people at the top of the heap to maintain power.

How “Serve Others” Theology Unhealthily Intersects with Human Giver Syndrome

This brings me to one of the many helpful concepts that Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski talk about in their book Burnout: their description of human giver syndrome and its negative health impacts on many. Drawing on feminist academics’ work, the Nagoski sisters helpfully talk about how some people in patriarchy and other unhealthy systems are allowed to be human beings, who have the option of either serving or being served while others are expected to be human givers only.

Women and minorities and poor people and other marginalized populations are often expected to be the givers in society. Too often these groups, who are often lower on the societal hierarchies, are unfortunately often scorned for having needs. Meanwhile, the human beings in society too often exploit their labor.

How Human Giver Syndrome Contributes to Ill Health for the Over-Givers

As the Nagoski sisters point out, this situation too often leads to genuine ill health for the human givers. It very frequently leads to burnout and trauma for the givers. And since burnout often has negative health consequences, this means that human giver syndrome literally hurts people.

So this false dichotomy theology I outlined above—the “serve others rather than yourself” theology—is really literally unhealthy when it gets internalized by these populations. It deepens this unhealthy situation. It literally hurts people, especially when paired with the message that it’s immoral or at least faintly disgusting to have to take care of ourselves.

And that last part–that can become an unfortunate side effect for both human givers and for human beings.

Why We Need to Push Back Against the False Dichotomies

THIS is why we need to push back against this kind of one-size-fits-all spirituality when it comes to giving.

See, these theologies of serving others above ourselves are often really needed by some people: those who are already allowed to be society’s human beings. It’s also helpful for those who are in healthy ecosystems of mutual self- and other-care. (And, in fact, all of us need the reminder occasionally that accommodation can be helpful at times.)

Unfortunately, though, it’s too often the human givers in society who hear them and internalize them most. And since society already tells these people that they aren’t really valuable human beings without giving to others, the extra dose of theology doubling down on that message is unhelpful, to say the least. Human givers often need to hear most that they are worthy of having their needs met, as a form of balance.

My Proposed Solution

My proposed solution to this dilemma? We should be speaking back assertively against unhealthy one-size-fits-all applications of this sort of statement. We ought to re-enable a way more mutual spiritual economy of giving and receiving that does not prop up unhealthy exploitation.

Sometimes we need to care for ourselves more, and sometimes other people more, and sometimes–many times–we can do both things at once. Recognizing that this is a natural tension that will need different answers in different relationships and situations is important.

 Advocating for the Human Givers’ Needs to Be Met

And we need to realize that for many people and in many situations, especially for those who are being societally pushed into the human giver role, “serve others rather than yourself” is a super toxic message that can be very harmful.

With and for those people, we need to break down unhealthy theological and spiritual dichotomies. We need to advocate for a spirituality of mutual self-care combined with helping one another. And we should work to push back against the behavior of the truly unhealthy human beings that really need the serve others rather than yourself message.

We also need to advocate for policies and practices that relieve the burden of human givers in helpful ways. Because human givers deserve external care as well as self-care.

Some Charges Going Forward

As we move into this new year and always, may we continue the good work of speaking truth to unhealthy blanket statements that can hurt people if used indiscriminately. May we remove the shame from healthy self-care that helps us help both ourselves and others. And may we continue to competitively stand against true selfish exploitation of others as well.

And, last but definitely not least, may we advocate for policies that provide more resources for the human givers in our society so they have the resources they need.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Hoping for the Best: Reaching Toward Healthy Non-Toxic Positivity as We Move Forward http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/26/reaching-toward-healthy-non-toxic-positivity/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/26/reaching-toward-healthy-non-toxic-positivity/#comments Sat, 26 Dec 2020 23:14:17 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1166 Okay, so as I’m writing this, we’re all facing down the end of that strangest of years, 2020—and looking ahead into 2021. As we do so, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the topic of healthy non-toxic positivity in these sorts of dark times. This blog post will be about just that—looking at the distinction between toxic and non-toxic forms of positivity and why it’s important to keep hoping for and working toward a better world. A Reminder Of Where...

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Okay, so as I’m writing this, we’re all facing down the end of that strangest of years, 2020—and looking ahead into 2021. As we do so, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the topic of healthy non-toxic positivity in these sorts of dark times. This blog post will be about just that—looking at the distinction between toxic and non-toxic forms of positivity and why it’s important to keep hoping for and working toward a better world.

A Reminder Of Where I’m Starting From

So quickly, as I get started, I’ll be looking at this from the lens of a communication scholar who studies and teaches about the verbal and non-verbal signs of stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

I’ve also been through my own rough times before this year—and have been applying the stuff I’ve studied and taught about to my own life throughout this year as well as in recent years. It has helped me heal and be more resilient in the face of the challenges that have come.

When Freeze Modes Get Spiritualized in Unhealthy Ways

Part of my experience has involved unwrapping the often toxic positivity that rises up to be glorified as a defense mechanism in unhealthy spiritualities, including many branches of Christianity, without going to the other extremes of embracing the unnecessary glorifications of suffering or cynicism that often come with the same or other traditions.

As I discussed in last week’s article, these types of spiritualities often boil down to a kind of learned helplessness that get into our stress responses to make us think we must stay stuck in inaction, or freeze mode.

Why Toxic Positivity and Undue Embrace of Suffering Can Both Cause Trauma

Both toxic positivity, as represented by statements like “just give it to God,” and toxic embrace of suffering or other forms of spiritualized cynicism can represent what I was calling learned helplessness. If you’re looking for excellent reads on the negative effects of either of these extremes, I recommend reading the books Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies We’ve Loved by Kate Bowler and Pure by Linda Kay Klein.

In both extremes, spiritualization of the freeze stress responses can focus on our own inabilities in situations, which can be quite traumatic.

And let’s be clear—when these kinds of unhealthy kinds of coping mechanisms get baked into theologies and spiritual guidance, that trauma can come with an extra helping of spiritual trauma.

Why This Is a Problem

One of the challenges of these types of spiritualizations is that we can create neurobiological patterns I’ve been calling moral disgusts toward the healthiest forms of spiritual and physiological coping mechanisms. I believe that literally healthy spirituality is just that, and is not in conflict with scientific findings.

Framing Matters

In short, the way we talk about good and bad experiences in spiritual terms matters tremendously, and that’s the issue I think it’s important for us to discuss always, but especially now at the hinge of these two years, and also at the hinge between the last four years and a new administration.

Understanding Why It’s Hard to Hope for Better Things

So here’s the thing: our neurobiologies are designed to help us remember the bad stuff much better than the good stuff.

There’s good reason for that. After all, when something really bad happens to us, our warning systems that are our stress responses go on high alert to help us avoid that thing again.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, when our systems get overwhelmed with a lot of stress, one thing our bodies and brains do to cope is to make it harder to feel intense emotions. This can be helpful, as sometimes we can’t take more. But as Brené Brown points out in her excellent book Daring Greatly, our systems don’t selectively numb.

That means that when we’ve been through a lot of stress, like we all have been more or less recently, our systems are more primed to expect the bad than the good.

The Very Natural Problem of Foreboding Joy

Let me say that again: when we’ve been through a lot, it’s literally hard to see that good things are possible. When this happens, it is not a moral defect—it is how our systems are designed to protect us.

They do it well sometimes—and sometimes how they’re designed trips us up.

Brené Brown in Daring Greatly calls out a type of shame—which, again, she defines as a feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging—that’s associated with these types of neurobiological reactions. She calls it foreboding joy, which is basically defined as a feeling that good things surely can’t happen to us because we’re surely not worthy of them.

(If you grew up with doctrines of original sin, this might be feeling uncomfortably close to home right now.)

Foreboding Joy and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

This neurobiological response is a completely natural one, but interdisciplinary research has shown us that if we believe that good things can’t happen, then we often act in such as way as to create negative self-fulfilling prophecies—which is just a fancy way of saying that we trick ourselves into behaving in such as way that only brings us to self-sabotaging ourselves (which really is a form of learned helplessness in shifting our patterns to bring us to healthier things).

The Opposite Problem: Toxic Positivity

Some strands of spirituality recognizes that this impulse can be misguided at times, and so it tries to bring us to the opposite form of things, that also end up glorifying the freeze response: toxic positivity.

There are lots of forms of toxic positivity, but a lot of them boil down to ignoring all negative realities. This is the kind of spirituality I’ve long been talking about as “Christian Nice.”

Toxic Positivity and Dissociation

Essentially, what this form of spirituality does is spiritualize a trauma response known as dissociation. Dissociation is another extreme form of the types of numbing I discussed just above—what it does is to help us survive by ignoring that whatever traumatized us happened at all.

When Dissociation Unhelpfully Creates More Trauma

While dissociation is helpful to us in some circumstances and short-term to keep us from dealing with too many stresses at once, it’s not helpful long-term. And its application on a spiritual or a societal scale, especially by people in power or with privilege, can create a lot of trauma for people whose real traumas and problems are being ignored.

It can also, as I’ve discussed before, enable toxic systemic issues like toxic masculinity, white supremacy, xenophobia, etc. at the expense of the vulnerable. Or, you know, lead to things like prolonging the negative effects of pandemics by ignoring that they are a problem.

Reaching Toward Healthier Ground that Avoids the Harmful Extremes

How, then, can we avoid these extremes and move forward in a more ethical way of managing all the stress we’ve been dealing with this past year and before?

Well, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski lay out an excellent solution in their stress-research-based general audience book Burnout. The solution is called positive reappraisal, and it’s a really important reframe that allows us to walk a healthier middle ground.

In describing positive reappraisal, the authors are careful to point out that it’s very different from both toxic positivity and the types of rhetoric that just call us to stay in the freeze mode of suffering rather than reaching for hope of better things.  

Reaching Toward the Both/And Of Positive Reappraisal

Positive reappraisal is a both/and approach: it acknowledges both that bad things suck and that positive things and good opportunities for action can be found in the midst of them.

As we move from 2020 into 2021, and look ahead to a political shift in the US as well, may we all have the strength to avoid dissociating from or thinking we need to somehow be thankful for the continuing trials we have and will face, especially the unnecessary ones. And may we also have the strength to use healthy positive reappraisal to reach toward hope.

And as we move ahead, may our spiritualities reflect healthy coping mechanisms that help both ourselves and others, especially the vulnerable, by acknowledging negative feels and real problems, while also nudging us toward continuing to do what we can do toward a better world.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap, inside ourselves and without, toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Advent, the Inauguration, and the False Doctrine of Learned Helplessness http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/19/advent-inauguration-false-doctrine-learned-helplessness/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/19/advent-inauguration-false-doctrine-learned-helplessness/#respond Sun, 20 Dec 2020 04:44:05 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1161 As I write this I am angry. For good reason. You see, it’s taken me several weeks to write this public post, and that’s because of the way I was raised with what I’m calling the false doctrine of learned helplessness. Stay tuned for what that means, and why I’m angry about it, and how I’m working to direct that anger into healthy channels. Specifically I’ll be talking about how much it’s bothered me to admit publicly that I’ve extended...

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As I write this I am angry. For good reason. You see, it’s taken me several weeks to write this public post, and that’s because of the way I was raised with what I’m calling the false doctrine of learned helplessness. Stay tuned for what that means, and why I’m angry about it, and how I’m working to direct that anger into healthy channels. Specifically I’ll be talking about how much it’s bothered me to admit publicly that I’ve extended my personal Advent season to January 20, 2021 (the US Presidential Inauguration) and the unhealthy forces that held me back from doing so until now—and why it’s important that I overcame them to emerge into the empathetic anger I’m currently feeling, and working to channel that anger in this public forum, hopefully to encourage you to speak up however you can as well.

This is a long one: Thanks for sticking with it to the end!

A Reminder of My Background

Just to remind you, I’ll be talking about this as a pastor’s kid raised in a conservative-leaning branch of a seemingly moderate church who went on to study and teach about stress, trauma, and conflict communication at a university level, using my PhD in Communication as my lens to do so.

This mix of experience and expertise has really given me a chance to diagnose when my own and others’ visceral responses aren’t matching what the evidence says are healthy responses. And I work to do what I can to overcome my unhealthy socializations as much as to point them out for others as well. But it’s hard work for all of us, because these toxic systems and beliefs are often insidious in how they cause damage.

The great thing, as I’ve said many times before, is that my standpoint growing up in a slightly right-leaning moderate church has allowed me to see some of the subtle insidious moral disgusts I was raised with have led to the extreme forms of right-wing gaslighting we’ve been seeing these days.

In this article I hope to show you how stubbornly persistent those types of socializations can be at speaking up toward a better world for us all, and how important it is to keep working to overcome them so we can keep on keeping on in this relay race, lest we bow to letting good be called evil and evil good.

My Personal Slushie Mode

So yeah, it was only yesterday or today that I realized my internalized socialized moral disgusts were what was keeping me in, well, not exactly full freeze mode, but slushie mode, away from speaking up assertively about a way I had adapted a spiritual practice to work toward a healthier world for us all. And that makes me angry, which is great, because the anger has helped to melt the icy bits, and as you’ll see, that’s helpful.

The Practice that Was Bothering Me to Talk about Publicly

In short, my internal censors were coming down on me hard for writing a blog piece about how instead of counting down to Christmas with my Advent calendar this year, I’m counting down to the US Presidential Inauguration instead.

And let’s be clear: from a rational, empathetic standpoint, using the Advent calendar this way makes total and complete sense. My friends have been passing around memes pointing out that you can count down to the inauguration using an Advent calendar starting the day after Christmas for good reason.

Why It Makes Sense to Count Down to the Inauguration

Here’s what this practice does for me, as I can well see from my understanding of the research: it reminds me that there is good reason to keep fighting for a healthier world for us all in which we fight policies and rhetoric that hurt people.

A Tiny Swath of the Huge Pile of Evidence for That: Stress Indicators

As research from the American Psychological Association has shown, the stress in this country has been off the charts in the last four years, and this year it’s the worst it’s been since they started measuring. Because of what I study, I know that literally is causing trauma and illness and pain for many people in addition to the mental health struggles outlined in that report.

And let me quick note that the level of stress regarding the future of this country outlined in that report isn’t only about the pandemic (though that is a big part of it)—as you’ll see if you look into the site linked above, valid concerns about the future of our nation have been markedly higher than other concerns in those APA reports ONLY since the 2016 election.

This evidence combined with other research from my communication field and research from other fields as well tells me that what is going on in the political realm is affecting many many lives deeply.

In short, I know with my head and also a good chunk of my heart that it’s not “just rhetoric” or “just policies” that we vote for. To me, when my unhealthy internal socializations aren’t subtly dragging me under, I’m very aware that hoping for better and healthier leaders is a deeply spiritual practice.

I Wasn’t ONLY Socialized into Unhealthy Beliefs

And after all, my socialization was by no means all bad, as cross-disciplinary research in the stress field and elsewhere shows. Verses like “Love does no harm to its neighbor” are deeply consistent with what stress and trauma research shows us about what healthy leadership and communication climates and policies that work as well as possible for people can literally do for the health and well being of a group of people.

And while it’s complex how stress responses work with unhealthy behaviors, it’s really clear based on stress and trauma research how arrogant, corrupt, and exploitive leadership do extreme damage to people’s health and well being.

Counting Down to the Inauguration

Based on the evidence of the APA stress report as well as many other indicators, then, the healthy socializations of my childhood together with my expertise have led me to extend my Advent season to count down toward the at least partial relief the new US administration will bring.

So yeah, from a rational and empathetic standpoint, celebrating a season of hope, of waiting for change, and counting down to THIS inauguration is a no-brainer, really. The voice of reason, from all of my expertise in trauma, knows to my core that the “loving my neighbor as myself” position means rooting hard for this inauguration to happen, and to happen as smoothly and reasonably as possible.

Yes, there will be a HARD slog from there, but isn’t that the point of Advent? After all, isn’t the traditional liturgical season of Epiphany about the start of what is hoped for, which at least in part is tangible relief beginnings of healing, of relief from unnecessary pain and trauma?

Sigh—If Only It Were That Simple

But wait…says the voice in my head, the voice of my right-leaning religious socialization. If you’re counting down to the inauguration with an Advent calendar, doesn’t that mean you’re making Joe Biden into a Messiah of sorts? SURELY IT DOES! HOW DARE YOU????

It is this—this voice—that’s been keeping me in freeze for a few weeks. (Well, that and the grading and other feels that have attended this crazy pandemic online university teaching semester, but those other things are slightly beside the point.)

And that voice is what’s making the rest of me very angry now that I’ve pulled out of freeze.

See, I’ve talked about this voice and its unhealthy moral disgusts before. I’ve talked about this voice and its gaslighting tendencies before. And I’ve talked about this voice and its unhealthily competitive attitude between itself and other holidays, rituals, and enactments before (here).

The Toxic Side of Christian “Nice” Rears Its Ugly Head

This voice is uber unhealthy, in a frustratingly subtle way. It’s insidious, is what it is.

THIS is the voice of the toxic side of Christian nice I’ve talked about in a series starting here. It’s the voice of the “white moderate” the Rev. Dr. King talked about, as I’ve discussed here and here.

Nice’s Disdain for Politics

It’s the voice that tells me that surely it’s not okay for me to use the liturgical calendar to celebrate the type of pain relief, the type of relative return to sanity, that comes with politics.

(Please read the word—politics—with a heavy tone of moral disgust, of disdain, if you really want to read that in the way the voice in my head says it. Thanks much!)

After all, so says the voice in my head, Jesus said specifically that the kingdom of heaven was DIFFERENT from the systems of this world. So therefore, the argument goes, Jesus’ coming must have nothing to do with politics.

(Tell that to the mothers of the babies Herod killed because he saw the baby Jesus as a political threat.)

