There are many desperately trying to push back against the march of progress. I’ve seen the Ted Kaczynski’s (aka “the Unibomber”) Manifesto popping up lately because of how his predictions are coming true. Even those at the cutting edge of the current technological revolution, men like Elon Musk, are terrified of the implications of this rapid change.
Things like transhumanism, cashless society, social credit scores, next level automation and artificial intelligence are upon us. The internet, this once free space, that reduced the friction of communication and allowed the masses to bypass the established gatekeepers of information, is now enabling a new generation of tyrants with power that their predecessors couldn’t have even begun to imagine.
There is a feeling of helplessness against this faceless emerging (and present) threat, we know that they work behind the scenes to control the narrative. The NSA, Big Tech corporations, existing institutions, they’re all competing for their place at the top of this new order, often colluding and conspiring when their goals align. To them we’re ants, pawns to be manipulated and moved.
It is inevitable. Removing a few key players may be a speed bump. However, nothing short of an asteroid hitting the planet and mass extinction will stop this transition. To resist is to be like the Luddites who thought destroying a few industrial looms would preserve their trade. Their movement was destined to be steamrolled by the invisible hand of market realities. It would be easier to stop a freight train by standing in it’s path than to stop this.
That is what the conspiracy theorists and end time prognosticators get most wrong, they see this wind of change as being directed by a particular group of people, a few elites and celebrities, when it is truly a spirit of our time that even they themselves are participating in. I mean, how many posts do you need to read on Facebook decrying what it does to hijack our minds before the universe explodes because of the massive irony? We can’t help ourselves.
Even the Amish, who are way ahead of the curve as far as identifying the social danger of technology, cannot resist that sirens song and love their smart phones as much as anyone else. And they’re the experts at banning technology they’ve decided is bad for their communities and way of life. If they cannot collectively stop this influence, with their strong religious tradition, what chance do we have to hold back this flood of change?
Still some delude themselves, they believe they’re going to run into the hills and escape this onslaught. I’m thinking of the Rod Dreher types who believe that they will somehow be able to remove themselves, this isn’t the Eastern Roman Empire we’re dealing with. There is no place to hide, no place on this planet out of reach, maybe you’ll fall through the cracks or fly beneath the radar and yet I doubt it.
What we are seeing is the merger of something extremely old with some brand new means. There have always been those with an insatiable lust for power and control, those like the men of Sodom who believed that they should have access to Lot’s angelic guests. It will never be enough for them to rule their own domain. They will use the new technology to search out anyone who would resist them. They get off on your resistance and now have new tools.
The thing about the Biblical antichrist is that it is first and foremost a spirit. You can’t keep it out by walls or physical distance, we can see the manifestations, but we do not battle against flesh and blood. No, it is a war with isms, systems that deny Christ and put try to order the world without God. This always comes in such a glowing colorful and exciting form, but under this cover it is the same perversion of beauty and love.
The world isn’t ever going back to that of our childhood or parents and grandparents. For better or worse, the only constant in life is change. Yes, the pace now seems greater than ever, we are certainly finding ourselves with fewer places to hide. The surveillance state has never been stronger, privacy is a thing of the past, the new tools we use too complicated for most of us to understand and only give us an illusion of control.
Alas, all the things we face today are new forms of the same evils that have existed from the beginning of civilization. The only difference is that now it is on a global scale, with more sophisticated means and ability for centralized administration. The fake news, propaganda and misinformation is more subtle and convincing than ever. It all comes at us so fast anymore. It is easy to become disillusioned and demoralized, but we can’t let the giants defeat us.
There has always been an ebb and flow, the rise and fall of empires and epochs. The most cunning have always found ways to consolidate power and exercise control over the masses through various means. The times we live in could easily be compared to the “bread and circuses” of the Roman Empire. Now we have Netflix and the welfare state, enough entertainment and ease to keep us subdued. Maybe this is the time when the types who desire complete supremacy finally win?
We must pick our battles. There is probably not much you are going to do against the weight of the wealthiest most calculated and powerful of our time. What will be will be. Freedom and equal rights have pretty much always been a fantasy to keep us from being trouble to the elites. Most of us are slaves via debt. Step out of line, be the slightest threat to their rule, and they’ll put you in your place.
I’ll have to concede, I was wrong about face masks. Early in the pandemic, in January of 2020 while the corporate media ‘experts’ were saying that we should be more concerned about the seasonal flu. I was worried about this mystery virus in Wuhan and decided to get a box of N95 masks in case my fears were confirmed. I was ridiculed, at the time, for my warnings and telling people to be prepared.
Months later, as the “no human-to-human transmission” claim of WHO became too obviously false to ignore and the glib urgings of politicians for their constituents to visit China were replaced with terror, that confirmed my warnings. But now, with mask mandates and recommendations rolling out, many friends began to resist the idea. They weren’t going to wear a “face diaper” and ridiculed the idea that a bit of cloth would be effective against a virus.
Of course, they were a little right, cloth masks aren’t at all effective against stopping the spread of the virus and now the corporate media is finally conceding this. But still, based on laboratory experiments and filtration level, I believed my N95 masks were effective. However, laboratory conditions are not the real world and, eventually, even that became a question mark for me. Many countries also require facemasks with the masks because the masks are not adequate.
A few weeks ago, I may have overstated, I said that masks were completely ineffective at stopping the spread. Technically correct since the virus spread as much (or even more) in states with strict requirements and yet I’ve also ran into some convincing data that suggests the good masks, the N95’s with a decent seal, may make an 10% difference overall. So on this basis I’ll admit there could be marginal benefit.
The Wishy-washy Way To Truth
Many people, once they’ve made up their minds, never reconsider their stance. If they believe masks are stupid then they will use every excuse in the book not to wear one. I’ve heard them all. The fear about being dehumanized. That breathing carbon dioxide is dangerous. But then they’ll contradict by calling people who disagree “sheeple” and claiming that something that can stop carbon dioxide from leaving can’t stop a virus from entering, hmm?
This is called confirmation bias. People are emotionally invested in their ideas. It is not easy to admit being wrong after making strong statements one way or another. So, rather than be on an unbending quest for the truth, most people (including your’s truly) will seek out the information that ‘confirms’ an established position and ignore what does not. It takes much more effort to take an honest (and critical) look at the evidence and go wherever it leads. Few actually do.
Confirmation (or my side) bias is powerful because it is hidden under layers of fact and explanation that sounds rational. The position being guarded seems completely reasonable to the holder of the opinion, in their eyes they own the moral high ground, and those who disagree are simply ignorant, selfish or otherwise deficiencient. It is often this moral stake in the ground that makes it so hard to back off from an established opinion, we would rather continue in the righteous delusion than deal with the possibility the other side was right.
As the saying goes, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Even a mountain of evidence cannot uproot an established position. It is the same as a fortification on a hill that can hold off waves of an assault with few defenders. That hill being our ego, the banner flying our identity, and we cling to this ground because to lose it would cause us to question ourselves, ask the hard questions of if we are truly virtuous and good, if we are actually intelligent or fooled by our own desire to be right?
It is far easier to remain in the comfort of our own righteous delusion than to consider that the very foundation of our citadel of reason could be sand. We fear changing our perspective will mean we’re wishy-washy or, worse, might require us to examine the underpinnings of other long held beliefs and leave us with no bedrock to build on. Most of all, we fear the ridicule and abuse of our ideological enemies, we can’t let them win!
Powerful Propaganda to Innoculate the Masses
The point of propaganda is to build confirmation bias. The propagandist tries to encourage an emotional bond to an idea, often through appeals to popular prejudice, and yet not overtly or in a way that the targets know they’re being used. Almost every war is fought for the financial benefit of a few and yet sold as some righteous common cause.
For example, both sides of the American Civil War felt they were fighting for civil rights. Both sides used labor that was either property outright or treated like a rented mule. The Northern elites, for all their moralizing abolitionist hubris, depended on an industrial machine that exploited poor European immigrants, taking them right off the boat to send into dark mines, dangerous factory conditions or conscript them into the meat grinder of Lincoln’s war. The South, obviously, was fighting for the privilege of the slaveholding elites and yet convinced they were depending themselves from Northern tyranny and aggression.
