Postmodernism Marches On (Although Most Still Don’t See It)

Postmodernism — that is the new cultural era brought about by the advent of the internet and the web — is advancing far from the sight of those whose oxen are being gored in the process. Call it what you wish, but long after I’m gone, and on into the centuries to come, the empowering of the people will continue. Chaos will be the on‐the‐table discussion item in the years ahead, because those people who are latched onto the tit of logical and rational modernism can see only chaos with anything else. Always remember the precision of Henry Adams’ observation that the way of nature is chaos, but the dream of man is order.

Let me state emphatically, too, that chaos is in the eye of the beholder. To the postmodernist, there’s nothing inherently chaotic about this new era, only that it is a welcome change from the silos of logic and reason to the breath of creative fresh air.

Even now, the evidence of the conflict between the old (modernism) and the new (postmodernism) is everywhere. It’s in every human institution, like a slimy monster that fits itself into places where it seemingly doesn’t belong and challenges us to rethink just about everything and especially the form of personal advancement known as “credentials” or “expertise.” Jeff Jarvis refers to such as “the high priests” of culture, those who’ve managed their way to the top through their lineage, schooling, hard work, luck, and especially through the protections in place to help those already near the top and to make it difficult for everybody else. Witness the current scandal involving the purchase of bogus “scholarships” to access the best universities in the land. This is a logical behavior in a world that values credentials based on schooling.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in his commencement speech at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 titled “The Inner Ring,” once a person makes it into the inner circle, she defaults to making it harder for others to get inside.

“…your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”

Protected knowledge is that which separates everyday people from the experts in a logical, modernist culture. For example, it’s what gives doctors the fortitude to suggest that their medical degree beats Google searching, but this is merely self‐preservation in a chaotic tsunami of informed patients. This will rage on, and it has already partially disrupted the authority of the physician. It’s not that she isn’t an expert anymore; it’s just that her expertise — with its incumbent authority — isn’t what it used to be. This conflict will continue until we find and accept that we’re all better off with such knowledge. The medical industry? Not so much.

We all have personal stories of how the institutions of the West have failed us in one way or another. The simple truth here is that the “push” world is being replaced by one that “pulls,” and no matter how many lawyers get involved, the rise of the people — those who’ve today known a freedom that our ancestors never imagined — will not go backwards. Look, information is power, and power that is distributed horizontally in a democracy will forever tip the scales away from absolutism at the top, much to the dismay of those at the top of the modernist pyramid.

Try to search ANY medical condition, and you’ll find at least one group of people with that condition who are ready and able to help those newly diagnosed. If one’s medical degree is, in fact, the be all and end all, then why are these groups forming? It’s because, for a great many people, medicine has its own fatted calf to protect, and its needs are not always in the best interests of patients. As long as the A.M.A. governs medical practice in the U.S., the practice of medicine will never be fully patient‐friendly. The demands on practitioners is so great each and every day now that they simply don’t have the time or the inclination to discuss or argue medicine with patients. And that is to their great shame. Higher education doesn’t make you smarter; it merely positions you for scaling the imaginary cultural ladder.

In his seminal argument, Everything Is Miscellaneous, Harvard author David Weinberger makes the case that no knowledge storage retrieval system that humans can possibly create could ever outdo basic search. This is the “pull” concept in long form. Knowledge can’t be sorted into any directory system that can compete with search. From grocery store shelves to libraries to any institutional silo, it’s impossible to even come close to the efficiency of search. And search has gotten so good that even coming close on a guess often leads to what the user is actually seeking. This is not about to go backwards, so those who insist that THEY can organize their goods in such a way that physical proximity is necessary are being quite ridiculous. After all, these sorts of organizations exist to advance themselves, and it doesn’t matter to them if consumers are inconvenienced.

But, Terry, what if shoppers need what they’re seeking NOW? Enter Amazon’s new “same day” delivery. This is a powerful game‐changer that’s getting very little publicity, but just try to imagine a downstream scenario in which such a service is thriving. Amazon has turned the entire retail system on its head already. People will soon come to accept such and will revel in the magic of it all. Imagine the time saving! Shoppers won’t have to go store‐to‐store in order to find something; they’ll simply search for it online, and it will come to them. This is uniquely postmodern, because stripping away hierarchies is the logical future of empowered people. Grocery chains offer pick‐up service, and while that’s nice, it can’t compete with same‐day home delivery via Instacart. This will change. I promise you.

