Some might wonder why I have such a visceral reaction to wokeism. I have written a few no holds barred blogs trying to warn people of what this is and where it invariably leads. But each time I write it feels as if my concern is not well-explained. I mean, I know some probably read and ask, “why is Joel attacking these well-intentioned people?”
However, I’m having a moment of clarity and therefore will try to expound on why it is absolutely necessary to shock people out of their stupor. The reality is that wokeism (or grievance culture) and religious purity culture are two branches off of the same tree. Both patriarchal conservative men and those angry pink-haired feminists are trying to create a world without suffering. Both, tragically, create more problems than they solve.
First, what is purity culture?
As I experienced it, in the conservative Mennonite context, it was a branch of Biblical fundamentalism (Protestantism) that had been grafted in to the Anabaptist tree. It was a legalistic perspective. The pure life was to avoid vice (no drinking, dancing, going to movies, etc) and remain completely a virgin until marriage. It is not that the aim is entirely bad, but there was also a lack of grace accompanying this perspective.
In other words, there was no room for failure. It a hellscape of unchecked perfectionist tendencies. People who should be diagnosed as having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), along with other mental illness, viewed as being virtuous. And the rest of us struggling to meet an unreasonable standard without the actual spiritual help we needed.
For example, girls who thought they were ‘defiled’ for simply talking to a guy that they didn’t intend to marry. And heaven forbid you did date and break-up. Then you were damaged goods. Cursed to walk the earth, like Cain, a stigma tattooed to your chest, a scarlet letter.
To those steeped in this religious purity culture it was about saving the next generation. It was a reaction to a world of promiscuity and failed commitments have produced far-reaching consequences. And yet, while it does work for some, those who check all the right boxes, it permanently marginalize others and gives them no real road to redemption. Divorced and remarried? Tough luck, you’ll need to break up that successful loving family to become a Mennonite.
That’s the purity culture I know all too well and, for reasons I’ll get to later, have fully rejected as being unChrist-like and spiritually void.
Wokeism, despite the vast difference in appearance to what I’ve described above, is another subset of purity culture. It is a reaction to the ‘privilege’ of those who better represent the cultural ideal. It is another form of utopian idealism.
Whereas the latter religious variety of purity culture believes that if their children only kiss one person, never experience the pain or disappointment of a break-up, then heaven will come to earth—the ‘woke, by contrast, believe that if everyone was forced to tolerate their ugliness and embrace their toxic grievance; if they could live free of further offense, then they would be fulfilled.
Both forms of purity culture are offshoots of Western values. They both see suffering as a flaw in the system and try to eradicate it through their own means. And they do have their valid points. No, the girl, the victim of sexual abuse, who (because of her loss of self-worth) goes from one guy to the next, should not be called a slut. But, that said, nor should her unhealthy coping behavior be normalized. Instead, we should stop seeing people as damaged goods because they failed to reach some sort of phony cultural ideal.
The truth is, the woke, as much as they attack whiteness. Or the feminist who acts aggressively and looks to a career as being freedom. The patriarchal father, as much as he claims to be protecting. Are all the thing that they despise most. Religious purity culture, sadly, is hypersexual in focus and produces conflicted men like Bill Gothard, Doug Philips and Josh Duggar. Feminism amounts to a form of female self-loathing that unwittingly idealizes the male role. And so-called social justice is simply a means to manipulate and enslave another group of people.
All of them assume that if a person could simply avoid pain and bad experience they would find their completeness. All seek a kind of perfection outside of Christ and very quickly, despite their wonderful intentions, turn into a dystopian hell.
What is wrong is this idea that pain us is less for our good than pleasure. The religious, ignoring the lesson of Job, neglecting what Jesus said about the tower tower of Siloam or the man blind from birth, see suffering as a sign of God’s displeasure and a punishment. Likewise, the woke want to be embraced without repentance, if they would simply be called clean then they could finally escape their terrible anguish, right?
The truth is, bad experience is part of life and as beneficial as the good. Growing up in a single parent home can be an excuse or a motivation to do better.
This is what makes the story of Jesus so compelling. Unlike us, he was completely innocent, his intentions were pure and should have been loved by all. But, instead of embrace him, his own people saw him as a threat, he would undermine their system and perspective, show them for what they were, thus had to be eliminated. That he was executed with criminals would seem like a humiliating defeat. He suffered and died for what?