Propaganda is about framing an issue in terms favorable to a particular side without ever appearing to be biased to the target audience. It is subversive by design, aims to overwhelm the true complexity of debatable mathers with simple sloganeering, refrains meant to be picked up by the midwits in media and then spread by the unsuspecting masses. The point is to convince the enforcers of the order, the common folk, that they are doing God’s work, being patriots, on the side of irrefutable science or what have you, when in reality they’re serving some undisclosed agenda.
Hitler did not rise to power by being the caricature of evil that we see him as on the other side of the conflict. No, rather, he had convinced enough of the German people that he was on the side of progress, that he would remove the causes of disease and suffering, then build their country back better than ever. The Nazis dressed up in a magnificent authoritarian style, it might look bad in retrospect, knowing where it was leading, yet was hope for a nation emerging from years of crisis.
The Safe and Effective Deception
As part of the propaganda campaign, to convince people to inject the controversial new vaccines, news articles repeated the “safe and effective” mantra over and over again. Both of those words are, of course, subjective. However, they are assuring and have a sort of sophisticated ring. Surely this sort of confident declaration is the result of rigorous science and more or less an unquestionable truth, right?
But the thing most egregious propaganda is not the downplaying and dismissal of the documented deaths or reasonable concerns of those who have studied history enough to know how quickly narratives change. They are simultaneously attacking treatment options, like Ivermectin, that are truly effective, cheap and present less of a risk than Tylenol. It is actually this that makes me distrust them as far as the vaccines. Why are they so adamantly against things that are actually safer than the vaccines and with a proven record?
Even as the new vaccines have proven to be ineffective as far as stopping the spread and preventing infection, despite the natural immunity of those who had the disease being up to thirteen times stronger than the vaccines, the current propaganda narrative continues that it is the unvaccinated are the real cause of the suffering. Nevermind that Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all have financial ties to big media and make a windfall off of this new product.
Supposedly they’re completely trustworthy this time around?
Anyhow, each day I hear stories, that man a friend knew who faithfully wore a mask, had two shots, and then died after becoming sick from the Covid virus. We have the trickle of stories about vaccine related health complications, contaminated injections resulting in deaths and recalls of millions of doses, warnings from the very inventors of the mRNA technology, and yet told that we’re a conspiracy theorist to question. Those blinded by confirmation bias will never see.
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.
Of course, I doubt anyone who pays a slight bit of attention on social media missed the debut of Cybertruck. I mean, who could miss such a disaster of epic proportions, right?
At first glance, Elon Musk blew it. The truck looks absolutely hideous to your typical truck buyer, like something off a Blade Runner movie set, a future that never will be and never meant to ever reflect what consumers actually want in a vehicle.
But the reality is that Tesla just scored a huge marketing win. Those of you who hate the design, you are not in the actual target audience. A traditional truck buyer isn’t really interested in anything Tesla is offering and taking sledgehammers to windows won’t change that. However, if you have joined those talking about this awful truck then you are doing exactly what Musk’s rollout was intended to do and that is you are providing free-advertising for Tesla.
You might say, “But, wait a minute, everyone is ridiculing this design, laughing about the broken glass, how is that a good thing?”
It doesn’t make sense that what appears to be a failure is anything but a failure, right?
However, there is one thing I’ve discovered in the past few years and that is that almost all publicity is good publicity for those who know how to leverage it. From Miley Cyrus selling albums by twerking awkwardly like an ex-Mennonite ‘woke’ feminist-wannabe still angry at her parents—to Trump winning the White House by offending “libtards” (a term I’m borrowing from a smart liberal friend) with his strategically insensitive Tweets—bad press can most certainly be turned into bankable success.
Sure, you might never, in a million years, buy a Cybertruck. But, who cares? I can about guarantee some version of this truck will be hitting the road in the next few years and now everyone that could possibly want one knows about it.
Musk gets it.
Musk, love him or hate him, understands that people aren’t only buying transportation.
Musk, for his part, is in the business of creating image and, on this front, has delivered before…
Tesla Successfully Changed What it Means To Be Green
When electric vehicles were first introduced by established carmakers (or rather reintroduced after a century-long hiatus) they were always sold as being ‘green’ and a compromise. The EV1, for example, that billion dollar General Motors boondoggle, while winning a cult of leftist conspiracy theorists, failed to inspire the car buying masses.
And, sure, you can find enough virtue-signaling professor types or too practical appliance-car buyers to purchase a Toyota Prius. But, for the simple reason that it is boring as Al Gore’s personality, you’ll never convince the general public that this should be their next vehicle . Nobody wants to settle, every big-ticket item we buy is an extension of us, shows our personality, and an electric Toyota has all the excitement of a tweed sweater.
Musk changed the game. He changed the focus from economy and compromise (for sake of some hypothetical greater good abstraction) to real luxury and serious power. There was really nothing that new or innovative about his designs. In a sense, all Telsa cars (at least up until the Cybertruck) had styling cues that belonged next to a 1990s Ford Taurus or Chevy Caprice of the bubble car era. But the marketing strategy worked.
Telsa made electric cars something relevant and cool.
To the target demographic Model S and subsequent offerings have looked sleek and sophisticated. They also offer real-world performance, exclusivity, and appearances of eco-friendliness on top of that. They pretty much bested the existing offerings of BMW, Lexus, Audi and Mercedes Benz in every metric that mattered to that demographic.
So what happened???
How did we go from that to Cybertruck?!?
Why Does Anyone Buy a Pick-up Truck?
Truck buyers might claim to be practical. And that may be the case if you have an old Ford Ranger in your driveway, farm or hang drywall for a living. But most people do not need a pick-up truck any more than I need a Shelby GT-350.
With a pick-up truck you are buying an image.
Sure, pick-up trucks are often sold for their utility, for their ability to tow a trailer full of excavating equipment up a rocky cliff, and some do get used for this purpose, but let’s be real: The reality is that many of these two-ton behemoths (if not most) are used primarily as grocery getters, are not very practical for that task and that’s the point.
Come on, do you really think that guy (waking you up at an ungodly hour) put those obnoxious straight pipes on his Dodge Ram to uncork a little more power?
Is that six-foot lift kit on a late-model Duramax really about ground clearance and rock-climbing ability?
Don’t kid yourself, the jacked-up smoke-spewing monstrosity is all about trying to get you to notice and that goon behind the wheel will enjoy your disgust as much as your approval.
What we purchase is never only about the real-world utility of the thing. It is also to make a statement of some kind and trucks to make a statement. Owning a truck is often about getting noticed, it is a status symbol, it is a projection of strength, security and good ol’ American independence.
It is about possessing capabilities (real or imagined) that others do not have with their wimpy cars. And that’s generally why people prefer trucks over the alternatives.
Tesla’s Cybertruck Is Already A Huge Success
Believe it or not, Musk’s marketing plan was executed perfectly broken glass and all.
How do I know this to be the case?
Well, everyone is talking about it, even people who aren’t normally truck buyers or very interested in automotive news period are talking about Tesla’s hideous new Cybertruck creation, laughing about the busted window, making videos about the tug-of-war, etc.
Meanwhile, amid this free publicity is a subliminal message: If you want to be truly different, if you want to really stick it to the status quo, then buying the most loathed vehicle on the planet will give you that notoriety and the attention you want.
Call the Cybertruck ugly, but since when is a pick-up truck supposed to be pretty, dainty and delicate?
Laugh about a broken window, but since when have you seen someone dare to throw a steel ball at their shiny new F-150 or Silverado?
Say that the tug-of-war test is meaningless (and it is as far as something of practical value) and yet who hasn’t seen the videos online of similar contests between trucks?
Musk understands the average truck buyer better than they understand themselves. He also already knows that he’s not going to attract the traditional truck buyer.
Bubba ain’t giving up his “square body” Chevy even if you gave him ten Teslas and Billy Bob will be tweaking his “first-gen” Cummins until the thing dissolves entirely into a heap of rust and accumulated soot.