Nice’s Persuasive Ability to Stop Me From Speaking Out Against Corruption

 And therefore, Christians also must not confuse politics with Christian concepts, the argument continues. In fact, it is WRONG to participate in politics beyond the very basics.

(Tell that to the women who Jesus lifted up from the margins. Tell that to the religious and political leaders Jesus regularly confronted for their injustice. Tell that to Barabbas, the insurrectionist against the Roman government in whose place Jesus literally chose to die.)

Unless, of course, the socialized voice in my head says, you’re trying to keep the country from being too political about the wrong things, or the wrong solutions. THEN, of course, it’s okay to be political. But taking the Advent calendar and waiting for the election of anyone, but especially a Democrat? (Clucks tongue and shakes head. The horrors!)

How This Socialization Keeps Us in Freeze

Practically speaking, this voice and the moral disgusts that come with it, exploit people’s natural stress responses to create a freeze response, keeping them from action in the public realm on behalf of the vulnerable. In short, it creates a kind of learned helplessness when it comes to speaking up against corrupt and exploitative voices.

But What IS Freeze Mode and How Does It Affect Us?

Just to make it clear, the freeze response is a reasonable physiological response to a neurobiological overload of the system. It makes sense that our bodies and brains would try to keep us alive by telling us the best thing we can do is play dead in the face of predators.

Here’s the problem: Sometimes our bodies are misguided about which stress response is actually the best choice for ourselves and others. And the unfortunate thing is that “Christian Nice” tries to keep us in freeze when bullies actually need to be resisted.

Spiritualized Learned Helplessness

Often the political inaction line of thinking ends up to be a spiritualized form of learned helplessness—which ultimately says that because we can’t help everyone, or because the church isn’t meant to help people through certain means, that we might as well stay stuck in our freeze mode.

The tricky part is that people don’t look like they’re in freeze mode. Indeed, these people are standing up and walking around—in fact, privately they may be shaking their heads about how awful it is what this administration is doing—but if people aren’t publicly speaking up through their spheres of influence as much as they can against this kind of thing, the bullies gain a little extra platform. And that extra platform can lead to more harm, unfortunately. 

In short, bullies gain when they convince people that there’s no point—or, in fact, that it’s immoral to speak up publicly against them.

Waking Up from Slushie Mode

So yes, let’s be clear—since I’ve been fighting against my socialized freeze mode for a long time, and especially in this project, I haven’t been in full freeze lately by any means. The work of AS has continued, and I’ve been doing what I can in my classroom, and in my private spheres as well.

Let’s say I’ve been in more of a slushie mode, as it were.

But it’s been awhile since I had the emotional energy to write a new blog post in this space, and I wanted to let all of you know that one of the reasons why was because I was fighting this kind of voice in my head.

I am stronger against such voices than I used to be, but I am not immune to them. I don’t think any of us are, no matter how progressively we were raised. And it’s important to keep fighting them. And it’s really important to know that waking out of these kinds of freeze and slushie mode into empathetic anger is no bad thing. It gives us the energy we need to healthily resist the bullies on behalf of the vulnerable.

Recovering My Freshly Assertive Voice in This Space

So I’m standing here today to say that voice of “Christian Nice” is flat-out wrong. It is harmful.

In the face of corrupt government that is damaging soooo many people, I am here to say it is flat-out unethical and wrong not to hope for the healthy change this inauguration will bring, at least in some measure. And it is important for ALL of us to do whatever we can to make sure that kind of hope is embodied as well as possible.

My Declaration

I’m declaring here that I’ve extended my personal Advent practice to January 20, 2021, and I refuse to feel shame or guilt about about that, because it doesn’t mean I’m treating the new president and his appointees as the f*cking Messiah, as the unhealthy voices from my past would suggest.

In fact, because I know this administration alone can’t save us from the unhealthy actions the millions of radicalized Republicans are likely to cause, I plan to keep speaking up and working against the continuing bullies, now and in the future.  

It means I’m looking for a lessening of unhealthy corruption and government and unhealthy complicit leaders of the same f*cking sort that Jesus and the prophets railed against.

Staring Down the Toxic Practices Associated with Nice

And, last but not least, it means I’m working to wake myself and others from such unhealthy freeze responses that tell us that action on behalf of the least of these is somehow wrong. Those voices that seek to gaslight us into thinking that evil is somehow good and good evil. And tell us that there’s no point in standing up against those who are corrupt.

Refusing to Stay in Freeze Beyond What Is Healthy

I refuse to stay in this spiritualized condition of learned public helplessness with which I was raised.

Of course I can’t do everything—the world IS overwhelming right now, and my sphere of influence only stretches so far.

What I Can Do—What We All Can Do

But it’s there, and I can channel my empathetic anger into helping in the ways that I can help.

It’s a lie of the voice in my head that if I can’t do everything, I must do nothing.

That’s an unhealthy spiritualization of the voice of shame, of fear of vulnerably courageous actions. That is not the spirit of Love. Giving into that voice—the voice of shame—keeps me out of the arena for a time. And while of course that’s going to happen occasionally because I’m human, it’s important for me and all of us to keep fighting those voices of shame because giving into them hurts ourselves and others.

So What Does All of This Mean?

In short, I’m planning to do what I always call all of us to do: do what I can, where I am, with what I’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. Today, these last couple of weeks, that’s involved identifying and speaking up against these socialized spiritualizations of unhealthy stress responses inside myself as well as externally, once again.

Now that that’s done, my voice is cleared so I can continue to work more externally to speak up.

Why Private Spiritual Practice Like My Inauguration Advent Countdown Matter

And you know what?

Continuing to count down privately with my Advent calendar toward the inauguration helped spur me toward breaking out of my semi-freeze mode, and this blog post is part of the outcome of that work.

I am thankful for that. And I’m thankful for this public space to keep myself accountable for speaking the truth as well. Thanks to you who have read this far for being my witnesses to this. I hope all of you have similar ways and witnesses to keep you on track as well, as far as your individual spheres of influence extend.

I encourage you to do whatever work you need to do, inside and out, to keep doing what you can to speak up against the toxic crap, friends. If you need a rest, rest, don’t quit. It’s a relay marathon, and I trust we can all keep on this path if we keep working at it.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing!

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Reaching Toward Pandemically Precautious Healthy Holidays http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/21/reaching-toward-a-pandemically-precautious-holiday-season/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/21/reaching-toward-a-pandemically-precautious-holiday-season/#comments Sun, 22 Nov 2020 01:23:17 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1157 Okay, so as I described in this space back in the era I now call Early Pandemic, all of us who are seeking to be as pandemically responsible as possible are back to high alert (some of us never really came back down from it), trying to keep ourselves and others alive and reach toward healthy holidays in these challenging times. Despite the best efforts of those of us who continue to be as pandemically precautious as possible in the...

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Okay, so as I described in this space back in the era I now call Early Pandemic, all of us who are seeking to be as pandemically responsible as possible are back to high alert (some of us never really came back down from it), trying to keep ourselves and others alive and reach toward healthy holidays in these challenging times. Despite the best efforts of those of us who continue to be as pandemically precautious as possible in the US, though, we’re in the middle of the worst wave of infections yet, in large part because of unhealthy leadership encouraging COVID denial and minimization at the expense of public health. The CDC is strongly discouraging travel over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, and I suspect the same is around the corner for Christmas.

The “Too Long, Didn’t Read” Answer (But Keep Reading!)

So how do we cope with this challenge?  Well, those who follow closely should know my TL;dr answer: we do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep working toward a better world for us all. The challenge is to translate that to reaching toward healthy holidays in 2020.

Translating the AS Charge to Pandemic Holidays 2020

But what does that look like in today’s pandemic holiday circumstances? That’s what this article is all about. Specifically, it talks about ideas for how we can continue to connect with loved ones without gathering with them in person, especially not inside.

Side Note: Don’t Forget to Keep Speaking Up Against the Toxic Crap!

An important side note: You should absolutely also keep speaking up against the toxic crap that’s out there as you enact or adapt whatever works for you from the below list. As last week’s expert guest blogger Lee McEntyre reminded us, there is good reason to keep speaking up against misinformation and disinformation just now. Go read that post if you need an incisive analysis and encouragement in that direction.

Focusing on How We Can Connect

But today, we’ll be talking about how to offer connection to loved ones and others who are lonely at these times while assertively saying no to in-person gatherings as much as is feasible, especially indoor ones. The goal? To reach toward literally healthy holidays as well as we can.

Collaboration Is Part of the Gig

Quick disclaimer: Some of the ideas here are contributed by other friends and AS followers or are ones that have come across my social media feeds. They have either been passing on ideas, often from indeterminate sources, or asked not to have attributions assigned. I love this. We do best when we work together toward a healthier and more connected world for us all!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Some *Can’t* Responsibly Distance

Okay, so before I dive into this list, let’s be clear: not everyone is ethically able to stay fully socially distanced during these holidays, and it’s important to recognize that it is for their sake that those of us who can must keep doing what we can.

This list includes essential workers, especially healthcare workers. It also includes people with coparenting agreements that are being court-ordered to comply with holiday kid transfers.

If you are one of these people or someone in a similar category I may not have mentioned, may you stay as safe as possible while you undertake your difficult responsibilities. May the rest of us support you, but in a socially distanced manner.  

And may the rest of us stay as distanced as is feasible. A healthy holidays to us all, as much as is possible. May all of us reach toward that goal the best we can.

A Reminder Why Distanced Holidaying Is So Hard: Our Wiring

It’s hard, though. And for good reason. As I remind my interpersonal communication students regularly, we are wired for close relationships, and we use the word “close” as a metaphor for intimacy for good reason. As Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski remind us in their excellent book Burnout, a 20 second hug is one of the things that can take us through a lot of stress processing. (Man, do I miss regular hugs—and I’m not even a hugger!)

So yeah, it’s not just a cultural thing, but a hard-wired thing that we want to be in person with people. And yet…when we can, it’s more loving right now to socially distance, as our health care system is in its worst crisis yet.

It’s Also REALLY Cultural

It’s not all wiring, though, this desire to get together in person this time of year—it’s also incredibly cultural. And these particular holidays and their timing and expected formats are especially cultural.

In the US, we gather together in honor of Thanksgiving because certain people thought a certain version of history was important to commemorate and for many employers to give many people the day off to celebrate (one that is pretty d*mned colonialist, let’s be honest—and ended up being about spreading disease, ironically).

Christmas, too, is really incredibly cultural about how it is observed and celebrated (and has been politicized in a very unhealthy zero-sum way, as I described in a previous piece).

Remembering “Those Other” Holidays

But these aren’t the only holidays that are being celebrated at this time—there are many religious and other holidays clustering at the end of the year.

People Are Often Being Stubborn in Unwise Ways

And let’s face it, the drive to have so much in person gathering right now is deeply partisan in many circles, driven by those who simply don’t believe this virus is a big deal.

Here’s the thing, though—it’s not an all or nothing proposition. It’s not a question of “holidays under fire because Democrats hate them and want to control us.”  Nope. Just nope.

No, it’s a question of “how can we best connect with each other during these holidays in the midst of the constraints placed upon us by this virus and the need to keep ourselves and others safe in the face of it”?

In short, it’s how we can do our best to love others and reach toward literally healthy holidays in light of external constraints.

It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game

The truth is, we can absolutely connect across the distance, especially now, when technology allows for that so relatively easily. It’s not the same, no, but the suggestions I’m offering below can help to bridge a lot of the difference for those willing to make the effort.

May We Remember Those Who Are Usually Left Out

One of the most interesting/disturbing things to me is that those making these unwise arguments about why we must get together in person are some who are the least inclusive people. They don’t seem to care about the people who are usually left out, those who Jesus said should be gathered in for the feast from the highways and byways.

But we can be concerned about gathering these people in as well as possible, while ALSO doing it in a pandemically precautious way.

May this pandemic holiday season remind those who regularly receive the privilege of having time off remember those who don’t, now and every year.

And may those who are used to celebrating with family remember those who don’t have that privilege, now and every year, including those who are separated from family through trauma responses, other disabilities, deaths, and other reasons.

May we all remember to reach out to all kinds of marginalized and vulnerable populations, both in COVID era and beyond.

How to Reach Out: The Nitty Gritty

So it’s time to get down to it. Let’s say you desire to stay connected to friends or family this 2020 holiday season, but are able to avoid holiday travel and gatherings with those outside your home or isolation pod/quaranteam. How do you reach out and connect across the distance?

Here are a few rough ideas (remember you can adapt these to whatever holiday or non-holiday practices you may wish to—I’m creating this list to be adapted as needed, and am offering it in very little particular order):

  1. Use Zoom and Other Video Chat Platforms. To start with, Zoom is globally removing the 40 minute cap at least in the 24 hours around US Thanksgiving, so that’s a great time to connect with others in a more unlimited way on a platform nearly everyone now knows, at least a bit.
  2. Eat (or drink) and/or cook together from a distance via video chat such as Zoom. Whether you coordinate food or each order or cook it together, eat together (but distanced) at the same time.

    How might this work? One pandemically responsible restaurant in a town I know is offering curbside on US Thanksgiving with individually packaged local Thanksgiving feasts ready to be dropped off at different houses so you can all eat together via Zoom, etc. If you have people in different locations, find out what’s going on in each town regarding curbside and delivery for local restaurants. If you have people in need or sick, send or drop off ready made food or send them money via venmo or PayPal!
  3. Like to play cards or games together? There are online platforms for that. One I just heard about is Trickster Cards—there’s an app for that, and it doesn’t require a login to play multiple popular card games. I haven’t played it myself, but I know others who have. I do know it makes space for people “watching” the game, too. If you miss the getting together option, a lot of these can be combined with the phone or videochat platforms like Zoom to offer more space for “feeling together.”
  4. Watching shows or movies together from a distance. Streaming services have made it difficult to watch things together on places like Zoom if you don’t have the same services, but if you have access to the same media, you can watch together from a distance and call or message/text snarky comments back and forth during the show or movie. (I’ve been doing this with distanced friends during the pandemic—it’s not the same as being in the same living room, but it works.)
  5. Virtually attend worship services together for those who may wish to (try not to be snarky with those who don’t!).
  6. Send thoughtful gifts. If possible, try to support local businesses while you do. Optionally, have package-opening gatherings on Zoom. For instance, early in pandemic a friend who was dealing with a pandemic pregnancy was experiencing a lot of anxiety, so I found a local bookstore in her community that took orders over the phone and dropped the books on her doorstep for free. If you don’t have much money, mail, a phone or Zoom call, or even just staying in touch via messages can help offer a personal touch to help someone feel less lonely.
  7. Miss singing or musical instruments together? Have a phone or Zoom singalong!
  8. Online Dance party! Do a dance party on Zoom, where one person provides the music via phone or video chat and everyone dances to it.
  9. Exercise Together: Have someone screenshare an online exercise program on Zoom (such as yoga) and do it together.
  10. Have everyone do facials or pedicures together from their own homes.
  11. Have everyone paint something together on Zoom while sipping on their own choice of beverage and snacks. (Or, you know, just have a happy hour.)
  12. Miss traveling? Take each other on glamorous tours of each other’s living spaces, or create a venue, whether on social media or elsewhere, to post or collect pics past or present of outdoor activities you might have been able to safely do.
  13. Mourning a death or had to have a smaller wedding or other celebration/ritual than usual? Schedule a Zoom time or times when everyone can share stories or commemorate the occasion from their own living spaces in a safe and distanced way. Record it if you can!

Obviously, these, too, are all culturally defined suggestions. I hope they inspire you to adapt them as needed.

Whatever you choose, if you try to collect multiple people together, keep the following in mind toward inclusion:

  1. Ask about people’s abilities and needs and adapt to that where you can.
  2. Keep it all mostly digital if everyone has access and abilities to get there. If you have multiple people gathered together because you live together, etc. and are trying to fold in distanced family members, sound can be a challenge if there are a bunch of people running around. (This is an insight from being an educator this fall–I’m sooooo glad I was teaching all on Zoom, having heard horror stories of those who were trying to mix and match some participating online and some in person.)
  3. If you have people across time zones, try to pick a time when most people can be involved.
  4. Help those who need help with technology. Try to offer assistance for those who might not know the technology. Also consider  
  5. Offer a space for negative emotions and sadness as well as the experience of joy when possible. This article explains why. It’s been a rough year for almost everyone–let’s offer space for everyone to work through their stress by feeling the feels.
  6. Think ahead and try to plan a space for in-person meeting when things really do get better.

Well, this could go on for awhile, but I’ll stop here. I hope this list, imperfect as it may be, could help inspire you toward ideas for safely celebrating with others from a distance.

Whatever you end up doing, friends, I hope you continue toward literally assertively standing up for a healthier world for us all.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s figure out ways to stand up for a more healthily connected world across the distances required for public health. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Persisting Against Disinformation in the Post-Election Era http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/14/persisting-disinformation-post-election-era/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/14/persisting-disinformation-post-election-era/#comments Sun, 15 Nov 2020 01:09:16 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1151 EDITOR’S NOTE: I am thankful to have met this week’s guest blogger, Lee McIntyre, at a conference a few years back. Considering he’s way too modest in his author’s bio at the end of this guest post—he’s literally written the book on Post-Truth, and has spoken to the United Nations on the subject—I was thrilled that he agreed to offer us some post-election advice on how and why it’s important to keep speaking up against disinformation, and how to distinguish...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I am thankful to have met this week’s guest blogger, Lee McIntyre, at a conference a few years back. Considering he’s way too modest in his author’s bio at the end of this guest post—he’s literally written the book on Post-Truth, and has spoken to the United Nations on the subject—I was thrilled that he agreed to offer us some post-election advice on how and why it’s important to keep speaking up against disinformation, and how to distinguish that from run of the mill lying. If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that his piece follows nicely on other things I’ve been discussing here, especially my piece on public gaslighting from a few weeks back. Enjoy! Cheers, DS Leiter, Founder, Assertive Spirituality

by Lee McIntyre, Guest Blogger

Throughout the Trump presidency we’ve seen a shocking amount of misinformation and disinformation, on topics ranging from the mundane (“there were more people at my inauguration than at Obama’s”) to the world-shattering (“Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.”). In my 2018 book POST-TRUTH, I discuss the dangers of this kind of “political subordination of reality.” Post-truth goes beyond mere lying, spin, or partisanship, and is instead a tactic drawn from the authoritarian toolbox, meant to assert control over the narrative of truth and reality, in anticipation of an assertion of power over the population.