And now comes Amazon Prime Wardrobe, where the company will send a box of clothes pre‐selected by the user along with a handy convertible box which is used to send that which the customer doesn’t want back to the company. This eliminates the need for the store and the booth in which we try on clothes and moves the whole process to the living room or bedroom (or whatever). So, the customer gets a box of clothes, picks out what he wants, is charged for those, and returns the rest at no cost to him. This is designed to further destroy the value proposition of retail clothing shops, and for Amazon, it’s a way to say “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Those who fear that this horizontal empowerment itself will lead to future hierarchies are stuck in the past and fearful of Orwell’s 1984. The problem with this thinking is that the web provides the same opportunities to Aunt Helen that it does to Big Brother, for the web views them as identical. This is just one of the many reasons we fought so hard for net neutrality. The internet belongs to the people, and although we lost the first round on the issue — it’s a modernist response to the loss of control — we’ll be back and better prepared for what happens next.

Postmodernism is moving power to the base of the pyramid, while institutional power must be at the top. When people at the bottom seize the power given them through the net, they’ll never give it back willingly. So, we’re in for turbulent times as the culture groans in reaction to what it views as an assault, and there’s nothing new to this. The same thing happened with the dawn of the printing press and for the same reasons. At that time, the power was with Rome and the church. When Gutenberg had the audacity to print a Bible, the shit hit the fan, for the priests knew well the danger of putting “the word” in the hands of everyday people, and they were right. The reformation would never have happened, if only Rome held access to the book’s contents. It was John Wycliffe’s common language translation that led him to say, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The same concept is alive and well today.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the years following Gutenberg produced the same kind of Western response that we’re seeing today. Erotica was one of the first genres to be printed. Rome wanted to establish a licensing arrangement where only they could approve of those who wanted to print the Bible. It didn’t work, and the power of the Vatican in all matters cultural slowly but steadily slipped away.

Christian institutions ignore the web today and press for top‐down control, which is kicking against the pricks of culture’s progressive but steady march. It’s not hard to understand, because all they know is a stage and the audience. They want little to do with the work of a more horizontal experience, because they simply cannot trust people who aren’t on the podium. “They’ll never get it right,” the thinking goes, “if they don’t have a group of educated higher‐ups holding their hands.” Such nonsense. Look where we are today with Christian leaders saying that Donald Trump was ordained by God in the manner of the ancient Persian King Cyrus. This flagrantly false and misleading reference is so dangerous that we’ve become a people tripping up a step that isn’t there.

The hue and cry over fake news is another example of the modernist crowd screaming for control. I don’t deny this is an area that needs our attention, but it’s nothing more than a Trojan Horse foisted upon us by the top‐down and right‐wing crowds in an attempt to frighten us into submission. The originators of fake news came from the law and order right wing of American politics. In olden days, we used to call this “propaganda,” but it reached new pinnacles with the horizontal nature of the web. The right wing’s response to the clamor was simply to label opponents “fake” in order to hide their own mischief. In the wake of New Zealand, we now have people demanding that we regulate social media. This is akin to swatting a fly with an atomic bomb. We wish to shield our children from everything we went through (or “could” have gone through), and in so doing we’re preventing them from experiencing the very things that shaped our own character. It’s like beating our kids over the head with a 2x4 rather than giving our permission for them to scrape their knees.

The managers of the status quo come from two different groups — the lawyers, those rule‐bound grifters who suck the life out of everything they touch and turn it into profit for themselves and those they represent — God bless ’em — and the world of business, where players sell their souls for profit and suppress anyone who stands in the way, including the government and especially the poor. The more people become aware of this, the more they’re going to object, and nothing will be impossible for them.

After me, there will be a sweeping constitutional convention to address all of this, because our government was formed in a previous cultural era and is insufficient to govern people who are connected horizontally. Traditions will be given more weight than today, perhaps even equal to laws, for traditions can be discussed and argued whereas our laws are currently given to us by lawmakers, those who exist at the pyramid’s top and therefore have their own self‐centered wants and needs. Influence will slowly move to the bottom, although new forms of hierarchies are quite likely. The buck still has to end somewhere, at least that’s the way I think today.