Likewise, pappy will continue to buy his overpriced four-wheel drive luxury barge, from a traditional brand, because new cars aren’t ‘safe’ like his 1960’s Oldsmobile.
The traditional truck buyer is not the target audience of Telsa’s campaign.
No, Tesla has, in effect, created the parody of a pick-up truck, the one that takes the increasingly squared shoulder look of pick-up trucks and goes straight-up box on wheels.
Cybertruck is extreme, it defies convention, which has been what the “big three” (if you can still call them that) have been doing for years. I mean, have you seen the new Silverados? The things are extremely exaggerated compared to the designs they replaced, almost cartoonish, and that has been the design direction for all full-size trucks, bigger, more aggressive, etc.
In reality, the Cybertruck is brilliant because it is the only way you can go to be more rugged, more independent and different.
It is a design that says, “I don’t care about you being offended.”
The only thing different is that the target demographic is not some redneck “rolling coal” in Arkansas who doesn’t want an electric truck, period, and never will.
Rather Musk’s target is someone like Arnold Swartzeneggar in Hollywood who in times past would’ve bought a Hummer to make a display of his unbridled masculinity, is desperate to be unique and yet now, to win female attention in his social strata, has to also signal his eco-consciousness.
There will be many out there who will emulate the boldness of their celebrity idols. Many who would enjoy irritating everyone else on the road with their annoying tastes and will especially enjoy the ire of the traditional truck buyers.
A successful product doesn’t need to be liked by everyone. In fact, when it comes to vehicles, it is better to have a specific group in mind and not to worry about what those outside that particular target group think.
Bad publicity isn’t bad if it gets your message to those who would potentially buy your product. The negative buzz can turn into a positive.
But will it work?
The Problem with Shock and Awe
Trump might win by a wider margin in 2020.
Tesla may have as much success with the Cybertruck as they have with their other vehicles.
However, people are fickle and the fresh direction that worked before might become old news and the next Edsel on the second go around.
Tesla (unlike Trump) also has some serious competition. Not only is Ford translating their proven F-150 platform into electric, but there is also the up and coming Rivian R1T that looks a little more thought out and has some traditional cues despite being differentiated.
It could be that most of Tesla’s target demographic consumers would settle for something a bit less radical and a bit more refined in appearance. The Cybertruck may simply be too silly to be taken seriously in the very competitive truck market—it may need to be tweaked towards a more traditional design.
There is a point when being controversial ceases to be appealing to anyone, goes full-on Aztec, and alienates everyone. (It didn’t work for Trump’s opponents who tried to adopt his brash style either, it completely backfired, it made them look even more lacking in authenticity than they did before.) And time will tell if Musk’s successful marketing of Cybertruck will turn into an actual sales success. But he did get our attention, that’s for sure, and that is half the game!
Musk, like Trump, has mobilized his haters and used them as a hugely successful marketing campaign.
There was, one hundred years ago, a Mennonite family with four sons. They lived near a small rural village on the outskirts of a bustling city, with their three sisters, and two parents. Life was simple. They would get up early, milk the cows, then clean the stalls, before heading in for a hearty breakfast at mom’s dining room table, then out for the fieldwork or to cut firewood. The seasons of planting and harvesting were busy times, but there was always plenty of work year-round. There were community events, almost always involving donated labor, to raise a barn or help some struggling neighbor harvest their crops, but life revolved around the daily chores, tending to the animals, the repetitive cycles of the crops, occasional trips to town and church attendance.
In their spare time, evenings before going to bed or after dinnertime on the slower seasons, these boys would read. They had a keen interested in history and current events. The books gave them a window into the world beyond the horizon, beyond the slow pace of his agricultural lifestyle, where great men made important decisions, tales of war, of how his Anabaptist ancestors had suffered intensely for their faith, stories of missionaries traveling to exotic locations, reports the new technology that promised to change everything, and all of this captivated these young men. Their 8th-grade education and sheltered agrarian lifestyle may have left them in wide-eyed wonderment—like the first time they saw that WW1 surplus Jenny JN-4 biplane flying over the family farm—but this did not make them ignorant or lacking in intelligence.
The eldest son, Joseph, was the spitting image of his father, he had seen the farm grow, had participated in the hard work and toil right from the beginning, this simple lifestyle was as ingrained in his heart as the dirt was ground into his calloused hands. He had his dad’s work ethic, would never complain about physical labor, and he had that wiry strength common to farm boys. It is said that once, as a teenager, one of the town boys seeing this naive Mennonite, tried to pick a fight, even landing a blow, before John gave his antagonist a big bear hug, repeated “I don’t want to fight” and then put the stunned bully down. That bully would go on to be the mill owner, a friend, who would always tell that story, but John would laugh and claim that it was exaggerated, a tall tale. John, who had basically inherited his father’s farm, would continue to implement new techniques, was very successful, a respected member of the local community, married his sweetheart and they faithfully attended the church of his childhood.
The second oldest, the ever-inventive Henry, found a way to improve a farm implement, he started manufacturing in the shop on his dad’s farm, but soon outgrew the shop and purchased some land nearer to the city where he built his first factory. By following his passion for business, employing his hardworking heritage, he became very wealthy and could afford to treat his child to luxuries he could not have even imagined at their age. His life was always full of activities, parties, baby showers, vacations (his wife loved the beach, how could he say no?) and, of course, the daily grind of running an industrial production schedule. His life was dominated by the clock, by the calendar of events, the sports teams, politics, etc. He loved technology and one day brought home a brand new cabinet radio/record player that he had purchased at Sears. But, as busy as they were, and despite leaving his father’s old-fashioned church behind, religion still played an important role in the life of his family and he did his best to instill conservative values, his charitable giving (not for attention) made him a noteworthy character and admired amongst those in need.
Hudson was the third of the sons, said to be named after the famed Protestant missionary to China (although it may have been the automobile of the same name), was the more earnest of the four sons. One day an evangelist came to town, despite attendance being discouraged by the church elders, he (with his brothers) was in the audience. The message tugged at his sensitive heart, he rose to his feet shaking, walked the sawdust trail, and had a “born again” experience. Now, truth be told, he had never really been that rebellious, he had had some terrible guilt about seeing some female peers taking a dip in the pond and spending an extra moment observing, but he had always been thoughtful, considerate, and conscientious sort. But now, freedom from his sin, he was determined to serve. He taught at the newly formed Mennonite high school, eventually became a founding member of Mennonite World Aid, an outreach of the conference created to appease those longing to be missionaries, and even did a stint in post-WW2 Europe. He raised his large family to be Anabaptist (although he saturated them with fundamentalist literature) and was followed everywhere by his adoring perpetually pregnant wife.
Then there was Clyde. Clyde was the black sheep of the family, saw John as naive, not too interested in technology like Henry (other than his camera) and certainly far more cynical than Hudson. He didn’t have much appreciation for the farm life. He soon realized that his church was taught by ignorant rubes who got their “ordination” by seeming sincere enough to nominate and then picking up the right Bible. He at first decide to do the Mennonite missionary thing, but he was more or less there to observe and take pictures, and then headed off to university to satiate his hunger for knowledge. Yet, beneath all of this ‘liberal’ smugness, was a compassionate and caring heart. He would go on to write books, people loving to hear about his experience growing up as a traditional Mennonite (although things had really changed significantly before he was old enough to remember) and he was eventually hired as the pastor of the big conference church. Unlike his forebearers, he used his pulpit to spread about social issues, encouraging diversity, reprimanding the “ethnic church” for not caring enough about minorities, the poor, victims, etc.