However, it was in this suffering that salvation came. Sure, the burden of the cross comes with anguish. We would rather seek pleasure and avoid pain. However, in Jesus, the cross is transformed from being a brutal instrument of death into a well of eternal life. How? It is in the same way that a seed falls to the ground, is buried and leads to new life.
Why would we cling to the seed or refuse to let it be buried and prevent the tree?
The overprotectiveness of religious purity culture, the refusal to acknowledge our brokenness and need of transformation of wokeism, both try to find salvation by human means. One seeks to impress God, like the rich young ruler or proud Pharisee, whereas the other (like Cain) demands that God accept their unworthy sacrifice and then murders their righteous brothers. Both need Jesus.
In conclusion. We’re all damaged goods and can be made more beautiful than ever through repentance. Jesus can make our pain as much a joy as our pleasure.
The readers of this Irregular Ideation most likely noticed that I was down and struggling a bit. No doubt the prayers of my family and good friends have been heard. While the neck and other issues linger, there has been a break in the form of some good news that has brought with it that glimmer of hope again.
These cycles of mood and emotional swings have been something that I’ve pondered. Despite there being events that are involved, there is also this sort of rhythm and inevitability to these things. The phase “what goes up must come down” comes to mind. Sure, I’m probably on the more neurotic end of things, with higher highs and lower lows. But most people, no matter how good or bad their life is compares to others, seem able to identify with these ebbs and flows.
I mean, we have that time before coffee in the morning then that time after where the brightest of the world returns. There are those the weekly slow starts “a case of the Mondays” contrast with that euphoria of Fridays. Then the longer cycling patterns tired to holidays or weather. Has anyone else had encounters with SAD or Seasonal Effective Disorder? Descriptions like “terrible twos” or “the midlife crisis” exist for a reason. Is the “sophomore slump” real? I think so.
And there does seem to be a preordained nature to this all, like the seasons or how the sun rises and sets.
This kind of constant change is confirmed in Scripture:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NIV)
To me this is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. The woman who brought a man such joy in their youth may make him all the more lonely when the season of death and seperation comes. The attributes that make a nation rise in prominence, say a focus on equality, can be the very thing that brings about their collapse once it finally does reach the top.
Not to say that any of this is meted out evenly across board either, some do have it easier or a higher baseline mood and others not as fortunate, nevertheless there are patterns.
Bigger dreams lead to bigger despair. But a harder struggle can also lead to greater joy and a more wonderful triumph for the faithful than those who lived for their own comfort. There is balance, there is growth, larger and smaller patterns, a predictability that seems could be modeled. How it plays out across groups of people is also a fascination of mine.
My own thought is that we could probably remove the triggering events and still end up with the same patterns in the end.
In other words, there would have been a world war even if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated, my disenchantment with the Mennonite denomination would have eventually boiled over even if not for the same specific reasons, and Elon Musk’s Twitter account isn’t the reason the crypto market dropped from those all time highs either.
First, Let Me Talk About Stocks…
If cycles of human emotion could be mapped out, the stock market might be the place to start. The euphoria of a “bull” market and seeming endless pessimism of a “bear” market show how our emotions, collectively, shape the direction or mood of the market. But it is more than just random noise, it is a complex dance of feelings and facts, that produces the ‘right’ price in the end. It can often be algorithmically predicted.
A little story, for example, of how it works: I have bought and sold Dogecoin over the past few months. My first purchase, in December, at a cost of $1000 then, would have been worth hundreds of thousands at the peak. I sold it for a small gain. But later, as not to miss out, I bought in again, and saw my portfolio balloon when the “meme coin” finally caught fire. However, over the past few months, things haven’t been too good and the price was going down and down.
At first I had complete resolve. The smart investor holds, I did my due diligence, this is only a correction cycle and things will reverse soon. But eventually the pressure broke me. I decided that it was time to save what was left of my gains and move to something that would produce a better return. I thought this down trend would continue indefinitely or at least go lower—give me a better buy-in price later, right?
I’ll show you where I sold around 80% of my Doge…
Yup. I picked the very bottom of the downward trend. Even knowing that cryptos have gone through similar corrective phases in the past before continuing their upward climb, and even telling my coworkers that Bitcoin (despite the plunge) would end the year above $70,000, I fell victim to fear, uncertainty and doubt precisely at the wrong time. I had waited for two months to see that trend reversal, at the bottom, and would have gotten it had I held on for another couple more weeks.