Much is given to the politics of those who have the final say in our laws, the Supreme Court. The law says there shall be no litmus test for the selection of those who make it to this upper bench, but that is just lip‐service. And, while we are kept busy with arguments about, for example, abortion or religious freedom, the most glaring political difference in the selection of nominees is the extent to which each supports business or the rights of workers. This is the real differentiator, because real power in our culture is a struggle between the top of the pyramid and the bottom. Everything else is a side show.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us, and it’s our reaction to this truth that is the great determinator of our response. If it gets in the way of those at the top, then it’s thought to be a nuisance to be ignored or even made worse, and this is another revelation that comes with empowering the bottom. Civil war in America today would not be political nearly so much as it would be class‐motivated, and this energy has grown, in my view, during the Trump election and administration. So far, Republicans (the silk stocking crowd) have been successful at keeping the truth from their bottom supporters through arguments about religion and abortion, but that will not last forever.

Information is power, and power has a way of opening eyes.

Look, I know we’re in a season of cynicism and confusion, but please do not underestimate — under any circumstances — the power of the masses in determining their own government. This was Wycliffe’s point back in the 15th Century, and it’s the point today in the wake of the web.

If I had any influence on the Democrats, this is the message I would pound home to the people. It’s the money. It’s all about the money. Modernist thinking, however, forces the discussion to the box of “what new policies will you put in place instead?” This moves the narrative away from simply fixing what’s wrong to providing solutions ahead of time, so that they can be analyzed and dismissed by those at the top. That’s the cart before the horse and the source of our current gridlock.

If the base of the pyramid crumbles, the top will have no backs on which to stand. Think about it.

An open letter to the church at America

Dear Church,

Fake Christians and Fake Christianity! That’s what they’re saying about you. Imagine that? Oh, you’ll likely just dismiss this as the name calling of those evil liberals, but this cry comes from the inside, from Christians who want no part of what you claim is the real faith. These people view with righteous skepticism your willingness to support a political party whose highest priority is the wealthy. If you aren’t fabulously rich, then you, like the rest of us, are sucking hind titty with this administration when it comes to your wants and needs. The counterculture nature of Christianity has always been towards the poor and the afflicted and against the rich, and yet, here we are in a real crisis over the state of our country.

You got your so‐called Conservative Supreme Court, but the price for that is that history will tag you forever as fake Christians. Why? You are an affront to those who live simple lives in just trying to make the best of what they have and raise their children in the fear of the Lord. This is what happens when you mix politics with religion and why we have a First Amendment. It is by affiliation — the unrighteous yoking of yourselves and those who seek their reward at the expense of others. This is not Christianity, and it’s time we all came to agreement on that.

Christianity Today (or is it Fake Christianity Today) published a piece last week (The Current Storm and the Evangelical Response) by our old friend Ed Stetzer, who tried to justify all this in the name of the faith. Ed used a statement by Howard Dean on MSNBC as a springboard.

(Dean) gave his take on the state of the current GOP, saying it has “the same meaning as evangelical Christianity with young people, intolerance, bigotry and a lack of respect, not just for women but for anybody who is not on their team.” Stetzer chose to base his entire argument on the belief that this doesn’t describe all of the people or groups he knows. He called the statement by Dean “incomplete and unfair.” He’s able to indict those Christians who behave in this manner, but concludes that it’s really just a big misunderstanding.

No one can deny that the reputation of evangelical Christianity has been significantly diminished as a result of some pursing (sic) the acquisition of power and influence and blurring the lines of faith and politics.

But this does not, and cannot, change the facts: thousands of years of evidence have pointed to the true mission of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ—we seek to live humble lives of faithful service so that Jesus will be lifted high.

Howard Dean isn’t the first—nor will he be the last—to criticize evangelicals. We need to hear their critiques. But, we also need to respond in a such a way that others exclaim, “So that is what it means to be a Christian!”

And they, in turn, will turn to Christ as well.

To the church at America, if you don’t like the generalizations of Howard Dean, first remove your own generalizations about those who oppose you politically. Then, we might be able to have a discussion. Nobody is going to buy your arguments as long as your behavior represents the extreme. What’s needed is repentance, not justification for the unjustifiable. In your zeal to be models for everybody else, you’ve actually become that which you despise, the fat cats who take their ease among the refuse that’s left behind, including the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the refugees and their children, the unemployed, the strugglers and the stragglers, the lost and alone, and the people of the world who don’t have even a breath of what we possess.

Salvation promised sometime in the future is a cheap substitute for our lack of concern in the present.

Your servant,

Terry

Five thoughts about a conservative court

The President’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is getting the expected party line reactions this morning. Conservatives think it’s great. Liberals think it sucks, and so it goes. As one of the insiders who helped Pat Robertson shape his presentation of right wing news, I know well not only the religious zeal behind the conservative perspective but also what will come next. As usual, I have a few opinions.