All of the sons remained Mennonite. And yet all, besides John, had dramatically changed what it meant to be Mennonite. Even John’s life became more chaotic and cluttered than that of his father’s, some of his sons gave up farming (land was too expensive) and worked at his brother Henry’s factory, others (also smitten by an emotional ‘revival’ preacher” carried out Hudson’s vision, but all remained active in their congregations. Henry’s sons embraced the comforts of modern life, they drove muscle cars, listened to popular music and were a little wild before settling down. Of course, Hudson’s sons, all home-schooled (a necessity on the mission field) were a mixture of sheltered and exposed, they all thought of their father as sort of saintly character and were determined to spread ‘Anabaptism’ to the corners of the world. Then there was Clyde’s only child, an avowed feminist, decrying the patriarchy, privilege, police brutality, and basically indistinguishable from the other trust-fund babies who shared his far-leftist views—to him Jesus was basically a political tool, a means to shame his more practical cousins, and a philosopher superseded by Karl Marx.
Nothing about the new generation was the same as their grandfathers. Horses had been long replaced by tractors, the suburbs had encroached on the farmland inheritance and the influence of the ‘liberal’ cousins was having an impact on Joe’s old Mennonite orthodoxy that had been unquestioned for decades, more and more switched from farming to carpentry or manufacturing as economic realities pressed into their communities. More of Henry and Hudson’s descendants (who still crossed paths as conservative Mennonites) became disenchanted with the status quo, some looking for a more lively worship experience, others being disillusioned by the Protestant influence started to question the foundation of their religious tradition, some were angry about hidden abuses, and there were special conferences held to discuss the “Anabaptist identity” crisis. The trappings of modern life had slowly but surely crept into their lifestyle, smartphones were prevalent, pornography caused anxiety amongst many and the austerity of the past would have been appealing if they had the time to stop and think about it.
Air-travel has become safer than ever and that due, in large part, to the increase in automated systems in the cockpit. However, with this advanced technology there comes a downside and the downside being that an otherwise perfectly functional aircraft (I.e., mechanically sound) with competent operators, can be lost because of a small electronic glitch somewhere in the system.
This issue was discussed, at length in response to the crash of Air France flight 447, an Airbus A330, in 2009, when an issue with an airspeed indicator and automated systems led to pilot confusion—which, in the end, resulted in a plunge into the ocean and the loss of all 228 people on board. The pilots were ultimately responsible for not responding in the correct way (they were in a stall and needed to push the nose down to recover lift) and yet the reason for their failure is as complex as the automated systems that were there to help them manage the cockpit.
One of the more common questions asked in cockpits today is “What’s it doing now?” Robert’s “We don’t understand anything!” was an extreme version of the same. Sarter said, “We now have this systemic problem with complexity, and it does not involve just one manufacturer. I could easily list 10 or more incidents from either manufacturer where the problem was related to automation and confusion. Complexity means you have a large number of subcomponents and they interact in sometimes unexpected ways. Pilots don’t know, because they haven’t experienced the fringe conditions that are built into the system. I was once in a room with five engineers who had been involved in building a particular airplane, and I started asking, ‘Well, how does this or that work?’ And they could not agree on the answers. So I was thinking, If these five engineers cannot agree, the poor pilot, if he ever encounters that particular situation . . . well, good luck.” (“Should Airplanes Be Flying Themselves?,” The Human Factor)
More recently this problem of complexity has come back into focus after a couple disasters involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft. Initial reports have suggested that at an automated system on the aircraft has malfunctioned—pushing the nose down at low altitudes on take-offs as if responding to a stall—and with catastrophic consequences.
It could very well be something as simple as one sensor going haywire. It could very well be that everything else on the aircraft is functioning properly except this one small part. If that is the case, it certainly not something that should bring down an aircraft and would not have in years past when there was an actual direct mechanical linkage between pilot and control surfaces. But, now, since automated systems can override pilot inputs and take away some of the intuitive ‘feel’ of things in a cockpit, the possibility is very real that the pilots simply did not have enough time to sift through the possibilities of what was going wrong enough to diagnose the issue, switch to a manual mode, and prevent disaster.
The FAA, following after the lead of China and the Europeans, has decided to ground the entire fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft pending the results of the investigations. This move on the part of regulators will probably be a big inconvenience for air travelers. Nevertheless, after two incidents, and hundreds dead, it is better to take the precaution and get to the bottom of the issue.
President Trump’s off-the-cuff Twitter response, basically stating “the complexity creates danger,” was met with the usual ridicule from those who hate the man and apparently do not understand hyperbole. (It ironic that some, who likely see themselves as sophisticated, have yet to see that through Trump’s putting-it-in-simple-layman’s-terms shtick.) However, technically incorrect is not the same as totally wrong and there is absolutely nothing ridiculous about the general point being made—there are unique (and unforeseeable) problems that come with complex systems.
The “keep it simple, stupid” mantra (aka: KISS principle) is not without merit in an age where our technology is advancing beyond our ability to control it. If a minor glitch in a system can lead to a major disaster, that is dangerous complexity and a real problem that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, if something as simple as flight can be made incomprehensible, even for a trained professional crew, then imagine the risk when a system is too complicated for humans alone to operate—say, for example, a nuclear power plant?
Systems too complex for humans to operate?
On the topic of dangerous complexity, I’m reminded of the meltdown of reactor two at Three Mile Island and the series of small human errors leading up to the big event. A few men, who held the fate of a wide swath of central Pennsylvania in their hands, made a few blunders in diagnosing the issue with serious consequences.
Human operators aren’t even able to comprehend the enormous (and awful) potential of their errors in such circumstances—they cannot fear to the same magnitude or to the proportion of the possible fallout of their actions—let alone have the ability to respond correctly to the cascade of blaring alarms when things did start to go south:
Perrow concluded that the failure at Three Mile Island was a consequence of the system’s immense complexity. Such modern high-risk systems, he realized, were prone to failures however well they were managed. It was inevitable that they would eventually suffer what he termed a ‘normal accident’. Therefore, he suggested, we might do better to contemplate a radical redesign, or if that was not possible, to abandon such technology entirely. (“In retrospect: Normal accidents“. Nature.)
The system accident (also called the “normal” accident by Yale sociologist, Charles Perrow, who wrote a book on the topic) is when a series of minor things go wrong together or combine in an unexpected way and eventually lead to a cataclysmic failure. This “unanticipated interaction of multiple factors” is what happened at Three Mile Island. It is called ‘normal’ because people, put in these immensely complex situations, revert to their normal routines and (like a pilot who has the nose of his aircraft inexplicably pitch down on routine take off) they lose (or just plain lack) the “narrative thread” necessary to properly respond to an emerging crisis situation.
Such was the case at Three Mile Island. It was not gross misconduct on the part of one person nor a terrible flaw in the design of the reactor itself, but rather it was a series of minor issues that led to operator confusion and number of small of mistakes that soon snowballed into something gravely serious. The accident was a result of the complexity of the system, our difficulty predicting how various factors can interact in ways that lead to failure and is something we can expect as systems become more and more complex.
And increased automation does not eliminate this problem. No, quite the opposite, it compounds the problem by adding another layer of management that clouds our ability to understand what is going on before it is too late. In other words, with automation, not only do you have the possibility of mechanical failure and human error, but you also have the potential for the automation itself failing and failing in a way that leaves the human operators too perplexed to sort through the mess of layered systems and unable respond in time. As the list of interactions between various systems grows so does the risk of a complex failure.
[As a footnote, nuclear energy is cleaner, safer and far more reliable than wind and solar farms. And, in the same way, that it is safer to fly than to drive, despite perceptions to the contrary, the dangers of nuclear are simply more obvious to the casual observer than the alternatives. So, again, with the fierce opposition to nuclear power by those who are unwittingly promoting less effective and more dangerous solutions, the human capacity to make good decisions when faced with the ambiguous problems created by the interaction of various complex systems does certainly come into question.]
Has modern life become dangerously complex?
There is no question that technological advancement has greatly benefited this generation in many ways and few would really be willing to give up modern convenience. That said, this change has not come without a cost. I had to think of that reality over the past few weeks while doing a major overhaul of how we manage information at the office and considering how quickly years of work could vanish into thin air. Yes, I suppose that paper files, like the Library of Alexandria burned, are always susceptible to flames or other destructive forces of nature. But, at least fire (unlike the infamous “blue screen of death“) is a somewhat predictable phenomenon.