But more than to talk about my missed opportunities, I’m interested in that larger cycle of the market and how human emotions (in an aggregate) create this clear pattern. Many people want to blame events, like a Tweet from Elon Musk or what have you, for their change in fortunes. However, while we could see these events as being triggers, it seems the larger patterns are something more or less baked in.
Dogecoin, for example, could not continue straight up forever. Smart investors, who know the adage, “buy the rumor, sell the news,” started to sell before Musk’s SNL appearance. And the sell-offs came with mentions both good and bad. It was not the autistic billionaire businessman’s fault that so many people decided on that moment to cash in nor that others began to panic sell as the price dipped. It was all predictable, part of some sort of fractal meta-pattern, can be modeled (like this), and would have happened (triggered by something else) regardless.
Smart investors learn to zoom at, look at the longer trend, rather than let the emotions of a bad day get to them. Cryptos, despite their recent dip, have remained in an ascending pattern with the recent lows still higher than the high of the prior cycle, which is why the smart money (unlike your’s truly) continues to buy the dip and HODL (Hold On for Dear Life) rather than give up. Most people miss on big gains because they’re impatient.
Despite Recent Lows, An Upwardly Building Pattern Prevails…
It was after my most recent dip in mood that I realized something. In my prior lows over the years, as a Mennonite, I would still go to church for the fellowship and yet would not sing if the words didn’t feel authentic coming from my mouth.
But this past time, despite my feeling low, I still showed up to sing and did because (despite my pain and depressed mood) someone had to carry my part in the choir. Music was my worship, spiritual combat, rather about how I felt. This time I soldiered through the liturgy, toothache, emotional turmoil, and all. I left immediately after the service, rather than do the social ‘coffee hour’ thing, because I was miserable.
It might seem to be virtuous to only show up or sing when the feelings are there and yet it is hardly sustainable. If I only showed up for my job when I was in the mood or having a good day, my paycheck would be small to nonexistent. Many marriages end in divorce because the ‘love’ therein depends on their feelings in the moment and is not an actual commitment to love through better or worse.
So, in short, this duty-driven devotion, rather than being led by emotions, is actually progress. It was not simply another dive into the same dumps as before. No, I have changed, improved, from the “be true to yourself” advice to doing my job, for the good of others (including my choir director), gutting it out. Two steps forward, one step back, will eventually get you where you need to be.
There is a sense in which it was always a choice whether or not to participate. But my character development? That seems like something guided, the result of years of small nudges in the right direction, and not something that I can take credit for. In other words, I’m becoming what I was meant to be, having been placed in the right time and circumstances.
Despite Individual Progress, Are We Becoming Weaker?
That’s not to say that this kind of building pattern cannot work in reverse. When we consider our “first-world problems” in comparison to what people face in Afghanistan, it would appear that we are becoming collectively weaker rather than use the past generations boost. We use our opportunity to “stand on the shoulders of giants” to bellyache about ‘oppression’ because other people are not forced to pay for our lifestyle choices.
To put things into perspective?
Charlotte, my Igorot bhest, as the daughter of a subsistence farmer in the mountainous Benguet province, was sent away to assist her grandmother. She describes her childhood as being her “grandma’s water pump,” carrying heavy buckets to keep the garden watered. The work was so hard that she would cry and wonder why she was even born. That’s pretty much how my grandparents or great-grandparents lived, they did complain and probably because there was nobody to listen. Everyone struggled, physically, and became strong enough to survive.
Compare that to my generation, where we were mostly spared hard physical labor, yet find plenty of reason to cry injustice. We have gone from “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” to triggered because an Amish kid stares at us. Being looked at too long a micro-aggression, I’ve heard. My own endless existential crisis another example and there are many other cases, in my generation, of oversensitive and dark struggles of those truly privileged compared to their hardworking parents.
While past generations in my religious upbringing may blame their insecurities on the standards and not being appreciated by their workaholic father or whatever, the latest generation can’t even eat peanut butter without breaking into hives. It isn’t their fault either, they’ve been coddled and protected from birth, their parents worked overtime to make sure that they felt heard and connected. Now, rather than see their discontentment coming from having to follow ‘legalistic’ church standards, our youth will struggle with questions of whether or not they’ve somehow been mis-gendered at birth.