The Goal of Post-Truth

It is important to remember that even though lying is an important tactic used by many politicians, with post-truth the goal is not merely to convince someone that a falsehood is true, but to so “dominate their reality” that they begin to question whether it’s possible to know what’s true or false outside a political context.

Trying to convince someone—even when you are giving them false information—offers at least a certain type of respect, because it admits that you care about the cognitive consent of the person who is being lied to. With post-truth, the ploy is instead to say “I am the boss so I get to frame reality in any way I like, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

The point is domination, not persuasion.

Negative Outcomes=(Even More) Cynicism

The result is that the population becomes more cynical, perhaps believing that since there is really no way to know the truth, one might as well believe whatever lie is being manufactured by one’s leader.

Given the context of his presidency, it came as no shock whatsoever during the 2020 election that Trump continued his massive campaign of “post-truth” lying and distortion.

The Difference Between Misinformation and Disinformation

There is an important distinction to be made here between misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is information that is merely false, but disinformation is information that is intentionally false. Such lies are created on purpose, normally with a political, economic, or ideological goal in mind.

Thus the challenge during a political campaign is to sort between claims that are merely hyperbolic and those that have been created to dominate your reality.

Dirty Tricks and Disinformation: How It Works

A single example will suffice. In a 2018 Congressional campaign in New York, the Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin created flyers which said that the deadline for absentee ballots was November 6th, whereas the actual ballot was due no later than November 5th. This had the consequence of causing many students (who were more likely to vote for the Democrat) to miss the deadline. Zeldin kept his seat, and denied all wrongdoing, even though it later came out that he’d made the same “error” in 2016. This is a textbook example of a disinformation campaign, which was created for the express purpose of depressing Democratic turnout.

During the 2020 election, we saw a much wider disinformation campaign, during which President Trump desperately tried to push the narrative that virtually all absentee ballots (which were favored by Democrats) were fraudulent.

Now that we are in the post-election period—with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their way to the White House—one might think that it doesn’t matter so much how to deal with this kind of “dirty trick” anymore.  Let the liars embarrass themselves. What can it hurt?

Plenty.

Why Should We Worry About All This Now That Trump Is Leaving?

In the post-election period, Trump has continued his bogus claims of voter fraud, which has the potential to undermine faith in one of the most basic pillars of Democracy, hobble Biden’s transition, and perhaps even endanger national security.

Even so, it is important to remember that context matters.

To claim that—due to widespread voter fraud—the Republican-controlled Michigan state legislature should install its own slate of electors (rather than one based on the will of the voters) is a pathetic, anti-American power play.

How seriously should we take it? That depends on the electoral context.

The Stakes Are Still High

Is there is chance that this could happen?

Yes, and given our Constitution it would be perfectly legal. In a national environment in which Biden and Harris have already been declared the winners, and are in the middle of their transition, it might seem less important to push back.

But I think that is the wrong reaction.

Although the stakes might seem lower in a post-election environment—where misinformation and disinformation could do less damage—it’s important to remember the overall goal of post-truth: the political subordination of reality.

In a situation in which there might be grievous harm from an unlikely event, we are still wise to take it seriously.

Actuaries and statisticians make a living calculating things like the extreme unlikelihood of a nuclear meltdown multiplied by the unspeakable harm that might occur if one occurred. This is a bedrock principle of “risk analysis” and a cornerstone of rational judgment.

The Price of Silence in the Face of Lies

So let’s ask ourselves: what would be the price of losing our Democracy on the off chance that a group of Republican toadies in Michigan succeeded in making a power play that is fully allowed by the U.S. Constitution, even though most people still regard this as unimaginable or inconceivable?

In a political environment in which Trump used tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors, Mitch McConnell denied President Obama a rightful Supreme Court pick, and Republican members of the House and Senate have yet to challenge Trump’s fantasy about voter fraud, is it really inconceivable that a group of Michigan legislators might try to subvert the will of the voters if they thought that they could get away with it?

Why We Need to Keep Challenging Misinformation and Disinformation

Misinformation and disinformation must be challenged, each and every time they appear. There is no such thing as a claim that is so outrageous it need not be “dignified” by a response.

John Kerry learned this when he was “Swift-boated” by manufactured lies about his war record during the 2004 Presidential campaign. President Obama faced it when Donald Trump invented a conspiracy theory about his birthplace that dogged Obama during his entire presidency, and lead to Trump being rewarded with the presidency. If lies and falsehoods are allowed to fester, they can do great damage.

Yes, context matters in assessing risk, but in today’s supercharged political environment, any false claim—if left unchallenged—can eventually grow into something unforeseen and sinister.

At the dawn of American political history, no less a figure than George Washington learned this political lesson between his first and second terms. According to the author Ron Chernow, author of WASHINGTON: A LIFE, during his first term in office Washington was accused of all sorts of outrageous conduct, such as that he was plotting to restore the British monarchy or that he was actually a British double agent. Washington refused to respond. During his second term, however, he began to take a different tack, “realizing that if you drip water on a stone—if it drips on the stone long enough—it will leave a mark.”

The Road Ahead

No matter the context, political lies and disinformation are dangerous. In the wrong hands, when given enough repetition, even the most absurd claims can grow to threaten Democracy itself. Shall we let Trump take as long as he needs to admit that he lost the election — making baseless claims of voter fraud along the way — because he’s on his way out no matter what?

But what happens when Trump creates his own media empire, and attacks Biden throughout his first term, or perhaps decides to run again in 2024? How might our “risk matrix” look then?

If we have learned nothing else from Trump’s presidency, let it be this: resistance is a necessary tool to fight against tyranny. And sometimes it works! But we must keep an eye out too even when tyranny is not on the horizon. As with so many precious things, the price of guarding them is eternal vigilance.

About the Guest Author

Lee McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. He is the author of Post-Truth (MIT Press, 2018), The Scientific Attitude (MIT Press, 2019), and numerous popular essays that have appeared in such venues as the New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, and the Boston Globe.  His website can be found at leemcintyrebooks.com.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Thou Shalt Not Steal and the Rhetoric of Vote-Counting: An Open Letter http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/31/thou-shalt-not-steal-rhetoric-vote-counting/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/31/thou-shalt-not-steal-rhetoric-vote-counting/#comments Sat, 31 Oct 2020 20:20:40 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1144 I grew up in a church where most Sundays they read the Ten Commandments and such. I knew them, and still know them, incredibly well. And my family’s been in this country, at least in one branch of the family tree, long enough for me to have relatives that went to war to fight for their rights regarding this no taxation without representation business–in other words, the right to have one’s vote count. The question of vote-counting has mattered since...

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I grew up in a church where most Sundays they read the Ten Commandments and such. I knew them, and still know them, incredibly well. And my family’s been in this country, at least in one branch of the family tree, long enough for me to have relatives that went to war to fight for their rights regarding this no taxation without representation business–in other words, the right to have one’s vote count. The question of vote-counting has mattered since the beginning of this country.

So as I watch the increasingly brazen attempts to silence voters’ voices paired with the silence of my conservative Christian peops, I can’t help but marvel at the levels of cognitive dissonance my conservative peops who still think they’re “moderate” must be going through.

In this article I plan to talk about the rhetoric of vote-counting and how it relates to the ten commandments—and not just thou shalt not steal but way more of them. What can I say? I’m feeling disturbingly inspired today by events current juxtaposed with the past.

Oh, Yeah, and It’s Reformation Day, So This Fits

Not to mention, today’s the observed anniversary of when Martin Luther had the assertive audacity to pound his 95 theses into history. (Well, probably not onto a church door, but it was an assertive act either way.)

Anyway, since ALL of my ancestors I know of fall into that Protestant tradition, it’s highly appropriate that today I put out an assertive open letter of sorts to my peops, helping other more reasonable folks to understand the dynamics I grew up with as well as the dynamics all of us Americans have grown up with to some extent.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

So yeah, let’s talk about the American Revolution and the Founders and their views on vote-counting, shall we?

See, things have been really complicated regarding vote-counting since those days when my ancestors were concerned about everyone having a voice—because, well, let’s be honest, my ancestors could have given a flying f*ck about *everyone* having a voice. (Concerned about my language more than what’s happening? See what I have to say about swear-policing here and here.)

They wanted a voice for white men, and preferably landowning ones, and pretty much no one else.

They were pretty much only out for their own good, let’s be honest.

To them, everyone else was to either to be conquered or treated like property.

I Know, I Know, I’m Late to the Party on This

I mean, I dimly knew this before the last four years’ worth of apocalypse made this sickness that’s been in our country since the beginning (not COVID, mind you—being metaphorical here!) abundantly clear. But current events are making it incredibly stark in terms that I can no longer dismiss or deny or gaslight into oblivion (see my piece last week for more about gaslighting).

Nope. It’s really blatantly clear. What conservatives these days are trying to preserve is the gangrenous side of the heritage from my patriotic ancestors—the legacy of stealing power at others’ expense through trying to remove the power of the vote.

Now, I’m sure my BIPOC friends are all shaking their heads at me too, and I feel you. Sometimes it takes an apocalypse or two to make things clear to us white folks deeply socialized into white supremacy. I apologize to you that it’s taken me this long, and promise to do better now that I know. As a reminder, the meaning of that word—apocalypse—in the Greek is “to make clear.”

Power Over All Else

Well, the current actions of the Republicans have made baldly clear what they care about, and that is gaining and maintaining power. They care, sadly enough, about nothing else.

They don’t care about the common good. In fact, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, the current party in charge has actually demonized the common good. Any time some sort of policy that promotes loving one’s neighbor as oneself comes up for discussion, the devil term “socialism” gets applied to it as a way to invoke fears in their base, as I’ve discussed here and here.

Conserving Which Part of the Heritage, Exactly?

Interestingly, in seeking to “conserve” the gangrenous side of my white ancestors’ legacy, these “modern conservatives” seem to be seeking to “progress” from the rest of the system of government—the healthy side of the governmental system my ancestors helped to set up.

That whole “no taxation without representation” business? Screw that.

Checks and balances between the various branches of government? Screw that.

The right to protest? Screw that.

The idea of the press as the “fourth estate”? A institution outside of government designed to push with checks and balances to keep government responsible? Screw that.

The idea that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through reasonable policies toward public health and other thoughts for the common good? Screw that.

Doing Evil Deeds without Cover; or, The Emperor Has No Clothes

Screw it all, they seem to be saying. Scratch that—no f*cking seems.

They ARE saying it, flat out—and they have been, for four years.

Ever since grabbing people by the p*ssy was somehow deemed to be an acceptable part of presidential* rhetoric. And only those so deep in the propagandistic gaslighting put forth by the current head of the government and his cronies could be so deep into believing this garbage not to see it.

The Continuing Gaslighting

And we’re still being told it’s not happening.

That the election is somehow free and fair.

That the pandemic is over.

That everyone has a voice that needs one.

And THERE—there’s the rub.

Who The Right Thinks Should Only Have Representation

Because according to these folks, only powerful aggressively masculine Republican white men and those who enable them ought to have a voice and a vote.

Only they, they believe, should get to decide who has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Everyone else can go screw themselves. Or, to put it in starker, darker terms, get raped. (AGAIN, NONE OF THIS IS REMOTELY OKAY!!! Nor should it be normalized.)

Calling My Peops to Repentance

Let me be clear, to my religious peops:

THIS is stealing. It is a deep, dark, yet-to-be-repented set of trespasses against God in the guise of the least of these.

THIS is coveting one’s neighbor’s voice and representation. It is a deep, dark, yet-to-be-repented set of trespasses against God and the least of these.

THIS is rape and pillage and killing. It is a deep, dark, yet-to-be-repented trespasses against God and the least of these.

Again, the Emperor Follows No Commandments and Cares About No One

I could go on, because ALL those commandments have been violated here in particularly egregious ways, but conservative Christian friends, I know you know them as well as I do. I trust you can work the rest out for yourselves.

And speaking of repentance, why, oh much-loved conservative Christian friends, do you continue to vote for a man who has said openly that he’s never ever felt the need to ask for forgiveness from God or anyone else?

For the love of all that is holy and just, this man, who the most twisted memes compare to King David, is King David, except without a really important difference. There’s no Psalm 51 anywhere remotely in or near this man.

He’s Darth Vader without the kicky reconciliation scene.

Reclaiming the Healthy Storylines

For the love of all that is holy, my dear peops, THAT is not the storyline you taught me to support.

Calling My Peops to Repentance

For the sake of all that is holy and just, I sincerely call you away from supporting these blatant violations of the healthier sides of men’s law and your own valuation of God’s law.

Please, for the love, come home. There’s space for you at the table if you turn from supporting these wicked ways, that are not okay, and need not be continued to be normalized.

More Reasonable Friends, We Have Much Work to Do!

And to the rest of you more reasonable and empathetic people, let’s be clear: the gangrene that’s showed up these last four years has been particularly vicious, but it is not an anomaly. No matter how well or poorly this week’s election goes, we have much more healing work to do, friends. Let’s keep at this relay marathon of ours as well as we all can!

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep working against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Standing Firm in an Era of Public Gaslighting http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/24/standing-firm-era-public-gaslighting/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/24/standing-firm-era-public-gaslighting/#comments Sat, 24 Oct 2020 21:19:25 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1138 The further things move along, the more intense they get out there. The religio-political gaslighting from the right wing is particularly intense right now, so I wanted to offer a quick post talking about what that looks like and offering some techniques for reasonable folks to stand firm in these challenging times. About Me As a reminder, I’m approaching this topic as a communication scholar who teaches interpersonal communication and has emphases in rhetoric and mediated communication. My research focus...

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The further things move along, the more intense they get out there. The religio-political gaslighting from the right wing is particularly intense right now, so I wanted to offer a quick post talking about what that looks like and offering some techniques for reasonable folks to stand firm in these challenging times.

About Me

As a reminder, I’m approaching this topic as a communication scholar who teaches interpersonal communication and has emphases in rhetoric and mediated communication. My research focus is on stress, trauma, and conflict communication, and my field has spent a lot of time analyzing unhealthy religio-political dynamics. I’m thankful to have benefitted from that.

So yeah, as someone who has looked really closely at how unhealthy communication and persuasion works in both the public and interpersonal spheres, I can tell you (as have other experts, and as I’ve said here before) that we’re dealing with an extraordinary amount of religio-political gaslighting in this particular era. (I’ve talked about gaslighting previously in these articles on this blog.)

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting as a term has been getting a lot of play in recent years because it accurately describes what’s going on. It’s a term that comes from the study of unhealthy relationships and domestic abuse, and yet it applies incredibly well to what also happens in unhealthy religio-political rhetoric, including fascistic rhetoric.

In short, gaslighting describes a pattern of communication that denies a person’s evidence-based knowledge of the world. The movie, Gaslight, that the term’s name is based on specifically shows an intentional example of this kind of rhetoric.

Gaslighting Can Be Intentional or Unintentional

But in reality, gaslighting can fall along a continuum from intentional to unintentional.

How Splaining Can Be Gaslighting

In fact, where we have little knowledge, it is easy to unintionally gaslight people who have more knowledge or expertise of a particular area, either by explaining things they already know or by telling them that what they know to be true is actually false.

This is what’s often referred to as splaining, and it cames in all sorts of varieties—mansplaining and whitesplaining being the most popularly applied.

In this form of gaslighting, someone who is feeling a visceral threat to their ego or position in the societal hierarchy reacts strongly to someone (often someone who is perceived to be societally lower in the hierarchy) having more expertise than them.

The result has nothing to do with rational explanations for things, but everything to do with people reacting to felt threat by those who know more and seek to have that expertise valued, and seeking to gain or maintain status by how they communicate in a situation.

How This Applies to Other Types of Gaslighting

This matters because what’s happening in splaining is also often the visceral motive for all types of gaslighting, whether in the religio-political world or not. This is important.

Let me say that again: In the religio-political world as in the world of domestic abuse, gaslighting most often occurs because the person viscerally feels the other person is seeking equality and/or a higher status. It is not a rational activity—it comes out of stress responses.

It’s Often More Intentional Than You Think

This doesn’t mean people can’t control their gaslighting–in fact, people can control such responses, and Lundy Bancroft’s therapy work with domestic abusers (recorded in his powerful book Why Does He Do That?) shows that in many cases, abuse is more often conscious and intentional than we give abusers credit for.

(In fact, part of the gaslighting is often getting victims and opponents to believe it’s happening fully unconsciously. This leads to a convenient for the abuser assumption that the abuser is a victim unable to stop their abusive patterns. That’s rarely true.)

In short, gaslighting emerges from felt threat. That does NOT mean that gaslighters can’t control their actions.

Gaslighting=Zero-Sum Visions of the World

So the practice of gaslighting is based on felt threat. It’s also based on a depressingly zero-sum vision of the world.

In other words, in this view of reality, if one person “wins,” or “is right,” that means the other person or group automatically “loses” (and the corollary is that being wrong is automatically a loss).

What Gaslighting Is All About

In short, the view behind gaslighting, whether someone means to do it or not, is too often all about status and dominance, coercion and control. This status and dominance comes at the expense, often, of practicality, of rationality, and of the common good.