Does anyone know why the Bluetooth in my car syncs up sometimes and not always?
Or why plugging my Android phone into the charger causes my calls in Facebook Messenger to hiccup (I.e., disconnects and reconnects multiple times) sometimes but not always?
I’m sure there is a reason hidden somewhere in the code, a failed interaction between several components in the system, but it would take an expert to get to the bottom of the issue. That’s quite a bit different from the times when the problem was the rain and the solution was cutting down a few trees to create a shelter. That was also true in the early days of machines as well—a somewhat mechanically inclined person could maintain and repair their own automobiles. However, the complicating factor of modern electronics has put this do-it-yourself option out of reach for all but the most dedicated mechanics.
Life for this generation has also become exponentially more complex than it was for prior generations when travel was as fast as your horse and you were watching your crops grow rather than checking your Facebook feed updates every other minute. It is very easy to be overwhelmed, as individuals, by information overload. The common man is increasingly over his head in dealing with the technological onslaught. We have become increasingly dependent on technology that we cannot understand ourselves and fails spontaneously, without warning, at seemingly the most inopportune times.
Advanced modern technology represents a paradigm shift as much as the invention of the automobile was a revolution for personal transportation. We have gone from analog to digital—a change that has opened a whole new realm of possibilities and also comes with a new set of vulnerabilities as well that go beyond the occasional annoyance of a computer crash. We really have no idea how the complexity of the current system will fare against the next Carrington Event (a solar storm that caused widespread damage and disruptions to the electric grid in 1859—a time of very basic and sturdy technology) nor are we able to foresee the many other potential glitches that could crash the entire system.
It is easy to be lulled into thinking everything will be okay because it has been so far. But that is a false security in a time of complex systems that are extremely sensitive and vulnerable. As when a pilot of a sophisticated airliner fails to comprehend the inputs or like the flustered operators of a nuclear reactor when the alarm bells ring, our civilization may be unable to respond when the complex systems we now rely on fail in an unexpected way that we could not predict. It is not completely unlikely that a relatively small glitch could crash the entire system and lead to a collapse of the current civilization. That is the danger of complexity, having systems that are well beyond our ability to fix should they fail in the right way at the wrong time.
The last human invention will be too complex to control and could be our demise…
Computers far exceed the human capacity to process information. We’ve come a long way from Deep Blue versus Garry Kasparov in the 90s and the gap between man and machine continues to grow wider after our best representatives were surpassed. Yet, while vastly faster in their abilities, computers have long only been able to do what they were programmed to do and thus their intelligence is limited by the abilities of their human programmers.
However, we are on the cusp of development of this technology and the implications far beyond the finite capacity of the human mind to grasp. We could very soon couple the processing speed of a computer with a problem-solving ability similar to that of a human. Except, unlike us, limited by our brain size and relatively slow processing speed, this “machine learning” invention (a video on the progress so far) could continue to expand its own intellectual abilities.
Machine learning is a massive paradigm shift from the programmed computers we currently use. It would lead to super-intelligence beyond our ability to fathom (literally) and, any more than a monkey can control us, could not be stopped. Imagine something that is always a hundred steps beyond any scenario we could imagine and has less in common with us (in terms of raw intelligence) than we do with an ant—would it have any reason not to treat us better than bacteria?
There was a time when I would not have believed that artificial intelligence was possible in my lifetime and a time after that when I would’ve thought it is something we could control. That was naive, artificial intelligence would, at very least, be unpredictable and almost totally unstoppable once the ball got rolling. It could see us as a curiosity, solve cancer simply because it could in a few nanoseconds—or it could kill us off for basically the same reason. Hopefully, in the latter case, it would see our extermination as not being worth the effort and be on to far greater things.
It remains to be seen whether artificial intelligence will solve all of our problems or see us as a problem and remove us from the equation. This is why very intelligent men, who love science and technological advancement, like Elon Musk, are fearful. Like the atomic age, it is a Pandora’s box that, once opened, cannot be closed again. But unlike a fission bomb that is dependent on human operators, this is a technology that could shape a destiny for itself—an invention that could quite possibly make us obsolete, hardly even worth a footnote in history, as it expanded across our planet and into the universe.
In fact, it is in your smartphone, it enables facial recognition and language translation. It also helps you pick a movie on Amazon by predicting what might interest you based on your prior choices.
Artificial intelligence technology could be our future. It could be that last invention that can finally manage all of these dangerous complex systems that modern convenience is so dependent upon and allow us to return to our simple pleasures. Or it could be a dangerous complexity in and of itself, something impossible to control, indifferent to our suffering and basically (from a human perspective) the greatest evil we ever face in the moments before it ensures our extinction.
Artificial super-intelligence will be complexity beyond our control, a dangerous complexity, and comes with risks that are humanly unimaginable. It could either solve all of our problems in dealing with disease and the complexity of our current technology—or it could make our woes exponentially greater and erase our civilization from the universe in the same way we apply an antibiotic to a pathogen. It is not ridiculous or absurd to think a little about the consequences before flipping the “on” switch of our last invention.
Should we think about simplifying our lives?
It is important, while we still reign supreme as the most inventive, intelligent and complex creatures on this planet, that we consider where our current trajectory will lead. Technological advancement has offered us unique advantages over previous generations but has also exposed us to unique stresses and incredible risks as well. Through technology, we have gained the ability to go to the moon and also to destroy all life on this planet with the push of a button.
Our technologies have always come as two-edged swords, with a good side and bad side. Discovering how to use fire, for example, provided us with warmth on a winter night and eventually internal combustion engines, but has often escaped our containment, destroyed our properties, cost countless lives, and creates air pollution. Rocks, likewise, became useful tools in our hands, they increased our productivity in dramatic fashion, but then also became a means to bash in the skulls of other humans as a weapon. For every positive development, there seems to be corresponding negative consequences and automation has proved to be no different.
The dramatic changes of the past century will likely seem small by comparison to what is coming next and there really is no way to be adequately prepared. Normal people can barely keep up with the increased complexity of our time as it is, we are already being manipulated by our own devices—scammers use our technology against us (soon spoof callers, using neuron networks, will be able to perfectly mimic your voice or that of a loved one for any nefarious purpose they can imagine) and it is likely big corporations will continue to do the same. Most of us will only fall further behind as our human weakness is easily used against us by the use of computer algorithms and artificial intelligence.
It would be nice to have the option to reconsider our decisions of the past few decades. Alas, this flight has already departed, we have no choice but to continue forward, hope for the best, and prepare for the worse. We really do need to consider, with the benefits, the potential cost of our increased dependence on complex systems and automation. And there is good reason to think (as individuals and also a civilization) about the value of simplifying our lives. It is not regressive or wrong to hold back a little on complexity and go with what is simple, tried and true.
There is no question that Elon Musk has changed the conversation as far as electric vehicles. Musk, unlike his predecessors, focused on building an image of luxury and performance.
Electric powered vehicles, until the Tesla Model S arrived as an option, were boring, slow and impractical. Now, while Musk’s cars still remain impractical for most people (both in terms of range and price) and while it remains to be seen whether or not his company could survive without corporate welfare, Tesla has at least undone some of the negative image of electric vehicles.
Tesla seems to be taking one more step in the direction of practicality with the introduction of commercial vehicle. Semi, this latest opportunity for Musk to attract media attention, reminds me of something I would’ve drawn up in a middle school daydream: It has a sleek exterior, it is loaded up with LCD screens, it promises to perform at a level one would expect from a sports car, it is priced similar to other Class 8 trucks, and yet also makes me question if any experienced truck drivers were consulted in the design process…
Sure, middle school me would be salivating over this technological wonder. However now, as one having had years of experience behind the wheel of a big rig, the center seating position, glare of screens, wheel fenders and charging times make it totally unappealing to me.
The ergonomic and design issues, obvious from a driver’s perspective, are covered in another former trucker’s article (click here if you want to know more about them) but there are more serious matters and practical concerns yet to be addressed. Acceleration numbers and having the fastest truck on the road might increase coolness factor, but it might also leave all of your cargo on the road (or like the unmitigated disaster recalled unfondly from my days unloading trucks at the paint store) and distracts from questions of actual viability in the real world.