One, the conservative majority that a Kavanaugh approval will make is built on an immoral and unethical foundation, and it will have consequences. Life will tolerate cultural manipulation only so long. This is not the will of the people, although that’s how it’s going to be presented. It’s the will of those who blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland by Barack Obama in 2016, those who also represent the 1%. Christian conservatives think it’s all about moral issues like abortion, the Ten Commandments, and school prayer, but a conservative court is more so a pro‐corporation court. Folks, it’s always and always about the money.

Two, as a consequence of number one above, the kerfuffle about possibly overturning Roe v Wade is a productive sideshow for those occupying 1% status. Everything that the World War II generation and before fought to accomplish in the work force and socially will be shoved aside, in effect, granting license to corporations to do as they please in the generation of profit. How easily people forget, for example, that the entitlement of weekends is a gift of U.S. labor efforts in Congress and the White House. “Oh, Terry, they’ll never do away with weekends.” Really? Where’s the governor that will prevent it?

Three, assuming the sideshow produces fruit for Christian conservatives, Roe v Wade is only the beginning. There’s also pornography, school prayer and display of the Ten Commandments that need, um, “correcting” in the establishment of a Christian nation. And, let’s not be fools. Abortion isn’t about innocent babies losing their lives anyway; it’s about the act that created the unwanted baby in the first place. In this area, there is no end to the mischief that can be generated by a 5–4 or 6–3 conservative court.

Four, as a consequence to numbers two and three, the court will have to invade the institution of MEDICINE in order to make illegal what is at core a MEDICAL decision between doctor and patient. This precedent would have profound implications for the future, especially in the area of genetics and even its study. Think it can’t happen? We’ve already had the government take pain relief out of the hands of doctors and put it into the law and order category. A conservative court would also most certainly put caps on lawsuits against doctors were it not for the fact that our legislative branch is filled with trial lawyers.

Five, conservatives are all about order and the ability to manage it. It’s the top personality trait of conservatives, so look for a series of cases that present opposition as chaotic or without order. The arts, for example, will always lose out to law enforcement or the military in a zero sum, order‐dominant atmosphere.

As I wrote earlier, the fascinating thing about this to me is the misuse of the “strict Constitutionalist” litmus test for conservative nominees, which is based on the view that the Constitution never considered laws being created by Supreme Court rulings. This is the judicial branch’s method of creating law, which according to the Constitution, is reserved for the legislative branch. It’s the result of judicial precedent, something we hear about all the time in our crime dramas on TV. In the conservative legal hierarchy, judges are supposed to decide the merits of individual cases, not actually make law that will impact decisions in subsequent cases. Pat Robertson hammered this concept home in program after program in attempts to help God fix what was wrong with the Supreme Court. However, this, it turns out, is not the case when it comes to decisions that leave conservative results, for then it’s all right for judges to “legislate from the bench.” Who knew?

If all this continues, one day we’re going to have to look at how the Supreme Court is formed. If it is the political instrument that both sides seem to think it is, that’s going to have to be changed. Perhaps we should elect four liberals, four conservatives, and one swing vote. That would require a Constitutional Amendment, so the likelihood is not good.

Sigh.

An Israeli operation masquerading as a Russian one?

Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos

Who, if anybody, called the shots in all the mischief involving manipulation during the 2016 campaign for President? Everything reported so far hazily points to the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, but a new actor has appeared on the scene now, the government of Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s the conclusion of The Observer’s John R. Schindler stemming from a bombshell interview by the Daily Caller with Simona Mangianti, the wife of former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos.

The Daily Caller being the Daily Caller didn’t expand whatsoever on this statement, but Schindler was happy to shine a light on it:

According to his wife, who insists that George Papadopoulos has nothing to do with Russia, he was facing criminal charges of being a spy for Israel. An attentive reader of her interview will note that Mangiante at no point denied that this accusation is true.

The notion is hardly implausible. Before joining the Trump campaign in early March 2016, Papadopoulos was a self‐styled energy consultant who was known for taking strongly pro‐Israeli positions in print. To boot, during the 2016 campaign, he met with an Israeli settler leader and assured him that Donald Trump, if elected president, would take a favorable view of Israeli settlements in the West Bank

So, why would it be important that Papadopoulos was an Israeli spy? Because President Trump has been extraordinarily friendly to Netanyahu and his right wing agenda. He dismantled the agreement with Iran. He moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. And, his State Department hasn’t said a negative word about settlements in the occupied West Bank.