At best, the more unintentional varieties of gaslighting are about protecting one’s own flight response from reality at the expense of the truth. (That’s natural, but not generally a good look on people, and is often counterproductive.)

So Yeah, Gaslighting Is Unhealthy—How Does It Work?

Gaslighting is considered a form of abuse because it seeks to dominate another person’s first-order realities. As I’ve described before, communication scholars define first-order realities as observable facts. Second-order realities, on the other hand, involve our attaching interpretations to those first-order realities.

Gaslighting can work a lot of ways, but it often tends to either deny first-order realities. Or it works to twist them into saying that some first-order realities are accurate, but only if you deny others in order to buy into a set of second-order realities the gaslighter is peddling.

As I described in my rhetoric of conspiracy series, conspiracy rhetoric does this. That’s why unhealthy leaders often elevate the rhetoric of conspiracy. We’ve certainly been seeing from the right strongly these days.

Fascistic Rhetoric and Types of Gaslighting

As I’ve said before, a couple of the most common forms of gaslighting rhetoric in fascistic rhetoric both relate to false equivalency. These include  whataboutism and bothsidesism.

So what is a false equivalency? It’s assuming that two things that look alike on the surface are the same. In both the worlds of domestic abuse and of fascistic rhetoric, the idea is often to promote the idea that the abusive gaslighter is not being a bully because the person on the other side is just as bad or worse.

In the whataboutism, the abuser seeks to wriggle out of responsibility for something. They often do this by insisting that someone else (usually an enemy or victim) started it or did something worse. In bothsidesism, the person insists that both sides do the “same thing.” This, again, is a way to wriggle out of responsibility.

Particularly Toxic when Religion and Spirituality Become Wrapped In

And let’s be honest—it just gets worse when things like theological concepts and verses from sacred texts and appeals to “what a deity wants” become part of this picture.

When God and morality are used to gain status and security and to control rather than out of collaboration and love and to take care of the vulnerable? That gets d*mned ugly and spiritually abusive.

Interpreting the Golden Rule Healthily

Every religion has a version of the Golden Rule. And it’s important to realize that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” doesn’t mean we need to practice bothsidesism.

In fact, as I’ve described many times before, healthy spirituality is that in which love must include calls for healthy accountability, especially in situations of abuse and gaslighting.

The common good often requires some people to be right and others to be wrong. That’s okay. That’s healthy. What’s unhealthy is when people’s need to be right and to control and to dominate becomes more important than taking care of the common good.

So How Can We Stand Firm in Response to This Toxic Crap?

Okay, so some quick tips for continuing to stand firm in the midst of all the unhealthy gaslighting going on these days:

  1. Look for and separate first-order realities from second-order realities. Insist on the reality of first-order realities. Acknowledge the limits of second-order realities wherever it makes sense.  
  2. Look for and insist on adding to the conversation other first-order realities that add nuance to the conversation.
  3. Offer reality-checking support and reassurance to those around you. That should include regular confirmations that the first-order realities are true, and that reasonable second-order realities are supported by the first-order data. (This helps all of us who are resisting gaslighting stand firm while leaving room for reasonable disagreements by those who all recognize the same first-order realities.)
  4. Look for genuine experts—both those with on-the-ground experience and those studying and researching and practicing a certain area—as guides when it comes to second-order realities. Recognize that because they’re working in second-order realities, their interpretations will be limited—but that doesn’t mean they don’t have good info to go on. Don’t let gaslighters diminish expert conclusions without good reason.
  5. Don’t play by the gaslighter’s playbook. (Also, don’t accept their likely demonization of you for drawing attention to their garbage.)
  6. Judge your own energy levels in speaking up against gaslighting. Sometimes drawing attention to the first-order facts of unhealthy rhetoric as you are walking away is the best move for a given situation. Engage in as much self-care as you need to. And remember this is a relay marathon. Come back when you’re able.
  7. And, of course, look for and check yourself if you find yourself following gaslighter patterns–but look at the data to make sure that’s happening before you trust the other person’s judgment. You can look at the above definitions (and of course cross-check them with other expert definitions of gaslighting–mine aren’t necessarily the best, and don’t need to be) for help in prising that out.

Why Public Gaslighting Is Harder to Pull Off—and Why It’s So Dangerous

Overall, the weird disadvantage of when gaslighting occurs on a public stage as opposed to a domestic one is that it’s often harder to get everyone on board.

The problem, of course, is that the reason it often works is that everyone is vulnerable to stress responses and the unhealthy forms of status conflict that can emerge.

And if you can convince a large group of people that the gaslighting is correct and that the oppositional group is not just wrong but an untrustworthy source of information (and morally suspect as well), it’s just possible at times for the gaslighters in charge to gain and maintain enough power to pull off their power play.

Why We Need to Keep Standing Up

The truth, of course, is that religio-political gaslighting ought not be underestimated, but it ought not be overestimated either.

The current gaslighters in charge are relying on the perception that what they do will work. They rely on the exhaustion of the opposition in order for their power plays to work and keep working.

THIS is why we need to keep supporting one another and speaking up assertively against the unhealthy rhetoric and policies. It’s crucial to keep going in this relay marathon the best we can, toward the common good.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Strategies for When You Can’t Fix Everything (Especially Now) http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/18/strategies-for-when-you-cant-fix-everything/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/18/strategies-for-when-you-cant-fix-everything/#comments Sun, 18 Oct 2020 06:11:03 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1133 Okay, so the world is scary and overwhelming. The Hopi, as a friend shared with me, have a word for this situation: kayaanisquatsi. It means “Nature that is out of balance or a way of life that is so crazy it cannot continue long term.” (The definition’s from What a Wonderful Word by Kane Miller.) This is certainly the case with our current situation in the world, especially in the US. Between the pandemic and wild fires and the current...

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Okay, so the world is scary and overwhelming. The Hopi, as a friend shared with me, have a word for this situation: kayaanisquatsi. It means “Nature that is out of balance or a way of life that is so crazy it cannot continue long term.” (The definition’s from What a Wonderful Word by Kane Miller.) This is certainly the case with our current situation in the world, especially in the US. Between the pandemic and wild fires and the current election, we are in a constant state of overload–and we all need some coping strategies to keep going in as healthy a way as possible.

This kind of situation shows us loud and clear we can’t fix everything, and that can make us deeply uncomfortable. But even here we can apply some strategies to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got. In this blog post I’ll be applying the findings of stress research (since I study, teach and write about stress, trauma, and conflict communication) to help us determine what some of those strategies are to help things get better and avoid making them worse, both for ourselves and for vulnerable populations.

Some Strategies, As Promised

So here we go: some strategies to keep doing what we can where we are with what we can to keep ourselves and others safe as best we can even in the midst of overwhelming situations:

  1. Stop the counterproductive negative self-talk in its tracks. An example: “There’s no point in trying if you can’t fix everything.” Or rather, should I say, accept your tendency toward negative self-talk, and acknowledge that your brain is trying to keep you safe through it, but that doesn’t mean it’s helpful to listen without critique. Accept yourself, offer self-compassion for thinking such things, but keep agency over your choices to do things differently.

  2. Along similar lines, but a little different, refuse to give in to all or nothing messages from external sources. Remember that the human part of this overwhelm—authoritarian fascism—thrives on keeping people in freeze mode. Don’t buy the messaging, and keep doing what you can.

  3. Don’t forget self-care! Remember that you can’t keep pouring out to others if you don’t take care of yourself. If you can, take some time in nature as much away from people as you can—or get a bath, or read a book, or whatever most genuinely well fuels you. My biggest secret to a reasonable pandemic has been outdoors exercise 1-3 hours most days during the last 6 months. It helps me stay sane. (I know I’m privileged in this—not everyone lives in a living situation where this is possible, or in an area where it is. Do what you can wherever you are!)

  4. Ask for help and support others as you’re able. There’s no shame in receiving help any more than there is giving it. We all genuinely need each other, and can do more together. That’s just fine.

  5. Contribute to making things better in the broader world however you can. These things may not look like much on their own, but if enough people do them, it will help everything.

    Worried about the election? Vote for reasonable and empathetic leaders, and keep working to encourage others to do the same.

    Worried about the pandemic? Keep working to do what you can to reasonably make things better for the greater good in light of the factors wherever you are. Encourage others to do the same as you’re same.

    No time or energy to keep speaking up or acting yourself? Donate a few dollars to help reasonable organizations that are, if you can spare them.

    No financial resources? Offer moral support to others who do have energy.

Heeding My Own Advice as I’m Able

These are only a few ideas to keep making things better where we are with what we have to make a better world for us all. I could go on, but I am personally out of time and energy today, so I’m going to heed my own advice and go exercise outdoors while it’s still light out on one of the last nice days of fall.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to make a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

The post Strategies for When You Can’t Fix Everything (Especially Now) appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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A Case for Christian Resistance: A Response to Law and Order Theology http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/03/case-for-christian-resistance-response-to-law-and-order-theology/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/03/case-for-christian-resistance-response-to-law-and-order-theology/#respond Sun, 04 Oct 2020 01:49:13 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1127 Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago we had a guest post by Rachel Contos unpacking healthy and unhealthy theologies around “God’s will” and mask-wearing from an Orthodox Christian perspective. This week’s blog post continues a similar theme in a different direction when Rhonda Miska, a Catholic lay preacher, unpacks healthy and unhealthy theologies around law and order and resistance. I really enjoyed both of these pieces and hope you do too. Enjoy the read! Cheers, DS Leiter, Founder, Assertive Spirituality...

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Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago we had a guest post by Rachel Contos unpacking healthy and unhealthy theologies around “God’s will” and mask-wearing from an Orthodox Christian perspective. This week’s blog post continues a similar theme in a different direction when Rhonda Miska, a Catholic lay preacher, unpacks healthy and unhealthy theologies around law and order and resistance. I really enjoyed both of these pieces and hope you do too. Enjoy the read! Cheers, DS Leiter, Founder, Assertive Spirituality

Guest Blog Post By Rhonda Miska

Remembering Sister Ardeth Platte, OP

As we move through the daily shock and awe of the news cycle in an ever-worsening global pandemic and the countdown to the election, there is one headline this week that may well have escaped attention, but is worthy of reflection: at the age of 88, Sister Ardeth Platte, OP passed away.

Ardeth was a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids and a long-time peace activist, untiring in her opposition to nuclear weapons. In 2002, along with another Dominican Sister entered the Minuteman III site in Colorado to pray and pour blood in the shape of a cross on the missile silo. Ardeth called it “a beautiful, liturgical act.”

As a result, they were arrested and spent 41 months in a federal corrections facility in Connecticut.

Such symbolic acts of civil disobedience are called “plowshares actions,” inspired by the prophet Isaiah’s vision of “swords beaten into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4).

Ardeth’s choice to be an outlaw based on her Christian convictions powerful one, and one which raises big questions about what it means to act out of conscience as a Christian citizen in a democracy. 

Particularly in this moment when 65% of voters have cited “law and order” as a “major concern,” according to a recent Monmouth University study, Ardeth’s choice to break the law – and even become a convicted felon – challenges our assumptions of what Christian faith in the public sphere can and should look like. 

Introducing Myself

First, let me introduce myself before diving in further: I write out of my own context as a white, U.S.-American Catholic Christian lay minister committed to a liberating reading of the Scriptures.

I seek to be informed by marginalized voices, both in the scholarly sources I seek out as well as in relationships which are rooted in my accompaniment of people in the Global South, immigrants, refugees, people experiencing homelessness or incarceration, and others who face systemic injustice.

My vision is rooted in Catholic Social Teaching and informed by experiences with faith and resistance communities, including Jonah House and Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, where Ardeth lived.

Being Raised to Trust the Law

Of course, I didn’t start out where I am today. I was raised in a mostly white, middle-class Midwestern suburb. Like many people raised in that kind of environment, I was implicitly and explicitly taught that being a good Christian meant respecting and obeying authority: listening to parents, teachers, law enforcement, clergy, and others in positions of power.

As a kid, I basically believed those who made the rules were trustworthy. People who broke the law – and certainly felons – were bad. People who enforced the law, charged with protecting and serving, were good. Following the rules – whether they were the Ten Commandments, the teachers’ directives for playground conduct, or state and federal law – was the right thing to do.

Defining Law and Order

Since it is always helpful to have an agreed-upon definition, let’s us look at the Oxford dictionary’s definition of law and order as “a situation characterized by respect for and obedience to the rules of a society.”

White Middle-Class Security and Trust in the Law

When I was a kid I felt generally safe and secure with the rules of society, and assumed they were basically fair and just, so respect and obedience for those rules seemed like a reasonable choice.

(As a side note, this fact alone reveals a lot about privilege and social location. It has become abundantly clear to me in my relationships with people with different identities grew up being implicitly and explicitly taught very different ideas about authority and society’s rules.)

When Things Began to Change

My childhood assumptions were turned on their head when I was a college freshman and met my first Plowshares activist during a Catholic campus ministry spring break trip.

Our campus group met with a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man who introduced himself as a convicted felon. Like Ardeth, he had been part of a Plowshares action which had grown out of his participation in a prayer group/Bible study with other Catholics.

I recall sitting wide-eyed as this man spoke about the threat to all life on the planet posed by nuclear weapons and the Christian call to prophetic resistance, opposing empire, and radical love of enemies. I was equal parts captivated and confused. How could the words “felon” and “Bible study” be used in the same sentence? This was nothing I had ever heard in my CCD classes or youth group gatherings!

Talking to Evangelicals about Social Justice Activism

The following week, my eighteen-year-old mind still quite blown, I told some evangelical Christian friends back on campus about the peace activist felon I had met over spring break. My amazement was met with skepticism.

“Yeah, well, the Bible says that we are supposed to be subject to governing authorities,” came their answer.

Interpreting Romans 13 Responsibly

The Scripture passage my evangelical friends were referring to was Romans 13:1-5.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

“Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” 

Sounds pretty open-and-shut, doesn’t it? It’s quite easy to take Paul’s words and conclude, “well, Christians are to obey civil authority. If you do wrong, you’ll get what you have coming, and that is that.”

The Company You Keep When You Invoke Romans 13 This Way

This is precisely what has happened many times in many ways over the centuries, always to the detriment of those who are under-resourced and to the benefit of those in power.

This Scripture was used by the pro-Nazi German Christian movement.

It was also used by British loyalists who opposed the Declaration of Independence.

These same verses were also used to uphold the Fugitive Slave Act which called for returning escaped slaves to their owners.

These abuses alone should give us all pause when we think about applying Paul’s words to any contemporary context.

Revelation 13 and disclaimer (because any time you reference Revelation, you need a disclaimer)

As a tool for discernment around questions of law and order, obedience and resistance, I will offer a reading of Romans 13 in counterpoint to Revelation 13. This perspective was articulated by twentieth-century Episcopal political theologian William Stringfellow.

Stringfellow was a supporter of Dan and Phil Berrigan, Catholic priests who opposed the Vietnam War.

I learned about Stringfellow’s take on Romans 13 and Revelation 13 from Liz McAlister, another Plowshares activist. Liz was one of Ardeth’s community-mates at Jonah House, a resistance community in Baltimore. 

But first, a disclaimer:

The last book of the Bible—Revelations—is filled with vivid and bizarre imagery that draws heavily upon imagery employed by Hebrew prophets. Like other works of apocalyptic literature, it is filled with symbolism that is difficult for modern readers to make sense of without a lot of careful unpacking. Because of this, Revelation can be (and has been) misread by those read symbolic language literally, stoking fear and paranoia about the end of the world.

As always, it’s helpful to think of the original audience and the context of any given Scripture passage. The text was written in response to ruthless persecution of the early church by Roman authorities. The intention was to encourage believers facing persecution and martyrdom to remain faithful and trust that God ultimately triumphs and Christ is victorious over evil. As strange as the language and imagery sounds to our 21st century Western ears, it was intended as a message of hope and consolation.

So, keeping that disclaimer in mind, here’s Revelation 13:1-8

“Then I saw a beast come out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads; on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard, but it had feet like a bear’s, and its mouth was like the mouth of a lion. To it the dragon gave its own power and throne, along with great authority. I saw that one of its heads seemed to have been mortally wounded, but this mortal wound was healed.

“Fascinated, the whole world followed after the beast. They worshiped the dragon because it gave its authority to the beast; they also worshiped the beast and said, ‘Who can compare with the beast or who can fight against it?’

“The beast was given a mouth uttering proud boasts and blasphemies, and it was given authority to act for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling and those who dwell in heaven. 

“It was also allowed to wage war against the holy ones and conquer them, and it was granted authority over every tribe, people, tongue, and nation. All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, all whose names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, which belongs to the Lamb who was slain.”

Stringfellow and the Romans 13/Revelation 13 dialectic

Stringfellow proposes that we read Romans 13 as a description of government’s vocation, that is, the original calling God gave temporal authorities. Like all things in creation, individuals and institutions are created good. And both individuals and institutions have a God-given vocation – a unique call they are meant to live out to contribute to God’s glory and human flourishing.

Though we often think of vocation as applying to individual life choices (is God calling me to marry this person? Am I meant to pursue a particular line of work in order to use my gifts for good?), Stringfellow proposes institutions (governments, organizations, groups, etc) have vocations as well.

But Institutions Don’t Live Up to Ideals

There is always a gap between God-given vocation and what we actually live. As Paul writes elsewhere, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Many churches lean heavily into what this truth means for individuals: we should repent of our personal sins and failings and become changed through Christ’s power.

Stringfellow argues this fallenness is also true for institutions – “powers and principalities,” to use the words of Ephesians 6:12. Just as individuals need conversion to live out their God-given vocation, institutions are fallen and in need of conversion to live out their God-given vocation, too.