To many the promised 300-500 mile range and 30 minute recharging may seem wonderful. But, from a trucking industry standard, it is truly abysmal and completely impractical. The range of an over-the-road diesel truck, with 250 gallons of fuel, is anywhere from 1000 to 2000 miles and it only takes fifteen minutes every other day to refill the tanks—multiple extra stops per day is intolerable given the current hours of service requirements.
It is no big secret that fossil fuels carry a greater amount of energy per pound than the alternatives currently available. This energy density is especially important in commercial trucking where every ounce of extra weight takes away from payload. Batteries with the range Telsa has promised will certainly be very heavy and that will be a huge competive disadvantage. It means you might need an additional Tesla truck to do what one diesel truck does—which wipes out any illusion of energy savings and cost effectiveness.
Then there is the question of longevity and servicing the truck. It could very well be that the Tesla Semi will be completely reliable and go a million miles like a diesel truck. But, even assuming that is the case, what sort of maintenance program and roadside assistance will they offer when things do inevitably go wrong? Service infrastructure is a more significant in commercial trucking than it is in general. Diesels are relatively easy to work on and the network is already established—those are questions that must be answered.
My own back-of-the-napkin analysis, based in what has already been said and can be reasonably assumed, is that this new Tesla offering will have the same liabilities of other battery electric vehicles except on a far larger scale. The question of Tesla being the future of trucking (or is simply a niché vehicle for those who can afford the unavoidable range and weight disadvantages, as well as potential maintenance issues) is not answered.
Trucking companies, unlike wealthy luxury car buyers aided by government subsidies, need to be profitable and competive to survive.
My initial thoughts were that this was one of those wacky liberal churches and therefore not relevant.
However, upon further reflection, I realized that my own brand of Mennonite is not impervious to cultural trends and, despite all the babies crying on Sunday mornings now, we could face a similar population collapse down the road.
I’ve heard people say that we, as conservative Mennonites, are “50 years behind society” and there seems to be some truth to that. I know with the advance of technology (like that which makes this blog possible) the pace of change is now quicker than most would have imagined a generation ago.
The conditions that allowed the Mennonite tradition to continue for hundreds of years are disappearing, and quickly. It does not seem we are in an especially strong position to cope with the new social, economic and technological realities.
This generation could very well be the last.
Here are some factors that could determine where things go from here…
#1) We grow mostly because we have big families and convert our own children. Like it or not, “Mennonite” is an ethnic group—complete with unique genetic disorders and a game based on our common surnames. Yes, we do have some converts from the “community folks” and yet most of us came from Mennonite or other established Anabaptist stock. If our birth rates were to continue to drop (as they have been amongst Mennonites in North America), then there will likely be some problems down the road.
#2) Marriage is being postponed and even avoided altogether, thereby decreasing birth rates. Mennonites seem to be taking cues from society when it comes to committed relationship. But, unlike society, we do not have children outside of marriage and therefore our postponing of marriages means older mothers and fewer children, and that is assuming they will marry eventually. I just had a young woman (maybe mid-twenties) ask me to do a blog to advise her and her friends on how to tell pesky guys to get lost—not an unusual sentiment. It seems women from conservative backgrounds are becoming less interested in marriage and motherhood, and that is a death knell to a church that can’t bring in more than an occasional convert from outside our own existing gene pool.
#3) The feeder system from Old Order groups and elsewhere could dry up. It is not a big secret that Mennonites migrate from conservative to liberal. My own church has lost many born into it and the casualties have always been offset with those gained from other groups more conservative than our own, or those escaping expensive land prices in overdeveloped Lancaster County. But this means of growth via a continued supply from upstream (or downstream?) is not guaranteed. It could change as economic pressures increasingly encroach on the Old Order lifestyle. It is harder to support big families with higher land values, a tougher regulatory environment, rising healthcare costs, etc. We can’t count on migrants for growth.
#4) Urbanization and loss of an agricultural lifestyle results in cultural change. My grandparents moved up out of the Franconia Conference territory (near Philadelphia) in the 1960s to begin farming where the land was cheaper and roads less congested. My grandparents have remained relatively unchanged in the way they dress since that time. However, their friends “back home” have changed dramatically both in dress and perspective. There are still a small number of “breakaway” conservatives in that region, but the main body of Mennonite churches there are extremely progressive and their trends could give us some indication of our own future.
#5) The decline of meaningful brotherhood and rise of alternatives reduces interest. The Amish were right to identify transportation technology as a threat to community. We might pride ourselves for having stronger communities than the church down the road (a disputable claim) and yet would we compare favorably to prior generations? I know that even in my own three-decade life span there has been a dramatic change. We seem less closely knit and more quick to leave for the church up the road rather than come together as one community of diverse members. We do more world travel, have more activities for every specialized interest or age group, and are kept very busy. However, we are also fragmented with less vertical integration, more homeschooled children, and less everyday connection—resulting in weaker communities. Our communities could eventually disintegrate completely as they lose relevance.
#6) Lack of foresight and appropriate faithful preparation is endemic. Part of the reason I’m writing this blog is because nobody else is talking about this. We are chronically unprepared for change. It seems many conservative Mennonites have their heads buried in the sand (or simply buried in day-to-day business and family affairs) and do not see trends coming down the pike. There appears to be very little effort on the part of the ordained leadership to account for changes in culture (or technology) and even less effort to respond in a positive or productive manner. Few advocate for a faithful and deliberate approach to problems. We miss opportunities to increase our effectiveness because we do not utilize the greater means available to us. We perish for lack of vision.
#7) In the void of thoughtful preparation, what results is only fearful reaction and hasty retreat. Mennonites, like other Christian fundamentalist groups, began to withdraw from strategic high ground after being blindsided by the pushback against the state endorsement of religion in public schools and the rise of secularism. Many decry, “They took prayer out of school!” but the sad reality is they did not remove prayer and a faithful witness from schools—we did! We trembled like King Saul facing the Philistine giant and removed our children and influence. We did not read 1 John 4:4, “greater is he that is in you, than he is in the world,” and believe. It is little wonder why nobody believes us when we try to convince them of our great God.
#8) Our missions are often without purpose and out of touch. I know a young woman (a very sweet person and sincere Mennonite) who told me, “hearts don’t change,” in response to a circumstance outside her experience. I was astonished at the cognitive dissonance on display and it made me wonder why she was spending thousands of dollars to be at IGo Adventures and Spouse Seeking Institute in Thailand. It reminds me of the time when we formed a committee at my church to discuss local missions where mailing out more tracts seemed to be the idea with most traction and nothing practical ever came of the committee. Needless to say, I am not very optimistic about our abilities to do effective outreach.
Is a Mennonite population collapse in North America inevitable?
I don’t know.
I’m not expecting our complete extinction.
I’m pretty sure the Mennonite name will continue on in one form or another.
For instance, we do have a list of genetic disorders that will carry on our legacy.
But, as a religious culture and tradition?
I believe that depends.
It depends on how we approach the issues listed in #1-8 above.
Will we address problems head-on and work through them deliberately or be blindsided?
Will we adjust our thinking and adapt our methods as needed?
Nothing is written in stone yet. But I do know that the conservative Mennonite culture is a frustrating place for innovative and forward-thinking people. Old habits, functional fixedness, inability to think outside the box and a “don’t rock the boat” mentality all stand in the way of a faithful and vibrant future.
We need to ask and answer the hard questions rather than avoid them. We should be taking note of trends, and be confronting them collectively as a group.
Notice a growing number of older singles?
Look into the Moravian option or at the very least reconsider the faithless courtship teachings that have created the current mess. There is no reason why we should pretend there’s nothing that can be done.
Wonder why our missions are ineffective?
It could be that we are isolating our children rather than trusting God and teaching them to live in fear rather than faith. They can’t empathize or understand anyone outside the Mennonite culture.