There is little doubt that our sterile environment is likely contributing to the vast increase in autoimmune disorders and allergies. Whereas previous generations fell to disease, endured actual physical hardship and wondering where the next meal would come from, girls married as teenagers, we now have people distressed that someone used the ‘wrong’ pronoun…
However, in a sense, over the generations it is the same struggle in different form. No matter how improved things become, whether we get that go cart we dreamed about every day or not, there will always be another circumstance to blame our own feelings of not belonging on. The more challenges we remove for our children, the less capable they become. No longer comfortable in their own skin. We blame different externalities for our despair, yet maybe it is something genetic, internal and inevitable?
How Civilizations Rise And Fall
There have been various descriptions of how civilizations rise and fall, one example below:
Many Americans see that we’re on the decline and that our fall from world prominence is now as inevitable as the sun going down. And, given that many great empires have come and gone, this is not a big surprise. How could a nation of immigrants, people who left the oppression of the old world, traveled across the treacherous Atlantic and conquered a continent, who understood sacrifice, lead to a generation so entitled, unappreciative, self-loathing and suicidal?
It is easy to paint a very bleak picture. But then, gripes about the next generation are as old as human civilization and this doesn’t always mean a collapse is imminent. Yes, there is change. Top hats have gone out of fashion and will likely never make a return, trends come and go. There have been times of great social upheaval, like the American Civil War, followed by periods of relative calm. Those who lived through the Great Depression, the World Wars or Cold War all had their anxieties about the end being near, only for that “great peace” and fall of the Soviet Union to follow.
What feels like the end, under fresh leadership, could be the start of a new epoch. Take the fall of Rome. Sure, the Mediterranean empire fragmented, yet the common thread of Western civilization has remained to this day and is arguably stronger than ever. Yeah, the British Empire may no longer rule the seas, but their rebellious American sons and daughters have become even more powerful than any empire ever. So maybe after a painful declining corrective phase there will be a revival or rebirth?
Our survival depends on our optimism. We must assume that each pullback will lead to the next increase in amplitude. No, that doesn’t mean this is easy, doubt and despair require far less effort than hope and faith; failure is always possible even with the best efforts, but humanity has made it through many bad moments—moments many times worse than any of us will likely experience in our own lifetimes.
Being raised in a fundamentalist sect meant taking the Genesis accounts as being a historical narrative. I had been taught, and had for many years accepted without question, the idea that the veracity of the Gospel message hinged on the most ‘literal’ interpretation of the first book of the Biblical canon.
This understanding of this book had worked fine to get me through my school years. I gave my high school biology teacher, Mr. Toohey, an atheist who had once considered the priesthood, a headache debating the textbook claims about mutations, millions of years, and Macro Evolution. At this age, I thought this style of apologetics, debating science using the words of Scripture, was a key to securing the faithful against doubts and winning unbelievers.
Unfortunately, while this understanding may serve well those who do not venture too far from the Young-Earth Creationism intellectual ghetto, against what amounts to strawman versions of secularist arguments, it doesn’t hold up as nicely against a serious challenge and has left many religiously indoctrinated high and dry in their years in a university-level science program. There is a reason why many in my former religious tradition are terrified of higher education.
Even seminary was a synonym for cemetery to one of my childhood Bible-thumping pastors. It should make one wonder. If the foundation of faith is so flimsy that it can’t be tested, that it can only be sustained by ignorance, then what’s the point?
Sadly, it was a false choice, this dichotomy between science and religion, education and faith.
Getting the Cart Ahead of the Horse
The Biblical fundamentalists got everything exactly backward. The truth of Christ does not depend on proving the Scripture, word for word, is completely 100% historically accurate and scientifically verifiable. It is nice when those things do align, sure. And yet, no matter how many mundane parts of the Biblical narrative are established this way, the fantastic claims are never proven.
If a politician lists off ten facts and nine of them turn up true according to the fact-checkers, does that make the final most grandiose claim true?
No, no it does not.
One of the most persuasive tricks of liars is to hide their one falsehood amongst a long list of facts and true statements. And likewise, someone could prove 99.9% of Biblical claims and still not have touched anything of the miracles. The Bible is true because it says it is true might work for idiots and the indoctrinated, but it is always circular reasoning and there being a town of Bethlehem doesn’t mean Jesus walked on water nor establish His divinity and conquering of death.
No rational person believes that a prophet flew from Jerusalem to Mecca, on a half woman half horse with a tail of a peacock, because they read it in a book. I’m certainly not going to wear magical underwear because some dude, a few hundred years ago, claims he received golden tablets from the angel Gabriel. So why would any reasonable person expect someone to believe a book written thousands of years ago? Sorry, Ken Ham, I don’t care how many replica Arks you build, you’re not winning skeptical minds or hearts with this effort.