Revelation 13, Stringfellow posits, is a description of what temporal authority (the Roman Empire, in the original context) can become when it falls short of its God-given vocation. In its fallen state, Revelation 13 describes temporal authority as an idolatrous agent of death and destruction to be resisted by those who claim Christ as Lord.  

How Then Shall We Live

Using Stringfellow’s Romans 13/Revelation 13 dialectic and the Oxford definition of law and order, the question becomes: are the rules of a society just and in line with their God-given vocation, or are the rules fallen and in need of redemption? If the rules of society are in harmony with their vocation, then Christians are called to obedience. And if the rules of society are not in harmony with their vocation, we Christians called to resistance, for the sake of obedience to God.

Holy Resistance in Scripture

Though it’s radical and countercultural, those who us who confess Christ must remind ourselves the first-century Jewish itinerant preacher we claim as Lord was not the upholder and enforcer but rather the victim of the “rules of society.” Before Constantine, Christians had no choice but to live in a stance of resistance to temporal authority.

I propose we are challenged to discern our individual and collective response to civil authority with either obedience or resistance, rooted in our commitment to a compassionate, just, and liberating God as the ultimate source of authority.

As Ardeth modeled, this discernment is rooted in community, nourished by prayer, and held accountable by authentic relationships with those directly impacted by systems which oppress and dehumanize. We don’t stand alone in this great work, but in community and on the shoulders of many saints that embodied holy resistance.

We see holy resistance modeled in Shiprah and Puah, two Hebrew midwives who “feared God,” and refused to follow Pharoah’s command to kill boy children (Exodus 1).

We see holy resistance modeled in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusal to follow Nebudchadnezzar’s command to commit idolatry (Daniel 1-3).

We see holy resistance modeled when Peter and the other apostles proclaim, “we must obey God instead of man” (Acts 5:29) when they were arrested for preaching the resurrection.

Holy Resistance in More Recent Christian tradition

Closer to our own time, we see holy resistance in Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “underground seminary” which formed faith leaders who would not capitulate to the Third Reich.

We see holy resistance in Dorothy Day’s lifetime of direct service to those marginalized by systems of oppression and her multiple arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience.

We see holy resistance in the life of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated for calling on Salvadoran soldiers to disobey orders to kill civilians.

We see holy resistance in the witness of peace activists like Sister Ardath Platte who seek to incarnate the vision of swords abeaten into plowshares in their work for nuclear disarmament.  

We see holy resistance in John Lewis’ multiple arrests to oppose segregation and achieve Civil Rights – which Obama eulogized as “good trouble.”

We see holy resistance in Bree Newsome, who removed the confederate flag from the South Carolina State House, reciting the words of Psalm 23 as she was taken to jail for her action opposing white supremacy.

We see holy resistance in the efforts of the Clergy Emergency League, a current grassroots initiative of faith leaders unified against abuses of power at federal, state, and local levels.

Standing with This Cloud of Witnesses: A Final Charge

Standing on these shoulders of holy resisters in our current context in the United States, I close with Ardeth’s words from a letter she penned while doing time at Danbury.

“Keep nonviolent civil resistance alive.  Continue teaching, preaching, practicing justice and peace.  It is the only hope for the human family and Earth herself.   We create today the kind of world inherited by the next generations.  Community seems essential for this new creation.”  

One Last Note

(Discerning what makes a temporal authority legitimate or not and how one is called to respond is an enormous question considered by minds much sharper than mine – St Thomas Aquinas, for one! – and I have intentionally kept this relatively simple and short. For the sake of keeping things succinct, I will generalized and offered ideas in broad, sweeping strokes instead of nuanced detail. For those who want to dig more deeply into the theologians informing this piece, in addition to William Stringfellow, are Walter Wink, Ched Myers, Miguel de la Torre, and Latin American liberation theology as articulated first by Gustavo Gutierrez. Contact me through my website and I’ll gladly provide a reading list!)

____

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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An Open Letter Re: White Evangelicals and Moral Disgust of RBG http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/09/19/open-letter-white-evangelicals-moraldisgusts-rbg/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/09/19/open-letter-white-evangelicals-moraldisgusts-rbg/#comments Sat, 19 Sep 2020 22:36:50 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1120 NOTE: I wrote the following to process my own grief about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg while also helping anyone else who might need to understand the dynamics of how right-leaning white Evangelicals feel about RBG from the perspective of a communication scholar who grew up that way. May RBG’s memory be a blessing, and may all of us be part of that blessing to the world. May we all fight for genuine truth and justice and the equitable...

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NOTE: I wrote the following to process my own grief about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg while also helping anyone else who might need to understand the dynamics of how right-leaning white Evangelicals feel about RBG from the perspective of a communication scholar who grew up that way. May RBG’s memory be a blessing, and may all of us be part of that blessing to the world. May we all fight for genuine truth and justice and the equitable treatment of all, even as such ordinary efforts may cause us to be classed with the “radicals.”  As you’ll see, where I am today, I’m okay with that–but that is NOT how I was raised to be. Please stick with me as I unfold those dynamics and how they’ve shifted.

Starting at the Very Beginning: With the (Suppressed) Hate

I was taught to hate RBG.

Well, not HATE.

We Christians didn’t do THAT.

Especially not educated, moderate Christians.

Nope. We didn’t sling insults—in fact, we looked down our noses at people who did such things, on “both sides.”

(And then we excused that kind of judginess of others for their behavior with self-deprecating humor and references to the grace of God and all that about forgiveness and how it was up to God to judge, not us.)

A Toxically Christian Nice Kind of Hate

But yeah, we hated RBG–and others like her.

It came out passive aggressively, because as I’ve said before many times, we were Christian Nice.

Being Christians meant we were supposed to be the moral ones, so we denied the very idea that we could hate, because we knew we weren’t supposed to. We were thorough Bible-readers, so we knew we weren’t supposed to hate.

Some of us even prayed for RBG and others like her in the government on the “other side,” because, you know, love your enemies.

But we hated her.

Okay, Maybe Not Hate Exactly

Maybe hate is the wrong word, though, or at least an imprecise one.  

We feared RBG.

We were disgusted by her.

And we saw her as a devil term (as I’ve described many times, that’s something to be fought at all costs).

Perhaps most importantly, we found it to be a moral duty to vote against her.

Why?

Because she was a RADICAL. (We didn’t do well with those.)

Because she was “pro-abortion.”

(I mean, it was up to God to judge as to whether she was going to heaven, but ALL THOSE BABIES? We shook our heads. Clearly those progressives were to blame!)

As I can see now, years later, it was because we’d swallowed the lies.

See, I know many of my people “held their noses and voted” for the current occupant of the Oval Office specifically to get Supreme Court seats like hers for “their side.” It was barely suppressed, that implication that the point was to get them away from “evildoers like her.”  

Why My People Were (Suppressedly) Wishing for Her Death

Let’s be clear: The group who held their noses, at least, who were deeply disturbed when progressive Christians tried to hold them to Jesus’ words about taking care of the “least of these” in Matthew 25 during and after the last election? They were hoping for this woman, who had championed the least of these, would retire or, let’s be honest, die.

The first group were hoping for this because they were afraid of her.

Because she wasn’t “nice” enough.

Because she was “too liberal.”

They were hoping for this because she supported different solutions to the question of abortion than they did.

(Let’s be clear about that. When banning abortion isn’t the most effective way to lower abortions, my peops I grew up with don’t have the moral high ground on this one.)

What They Really Feared

I can see it now. They ultimately feared RBG because she wasn’t willing to sit on the fence and keep her place in the status quo, as they had been taught to do.

They feared RBG because they had been taught to associate “radical social change” with moral and political disgusts.

(This is coming out now with rhetoric that outwardly sympathizes with those grieving her death, but only as a precursor to expressing concern about “riots” that may occur connected to her death. The irony, of course, is that they fully support the American Revolution having happened.)

The Fear of Women Gaining Power and Voice

They feared her because she was a woman–and a progressive one, no less, that spoke for women’s rights–and had gained power and a voice. They feared her because she was fighting for the same for other women, and that felt wrong. Distasteful. Disgusting.

(My denomination had voted to ordain women as preachers when I was grown up, but the more rural places where I lived would still never hire a woman preacher. I’ll never forget the moral disgust I still felt as a young adult when I saw a woman not just reading Scripture or praying, but actually PREACHING from a pulpit. Ironic that that’s what I feel most comfortable with now. It’s been quite a journey, for sure, to where I am now.)

In Which I Publicly Apologize for My Former Self

All of this is to say that I get it. And I deeply apologize now on behalf of my former self.

I am thankful I was privileged to repent of my irrational moral disgusts against a champion of the deeply biblical concepts of loving justice and fighting oppression.

In Which I Call My People to Repent

The thing is, my people taught me the reading and listening skills it took for me to get where I am, so I know they’re capable of it too.

I call my people to do the same.

Repent, friends. This thing you were socialized into, this moral disgust of progressives who disagree with your political disgusts, especially vocal women, is not, and does not have to be, your identity. It need not be. It is a behavior. It CAN be changed.

Repent of your part in the unhealthy demonization of RBG and other progressives.

Please, for the love, show that repentance through responding to her death without the suppressed glee and gloating and fear-mongering about riots.

Properly mourn with those who mourn, dammit! You may not agree with her, but be humble enough to genuinely honor her life and work and pass the mic to those of us who are mourning for her.  

A Call for True Repentance

And furthermore, work to fight your own moral disgusts that say that progressive policies are soooo scary. As you tend to say, this is a “heart matter” as well as a systemic issue.

Listen to the Bible that tells you to be fair and just to others. Support policies that do better at that.

Be genuinely humble enough to recognize what a still small voice inside of you has already been telling you—that you haven’t gotten this one right.

That voting for only a particular solution re: abortion, that being defensive about that vote to where you’ve doubled down repeatedly, that listening to nationalistic propaganda, has led you deeply astray from the Christian message. Has led you into complicity with gloating over an honorable woman’s death and fear-mongering. Has led you to vote against the least of these.

All because this woman RBG’s assertive voice, and others like it, scared you.

No Need to Be Ashamed

Here’s the thing: there’s no dishonor in fear. It’s a natural stress response. But I now say to you what the Bible says to God’s people many times: Do not fear. Let love cast out fear.

It’s been four years since you held your nose and voted. Don’t be deceived again, friends.

Don’t follow the same path.  

Things You Can Do Now

And at the very least, for the love of all that is holy, PLEASE don’t wait for your time of voting to show your repentance.

As I said, stop with the fear-mongering about riots supposedly caused by progressives.

Call out those who are gloating about this wonderfully strong yet human woman’s death. Ask them to leave space to genuinely honor the death of RBG. Call them to genuine respect for the opposition.

Hold your representatives responsible for voting in healthier ways on issues up to and beyond abortion.

Refuse to let your unhealthy moral disgusts guide you, friends.

I don’t think less of you because of your past. You raised me to believe that God was a God of forgiveness.

But as Maya Angelou says, eloquently lining up with the biblical principles of repentance: once you know better, do better.

In Which I Acknowledge I Doubt You’re Listening to Me

Before I go, though, I’ll be honest: it’s been a tough four years, and it’s been rough on our relationship.

To be clear, I doubt if you’re even reading this.

And if you are, I have even less confidence that you’ll be in any way influenced by what I have to say.

Prophets in Their Hometowns or Something Like That

See, I’ve “crossed over to the other side.”

You say you’ll love me no matter what, but when you do, there’s always a subtext of those same moral and political disgusts underlying that phrase when you say it.

Addressing the Fear of Listening and Influence

I recognize it, because I once did the same. I just happened to jump ship before the worst of the religio-political bilge-pump for the Republican party was needed as badly as it is now.

I did so by learning to genuinely listen to my progressive brothers and sisters with as few barriers as possible.

And I know that’s terrifying to do.

After all, listening can lead to influence. Listening may have to lead to changes of your hearts and minds. Listening may have to require surrender of that moral high ground I can see you clinging to soooo hard.

Of Course It’s Hard!

And dear Lord, don’t I know it down to my very last piece of viscera that the other things I’ve asked you to do are hard. The loudest voices right now are bullies. (And no, the other side isn’t perfect either—we never said it was—but Democrats are NOT the loudest most bullying voices in the room right now. Both sides are NOT the same. Again, for the love of all that is holy and just, please stop straining a gnat while swallowing a camel.)

Here’s what I know to be true. What you yourself taught me from the Bible: the road to freedom is difficult and narrow.

Genuine internal change, turning away from our socialized moral disgusts, from supporting those who are hurting vulnerable populations, isn’t an easy thing to do.

You Don’t Even Have to Consider Yourself Progressive

And it doesn’t even have to mean you “join the other team,” to be honest.

You don’t have to identify as a “progressive” to speak up against the issues with what “your side” is doing, or to vote for the “other side” this year (you get to hold them accountable–they’re a thousand times better at listening than the current guy, which is maybe one of the things you may be resenting them for?).

Turn Off Your Usual Sources and Leave Your Comfort Zone

Just stop listening to your sources of information and try to listen to what the other side is genuinely concerned about.

Recognize that they may have valuable things to say.

Start by listening to what Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to say. Learn about this woman who’s been initialized as RBG and branded as “notorious.” Maybe watch the movie “On the Basis of Sex.” Honor her death and life. Sit shiva with her—not because that’s a tradition you’re comfortable with, but because honoring her means truly honoring her tradition.

Pray over it, since that’s what you do.

And then, well, we’ll see what happens. You don’t have to agree with me, but dammit, it’s not okay that you should have so much suppressed glee over this Supreme Court seat that’s opened up with RBG’s death. Move beyond this surface sympathy you’re offering into genuine mourning with those of us who mourn.

And in the process, allow for your heart to be changed. I believe, to use the words you raised me with, it’s what God is calling you to.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can, where we are with what we have toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing. May Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory be a blessing, and may we all be part of that blessing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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The “Holy War of Ideas” and the Demonization of Critical Race Theory: An Analysis http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/09/13/holy-war-of-ideas-demonization-critical-race-theory/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/09/13/holy-war-of-ideas-demonization-critical-race-theory/#comments Sun, 13 Sep 2020 06:45:19 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1112 I’ve been seeing and hearing about it a lot lately from those on the right, and reports from those I know who are also being assertive with unhealthy rhetoric from the right. “Beware of critical race theory,” those on the right are saying. “Don’t trust BLM—they’re Marxist.” And when conservative Christians (mostly white Evangelicals) share this stuff and try to say Christianity is deeply opposed to critical race theory as an ideology, it all takes on a “holy war of...

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I’ve been seeing and hearing about it a lot lately from those on the right, and reports from those I know who are also being assertive with unhealthy rhetoric from the right. “Beware of critical race theory,” those on the right are saying. “Don’t trust BLM—they’re Marxist.” And when conservative Christians (mostly white Evangelicals) share this stuff and try to say Christianity is deeply opposed to critical race theory as an ideology, it all takes on a “holy war of ideas” hue.

(Which, you know, couldn’t possibly hurt anyone, right? Because it’s about ideas, not people. Sigh. Sadly not at all true, as I’ll explain. If nothing else, Christian defense of and fundraising for Kyle Rittenhouse, the conservative man who drove across state lines to shoot protestors in Kenosha with an assault rifle, needs to make us pause really strongly as to where all of this is going.)  

Where Are We Headed?

Today’s article will unpack where some of this rhetoric about “critical race theory” comes from, why it is effective, and how it fits into the other god term/devil term and moral disgusts stuff we’ve previously been talking about on the blog. In the process, I’ll discuss how this extremely unhealthy talking point is being used to stoke fear and division and to encourage conservative Christians to actually fight the voices of the vulnerable and those who advocate for them—and suppress many biblical principles in the process.

Finally, I’ll give some principles about how and why to keep speaking up against this kind of unhealthy rhetoric toward a healthier world for us all. (It’s going to take a little while to get through this–thanks for hanging in there with me!)

An Unhealthy Line of Rhetoric

“BLM is Marxist.”

“I don’t know what critical race theory is, but it seems bad.”

Memes, articles, social media commentary—a wave of right-wing rhetoric has emerged, specifically since the recent anti-police brutality protests began, whose effect is to (further) demonize those protests and to dehumanize and demonize the movements that are seeking to speak up against unjust treatment of Black lives by police.

One strand of this wave uses the term “critical race theory” in a wholly negative way, as a devil term (that’s something that, as I’ve defined in a previous series starting here, is disconnected from its dictionary definition, in large part, and to be fought at all costs).

Why I’m Talking about This Topic

As an academic working in communication, a field that ranges from more “scientific types” to more humanities types, including those that study from a critical race theory lens, the fact that “critical race theory” has become specifically demonized as a talking point as part of this wave was something I thought it was important I address here, especially when I started seeing unhealthy memes that made bizarre “distinctions” between “Christianity” and critical race theory.

Some Background on Where I’m Coming From

Before I dive into that, a quick background note and acknowledgment:

As a white pastor’s kid in a moderate denomination that later got a PhD in Communication, I grew up in an educational tradition that subtly and sometimes unsubtlely trained me to fear and feel moral disgust toward “critical theory,” including critical race theory. (I talked about the neurobiological basis for moral and political disgusts in a series starting here, and about the ways my political disgusts were trained here.)

Unnecessary Wrestling

I internalized this type of training so well that in grad school and beyond, I tussled A LOT with reading some forms of critical theory when I was assigned it in classes.

I still don’t agree with every point that’s made by every critical race theorist—but I can see now that a LOT of that previous wrestling I did was based in the kinds of unhealthy understandings of the “holy war of ideas” concepts I spoke of above, and wouldn’t have truly been necessary.