Where do we go from here?
It is up to you. But, if you don’t want to be the last Mennonite standing, I suggest it is time to remove the stale items from the shelves and introduce some fresh ideas.
Diesel powers the world economy. I never considered the extent to which that is true until watching a documentary (click here to view it) about this type of internal combustion engine. It is named after the inventor, a French-German mechanical engineer, Rudolf Diesel, and is the reason why global trade is possible to the extent it is.
Early Diesel design, circa 1897
In considering the story of Diesel, his brilliant invention and the results, I could not help but see the pattern all too common with innovators. Diesel’s life turned tragic, he was found floating in the North Sea, dead of an apparent suicide, and likely a result of his despair over the unintended consequences of his own design.
According to biographical accounts, Diesel was a utopian idealist who had hopes that his invention would be a catalyst for social change, free the common man and break corporate monopolies. Unfortunately, while a revolution for transportation, Diesel power did not achieve the lofty social vision.
Worse, the Diesel engine found use as a part in an efficient killing machine, the German U-boat, and this no doubt grieved the pacifist inventor.
Here are some observations…
#1) What is intended for good can often be used for evil.
Diesel had never intended his invention be used as a means of terrorizing North Atlantic shipping lanes. And, likewise, many scientists and inventors had regrets related to their greatest contribution to the world.
I worry about this as a blogger. Once my thoughts are out there they cannot be contained again. Will someone pick up my words and run with them in a direction I never intended? It is a potential outcome that could scare a sensitive soul into silence and is at least a reason for me to be prayerful in what I post here.
I believe there are many people who do not thoroughly think through the potential unintended consequences of the ideas they promote. There are many government programs and social movements intended for good that might actually be creating more problems than the one that they were intended to solve.
Which takes me to a second point…
#2) Yesterday’s revolution is today’s loathed source of inequality and evil.
It is ironic that the invention that did actually outcompete coal for market supremacy is now enemy #1 for many. The internal combustion engine won in the marketplace because it was by far the cheapest most efficient means to power transportation and still remains.
Given there are no steam powered cars, tractors, trains and ships anymore, it is clear that internal combustion is the best bang for the buck and remains to be rivaled. Diesel powered locomotives and ocean going container ships are extremely powerful while being very economical.
109,000-horsepower Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C
Diesel power still outperforms hybrid technology—A loaded Diesel powered class 8 truck is more efficient pound for pound than a Prius.
Think about it: It takes one gallon of fuel to move an 80,000lb truck five to seven miles. A 2016 Prius, by comparison, carries a weight of around 4000lbs can go anywhere from 50 to 58 miles on a gallon of fuel. It may seem the Toyota is greener until you consider that it is moving twenty times less weight. Twenty Prius cars combined together, after dividing their individual consumption by twenty, would consume 2.5 to 2.9 gallons of fuel. Now, obviously, combining Diesel and hybrid technology on the scale of class 8 truck would undoubtedly yield even greater results if fuel economy were the only concern, but the point remains that Diesel power is extremely efficient and effective—and only more so the larger the application.
So what’s the problem?
Well, the current popular perception is that the petroleum industry “big oil” is the enemy and conspires to hold back technology that would dramatically increase efficiency. Worse than that, we are told that petroleum power is a source of global climate change and a threat to the global ecology. Poor Diesel would be driven even further into despair if half this is true. We fight over oil.
#3) Progressive aims of our time are at odds with each other or self-contradictory.
Globalism, higher standard of living for more people and environmentalist ‘green’ movements are at odds with each other. Pushing one direction will almost invariably come at the cost of the others.
Progressive politicians may tout an idea of a ‘green economy’ as a jobs creator, but the reality has been that wind and solar energy can only remain competitive through heavy use of government subsidies. Beyond that, even with the help, domestic ‘green’ manufacturing is unsustainable against foreign competition. At best we will merely replace jobs lost by the heavy regulations placed on fossil fuels and raise costs of living across the board.
Furthermore, it was the progressive policies of the past century that have created the current conditions. Government policies like the Rural Electrification Act, the Interstate highway system and trade agreements have actually moved us away from a more sustainable less polluting lifestyle. Our cheap and easy movement from place to place has harmed community and local markets.
Rural Electrification Act propaganda poster.
It is hard to know how the current landscape would look had the progressives of yesterday had not literally paved the way for suburban sprawl, the trucking industry (that currently employs me) and driven us to embrace a coal powered grid. But I do suspect more of our food would be locally grown, more of our products locally produced and solar energy far more the norm in places utilities would be to costly to maintain unless mandated by law.
In final analysis things might not be as dismal as they seem.
It is easy to focus on the negative without considering the good. The means of today are likely as unsustainable as the means of yesterday and therefore the progress of the past century might not be the end of us after all. The only consistent reality in the past two centuries has been that markets constantly change.
Canal boats an all the infrastructure to support them were soon replaced by steam power and railroads. In Pennsylvania the lumber industry rose in prominence before a rapid decline after the states wooded mountains were reduced to stubble. The coal industry once put food on the table for boat loads of immigrants before cheap efficient oil and a multitude other factors conspired against it.
Certainly the overconfidence and optimism about today’s new solution may become the big disappointment of tomorrow. Yet, do we really wish to go back to a time when a transatlantic voyage was only something a religious zealot or crazy Viking explorer would do? Would we really rather spend most of our time scrounging for just enough to eat as to avoid the possibility of mechanized warfare?
Nobody knows for certain why Diesel died...
However, what is certain is that his invention changed the world and provided a means for interstate commerce and global trade that never existed before. The pacifying effect of global trade, economic benefits of an expanded market place and inexpensive power are largely unappreciated. But we probably do have Diesel to thank for helping create the long peace and prosperity of our time.
In an age of information overload, where we know about beheadings in the Middle East before the people the next town over would have heard a century ago, it is difficult for our finite minds to contextualize and easy to become overwhelmed. This, with an accompanying loss of faith, could be why middle-aged American white males are committing suicide(supposedly the most privileged in the world) and at an alarmingly increasing rate.
Diesel’s pessimism about the future in retrospect seems to have been premature and his nightmarish perception of reality overstated. In like manner many of our modern fears and despair inducing thoughts about the future could be negativity bias and nothing more. Every generation seems to believe that the world is falling apart and still here we are.
Whatever the case, ignore the fear-mongering propaganda of the punditry and politicians. Embrace temperance, a spiritual quality developed through faith, over mindless reaction and fearful impulse. Trust God to secure the future, we can only live one day at a time and never ever lose hope! If you are depressed about events in the world today, I invite you to see the higher perspective:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Perhaps the greater of two evils will be elected come November and drive the nation to complete ruin.
Who knows besides God?
We may all die tomorrow, we will all die eventually, our work blown away in the wind of time and forgotten. Everything comes to pass, nothing will remain as we know it today, but there is hope beyond all hope found in an eternal perspective. So look up, because the sun is still shining and the future remains bright!
Do you see the light and feel the warmth of hope eternal?
There has been much focus on the family in the church. Popular media commentators (like James Dobson, Michael Pearl, Bill Gothard and Doug Philips) encourage making a high priority of our own immediate families.
Family is important. But the “no greater joy” in 3 John 1:4 is not written about a man’s own family or his blood relatives. Instead the letter is written about the church. John is describing love for spiritual children and the family of God. Do we find as much joy in the church family as we do in raising our own children?
Christian community has been watered down over the years. Yes, we might have more ‘church’ activities than ever and yet, as far as real interdependence, we are lacking. Those of you from good homes, who are happily married and in your prime, may not notice. But there is great social need beyond your doorstep.
This blog will explore where we are, where we were and where we need to go from here; it will address the enemies and also the benefits of faith community. One blog can’t even begin to do the topic justice, but hopefully it will spark thoughts and discussion. My prayer is that those reading will take faithful steps to restore the Christian community where they are.
Where we are…
The loss of community in the world around us is profound and the results are tragic. Isolated people are unhealthy people. The family unit itself has been degraded. Many children do not have opportunity of dinner time conversations together with their parents at home. Child care is increasingly outsourced. More people survive on food cooked by strangers than ever. The elderly are interned for sake of convenience, out of sight and out of mind. It is madness.