Human efforts fail.
When Sarai reasoned with Abram to produce an heir through her maidservant, how did that go for them?
We know it didn’t go too well and have the commentary of St. Paul:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
(Galatians 4:21-31 NIV)
Here we see the contrast of human efforts “according to the flesh” and those of a spiritual and Divine origin. St. Paul emphasizes the “son” which is “born by the power of the Spirit” as an alternative to the “son” human reasoning that produced conflict and heartache.
It is amazing how many times St. Paul, and Jesus before him, encountered those who believed Scripture word for word and rejected Jesus as Lord. They, in many ways, had a stricter interpretation of the text than many of us do and did not face the strong headwind of modern science and philosophy either. And yet, even meeting Jesus in the flesh, seeing him with their own eyes, taking Scripture as literally as anyone, they saw Jesus as the imposter and rejected Him. So, how then can we be saved?
Fortunately, that question is answered many times over and over again, by St. Paul, and has next to nothing to do with the book of Genesis. The truth of Scripture is established on Christ, and His church, which established the canon of Scripture and does those “greater things” that Jesus promised would come through the power of the Spirit. Yes, we preach and teach, but only God can bring the increase. So, the apologetics industry starts us out on the wrong foot and doesn’t produce true faith in Christ.
Our salvation does not depend on our own understanding of a book. St. Paul, in Romans 9:16, states clearly, that our sonship depends on God’s mercy, not human desire or effort. Scripture is the cart, not the horse. We accept that the Bible is true because we believe in Christ, and His Church, not because we can establish it through our human reasoning or effort. Faith is a work of the Spirit, a gift from God, not a product of our knowledge or works. Those trying to ‘prove’ the Bible are on a fool’s errand. trying to save themselves, slaves to human reasoning, lost and confused.
What Does That Have to Do with Babel?
Hopefully, the Noah rode on a T-Rex crowd is too triggered with that intro, because now we shift to something they may find more agreeable and that being the even greater monument to human reasoning and effort.
But, first, the tower of Babel narrative:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
(Genesis 11:1-9 NIV)
This story is likely the origin of the phrase, “men plan, God laughs.” Actual historical event, ancient myth or both, does not matter, the tower of Babel narrative is so much more. The account speaks to human limits and hubris, a true story told over and over again in history and a lesson repeated in different ways with each passing generation. The moment humans forget their place, begin to rely on their own cleverness and start to see themselves equal to their own Creator, the clock to destruction begins to tick.
These people, in the Biblical account, had somehow overcome the odds, they evidently were a resource-rich civilization, more powerful than external threats, and ready to cement their name in history. But just when heaven seemed within their grasp, the very thing that they had sought to avoid, being scattered, brought the entire endeavor grinding to a halt. Now Babel, the name a play on words that meant “to confuse,” is a synonym for colossal human failure. Sure, maybe it is an origin story for the diversity of language. But, undeniably, it is also a cautionary tale.
Other accounts tell us that this confusion of languages, by God, was to save humanity from the total destruction of another flood. In other words, it was an act of mercy to prevent an even greater calamity to end this project and scatter the people. But, more than that, it is a lesson about not leaving God out of the equation. What does that mean? Well, that means that we can’t see everything and, without humility to reign in our ambitions, we are an existential threat to ourselves. The proud fall because they cannot imagine the factors that they, in their overblown confidence, have missed.
Our Modern Towers of Human Arrogance
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
(Isaiah 29:14 NIV)
History is replete with examples of bold declarations followed by catastrophe. Neville Chamberlain’s quip of having secured “peace in our time,” through a treaty with Adolf Hitler, comes to mind. Hillary Clinton was, according to the experts, most definitely going to win over Donald Trump.
But now it is time to tie all these threads together. The same thing that brought about the Protestant schism, also led to the Enlightenment, spread of Democracy, and, ultimately, the rejection of God.
This “age of reason” got off to a relatively good start, scientific discovery, development of technology, and representive government has enabled us to be more free and prosperous that many prior generations. However, as the tower of our knowledge and independent spirit rose, as we have made leaps in medicine, even landed a man on the moon, when American exceptionalism (the ultimate expression of Protestantism) finally conquered all, and our hegemony was nearly unchallenged, suddenly a day of reckoning seems to be upon us and this colossus, this oversized imagine of human endeavor, seems in danger of collapse.