Stay tuned for why that is, and also how this type of ideological crusade on behalf of a shadow form of Christianity over and against things like “critical race theory” can be just as damaging as the all-out Crusades in the middle ages that have such a bad rap for good reason.

A New Rhetorical Push—But Also Rooted in Past Concerns

Okay, so let me start out by talking about what critical (race) theory IS, and why it’s become a special target in right-wing talking points.  

Let’s be clear as well—even though this new push about it is clear, this rhetoric is not actually a new thing at all. A lot of right-wing dissing of the academic world for years has centered on fear around universities and colleges being a “hotbed of critical theory.”

Some History of Fear of Critical Theory in Universities by Conservatives

And regrettably, (white) Evangelical publishing was involved in some of the history of these views. After all, it was in 2004 that Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher focusing on a white Evangelical audience, published the young Hollywood brat Ben Shapiro’s book Brainwashed, “expose” of “how leftist” universities “were getting.”

Shapiro, as an Orthodox Jew, combined a political and religious view in a book that seems like it did for religio-political conservatives what I Kissed Dating Goodbye by a very young Joshua Harris did for the world of white Evangelical dating culture, for those who know about that strange phenomenon. Both books, by white conservative men of college age, seem to have caused similar toxic effects—I’m honestly not sure which one has done more damage. (And I’m not linking to either here because I would not want to give either of these projects any funding. For the damage that purity culture has done, I encourage you to read the book Pure by Linda Kay Klein.)

Shapiro himself, of course, was already building on a long history of right-wing suspicion of “liberal egghead elites” egged on by devil term rhetoric by folks such as Rush Limbaugh, who was recently given the medal of honor at the last State of the Union. I talked about that here.

More recently, the right-wing organization Turning Point USA started publishing a “Professor Watch List” of professors with critical theory backgrounds around the time of the last presidential election in 2016.

As you’ll see, that focus on why universities are feared and despised by conservatives, and have been for years, is quite telling.

But What Is Critical Theory?

See, Critical theory, and critical race theory as a subset, is a shorthand term for an incredibly diverse range of theories and ideas focusing on in on how power dynamics work in our world.

These academic theories are often not content just to theorize about how people work and how power affects our social and political world, though. They would like us to resist unhealthy types of power and correct injustices in the world.

Not at All Ivory Tower Stuff

This is definitely NOT ivory tower stuff, critical theory. In fact, even in the halls of academia, critical theory is the stuff that pokes at the status quo, and speaks truth to power. Does it always get it right, when it does this? I don’t think anything is perfect, or gets it right all the time, no. But I absolutely take what a lot of these scholars say very seriously. They make some really important points that deserve a full, nuanced hearing. And, beyond that, support.  

Here’s the point: Critical theory, and its subset critical race theory, are academic areas that themselves are diverse and nuanced. These are serious scholars who jumped through a lot of hoops to get where they are. And yet, still, when push comes to shove in university funding, often it’s these departments and positions that face the chopping blocks.

That’s often, if not always, because these scholars are consistently speaking truth to power, and drawing attention to real societal issues of injustice and oppression.

Quite Biblical in Many Ways

If you were to throw a spiritual lens on these perspectives and had read your Bible carefully without the framing of conservative Christianity, you might find yourself wanting to say these are prophetic voices, crying out in the wilderness for society to repent. To repent of the ways women and people with darker skin and immigrants and the disabled and others in vulnerable populations are being treated poorly in our society.

If you’re familiar with the Bible and those actions and populations don’t remind you of Jesus praising those who took care of the “least of these” in Matthew 25, maybe you aren’t reading closely enough.

Would Jesus Hang with Critical Theorists?

Does that mean Jesus IS a critical theorist, in today’s terms? Nope, probably not. These things get complicated, and neither Jesus nor critical theory is a monolith—there’s plenty of disagreement among the critical theory camp—academia does that kind of thing well.

But it does mean Jesus has a lot more in common with today’s critical theorists than he did with, say, those kind of people he attacked who were exploiting vulnerable groups, often in the name of religion.

Would Conservative Christians Hang with Jesus?

And yet, today’s conservative and right-leaning Christians are working d*mned hard to separate themselves from these voices and instead are insisting these ideas are fully antithetical to Christianity.

Hey, I’ve Been There

As I said, I understand how this works because I’ve fought these battles inside myself. See, as I’ve discussed before, here and here, I was taught to fear the influence of ideas that were seen as antithetical to Christianity, including those on the progressive wings of both Christianity and the political spectrum.

Even though I hated having to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s rhetoric in high school, the same message, more subtly delivered from other sources, filtered in all the same—education was good, but there was always this fear of influence by “radicals” that might, well, be proved to have important points that might upset the status quo. My Christian nice upbringing, as I’ve discussed before, contained THAT message in spades.  

While I considered myself to have “gone over to the progressive side” before the 2016 election, in some cases it took me right up to the apocalypse of the 2016 election to see how my training to fear and separate myself from progressive ideas MORE than even extreme right-wing ideas was harming me but especially others.

People Get Hurt When Conservative Christians Demonize Critical Theorists

And in taking that long to realize that critical theorists had some great points, let me pull no punches here: I contributed to the hurt of vulnerable groups. That’s what’s happening when Christians work hard to separate themselves from “critical race theory” and actually contribute to its demonization: actual people in vulnerable populations get hurt. And Christians unfortunately stand by, complicit, as real people get hurt and traumatized and lose their lives, as Saul held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen in the book of Acts.

See, if all the Christians, especially the conservative white Evangelicals who have had the loudest voices, had conversions like Saul and stopped supporting the Kyle Rittenhouses of the world and started speaking up for justice for the oppressed like the prophets in the Bible, there could be some amazing change in the world. The bullies would have less space to gain power, and the church at large would, in its own chosen terms, have a much better witness with marginalized groups. It would also have much more integrity in general.

Negative Effects of the “Holy War of Ideas”

Let’s be real: The goal of choosing to transubstantiate real flesh and blood protestors against police brutality into a “holy war against ideas we’re made uncomfortable by ” is a powerful rhetorical move, though not at all a healthy one.

See, Christians disconnecting from the real people protesting to pull back into a “holy war of ideas” has the following effects:

  1. Pulling back leads to depersonalization: This makes it wayyyy easier to depersonalize the “opposition”—Black people and those advocating for them. Depersonalization is a huge step in any genocide that’s occurred, and lots of scholars of rhetoric and history who wouldn’t necessarily identify as critical theorists would confirm that fact.
  2. Complicity with Abuse of Power: Christians who see “critical race theory” as a threat often end up allying with and defending people in power doing brutal things against vulnerable groups. (As I’ve said above, the Bible calls its readers to see that as a sin.)
  3. Striking Back at Vulnerable Groups: Since many scholars who identify themselves as critical scholars also are members of vulnerable groups (and in turn this demonization assumes that all protestors are working from the most extreme tenets of all of the concepts of critical race theory, which isn’t even remotely true), strike back against the members of vulnerable groups gaining voice and power to make change in society.
  4. Striking Back at Those Testing and Approving What Is True and Good: White Evangelical Christians that set themselves against universities without truly knowing why they do end up speaking back against a scholarly enterprise committed to testing and approving what is true and good in careful ways, even if it doesn’t always do that perfectly.
  5. Laziness about Careful Listening to Those who are Different: Pretends (if fails) to shield conservative Christians from listening to alternative views and seeing themselves as victims in a “culture war.” This blocks much recognition and repentance from their gaslighting of the vulnerable and the ways major themes in the Bible call them to take care of the “least of these.” And, as it happens, since communication research shows us that deep listening is an act of care and respect, it’s not surprising that this blockage would block the communication of care and concern to those outside white Evangelical churches.
  6. Failure to Recognize Complicity with Unhealthy Ideologies: Fails to recognize and address the ways in which conservative Christianity has eloped with white nationalism (I addressed this more here) and the ways in which toxic Christian Nice has elevated conservative and authoritarian ideologies over and above biblical principles.

That’s the Truth, Sadly

Well, there’s more, and I realize that’s not exactly throwing down some sunshine on the issue, but it’s the grim reality of how it is. I could go on for awhile, but hopefully this helps you understand why the right’s demonization of “critical race theory” as a straw man idea is a really unhealthy phenomenon.

But, in short, this way of speaking about the anti-police brutality protestors as “believers in critical race theory” and therefore to be dismissed is deeply unhealthy, and in fact, supports real ongoing harm to vulnerable populations.

An extreme example of this is when white supremacist teenager Kyle Rittenhouse drove twenty miles to shoot BLM protestors with an assault rifle, a Christian-identified fundraising site raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for him.

That’s where we are, friends. Conservative Christians supporting murderers to kill real life progressives protesting police brutality, all in the name of this holy war of “ideas.” This is not a remotely okay place to be—and it’s the dehumanization of an entire set of ideas that supports fighting real injustices that has gotten us here.

So What Can We Do Healthily to Work Against This Toxicity?

So how should we speak back to this inaccurate, unhealthy, and weaponized use of the term “critical race theory” and other related terms?

  1. Most importantly, rehumanize the situation for people on the right. Tell the stories of human beings—protestors, academics. Let’s put flesh back on the progressive left.
  2. Remind the right of facts, as you have energy, but try not to “dunk on” people as you do. The more you can draw attention to how everyone is learning in the areas of learning about and fighting injustice, including you, the better off you’ll be.
  3. Support scholars and protestors who are speaking truth to power both with our voices and tangibly as much as we’re able. Remember we don’t have to fully support everything they say to support them either. <begin sarcasm> But, you know, maybe avoid supporting that Rittenhouse fund <end sarcasm>.
  4. Continue to advocate and vote at all levels of government and society for the righting of injustices and the reapplication of reason and empathy.

More Resources!

If you’re looking for more detailed ways to understand and deal with conflict both online and off, I recommend signing up for our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls.” To get it, sign up in the top bar of this site for our weekly email newsletter and confirm your email address. The link to the guide will come in the final welcome email. It will help you with conflict both online and off.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

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What’s in a Hashtag? #DefundThePolice and the Politics of Interpretation http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/08/22/whats-in-a-hashtag-defund-the-police/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/08/22/whats-in-a-hashtag-defund-the-police/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2020 02:50:14 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1105 It’s been coming up a lot lately. People will ask me, as someone who specializes in communication studies, what I think about the #DefundthePolice hashtag. The implication is always that if the movement just marketed itself better people would be on board. OR people will show willful misunderstanding of the movement in their response to similar matters, as a troll on the AS FB page did earlier this week. The present article will unwrap the communication dynamics behind these kind...

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It’s been coming up a lot lately. People will ask me, as someone who specializes in communication studies, what I think about the #DefundthePolice hashtag. The implication is always that if the movement just marketed itself better people would be on board. OR people will show willful misunderstanding of the movement in their response to similar matters, as a troll on the AS FB page did earlier this week. The present article will unwrap the communication dynamics behind these kind of interpretations of #DefundThePolice for better understanding of the politics of interpretation that happen with this kind of movement. All of this will help us identify unhealthy knee-jerk responses that ultimately defend and reinforce white supremacy, and figure out how to respond better.

My Cred

So, first, as I implied above, I am THAT kind of doctor—which is to say that I have a PhD in Communication. As part of my job as THAT kind of doctor, I start teaching again soon (all online this fall, if you were wondering—incredibly thankful for that).

I’m also white, and therefore on my own journey to uncover and combat my own white supremacist socialization. Writing this blog piece is part of that–and probably not a perfect part (note I talk about how expectations for perfection tend to reinforce white supremacy toward the end of this piece). I hope my Black friends and followers will let me know if there are ways they needed their voice better heard in this piece.

The Topic at Hand

Starting a new semester always pulls me back to basics in a useful way, and so I’m taking a short “break” this week from the intense rhetoric of conspiracy series I’ve been working on (you can find it here, here, here, and here) in order to address issues I’ve seen popping up around the #DefundThePolice hashtag and its politics of interpretation.

Writing this article reminds me of writing the one on Kaep and the politics of respect, and that alone should tell you something—because fears and/or insistence about this hashtag “not being enough” all ties back to racism, as that did. Hang in there for a few minutes. I promise I’ll explain why and how.

How Communication Works

But first, let’s go to the basics of how communication works and doesn’t work, including in the case of hashtags. See, communication is always arbitrary in meaning until both the author and the audience, often in light of a broader interpretive community, have their say about what the words actually mean.

If you read (or listen to) an interesting book like Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper, you’ll discover that a careful process goes into figuring out which words and meanings end up in places like dictionaries. (I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested. It’s really well done.)

Communication Is Never Static

The point here is that the meaning of communication is never static, set in stone, put into the words and living there, ready to be unwrapped like a package at Christmas.

On the contrary, the meaning of communication is fluid and dynamic and often full of conflict and power struggle.

The Most Important Questions in Most Communication Situations

This is why communication theorist John Durham Peters says the following in his excellent book Speaking into the Air: “The question should be not Can we communicate with each other? but Can we love one another or treat each other with justice and mercy?… At best, ‘communication’ is the name for those practices that compensate for the fact that we can never be each other….We ought to be less worried about how signs arouse divergent meanings than the conditions that keep us from attending to our neighbors and other beings different from us.”

The Politics of Interpretations

All of which brings us to the politics of interpretation. From symbolic acts like kneeling (which I covered earlier) to hashtags like #DefundThePolice, the question of who gets to define what something means often becomes a political battleground in ways that don’t always make logical sense—and too often work against justice and mercy on those who are vulnerable and oppressed by viscerally defending unhealthy systems like white supremacy.

Unpacking Moral Disgusts Backing White Supremacy

How can we tell when illogical power dynamics are at play, especially ones that are seeking to reinforce white supremacy or racism?

Well, like I’ve been saying on this blog, looking for reactions that arise from moral and political disgusts is really helpful. (I had a series about this starting here.) In short, when people have a strong immediate reaction as though something is distasteful or immoral to something, there’s a good chance that they are operating out of “moral disgust” rather than logic.

NOTE: This isn’t always a bad thing, when your moral disgusts are about toxic patterns of behavior and systems. It’s unhealthy when it’s scapegoating others while defending toxicity, though. And we all get socialized into unhealthy patterns and systems, so it can take a lot of work to shift our moral disgusts in healthier directions. And sometimes we’re doing some of the right thing and still immersed in some of the toxic stuff, so it gets complicated.

What Happens When We Have Moral Disgusts

When people caught up in moral disgusts, they are too often seeing the “disgusting” object (which is often opposing their deeply held beliefs) as a threat. In other words, something to either fight or run away from. Certainly not something to stop and question and dialogue with.

This is, quite frankly, a lot of what I see happening with the #DefundThePolice hashtag, as I did with the kneeling. What often is happening behind these kinds of political disgusts is a logic of false dichotomy, specifically of the type that set up god terms to be defended at all costs in opposition to devil terms, to be fought at all costs. (I talked about the definitions of these things more in a series that starts here.)

There’s also a lot of perfectionism around “if we just could get the weight of this hashtag to perfectly stave off the bullies.” I’ll get to challenges with that in a bit.

Moral Disgusts Regarding Movements that Speak Up for Black Lives

In both the cases of people’s strong knee-jerk reactions (without research) to #DefundThePolice and to Kaep’s kneeling, we can see the same form of moral disgust and god term/devil term pairing going on under the surface.

That’s because both of these movements have been seeking to speak up for the right of black bodies to receive due legal process and healthier, less violent handling when they come into contact with police bodies.

We’ve All Been Socialized into Systemic Racism, So It Can Happen to Us

This advocacy is needed because we’ve all been socialized into systemic racism, which means our moral disgusts have been too quick to react in what I defined last week as hypervigilant ways when we see black bodies.

In short, regrettably, our knee-jerk impulses, as bias tests and other statistics have proved (look it up! There’s a lot out there about this!), tend to think of darker skin as more suspicious and more worthy of receiving immediate punishment without due process.

How We Come to Defend White Supremacy at Black Lives’ Expense

As a corollary, without careful retraining, our knee jerk impulses, when seeing a symbol like Kaep’s kneeling or a hashtag like #DefundThePolice, we tend to think of advocacy of causes surrounding black bodies as less worthy of being given a hearing.

Even those of us who are allies may think that the hashtag has to speak on its own–because surely no one will take the time to research, right? (That’s a problem, because we can and should expect better of ourselves and others, and push back against such assumptions that a legitimate policy idea ought not receive a hearing on its own terms.)

Similarly, police and their authority are often the other pole of our associations—the authorities that we too easily see as doing no wrong in our societies (and too often we think they deserve unlimited PR space with too little accountability).

Along with this, white people see themselves as “surely not racist,” because if we put “racism” as something extreme that only really bad people do than none of us can fit that definition, right? (Sigh. Definitely a problem when we start seeing ourselves as faultless god terms. Really unhealthy, that.)

Defense of the Police and Unhealthy Cordial Hypocrisy

Anyway, it should be clear to careful readers of this blog that police don’t necessarily bring good conflict management. Police brutality aside, even (and that’s a huge burden to shift to the side, even for only a few seconds!), police are historically associated with “keeping the peace,” a phrase which is dripping with cordial hypocrisy.

As I explained in my first toxic sides of Christian Nice piece on this blog, cordial hypocrisy is a situation in which things seem peaceful outwardly, but under the surface resentment is simmering and bound to burst out sooner or later specifically because things are such that one side isn’t given a hearing, for whatever reason.

Cordial hypocrisy is premised on the idea that if we all just gaslight ourselves and others long enough (in other words, ignore the facts of the problems), very real problems will somehow just disappear and we’ll never have to deal with them.

The Link Between Nice and Support for White Supremacy

As many have noted (MLK started my thinking about it, but the way Ta-Nehisi Coates talked about it in Between the World and Me brought it most home to me, personally), white supremacy’s existence is at least in part premised on this kind of gaslighting of the very real ongoing problems of racism—which is how Christian nice supports white supremacy so unfortunately well, as I discussed here, here, and here.