The church has not fared much better. People in many churches have very little meaningful interaction with each other during the week. After the church service is over most go their seperate ways and expect the needs to be taken care of by those appointed to do so. There is very little difference between the mainstream church and the world in regards to community. Sure, many churches bustle with activities, and there are many good people who are trying to make a difference, but there are many unmet social needs.
My conservative Mennonite culture has a more distinct history of community. Other Anabaptist groups, our spiritual (and often biological) cousins, have a stronger community emphasis than our own. Amish have taken dramatic steps and have rejected technology (starting with the automobile) in an effort to preserve the integrity of their communities. The Hutterites have a long communal tradition. But conservative Mennonites lack a clear structure and could lose this strength of community entirely.
I’ve seen changes in my own Mennonite community in my own lifetime that indicate the erosion of our community. We are following after the mainstream and the world more than we often realize. The Anabaptist prioritization of brotherhood has been replaced with a more individualistic mindset.
We do not pursue the concept of Gelassenheit anymore. Instead we turn to our own biological families for support and our fellowship is growing apart.
Where we were…
The early church example is very clear. The family language used by early church leaders meant something. When Paul spoke up for Onesimus (Philemon 1:8-25) he speaks with the urgency of a father speaking for his son. It is not casual usage of words. It is not us singing “I’m so glad to I’m a part of the family of God” on Sunday mornings and then doing next to nothing for each other during the week. The chuch then was a true family in every sense of the word…
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)
And repeated again later in the book of Acts…
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)
Their commitment to each other was clearly not a superficial commitment like our own too often seems to be. What is described in the passages from Acts above is not coincidence. No, what is described is what will happen when people commit fully to the teachings of Jesus and love as they ought to love.
Where we need to be…
What we need, first of all, is intention—we need to want to make the ideal of community a greater reality. We must realize our own weakness alone, confess this to each other and then bear our burdens together…
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
It is not a meddlesome or controlling spirit, but rather a growing recognition of our own need for community and deepening commitment to the good of our Christian brothers and sisters. This kind of love is the truest expression of obedience to the law of Christ.
Jesus said the world would know we are his followers by our love for each other (John 13:34-35) and this is expressed in Koinonia (κοινωνία) or our common union as believers. We are to be intimately involved in fellowship together, and in all things, or we are not fully living the example Jesus taught. This must be made a reality today in our own time or we cannot claim to be fully living in faith.
The church should be extending our family to those without. Our elderly should never be left to a commercially operated nursing facility. Young single mothers should be able to find a restful place amongst us. We need to be less focused on our own individual family and more concerned with the family of God.
Enemies of community of faith…
There are many reasons why we do not follow the Acts church example today and it is mostly because we fear that the arrangement will not benefit us as an individual or our own family. This is a short list of reasons why one may resist a greater expression of Christian community:
1) Individualism: There is no doubt that our American culture centers on ideas of independence and rugged individualism. Unfortunately this has evolved into a rat race where everyone pursues a dream (unattainable for many) at the expense of real and fulfilling relationship. We seek independence, and it is good when we are working to support ourselves, yet we have social needs that cannot be fulfilled in ourselves alone.
2) Prosperity: People can create an illusion of their lack of need for other people because they are wealthy. Our wealth as Americans is used as defense of the status quo. The argument goes that since everyone has food, shelter and clothing there is no need for a better application of what we read in the book of Acts. Unfortunately government programs, while keeping people from physical death and complete destitution, do nothing for social or spiritual needs. Even materially wealthy people can be very isolated and miserable.
3) Pride: Religious people can easily imagine they are better than other people including their own brothers and sisters in the church. They do not want their children influenced by other children and adults, therefore they remove them, homeschool, etc. It is the oldest sin in the book. It was what seperated mankind from God and it is also an enemy of Christian community. Pride is dangerous, it causes divisions in the church and decieves us into believing we are better off when we are in complete control.
4) Technology: The Amish were right. The automobile dramatically changed and has aided in the decline of community. Add to that the television and smartphones. Children nowadays have more reason to stay inside and isolated. Adults are not much better by choosing to live in some suburban home with a privacy fence. We are increasingly buried in technology, addicted to the quick fix of social media and at the expense of true relationship.
5) Fear of commitment: It takes faith and commitment to seek after deeper relationship and many of us are simply avoiding it. In the conservative Mennnonite church we are afraid to court and adopting the same reluctance towards marraige of the Millennial generation. Commitment is scary. The rewards of community (like marriage) are not immediate and the risks loom large. Unfortunately we miss out on a blessing because of our fear.
The practical arguments in favor of community of faith…
First and formost, there is need. Again, just because your own needs are met does not mean that there is no need. The plight of our older singles and elderly people would be a little less severe if they were intergrated into a community rather than the afterthought that they often are. The church shold be a place where everyone has an equal seat at the table.
Unfortuantely many of us our too preoccupied with our own families to notice or care about those who are lacking. That is not the spirit of Christ who told us to leave all (including family) to follow after him. The irony is that those who actually have by some means found their security in themselves may actually have the most need. Wealth, whether it be that of material or biological variety, has always hindered commitment to faith. Our need to repent of our religious individualism and spiritual pride could be our greatest need of all.
Then there is the matter of efficient use of resources. As most of us currently live there is this ridiculous redundancy. We all need our own seperate lawn mower, garden tools, pickup truck and would be so much further ahead sharing. That’s not to mention our reliance on commercial lenders rather than each other. It is sad that we would rather our brothers pay interest to a bank and struggle to stay ahead than help them as we might our own son. It is a wasteful use of resources that could otherwise be used to further the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the most spurious arguments against a more real expression of Christian community is the idea that it would come at the expense of evangelism. The reasoning goes that existing groups that practice a community of goods concept have failed in one regard or another and often in sharing the Gospel. This, of course, is the same argument used by those saying that we should drop other non-mainstream Biblical practices currently practiced by conservative Mennonites. If we start abandoning practices that can somehow be associated with abuse or neglect we would probably need to join the faithless and stay home.
Community of faith is actually the most practical witness of the Gospel we have. How better to meet the needs in the world around us than to offer them the clearest possible alternative? There is no choice between missions outreach and Christian community because one can compliment the other. In fact, one enhances the other and makes it much more effective. Sure, maybe the commitment would require more of us. However, there are many people with needs who would benefit greately from a church that truly acted as a family.
Change comes upon us slowly…
The book of Acts describes a reality quite a bit different from our own today. Then, unlike now, there was a willingness to give up financial independence and truly be a part in a community of faith. This is something that must be restored for the church to function as it was supposed to fuction.
I believe that the contrast between then and now is something that must be part of our discussion. Even in my own lifetime there seems to be a weakening of our commitment to each other. There was a time it seemed we spent more time together visiting on a Sunday afternoon, when we worked closer together and had a more meaningful impact on each others life.
There needs to be radical steps taken in faith. We need not recreate the past, but rather we do need to walk in obedience to the same Spirit that caused the early church to want to have a better communion (or common union) together. We must ask what has changed between our priorities today and theirs then.
Many of us would scoff at the idea of a commune. However, do we see the absurdity of our own time and way? Do we see the cost of paying strangers to prepare our coffee in the morning or care for our elderly? Do we see what the loss of community has done to our neighbors and nation?
There needs to be a vision for community of faith. We need to take steps to get off the tragectory that the world is on and present something different and better. My own conservative Mennonite church family can lead the way in this regard. We have this better prioritization in our Anabaptist history and could use this as a basis for a fresh push in that direction.
We need to be intentional. We need to challenge the thinking of the world that has crept into our lifestyle and has convinced us that we are better off in our own corners rather than in loving community together. Jesus said “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:29) not only our own biological progeny. The church should be our family.
So my encouragement is that we pursue the true ideal of church community with all sincerity. We should tune out the radio and internet commentators and commit to love each other more. I believe we will find God faithful when we do.