A couple of decades ago it felt as if we were on the cusp of a new epoch. Racism vanquished, our old enemies irrelevant, the world connected as never before, the internet ready to put all knowledge at our fingertips and the stars seemingly within our reach. Secularism and science had triumphed over superstition and myth, we imagined no religion, nothing to kill or die for, as Coca-cola taught the world to sing. Former seminaries, our universities, forgetting God, became temples of human reason. “We didn’t need church or religion to be good people,” the atheists cried, while standing on the shoulders of theologians whom they dismissed, “in fact, we’ll go further without it!”
However, my own optimism has unravelled over the past decade or two.
Star Trek and the Jetsons still remains, firmly, in the realm of science fiction. The internet is a cesspool, filled with crackpot opinions, censored by billionaires bullies who pretend to be gatekeepers of truth while they spread misinformation, and nothing like a child of the 90s would’ve imagined. As church attendance slips, depression and drug usage has steadily increased—along with suicides and mass shootings.
Our universities, rather than continue to value free thought and expression, now have strict speech codes and safe spaces. The minds that once sought to improve the human experience, now only deconstruct tradition and erode the very ground that their institutional ivory towers were constructed upon, too drunk with nihilism to care. Even Coke brand, that once celebrated human diversity, has joined the graceless cult of woke in attacking “whiteness” and civilization itself—as if they have forgotten what has made their own comfortable ‘privileged’ life possible.
The government, “for the people,” that at least gestured towards the needs of the citizenry, now only serves global corporations, the powerful elites and special interests. The US flag, once a symbol of hope, the American ideal, and our unity as diverse people, something black athletes proudly wrapped themselves in less than a generation ago, has now been reimagined as a representation of oppression and hate. Our faith in our institutions is failing, the left decrying systemic racism, the right suspecting election fraud, nearly everyone feeling unheard.
We’re a civilization consuming itself and maybe it is because we’ve forgotten this:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
(Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)
We don’t go to church anymore, a trend that started before the pandemic and has only been accelerated, and “love your neighbor” is now used as a guilt trip rather than a reason to change our own toxic attitudes or be involved on behalf of others. John Kennedy’s call to service, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Those words, spoken today, would likely be derided as some kind of dangerous “ism” in today’s me-first, my tribe, my way or the highway, divisive identity driven, you’re literally a Nazi if you disagree, political environment.
Have we reached new heights only to implode?
What is really going on here?
Pride Cometh Before the Fall
Satan, we’re told, was the very best of the angels. His magnificent greatness eventually led him to believe that he was a rival to God. Jesus warned his disciples, having returned exuberant from working miracles, that he had seen Satan “fall like lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18) and reminded them of their place before the Almighty.
Hubris is the downfall of many and the idea that we can find all of the answers for ourselves is that. With each success, with every innovation and breakthrough, there is a danger and risk of overconfidence.
In the past few centuries have seen our knowledge and abilities increase like no other time in recorded human history. The West threw off the authority of Rome, with the reasoning that every man was able to comprehend Scripture outside of the tradition of the church. Not long after, the authority of Scripture itself was called into question. Why do we need a book of myths written by those who lack our sophistication and understanding of the world? God was erased from our institutions, prayers only a ceremonial and many imagine themselves to be self-made or little gods. It is the height of ignorance:
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me” Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
(Isaiah 29:16 NIV)
But it isn’t only the cultural elites, the atheists, the politicians who only pay lip service or liberal theologians whittling away at morality until there’s nothing left. This spirit of self-reliance, and arrogance, permeates through the whole civilization. We are blinded by information, buried in jargon, tangled in complexity, yet think we’re englightened.
We should be pumping the brakes, as technology advances faster than our ability to comprehend the consequences, I see it even (or especially) in those emerging from sheltered religious cloisters. Sure, the are the reactionaries, afraid of all change or improvement, but then there are those who have a little education and embrace it all nof realizing the potential. Our brightest minds are working on things much more dangerous than nuclear weapons, creating biological agents, developing artificial intelligence, considering climate altering measures, all potentially having the possibility of irreversible side-effects, and truly playing with fire.
We believe we are in control but are most definitely not and, with our new power, are one or two mistakes from an unmitigated disaster.
Like the tower of Babel, which likely took years of planning and building layer upon layer, our modern civilization was built. Our confidence has grown and exponentially along with our accomplishments. We’re clever, we found cures for disease, invented means to travel to the ends of the earth and beyond. But the higher we ascend the easier it is to forget what we are and where we came from. We didn’t create ourselves nor do we know as much as we think we know and this should always keep us humble.
