Results tagged “reality” from Reformation21 Blog


As strange as it may sound, one of the more insightful discussions of Trump's political success is offered by "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams. Trump is a "master persuader," he argues, who knows and uses human psychology to far greater effect than anyone else in the field, either party. Trump will be America's next president, he predicts, since "psychology is the only necessary skill for running for president."

Adams's blogging about persuasion, (ir)rationality, and identity is quite interesting. Like me, he's not concerned about Trump as a candidate so much as he is about him as a cultural phenomenon. Michael Cavna, Comic Riffs author at the Washington Post, helpfully summarizes Adams's explanation of the Trump phenomenon in six points:

1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.
2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.
3. By running on emotion, facts don't matter.
4. If facts don't matter, you can't really be "wrong."
5. With fewer facts in play, it's easier to bend reality.
6. To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics--and identity is the strongest persuader.

Madison Avenue types and sharp political advisers long ago figured out the priority of identity over reason, wisdom, judgment, and whatever else one might think pertinent to being President. (Similar statements can be made about the products we buy or services we hire or society we keep--everything is branding and branding is about identity.) Sadly, this is the way things work in our post-Freudian world. Still, it's difficult for us to believe that identity actually does trump all else, which may be why even our most cynical politicians seldom play this card as brazenly as Trump does.

We are living through a time when reason is being reimagined in terms of psychological identity. Things that were thought to be mad not long ago are now viewed as necessary consequences of our fundamental principles not because those principles have changed on the page but because they are now being read through this lens. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the Obergeffel v. Hodges case is a rather clear instance of this in law.

In the arguably more pragmatic domains of American business, politics, education, and religion, what counts as reasonable or a rational course of action will be whatever works. If identity politics, business, education or religion works (not just as a complement to sobriety, decency, gravitas, judgment, competency, and so on--as Clinton seems to be betting--but even in fairly open defiance of most of these qualities) then it will become quite rational to be as irrational a candidate as Trump.

But can this be? Postmoderns insist reason itself is culturally construed and evolves along with everything else. Adams, however, continues to diagnose the Trump phenomenon more as an escape from reason rather than as a redefining of reason. Still, his analysis suggests that irrationality is the new reason. Either way, here is Cavna's annotation on the first point: 

"If you see voters as rational you'll be a terrible politician," Adams writes on his blog. "People are not wired to be rational. Our brains simply evolved to keep us alive. Brains did not evolve to give us truth. Brains merely give us movies in our minds that keep us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence."

That's a basic point of contemporary evolutionary psychology (often used to criticize religious belief). If this critique is true of anything, however, then we have no good reason to believe that any of the things we believe are true (including this critique), "except maybe sometimes by coincidence"--and this is no minor point. This popular strand of evolutionary psychology may free Trump and all the rest of us from a sense of obligation to truth but it does so at the expense of the very possibility of knowing anything or at least of being able to know that we know anything. It's ultimately self-defeating.

Fortunately for knowers and speakers of truth everywhere, reality is a very stubborn thing. We can believe what we like about what is reasonable and right and true and we may be dead wrong in what we believe and do about it too. Madness is possible and our madness, however widely shared, does not bend reality or define reason or redefine truth--only our psychological state. There are limits to our revolt against reality including the truth about our personal identities. Reality always wins in the end; the only question, as Carl Trueman recently pointed out, is how much damage we will do to ourselves in the meantime?
On numerous occasions I have been told that the church is like a hospital for the sick. The illness is sin; the remedy is Christ. We, therefore, attend church to receive our diagnosis and to gladly hear and embrace its remedy. "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). Over the years, however, through numerous conversations and limited pastoral experience, I have come to realize that the church - the gathered assembly on the Lord's Day - sometimes appears like a place for those in perfect health. Illness (i.e., sin) is not allowed.

Theologically we know that is inaccurate. That is why in many Presbyterian and Reformed churches we corporately confess our sins. We acknowledge our offense against a holy and righteous God. We know that our lives do not reflect the perfection that God demands. We, therefore, readily admit our brokenness, or do we really?