In the terms I’ve been discussing here, that means maintaining strong moral disgust reactions to people speaking up against injustices toward black bodies, including movements that seem to attack the status quo in this area.

What Does Support of White Supremacy Look Like in Practice?

This system of injustice is reinforced by people defending as automatically moral those authority figures that maintain the system of white supremacy by seeing black bodies as less valuable, more suspicious, and less worthy of time to prove themselves through due process (and good representation).

Anyway, so the point is that all of these visceral things are at play when many people, especially white people, see someone, especially a Black person, kneeling during the national anthem or see a hashtag like #DefundThePolice.

Unpacking these Viscerally Racist Reactions

In both cases, the person sees the word or action and too often sees the status quo being challenged by those who are often judged to be less worthy of a hearing–and feels that to be a problem. (Sees it to be aggression rather than the assertiveness it is.)

In short, in such situations a societal hierarchy based on oppression is being challenged. And those who have been trained to uphold that hierarchy—see its stability as a matter of maintaining their own status—tend to feel that, and seek to either defend that hierarchy through fight responses or defend that hierarchy through refusing to listen to the points of view that would challenge it—through flight from the issue.

How Fight and Flight Combine Toward Fighting Protest on Behalf of Black Lives

The flight from dealing with the issue often comes through refusal to do what one would normally expect to do when encountering a new idea, if one is to be just to that idea—look up more context and definitions about what that idea means more fully, and give those ideas a hearing before setting down judgments about the matter.

And—to bring us back full circle to the examples I was talking about at the very beginning, the fight mode often combines with this flight mode in either an openly aggressive or passively aggressive fashion.

In short, people, to defend the white supremacy power structure that’s embedded in our moral disgusts, people pick on the acts of protest—their wording, their respectfulness—as a way to distract from the fact that they’re defending authoritarian white supremacy.

Linguistically Aggressive Defenses of White Supremacy

See, many can’t see themselves as defending white supremacy, so they offload that onto slogans like “blue lives matter” that were created to oppose ones like “black lives matter.” (As though Blue Lives don’t already matter enough to have a lot of power and to be hidden behind intense firepower and a blue wall.)

And many can’t see themselves as defending white supremacy, so when they see policy suggestions like #DefundThePolice in hashtag form they start talking as though it’s suggesting the police be abolished rather than defunded, suggesting extreme visions of lots of lawlessness if funding is shifted away from more violent means of curbing a community that’s seen to be suspicious to gentler methods.

Sometimes It’s Subtler, Though

Sometimes it’s not that obvious, though. Sometimes it comes when others who have accepted the problem as set forth by critics (sometimes even those who would like to be allies of Black Lives!) act as though a hashtag on its own needs to be Jesus in the guise of Superman. What I mean is that these folks look to a hashtag, with no further explanation or research, to leap over centuries-old neurobiologically-embedded moral disgusts and fight/flight reactions in a single bound.

The thing I’m trying to say here is that words and language and communication, was never designed to bear that kind of burden of perfection in any situation. This is even MORE the case in situations where centuries-old socializations need to be overcome to achieve actual justice and equality in how people are treated.

But It’s Not About the Words—It’s the Justice and Mercy

To sum up, buying into the bullies’ argument that the hashtag #DefundThePolice ought to be fully able to take down all opponents with a single glare of its “The” is a support of white supremacy, however small.

Because, as Peters said above, it’s not about the efficacy of our communication, but whether we’re loving each other well. And in the case of good policy, it’s not about whether it’s perfectly sold in a hashtag, but whether it provides more justice and mercy and due process in the solution than the status quo does—in short, whether it comes closer to fixing the problem.

What to Do If You Have Lingering Questions About #DefundThePolice

So if you want to see whether #DefundThePolice is a good hashtag leaning toward good feasible policy, I strongly recommend you read up on the proposed policies and listen carefully to what’s being proposed.

You’ll know whether the it’s a good policy if it solves problems and creates more equity—and if you have knowledge that can make the ideas better based on expertise (I doubt these ideas are perfect, and they don’t really have to be), well, join on in the dialogue to create a better policy! (But listen carefully first! And take the ideas you find there seriously before you jump in.)

(Speaking of Jesus needing to look and act like Superman, it should be clear that if something is defending the authorities over and against the least of these, well, you might not be defending Jesus OR equality.)

How to Respond When People (Including You) React in Knee-Jerk Ways to Ideas

So how can we respond healthily in these kinds of situations when symbols or hashtags aren’t being given a fair shake because of white-supremacy-based visceral prejudice?

I have lots of ideas, so I’m going to recommend you sign up for the email newsletter in the top bar and read the free “Guide to Online Trolls” that comes in the final welcome email once you’ve confirmed your email address. Some people will be educable and some won’t, and the guide to trolls helps you distinguish the difference.

One Final Note: Better Together

I’ve noticed that often followers to Assertive Spirituality come expecting words, slogans, hashtags and memes to bear the weight of Superman. None of the things the site offers can remotely bear that weight.

The thing is, that’s okay–because it’s not about the single words, or single memes, or single hashtags or even a single human doing things alone. That’s not how communication or life works.

Instead, it all goes better when it’s about a bunch of words and sentences and people all working together. Moving into this difficult fall season of continuing pandemic and difficult election, let’s work to help each other remember that, shall we? We’re stronger together–and we don’t have to stand alone, even when we’re healthily isolating. 🙂

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to identify and continue to fight unhealthy systems of oppression wherever we find them toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

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QAnon Conspiracy Rhetoric, Hypervigilance, and Questions of Trust http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/08/15/qanon-conspiracy-rhetoric-hypervigilance-sex-trafficking/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/08/15/qanon-conspiracy-rhetoric-hypervigilance-sex-trafficking/#comments Sat, 15 Aug 2020 23:57:30 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1102 If you’ve been following along here, you should know that I’ve already been doing a series on the rhetoric of conspiracy for the last few weeks. I previously talked about conspiracy theories here, here and here. This week I’ve seen sex trafficking experts having to work extra hard to refute unhealthy conspiracy rhetoric around that subject (check out, for example, this post I shared recently on the Assertive Spirituality FB page). This piece is a response to that while continuing...

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If you’ve been following along here, you should know that I’ve already been doing a series on the rhetoric of conspiracy for the last few weeks. I previously talked about conspiracy theories here, here and here. This week I’ve seen sex trafficking experts having to work extra hard to refute unhealthy conspiracy rhetoric around that subject (check out, for example, this post I shared recently on the Assertive Spirituality FB page). This piece is a response to that while continuing the present series. My specific focus will be on how conspiracy rhetoric often bases its credibility in the grounds of hypervigilance rather than healthy vigilance (I’ll define those terms, I promise!). I’ll also talk about how to fight hypervigilance of various kinds to avoid encouraging the unhealthy trends behind conspiracy theory acceptance.

My Expertise, and Why Many Don’t Trust It

The sad thing is that those who believe unhealthy conspiracy rhetoric you probably won’t trust what I have to say on this subject. That’s because my academically-based expertise coming out of my PhD in Communication is in competition with what right-wing conspiracy theorists peddle. (Even if it wasn’t, the fact that I identify as “progressive” because of the evidence-based conclusions I draw from what I study along with my reading of the Bible would have put me over the edge for many of those identifying as conservatives these days, sadly!)

Who I’m Speaking To Instead

That’s why I’m speaking primarily here to you who already have a sense that conspiracy theories are unhealthy, but may not know exactly why or how they work. Today I’ll dive into some of our natural visceral fear/threat responses these rhetors are exploiting and how they play into the equation. At the end I’ll get to some ways for us to respond to these challenges, and how we can keep ourselves standing up against conspiracy rhetoric in as healthy a way as possible.  

This is a long one again, but worth taking the time; thanks for hanging in there with me!

A Quick Contextual Summary

Here’s the thing: as I’ve explained in the past, many conspiracy rhetoricians, especially in the right-wing Patriot Movement from which the current QAnon movement emerged, tend to contradictorily insist that their audiences think for themselves while also insisting that only they have the keys to interpret the world. They also tend to fear institutions and healthy collective action that they see as undermining their ability to maintain their seemingly sovereign “divine rights of citizens.”

Most recently, this kind of rhetoric has emerged in theories elevating the topic of sex trafficking, but unhealthy views about sex trafficking that oppose the things those long on the ground working on these topics have to tell us. These theories are being used to oppose (1) police reform in an age of protests against police brutality and (2) mask-wearing in the age of a public health crisis.

Unpacking Right-Wing Hypervigilance

If you look closely at what fears this rhetoric is unhealthily exploiting and what it’s working to oppose—which is one of the main goals of this article—you can see how it’s being used in defense of unhealthy authoritarian impulses rather than on behalf of protecting children. I plan to unpack that today by explaining how unhealthy conspiracy rhetoric works to defend hypervigilant authoritarian collective action while pretending to decry the same thing.

In this current article I’ll get into the roots of these right-wing hypervigilant fears, where they comes from, and how it gets spread. I’ll also unpack at least a bit more about how and why right-wing conspiracy rhetoricians see other knowledge as a threat and insist on their answers being the only ones and also get into some ways that we can avoid falling into our own forms of hypervigilance in response, no matter where we identify politically.

Reaching Toward Healthier Responses

In the process, I will also explain why it’s key, in countering conspiracy theories, to refuse to get drawn into letting these conspiracy theories explain the world for us, drawing us into black and white fear-based hypervigilance.

I will also explain why theories based in wholesale denial of any need for vigilance in the Christian community and even the hyperrational attitudes that can come with scientific process can easily express a different kind of hypervigilance, becoming unhealthily complicit in the rise of authoritarian leadership.

Defining Hypervigilance vs. Vigilance

Before I go further, let me quickly define hypervigilance, though, and explain the difference between hypervigilance, which is fearing more than is reasonable, and reasonable fear, often known as vigilance.

An Important Theological Note for Christians

Quick note: I believe that when the Bible talks about not fearing and love casting out fear, it is talking about casting out hyperviligance, not vigilance. A quick read of Jesus and the prophets or most of the rest of the Bible should make it clear that many themes in the biblical narrative and rhetoric strongly believe in being vigilant about how power and possessions and fear impulses can corrupt people.

Because of this, I don’t believe “love casts out fear” means a denial of vigilance, or rational fear and concern grounded in evidence. In fact, I believe it involves being willing to build genuine trust where we are able to, responding as assertively as possible when that is not possible, and so on.

Embracing Healthy Vigilance

The fact that some fear is actually healthy vigilance is hugely important to keep in mind as we go through this discussion. That’s because it’s easy to say, oh, conspiracy theories are fear-based, so all fear must be hypervigilant. That is ironically not at all a rational response, but itself a threat-based fear response, one that sees strong emotion in response to threat itself as a threat.

In reality, if we are to keep our heads on straight in response to hypervigilant conspiracy theories, it’s most helpful to recognize that some of the things conspiracists fear are valid concerns—and the stress responses themselves are not the problems.

Importantly, validating those reasonable fears that lead people to embrace unhealthy conspiracy theories doesn’t have to mean embracing the conspiracy theories themselves OR the hypervigilant policies and rhetoric they espouse and shore up.

Let’s Not Pretend to Be Invulnerable

I should also note that hypervigilance is a stress and trauma response that everyone is vulnerable to—but not everyone reacts to it the same way.

Often as a society we fear trauma because we fear hypervigilant responses and see them as unstable. And let’s be honest—those of us who have fully embraced Western rationality and science are also vulnerable to hypervigilance in the name of “rationality.” That kind of hypervigilance about emotion is no more stable than other forms.

In short, we all have hypervigilant responses to the world at times, but not all of us take them out on others. Let’s try to promote that latter response!

Discerning Is Sometimes Hard!

And let’s be honest—COVID precautions based in scientific findings look very much like authoritarian hypervigilance if you don’t trust science or if you’re too overwhelmed to understand their basis. And this is where I point out that hypervigilance based in evidence and on behalf of the common good, doing the best we can with what we do know, is very different from authoritarian hypervigilance. Such distinctions are crucial, but of course if you’re hypervigilant about expertise and collective action the distinction will be very unclear!

Why Distinguishing Hypervigilance from Vigilance Matters

These are important caveats, because abusers, authoritarians, and other unhealthy individuals use this information about our fear of emotion to dismiss the natural vigilance of those they wish to demonize.

Let me say that again: our systemically embedded Western patriarchal fears of emotion are grist for propping up authoritarians and abusers even while our love of data and evidence can help fight them.

In other words, fighting conspiracy rhetoric and authoritarianism isn’t so easy as embracing science and rejecting rhetoric and politics. It’s not nearly that cut and dried, and we make it so at our peril.

How to Thread the Needle

If we wish to counter those who will exploit our toxically masculine society’s fear of emotion as a devil term by casting it as hypervigilance, it’s very important to recognize this distinction and refuse to give in to either hypervigilance or hyper-rationality.

In doing so, we recognize that our fear responses often have good information to offer us, but are not always themselves fully trustworthy in everything they have to say.

In short, we need to do some detective work to sort through who and what to trust and what not to trust, both in ourselves and externally.

Conspiracy Theorists as Unreliable Narrators

The primary problem is that the conspiracists themselves are unreliable narrators about the problems they’re casting themselves as solving. They are often either hypervigilant themselves, or slick conmen, or some combination of the two.

Back to QAnon and Sex Trafficking as an Example

You can easily see this fact when it comes to QAnon and his/her/their wildly inaccurate and harmful theories about sex trafficking that are leading to the currently popular #SavetheChildren hashtag. (Sounds like a good thing, right??? Sorry, unfortunately no.)

If what QAnon—who, by the way, is anonymous, so we don’t have a way to vet them as a human, and first popped up on 4chan, an alt-right social media area—has to say about sex trafficking is accurate, we are being led to be hypervigilant about strangers snatching our children off the streets at any second.

Twisting a Very Real Issue that Requires Vigilance into Hypervigilance

This is a particularly evil contention, if you ask me, because sex trafficking and sexual abuse of all kinds are real and horrible problems. The problem with QAnon’s presentation, from what I know both of narrative and media theory and of actual on-the-ground experts on sex trafficking and sexual abuse is this: the large bulk of sex trafficking cases are not about strangers picking people off the streets.

On the contrary, they are about people unhealthily and gradually worming their ways into people’s trusts.

Much like the unhealthy conspiracy theorists themselves.

Surviving in the World in Ethical Ways Is More Complex Than That

The same is the case, by the way, with other cases of murder and violence that we tend to pin on “outsiders” in our society. The large majority of people who commit acts of violence are not strangers out there, but people presenting themselves as trustworthy.

The problem with this, of course, is that it means that healthy and ethical vigilance isn’t cut and dried any more than fighting conspiracy theorists is. On the contrary, healthy survival skills that are both effective and ethical require extra careful vetting of people, which can easily turn into hypervigilance if we’re not careful. After all, trust involves a mix of vulnerability and risk.

The truth is, because we’re all mortal, we all are vulnerable to death and pain. And because we are created to need other people, we are all in need of trusting others in various ways at some point—and we all have a need to be both vulnerable and trustworthy in order to be at our healthiest.

Back to the Question of Sex Trafficking and QAnon

Not everything’s difficult to discern, however. Take the question of sex trafficking. If you have to choose between what some unknown source says vs. that of those actually doing the work on the ground has to say, you probably need to deeply consider your life choices if you’re going with the unnamed and unvetted source.

That’s probably a sign that you’re trusting sources only because you have hypervigilance against experts and collective action—not for good reason. And in this case, there’s a very good chance that your hypervigilance is being exploited for political gain, and is ironically and disturbingly being used to build up unhealthy trust in existing systems.

How We Know #SaveTheChildren Isn’t About Love for Victims

See, the sex trafficking issue never came up via QAnon before people started using it to complain about masks and the Defund the Police movement. And that’s a strong sign, together with the gaslighting of those who have been coming up with viable solutions for the existing real problem, that QAnon isn’t performing love for sex trafficking victims but the opposite.

And this leads me to the most crazymaking part about the hypervigilance of conspiracists—it naturally seeks to gaslight such logical deductions that ground careful, evidence-based vigilance from those who would call them on such things.

How Conspiracy Theorists Try to Use the Grain of Vigilance Behind Their Theories to Gaslight

After all, as I’ve said before, unhealthy strongmen and demagogues often elevate conspiracy rhetoric as a way to disconfirm all other sources of authority other than themselves.

The fact that these conspiracy theories are actually tied into natural vigilance gives these unhealthy leaders the very grounds to pretend that opponents are being hypervigilant when they catch the unhealthily manipulations that are part of this rhetoric.

In short, the conspiracists and the leaders that unhealthily espouse conspiracy theories both claim the truth of their conspiracy theories based in a logic of hypervigilance and pretend that they are the only ones with a healthy rational response to the situation.

The assumption is that those who disagree with conspiracy theories and see how they are unreliable are the hypervigilant ones attacking for no good reason.

Why We’re Supposed to Cast Our Lots with the Conspiracy Theorists

As we’ve discussed before, this takes the conspiracy theorist/leader and puts them on the side of things to be defended at all costs (god terms) which are disconnected from reality grounded in evidence.

Instead of evidence, you are supposed to trust the conspiracist, who is painted as having the real knowledge (over and above all those experts and any other real-world facts that would contradict the conclusions the conspiracist says).

Conspiracy Rhetoric and Fighting Opposition

And of course you are supposed to disbelieve and distrust—and in fact, fight at all costs, any facts that disagree with the conspiracy rhetor’s view. This becomes an incredibly useful way to exploit people’s vulnerabilities into fighting people who actually know what they’re talking about. In many cases, as with anti-mask rhetoric (which this blog has talked about here and here), acting against their best interests as well as their own moral compasses.