A San Francisco Chronicle article earlier this year pointed out that settlement construction is way up since Trump has been in office:

Peace Now said that Israel began construction of 2,783 settlement homes in 2017. That was about 17 percent higher than the annual average since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 2009.

It said that 78 percent of the new homes were in outlying settlements that would probably have to be evacuated if a Palestinian state is established. And 234 units, or 8 percent, were in tiny outposts that are not even authorized by Israel, it said.

The Palestinians and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements to be illegal and obstacles to peace. More than 600,000 settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.

Let me repeat that Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

This is why these settlements are illegal and it’s what previous administrations have objected to ever since Netanyahu’s Likud Party came into power. Prior to Trump’s election, here’s an example of the type of communiqué sent by the State Department following an English speaking video by Netanyahu accusing Palestinians of “ethnic cleansing” in their desire to remove Jews from the West Bank:

So we have seen the Israeli prime minister’s video. We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties. We share the view of every past U.S. administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two‐state solution.

This is not the case with the Trump administration, and it speaks directly to the concern raised by Mr. Schindler that Papadopoulos would rather plead guilty to involvement with Russians than to be outed as an Israeli spy. Schindler raises a very provocative question:

…some counterintelligence pros in Washington have a rather different take on the Mueller inquiry than most Americans do. While Moscow’s secret role in subverting our election in 2016 is plain to see and is now denied only by the willfully obtuse or congenitally dishonest, detecting a direct Kremlin hand on the Trump campaign is trickier. Trump’s links to Moscow are visible but remain somewhat obscure.

His ties to Israel, however, are much plainer to see. Based on the available evidence to date, Team Trump’s 2016 links to shadowy Israelis appear just as troubling as those to dodgy Russians—indeed, in some cases they are the very same people. As a veteran counterspy in our Intelligence Community whom I’ve known for years recently asked me with a wry smile, “What if the real secret of the Trump campaign isn’t that it’s a Kremlin operation, rather an Israeli operation masquerading as a Russian one?”

That’s a pretty big “what if,” but knowing what I know about how the Zionist government behaves, it makes a lot more sense that they would be behind all this monkey business than Mr. Putin.

In defense of (some) Trump supporters

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump yell at reporters as they arrive for a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

You may think me nuts, but there are a few things we need to know in order to better understand the cultural complaints of the people who put Donald Trump into office in 2016. Democrats especially need to consider these five points, for the stakes in November couldn’t be higher. I know there’s a lot of craziness within Trump’s coalition (I wrote a book about part of it), but I’m talking about a group of people who had fair reason to want a change and for their voice to be heard. These people cannot simply be dismissed as ignorant, racist, xenophobic, extremist, or just plain wrong. It’s useful to think of their vote as a reaction to culture and not one driven by a grand manipulator, for each of these things really does have reasonable, fair, and debatable opposition.

  1. Instead of getting caught up in argumentative discourse about America being a Christian nation, why not instead examine the matter of a unilateral shift from BC/AD to BCE/CE? This is a serious matter, for heartland people — most of them Christian — weren’t consulted when academia decided that we’d be better served as a people by removing the inconvenient history of Christianity’s influence on the basic reference to historical eras. To these honest, well‐intentioned, and hard‐working people, it’s an attempt to remove their influence in the matters of the day by altering history books.
  2. To white people in middle America, the “Urban” culture — with its music, entertainment, and use of foul language — triggers their fear of the unknown. So foreign is so‐called “Gangsta Rap,” for example, that it assaults their sensibilities, and the Top‐40 is increasingly unrecognizable to them. This is a concern, because music and the arts are gateway drugs to the teenage mind, and when popularity dictates emulation, parents react. “Motherfucker,” George Carlin taught us, is a word of aggression, and white parents raised on modesty and gentleness aren’t likely to be amused. This is not per se racism — at least I don’t think it is — although it may feel that way to the creators of the media, who, if they were honest, would likely admit they aren’t really targeting this particular audience in the first place.
  3. To the slower‐paced, solid foundation, self‐sufficient people of the heartland, the world of political correctness is illogical and unnecessarily disruptive. The idea that the speaker is responsible for offending the listener and therefore must control her language or provide “trigger warnings” is foolish, because it seems to run in only one direction. Everyone else can be offended, it seems, except them, and this smacks of outside manipulation. Moreover, they’re not especially fond of paying a fortune to send their children away to institutions of higher learning where the schools cow‐tow to the demands of students wanting “safe” spaces.
  4. A core value of heartland folks is that one must play the game of life with the hand we are dealt, like all of nature must. This is what mystifies so many when it comes to sexual relations, sexual preferences, and especially decisions by others to change their sexual assignment. Again, they look to their history and to nature and feel their wisdom in such matters is ridiculed without justification and that the culture is moving away from them without their consent. They don’t so much mind this for others, but they fear its presence may one day find its way into their own homes. Frankly, it’s okay for them to feel terrified.
  5. Finally, in all cultural matters, heartlanders feel they are automatically and pejoratively labeled intolerant unless they give their tacit approval to the constant and rapid changes coming from the progressive community. This is used as a hammer to bludgeon them into acceptance. It’s one thing, they feel, to argue over such extreme views but another entirely to simply initiate change unilaterally. To them, this leaves the bitter taste of conspiracy, and as long as this is the method used by people wanting change, they will withhold their blessing until given the chance of legitimate participation in the discussion.