Thinking we are God or next thing to God will, inevitability, lead to chaos, confusion and ultimate collapse into disorder. The bigger our collective endeavor gets, the more we live on our own reasoning and strength rather than depend on faith, the less able we are to cooperate, we erode the very foundations of civilization and the destruction will be swift. God, in His mercy, will scatter us before we become too foolish, with our great knowledge, to be saved. Human reasoning is a dead end, we cannot transcend ourselves outside of God’s help. If we reject that help we will fall.
In 1630 John Winthrop, an English Puritan leader, wrote a thesis titled “A Model of Christian Charity“ that described a spiritual vision for the new settlement in America. He explains an ideal love that if practiced would make them “a city upon a hill” and seen by all people.
But, Winthrop warns that with this great potential there will be great consequences if and when this ideal is abandoned. In his words:
“We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”
America has formed into a great nation, an exceptional nation in many respects, and has become the place seen by the world. Two Presidents (John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan) made reference to the “city upon a hill” imagery and at a time which was arguably the peak of our influence.
I firmly believe that our lingering greatness is a reflection of the moral character of those who came before us. However, our end will be as dramatic as our rise when we neglect love for our fellow man that Winthrop envisioned and is the true evidence of faith in God.
There was another city on a hill (seven hills actually) and that being the historical city of Jerusalem described in the Bible. Jerusalem was a place of great importance to the Jewish religion and the location of their temple to God. It was an impressive awe inspiring place by ancient standards and also the place where Jesus went with his disciples and made a startling prophecy about the unimaginable destruction that would soon come to that city.
Six days that marked the beginning of the end.
It was the Passover, a significant event on the Jewish religious calender, and what would turn out to be a most pivotal week for Christianity. Jesus, after having raised Lazarus from the dead, departs from Bethany and continues with his disciples to Jerusalem despite the obvious risk to his life.
The Scripture describes Jesus coming down from the Mount of Olives towards the great Holy City:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of Godʼs coming to you.'” (Luke 19:41-44)
This moment of emotion and prophecy marks the beginning of a tumultuous week. Jesus was greeted as a king and yet simultaneously weeps over Jerusalem. The week continues with him dramatically cleansing the temple of commerce. He spends an intimate last meal with his disciples after which he is betrayed by one of them. He is put on trial, crucified under a mocking “king of the Jews” sign. But not before making several claims about a destruction coming and an end that was very near at hand.
In a sermon (Seven Woes of Matthew 23) Jesus severely rebuked his religious critics for their hypocrisy. He told them that they are no better than their ancestors who murdered prophets. Jesus warns once again of a judgment that would befall their generation, and laments:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 23:37-39)
Jesus laments their unwillingness to trust him. But also uses “desolate” (erémos) to describe their “house” (oikos) which is a strange way to describe a thriving city and is a foreshadowing statement. He ends the sermon by saying only those who acknowledge him will see him again.
Following that, in the next chapter, we read this account:
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Matthew 24:1-2)
Wow! Talk about shocking!
Can you imagine?
It would be like being with a group of friends taking in the sights in Manhattan and talking about the beauty of the architecture, but then in response the tour leader tells you that in forty years it would all be rubble.
It was the temple (according to Luke 21:5) that had the disciples most captivated and Jesus tells them it will soon be destroyed. Naturally, as we continue to read, this awful prediction provoked more questions from those who heard about when and how:
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’
Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. […] Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.'” (Matthew 24:3-5)
Two observations: 1) These words are all spoken entirely in the context of the temple and the Jerusalem that the disciples saw with their own eyes. 2) This is the second time Jesus promises that “this generation” (to the audience with him then) would see these things happen.
So what did happen?
The end of Jerusalem and temple worship came to pass in AD 70.
It is amazing to me that this event, an astonishing fulfillment of prophecy, is not front and center for more Christians. The destruction of the temple and sacrificial system it represented was so complete that it has lasted until this day.
Furthermore, this total destruction happened (as predicted) in the very generation that first heard the words of Jesus about the end of the age. It is a well-documented historical event that would seem to completely fulfill the words of Jesus and yet it is hardly acknowledged.
So why is this such a secret?
Well, maybe because it throws a monkey wrench into the eschatology of many modern Bible readers who have been indoctrinated to believe Jesus is speaking of events in our own future?