As a pastor, I have the privilege to interact with people, both inside my church and outside, about some of the harsh realities of how sin affects us. Lust, coveting, broken marriages, hatred, and dishonesty are all the result of acting on the desires of our sinful hearts. To some degree we all suffer from some of these things, but you can hardly tell that on Sunday mornings. Between 10:30am and noon, some people manage to put on the Christian veneer. The outside looks pearly white while the inside is suffering from a cancerous illness - sin.

Is that acceptable? Asked differently, should we put a smile on our faces for a hour and a half on Sunday mornings when things are truly chaotic in the home? No sooner than we depart the church building, we are met by disobedient children and dueling spouses. Our pornography addiction resurfaces; our anger meets us again; we are back in reality. 

I wonder if in some of our churches there is no place for grieving, mourning, lamenting, suffering, and acknowledging sin in more places than the corporate confession? While I have not conducted an analysis of every Reformed and Presbyterian Church in the US, I know this to be true from my personal experience and in my conversations with other pastors. Sunday mornings are the time to be on your best behavior. You cannot show weakness; you cannot fail. Lest the corporate confession of sin, there is no place for brokenness. There is an imaginary sign above the entrance of the church that says, "This is the place for those in perfect health."

It troubles me to know this reality exists. This observation caused me to ask a question: "Why?" Why are things like this? I began to pursue my inquiry. Overwhelmingly, and this is not limited to my congregation, when I asked people why their actions depict their lives are in perfect order when I know things are a bit chaotic, the response I received was, "I don't want to be judged." They believed there was no room for reasonable transparency in the church. It was expected that one's children be in perfect order, spouses on the same page, and singles portrayed as if they struggle very little with contentment.

Though I do not believe this is the cause, I wonder how much Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites contribute to this sad reality (i.e., in all things we must be relatively perfect). Most Facebook posts and Twitter feeds that I have read are largely positive. People gladly boast of their witnessing opportunities, the books they are reading, vacations taken, and family reunions. Most people confess very little of the difficulties through which they are going. I see the same thing in many churches.

This is not to suggest that we must air our dirty laundry to everyone in the church, and the world for that matter on Facebook and Twitter, but a certain level of transparency seems healthy. Rosaria Butterfield, in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith, put it this way,

"I think that churches would be places of greater intimacy and growth in Christ if people stopped lying about what we need, what we fear, where we fail, and how we sin" (25).

I could not agree more. I often tell my congregation that is okay to hurt; it is okay to fail; and while it is not okay to sin, it is okay to be transparent about where you sin because there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ. 

If there is any merit in my observations, I also wonder how this affects the church's witness. One of the constant accusations I hear from unbelievers is that the church is full of hypocrites. However we handle that accusation, I wonder if the point behind it is that sometimes people in the church present themselves as perfect. As soon as the Christian veneer is shattered, unbelievers' image of how Christianity affects one's life is ruined. They were under the impression that Christianity makes one perfect (not positionally perfect (i.e., righteous) but presently perfect in thought, word, and deed). Therefore, once they realize the untruth to that manifestation of Christianity and that Christians, too, often face the same problems they do, Christians are labeled as hypocrites. In unbelievers' minds, the mask was removed.

Is there a solution? I am a rookie pastor. I do not have all the answers. I do not think I will have all the answers in the future either. However, I wonder if we need to more fully embrace the doctrine of sanctification? Unlike our justification - a once for all completed act - our sanctification is a process. Sometimes our sanctification may seem to be moving more slowly in our lives, or the lives of others, than we would like; nevertheless, God is at work. He guaranteed it! If we more fully embrace this, perhaps we will more readily understand that the church is like a hospital for the sick. Our illness is sin; Christ is our remedy. We, therefore, do not need to put on the Christian veneer.

We all suffer from the effects of sin. I pray that we, as the body of Christ, can more openly acknowledge our sins, mistakes, and express our sorrow without fear of judgment, without fear of a ruined reputation, without fear of our perfect family image being shattered. It will take time, prayer, a better understanding of grace, forgiveness, and sanctification, and the Spirit's work. It is possible. I will pray to that end. Will you join me?