We are all often fooled by the assumptions we make, and there’s a real opportunity here to accept our differences and talk about compromises. It’s always been and always will be a two‐way street, although Trump’s top negotiation method, we’re learning, is to strip his opponents of their resources in order to get exactly what he wants and only what he wants. Just ask the Palestinians.

While I identify more with the progressive side of culture, I think it’s a great sickness to view life as either/or, black and white, all or nothing, right or wrong, etc. This is the problem with labels and pigeon holes, and it’s something “we the people” must resist as we embrace postmodern living. It’s beyond foolish; it’s just plain stupid to look at only extremes when assessing relationships. It’s lazy, sloppy thinking, and it puts us on a playing field where defense is the only weapon.

We can do better than that. We simply must, because what other choice do we have? Really?

The CBN formula that didn’t work

In the wake of Roy Moore’s defeat in the Alabama Senate race, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the foundational documents we used at CBN in developing and fine‐tuning processes and systems in the creation of the daily 700 Club program. It’s referenced in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP -a research project by George Gallup — one of Pat Robertson’s dear friends — into the perceptions of Evangelical Christians by the America public. This would have been around 1980. I wasn’t there for the actual research, but I inherited the results as an outline of what needed to be incorporated into the program. One of our unspoken missions was to change this perspective, and we gave it our best shot.

The research painted a dismal picture of American attitudes and perceptions about Christians. If we were to recruit new followers of Christ through television, we were going to have to shift these attitudes away from the pejorative and to the desirable. It wasn’t easy, but we felt it was doable with a razor sharp focus on attention to detail when it came to those perceptions. People thought Christians were overweight, so we presented mostly fit and attractive people. They thought Christians were old, so we presented young. Same with Bible‐thumping, ignorant, rural, and polyester‐wearing. We chose questions & answers, educated, urban, and well‐dressed. Christian women were submissive and dowdy. We focused on empowered and fashionable. We deliberately and constantly emphasized people who didn’t fit the stereotypes felt by the average American. Whenever we pursued a testimony story for the program, for example, the first order of business was a photograph of the person giving the testimony. This focus became second nature, and our internal membership data strongly suggested we were on the right path.

Then came the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, which slammed a door on what had been perceived as a revival in the church. Oral Roberts told his viewers that God was going to “take him home,” if he didn’t raise $9 million by Friday. Jim Bakker got caught with his pants down with a staffer, and Jimmy Swaggart got caught in sleazy motel rooms with sleazy prostitutes. We had no scandal, but our coffers were profoundly impacted by all this mischief. And who do you think were the ones who gave up on us the most? That’s right, those intelligent, educated, well‐dressed, curious, and slim newbies.

Fast forward to today, and the irony is that we now have Donald Trump as President, with 80 percent of Evangelicals giving him their votes. One of the most puzzling questions about the election is how anybody with serious thinking chops could have been persuaded to vote for a guy who represents everything they hate. A salesman. A man who bends the truth to his own liking. A rich flimflam man. Could it be there’s more to these stereotypes than we’d like to think? In the rejection of Roy Moore last month, the voters of Alabama took a stand against those stereotypes we fought against so long ago. The public animosity towards what are viewed as hypocritical bigots with Bibles and bellies is back in full force, and I have to admit that I’m kind of happy about that. I’d love to see George Gallup repeat that study today, for I suspect the results would be even stronger than ever.

Perhaps this will be enough to get us out of this awful pit into which we’ve fallen.