Right-Leaning Christians, Conspiracy Theories, and Cognitive Dissonance

The result of people trusting this kind of rhetoric, especially if they claim to be Christians, results in a lot of cognitive dissonance. In other words, these Christians have a lot conflicting emotions, beliefs, and attitudes that often get expressed through hypervigilant policies and talking points combined with a demand to be seen as rational and reasonable and ethical in their positions.

How This Shows Up in Right-Leaning Moderates

This latter phenomenon is a lot of what I see among those from the moderate denomination I grew up in who now find themselves co-opted into a hypervigilance-based worldview. When you talk to such people you rarely hear pure conspiracy theories. They would quickly disclaim the ideas that people are implanting chips in the COVID vaccine or that BLM is part of the Illuminati.

And yet—they display a strong embrace of the demonization of collective action such right-wing conspiracy rhetoric espouses. They will disagree with the current head of the administration’s tweets and his behavior, for example, but refuse to vote for the opposition.

The Subtle Evil of This Seeming “Rational View”

This subtle effect of conspiracy rhetoric on right-leaning moderates is perhaps more evil than the effects on those who wholesale believe the theories full-scale. After all, these moderates are seeming to do what I’ve called us to do above—carefully sort through the valid and invalid parts of emotion to stick with only the vigilant parts rather than the hypervigilant parts.

And yet, by embracing the demonization of the opposition, these folks are almost as fully complicit with the hypervigilance of conspiracy rhetoric as those on the far-right.

Not completely, mind you. These conservative-leaning “moderates” probably wear a mask but vote against those who are promoting more widespread mask ordinances. Claim to be anti-racist but share misinformation about the Black Lives Matter organization being “Marxist.” Share the #SaveTheChildren hashtag but fail to listen to what actual sex trafficking organizations have to say on the matter.

The Root of the Cognitive Dissonance

This strong distinction between their own personal actions and their support of broader policies is actually itself a sign that they value conservative right-wing views that collective action is automatically scary. It is supremely ironic that in doing so, they vote for—and vocally support—collective action that actively fights the common good. As Christians, as I’ve pointed out in the past two articles, this situation amounts to hypocrisy.

I’ve talked in the past about how I grew up with this cognitive dissonance and have worked to emerge from it once I realized that’s what was happening. I take my own growth in this area is a sign that all is not lost, even if there is no silver bullet to take down the unhealthy elements of hypervigilance wrought by conspiracy theorists such as QAnon.

So What Ought We To Do in the Face of All of This?

  1. Carefully distinguish between vigilance and hypervigilance in ourselves and others. Embrace the vigilance; throw out the hypervigilance.
  2. Refuse to be drawn into the position of hyperrationality, which is itself a form of hypervigilance.
  3. Support efforts to discern and validate careful collective vigilance.
  4. Recognize that our fear impulses about things like sex trafficking are natural healthy impulses, and we confirm those in ourselves and others where we can while fighting unhealthy conclusions that don’t line up with real life experiences and data.
  5. Recognize the cognitive dissonance in many Christians drawn into supporting QAnon, and support the parts that we can while countering those we can’t.
  6. Look to evidence in the world and that gained by actual experts in fields like healthcare and sex trafficking, not for bulletproof answers or safety, but for a reasonable amount of information to help us see what of our fears are vigilant vs. hypervigilant.
  7. Keep speaking up assertively on behalf of policies and rhetoric alike based on vigilance, not hypervigilance, about the world—and healthily representing a mix of rationality and emotion.
  8. Decry the kind of rhetoric and policies that demonize expertise and evidence-based concerns about the world and their attendant solutions.
  9. Carefully vote for people who are actually working for the common good as much as you can (and these days in the US, let’s be honest—there’s one party that’s doing that wayyyy more than the other—and it’s not the party whose appeals are based in fear of healthy collective action).

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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“Biden Is Against God”? The Patriot Movement as Religio-Political Audience http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/08/08/biden-against-god-patriot-movement-audience-rhetoric/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/08/08/biden-against-god-patriot-movement-audience-rhetoric/#comments Sun, 09 Aug 2020 02:27:04 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1099 Two days ago it spread quickly across my timeline, much like an oil spill: the current head of the US administration had made more strange comments about religion. In this article I plan to rhetorically analyze those illuminating comments about Biden being “against God” and “against the Bible,” putting them in context of what I’ve been discussing in this space about god terms, devil terms and conspiracy rhetoric. In the process, I hope you’ll start to understand why the conspiracy...

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Two days ago it spread quickly across my timeline, much like an oil spill: the current head of the US administration had made more strange comments about religion. In this article I plan to rhetorically analyze those illuminating comments about Biden being “against God” and “against the Bible,” putting them in context of what I’ve been discussing in this space about god terms, devil terms and conspiracy rhetoric. In the process, I hope you’ll start to understand why the conspiracy theorist-laden alt-right Patriot Movement is being treated as the primary audience for many of the remarks from the current US administration, as well as why that’s unhealthy. Finally, I’ll talk about why we need to persist in working against it.

My Background

As a reminder, I’m a pastor’s kid with a PhD in Communication who studies and teaches with a focus on stress, trauma, and conflict communication. As I’ve discussed here before, I took a course in the rhetoric of conspiracy during my PhD, and have been dismayed to find how applicable it is in recent years.

“Sheeple” and the Background of This Series on Conspiracy Rhetoric

A couple of weeks ago I jumped down a fascinating and disturbing rabbit hole looking for the origins of the word “sheeple” and started the current series.

I did so when I discovered the word “sheeple” had been popularized by conspiracy theorist and Patriot Movement member William Cooper, whose broadcasting work and published book in the last part of the 20th century has had an enormous amount of influence on key people who have gone on to gain prominence in the current state of things.

In Opposition to Standard Views of Christian Faith

If you’ll remember, I talked in that first article in the series about how counter-intuitive to biblical themes a derogatory usage of the word “sheep” is.

Today’s article analyzing the remarks by the current head of the US administration will likely heighten that sense for you, highlighting the ways in which his remarks are targeting those with fringe religio-political groups and trying to get others to join in agreement with their interpretive community.

In short, rather than representing the entire country—or even trying to speak to the entire country—with his remarks, the current head of the US administration is trying to elevate the understandings of a fringe group (the Patriot Movement) by presuming they are his audience.

Deeply Disturbing that the Fringe Is the Primary Audience

Far from being a matter we ought to dismiss as “ridiculous,” or the ramblings of someone who isn’t fully conscious of what they are doing, I believe this ought to be a matter for extreme concern.

Not Espousing Religio-Political Freedom, Much Less the Rights of All Citizens

After all, it’s really not okay nor normal nor something to be dismissed that the current leader of the free world is seeing an alt-right group as his primary audience and is treating their beliefs as normative, especially because he’s doing it in a way that demonizes all other views. This is not religio-political freedom he’s espousing—it’s one group’s authoritarian views being elevated at the expense of all others.

Explaining how this works gets nuanced, as usual. Thanks for sticking with me while I explain.

The Current President’s Demonization of the Opposition

Okay, so let’s start with what the current president of the United States said on Thursday to supporters in Cleveland. The current president characterized the opposing candidate with the following words: “Take away your guns, take away your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything.” He went on to say “Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy.”

Defending God, Guns, and Energy Against Progressives?

To many folks, the strong association here between guns and God (and presumably big oil) as things equally to be defended might seem nonsensical. In fact, some may dismiss it as a kind of rambling word salad.  

But it makes sense in light of what I’ve been researching, and is in fact deeply disturbing, when you consider everything we’ve been discussing in this space about god terms, devil terms, authoritarianism, and conspiracy rhetoric. And especially the strands of authoritarianism and conspiracy rhetoric associated with the alt-right loosely connected group known as the Patriot Movement.

God Terms and Devil Terms

As I’ve said before in a series starting here, god terms are concepts to be defended at all costs and devil terms are concepts to be fought at all costs. Naturally, the idea of a supreme being and the authority associated with that supreme being are often seen to be, well, sacred, and things to be defended at all costs. And things that are cast in opposition to that supreme being are seen to be devils.

Where the Patriot Movement and Conspiracy Theory Come In

As I noted in the last article, William Cooper , conspiracy theorist who claimed a strong voice for the Patriot Movement, often cast progressives as “sheeple” to be simultaneously demeaned and fought at all costs.  

William Cooper and the Demonization of Collective Action

As someone who came from the right-wing, he also really regularly associated any kind of collective action, especially that related to institutions, with totalitarian tyrrany and corruption, evoking the long-held American devil term “socialism” as being in opposition to the term “freedom.” (This should be ringing bells—I wrote about socialism as a devil term here and here and freedom in the issue of mask-wearing here.)

(Select Right-Wing In-the-Know) Citizens as Having the Divine Right of Kings?

And as Mark Jacobs outlines in his well-researched biography of Cooper (which I’m drawing on heavily here–thank you for your hard work, Mark Jacobs!), Cooper’s views on what it means to be an American citizen are very important to this picture.

See, as Jacobs reports, Cooper—along with many others in the patriot movement—believed that America’s founders, in claiming certain things to be “inalienable rights endowed by the Creator,” was not actually breaking down the divine right of kings, as so many believe they were, but transferring them to American citizens who understood that and rose up to take those rights and defend them.

Where the Second Amendment Comes In From This Perspective

Importantly, as Jacobs points out, Cooper and others in the Patriot Movement take the founders’ concern with a well-regulated militia in the second amendment to be taken literally. The fact that the Patriot Movement is often associated with armed militias like those involved at Ruby Ridge is not an accident.  

In short, to many if not most in the Patriot Movement, every citizen (most white and male) who understands this particular meaning behind the Constitution properly, and sees anyone working collectively as a potential threat, has the divine right of kings once claimed by Henry VIII and his descendants in England, and the responsibility to defend those rights with as many guns as possible.

The Patriot Movement’s Relationship to Violence

Practically, this sets up a situation in which suspicions run extremely high, and is rife for armed conflict and violence.

Patriot Conspiracist William Cooper, having fought in Vietnam, did not claim to condone violent solutions and reportedly decried the actions of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh who claimed him as an influence. And yet, along with others in the movement, he publicly claimed those who died at Ruby Ridge and Waco as faultless patriots to be honored and defended at all costs.

Meanwhile, he demonized organizations like the UN, FEMA, the FBI and the IRS, suspecting them and viewing them as enemies to be evaded and fought (with guns, if needed) at all costs. As it happens, Cooper ended up dying when a three-year standoff with federal agents came to a head—he paralyzed a deputy in the shootout.

When the Divine Rights of Citizens Clash

Interestingly, Cooper was derogatory toward Mormons for believing that men would become gods with their own planets in the afterlife. This makes sense—after all, however much he claimed that everyone should think for themselves, family and friends alike discuss how little openness he had toward people who thought differently from himself (which makes total sense if you believe you have the divine right of a king as a “select” citizen).

Back to the Current President’s Statement about His Opponent

I could go on, but hopefully this background is enough to help you understand that the current president’s string of god term and devil term associations I quoted toward the beginning of this article is not at all nonsensical. In fact, the only lens it makes sense from is when looking at the Patriot Movement as its primary audience—and the current president making theirs his rhetoric and electoral platform of sorts.

Let me break down briefly why these words would make sense from their view.

Biden as “Against God”?

After all, to the alt-right libertarian Patriot Movement, the fact that Joe Biden is an established member of the government, much less the member of the Democratic Party running on a platform of trying to take care of the common good, would mean that he symbolizes “socialist tyranny.”

The fact that Joe Biden is for a platform of reasonable gun control, viewed by this audience, would further put him on the side of the devil.

Creating God Terms to Defend

And if Joe Biden is on the side of the devil, surely he must be against God and the Bible, right? Especially since he is in the party that are for equal rights for all religions. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s Catholic either—Catholics have been seen as the incarnations of devil terms by many Protestants since the Reformation. Sigh. As a Protestant, let me take a quick moment to apologize to my Catholic friends on behalf of my people.)

How to Determine These Are God Terms and Devil Terms

Note that none of this aligns with anything related to orthodox Christian theology in any way, which is one huge sign that the terms used are being wrenched from their “dictionary definitions” to be used as god terms and devil terms.

And so William Cooper and the right’s use of the term sheeple is at odds with Matthew 25 and the comparisons of Jesus laying down his life as a lamb.

The Demonization of Biblical Tenets

In the same way, these statements from the current president demonize the very ideas that both orthodox and progressive conceptualizations of Christian theology hold most dear.

The idea that guns and God would be god terms that are yoked together in a “might makes right” away are certainly there in the Bible, but they are combated there by statements like those of Jesus, who famously asked his disciples to put away their weapons when they had the opportunity to defend them.

And while there are theologies and perspectives like those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s to be taken seriously arguing that bringing down tyrants like Hitler are toward the greater good, such thoughtful theologies are strongly different from this assumption that any collective action is automatically the enemy.

The Patriot Movement: Really Far from Casting Out Fear

In fact, the religions whose primary tenets Jesus boiled down to “Love God” AND “love your neighbor as yourself and Paul boiled down to “love does no harm to its neighbor” and “love casts out fear” looks REALLY different from the alt-right Patriot Movement’s view of the world.

Patriot Movement as the Audience

This fact makes it further clear that the president isn’t speaking to or for progressives or even moderate Christians when he speaks about guns being so closely associated with God. No, those aren’t his audiences—on the contrary, his statements only make sense when you view the alt-right Patriot Movement as his primary audience and those he aligns with most closely in these rhetorical statements.

How My “Moderate” Folks Get Caught Supporting This

As I’ve discussed many times before on this blog, especially in this piece, I grew up in a slightly right-leaning Evangelical denomination, and have been greatly disturbed to see many of the people I grew up with now aligning themselves with this kind of rhetoric since the 2016 election.

They would be the first ones to separate themselves from the “God and guns” association, of course, and would be appalled that I would suggest that they were in any way aligning themselves with the alt-right. Many of them say they don’t like the current president’s rhetoric.

Fear of “Socialism”

And yet they argue regularly that they had no choice but to vote for him (and likely will be again) because Hillary was evil (which they believe because they’ve absorbed conspiracy rhetoric about her–conspiracy rhetoric which Mark Jacobs’ research makes clear is strongly aligned with the Patriot Movement).

And they say they have to vote for his policies now to “stave off the dangers of socialism.”

Aligning Themselves with the Far-Right

And in voting for the man whose political platform aligns with the Patriot Movement’s beliefs and view of the world, and buying into their unfounded conspiracy theories, they ARE sadly aligning themselves with the Patriot Movement and their suspicions of collective action.

How This Gets Personal for Me

As I’ve said many times before, it gives me great sadness and grief to have watched them to line up with such beliefs.

As I’ve discussed before, I wish I had the words that could make them change their minds—but, you see, as I’ve stepped over the line to identify with “the other camp,” they won’t trust my words on this subject.

None of Us Has to Overcome This Alone

So yes, I don’t have those particular magic words that can undo this ugly rhetorical strategy years and decades in the making—certainly not on my own. And the thing is, it’s okay that I don’t.

See, unlike the Patriot Movement, I don’t think it’s my job to act like a king with unlimited power and frustrated control. It’s not my job to take down anyone who disagrees with me.

Breaking Away from God Terms and Devil Terms about Collective Knowledge

And the thing is that I know mine’s the healthier way, because theology and science and social science all agree that bullying and controlling behavior aren’t the way to a healthy society. And while I think critically about all of those things as an individual, I also trust that others have expertise I don’t, and that collective action such as that wrought by science isn’t automatically untrustworthy any more than it’s automatically perfect.

My Job—and Our Jobs–Together

What IS my job is to do whatever I can where I am with what I’ve got to assertively point out the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all, knowing that a cloud of witnesses stands around me working to do the same (thanks, you lovely cloud of witnesses!).

And in doing this I’m not speaking only for myself, but stand consciously and gratefully on the shoulders of many people who devoted many hours to understanding how communication, including unhealthy communication, works.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? After all, the major fallacy in seeing collective action in all its forms as a devil term is that we all argue on the internet because of the fruits of lots and lots of collective action that created technological devices and other amazing creations.

The Deeply Unhealthy Views of the Alt-Right

Sure, as I discussed in the last article, there are absolutely unhealthy and corrupt forms of collective action, and I think we’re all about fixing those major problems.

But seeing people who are trying to solve collective problems as opposed to God because they are doing so and because they are in a different group from you frankly is strongly unchristian. And supporting a politician above those opponents because he claims to be combating collective action is just frankly unhealthy and toxic.

A Call to Healthier Action

Chances are, if you’re in this group of supporters of the current president and reading this article, let’s be honest: you’ve probably clicked away by now. But if you’re a Christian and supporting the current president after he called Biden as against God and against guns, I call you to repent. It’s really not okay that he’s speaking directly to the alt-right’s twisted, spiritually abusive view of the world and theology.

If you support him but aren’t okay with this, then call him out, friends.

A Call to Keep On Keeping On Toward a Healthier World

If you don’t support him, well, be assured that you’re–at least in this–on the side of healthier views of spirituality and the world, friends. Just be assured that this struggle isn’t going to be easy—the fact that the rhetoric is being spoken with the Patriot Movement as the primary audience ought to illustrate that in highly disturbing ways.

I’m not suggesting that you hold back—now, on the contrary, is the time to continue speaking up as much as we can to try to help others understand and pull back from the worst consequences of this path we’re going down.

Get Out the Vote!

And by all means, vote and fight to get out the vote as much as is possible in this crazy pandemic world. Let’s keep striving to elect healthier leaders—and remember, the midterm elections showed us that while this isn’t an easy task, change for the better is still achievable.  

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to work against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

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The post “Biden Is Against God”? The Patriot Movement as Religio-Political Audience appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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