But we do know that the historical evidence is clear. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple of stone at the center of Jewish religion reduced to rubble, and with that came an ending of an age. Some skeptics may dispute the details, yet one only need to go to the modern city built on the ruins of historical Jerusalem and see for themselves that the temple is gone.
The end of the former age is the beginning of something new and better.
The end of earthly Jerusalem had begun the week Jesus was crucified. The destruction of the old way came as the beginning of a new and better way. It is as Jesus promised:
“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.'” (John 4:19-24)
There is a city spoke of by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a metaphor used to describe a greater reality “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) It is also the likely origination of Puritan John Winthrop’s “a city upon a hill” phrase.
We also know, in the writing of Paul, that he says the church is collectively and together is the temple of God:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
It is a funny thing how so many who claim to be Biblical literalists read that and still await a third temple built of stone. Paul says that his audience, believers, are the temple and God dwells in them. Believers, according to Scripture, are literally the temple of God and yet some wait for the constitution a third temple?
Perhaps those still waiting for a third temple have also missed out on the promised second coming of Jesus as well?
Read this assurance that Jesus left for his disciples:
“‘Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’
Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…'” (John 14:12-23)
So there we have a new city, a better temple and a greater coming of Jesus—each of these iterations being far better than the ones replaced. If we believe we will be the fulfillment of Scripture in the same way as Jesus and do even greater things as he promised we would. We will not be looking forward to a new version of the old way and instead be bringing the better kingdom into our reality.
Why then do some amongst us still wait for another physical fulfilment rather than live in the fullness of the kingdom promise today?
Perhaps it is because they, like those who rejected Jesus in his first coming, do not have the truth in them and need to repent?
So, anyhow, cutting to the chase, why is the fall of Jerusalem relevant to us today?
The point of this blog post is not history or eschatology, those can be topics for another day, but it is to discuss the choice we have to learn from history or repeat it again. We can look at the future as something set in place and beyond our own influence or we can consider that Jerusalem had a choice and that is contained in the last words of the Old Testament:
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Do you see the option A and the option B?
John the Baptist, while not literally Elijah, came in the Spirit of Elijah, preaching “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2) and yet was rejected by those who expected a literal return. Because of their refusal to repent they choose the “or else” of option B and we too face that choice: Will we repent and bring the Lord’s prayer “thy kingdom come” to life or will we continue waiting for fulfilment on our own terms and be destroyed?
The American church today is not much different from Jerusalem. We face an uncertain future, we have been divided into competing political factions, there are angry zealots ready to run amok railing against foreigners, oppressors, etc. We too have become woefully arrogant and blinded by our ambitions. It is very much the same climate Jesus lived in two millennia ago. It is the attitudes that Winthrop warned against nearly four hundred years ago:
“But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it.”
We are at a crossroads as a people today.
The next forty years will probably hold dramatic changes. How we respond to opportunities today could very well define the future of our nation. America will need to choose repentance or it will continue to slide further away from greatness and towards destruction.
Our end as “a city upon a hill” may not be as spectacular as the fall of Jerusalem, we might simply fade from prominence like other great nations before us, but be ready.
Last Saturday I stood reflecting in the autumn foliage at the place where my uncle Fred drew his last breath.
I looked at the nondescript patch of dirt where he had been found the day before. I looked up towards the forest canopy and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I breathed in the crisp fall air. I pondered the beauty for a moment.
Like dried leaves blowing, my mind swirled with thoughts about what happened and what it meant—Fred was dead and with that a jarring reminder of the incessant march of time. The season was changing whether I was ready for it or not.
The words of Psalm 90:10 were not forgotten:
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
I was not alone contemplating. I was surrounded by a crowd that had gathered. We were together in our somber reflection about the events a day before. Fred was struck down in the very spot where we—his friends, family, wife, and children—stood.
I thought about my dad who I had accompanied on the journey back the trail through the woods. His hair seemed grayer today than my memories of that wiry hammer swinging construction worker who was once as invincible to me as the mountain under our feet.
I thought about my aunt Rhoda who would grieve this long after most of us by necessity moved forward. I thought of Fred’s children, his sons in particular, who now carried the legacy of their father and spiritual mentor. I felt their tears.
We surveyed the scene together—connected by our faith and love for each other. We remembered a man with an angular face, a rugged frame, and gentle spirit. He was a man who loved his family, was loyal to his wife and enjoyed his work.
He died with his boots on as I would imagine would suit him—he was seventy years old.