Don’t All Paths Lead to God?

There’s a lot of conflict in our world right now. Disagreement over the pandemic and this year’s riots in America tell the story all too well. Despite the mess and division, I think most of us long for unity.

One of the ways we express this desire for peace in our times is to suggest that all paths lead to God. Many today say that that all religions are different ways of expressing the same ideas about God, the universe, and how we should treat each other.

This belief, known as pluralism, is accepted wisdom in the West. No one even feels the need to defend pluralism because it’s so widely assumed to be true. In our cultural moment, it’s scandalous to suggest, for example, that Jesus might be the only way. Pluralism seems to be a useful way to bypass the conflict and make sure we all get along.

“Most of us long for unity.”

There is a famous parable from India that conveys this idea of pluralism. You may have heard of it. It’s called ‘the tale of the blind men and the elephant’ and it goes like this:

Five blind men inspect an elephant. One feels the trunk and concludes it’s a snake. One touches its ear and decides it is a leaf. Another finds the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One puts his hand on the elephant’s side and believes it’s a wall. The final man holds the tail and says it is a rope.

The point of the parable, then, is that ultimate truth isn’t found in just one religion. Rather, by our combined insight we can arrive at an all-encompassing truth together. If we shared our wisdom, we’d realise that all paths lead to God.

But does it really work that way?

Let me first clarify that people of different faiths can get along fine without agreeing on everything. I have Muslim and Hindu friends, for example, and our friendship isn’t under threat because of our differences of opinion. If anything, when the topic of faith comes up, I find it easier talking with people from non-Western backgrounds about faith because it’s not a taboo topic for them like it is for so many Westerners.

I’m all for a society where we can talk openly and comfortably about our differences and live alongside each other in peace. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. The beauty of the West, after all, is that we don’t depend on ‘blood-and-soil’ nationalism to live in free and peaceful societies. What holds us together isn’t our skin colour or religion, but our shared values.

“People of different faiths can get along fine without agreeing on everything.”

The problem with pluralism is that it tries to force agreement where there can’t be. In doing so, pluralism insults everyone (except for pluralists, of course).

Pluralism does this by failing to understand the unique claims of each world faith. The founders of every religion—and most of their followers—believe that their path of salvation is needed, precisely because the other options don’t cut it.

Think about it.

For Buddhists, enlightenment became possible only because the Buddha discovered the eightfold path.

For Muslims, the five pillars of Islam are the true path of submission to Allah.

“What holds us together in the West is our shared values.”

For Hindus, the way of release is how people can have union with the ultimate life force.

For Jews, following God’s law is the only way to truly obey him.

And the list goes on.

According to pluralism, though, none of this is true. The central claim of each faith—that salvation is only possible through their specific path—is shot down in flames by pluralism.

According to pluralism, Buddha’s eightfold path, Muhammad’s five pillars, Hinduism’s way of release, the Jewish law, and Jesus’ death and resurrection weren’t really needed, because hope could have been found elsewhere.

“The problem with pluralism is that it tries to force agreement where there can’t be.”

Notice that the parable of the blind man and the elephant is hiding a secret. Pluralists don’t mention the most important fact in the story: there aren’t five men, but six. The sixth man is the narrator, the one telling the story. Only he has all the facts; only he perceives everything objectively.

Do you see it? Pluralism congratulates itself for its tolerance, but it actually makes the most arrogant claim of all. It paints itself as the only truly objective point of view—the one that all other religions failed to see.

The blind men and the elephant is a nice story, and surely it has use in other areas of life. But if we try to apply it to the world’s religions, we create a bigger mess than the one we started with. Pluralism becomes simply another ideology—and a bad one at that—for all of us to disagree on.

“Faith seems to find an echo in every human soul.”

So where does this leave us? If we can’t find a unity between the world’s religions, do we just reject them all?

That won’t work either, because faith seems to find an echo in every human soul. In the West, we have given the secular project a good run. We’ve tried to live like the universe just is—as though God is just an optional extra. But faith hasn’t gone away. The world, even in the West, is as religious as it’s ever been.

All of the world’s religions might be wrong. But one thing is for sure: they can’t all be right.

“The world, even in the West, is as religious as it’s ever been.”

I am a Christian. That means I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one can come to God except through him. That might offend the modern world, but that’s okay. There are lots of things about the modern world that offend me. Somehow, I still find a way to live in peace with those around me.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean closing my mind to other claims about the world.

In truth, I see the fingerprints of God in every worldview. I see people with eternity written across their hearts. I see people reaching out, not just for something greater than themselves, but for a way out of our human predicament—even if that predicament is framed in a thousand different ways.

“Being a Christian doesn’t mean closing my mind to other claims about the world.”

But in Jesus, I see something unique. Instead of asking us to live better or strive harder or reach higher, I see a God who has come down to us, who has stepped into our situation, and done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

In Jesus, I see the enlightened one that even the Buddha needed. More than a prophet, I see the truest ‘Muslim’, the one who perfectly submitted to God and enables us to do likewise. I see Hinduism’s way of release in human form. I see the God that even atheists can’t seem to escape. I see the Messiah, the hope of Israel.

Maybe I’m just seeing things. Or maybe Jesus is the true God—the one we’ve all been searching for.

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* This article is an updated version of How Pluralism Points to Jesus.

You Can’t Learn From Deleted History

The “memory hole” is one of the most haunting images in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Used by government workers at the Ministry of Truth, this chute in the wall enabled Oceania’s one-party government to edit history at will and incinerate all evidence of their propagandistic deeds:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, multiethnic mobs who clearly haven’t read Orwell have been busy trying to memory-hole statues, monuments and street names across the Western world.

The first big story to hit the media was when crowds cheered in Bristol, England, as a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down, stomped on, and tipped into the river.

“Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”—George Orwell

In the United States, jeering throngs managed to decapitate a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, and pull another one down outside of the Minnesota State Capitol. In Sydney, Australian police were forced to guard a statue of explorer Captain Cook after it was defaced, and when further plans to topple it were made public.

Originally, this seemed to be a campaign against memorials of slavers and early explorers. But it has since morphed into a protest against almost any historical figure whose crimes involve being white, male, and no longer with us.

In central London, a statue of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who led the nation in defeat of the Nazis, has been targeted. First vandals defaced it with the word “racist”—and then it was boarded up by authorities to prevent its complete destruction. The irony here is stark: so-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved presidents in American history. But this didn’t stop one protester from spraying graffiti on the iconic Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and many others from trashing the Lincoln statue in London.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson was set alight in Birmingham, Alabama. A product of his time, Jefferson owned slaves—but he also authored America’s Declaration of Independence and was arguably the founding father of the nation.

Even a Matthias Baldwin monument in Philadelphia was tagged with the words “murderer” and “colonizer”. Baldwin stood doggedly against slavery in the early 1800s, long before it was fashionable to do so. Never mind, he too must go down the memory hole.

If this crusade couldn’t grow any more bizarre, we have now seen the “don’t mention the war” episode of Fawlty Towers scrubbed from UKTV. Likewise, HBO Max has pulled Gone With the Wind from its streaming service for its depiction of slavery. This blockbuster, by the way, starred Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Academy Award. Fortunately, it sounds like both of these decisions will now be reversed.

“Our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears.”

I believe a good case can be made for why statues of certain slave owners or Confederate soldiers should be reinterpreted with new signage, or perhaps even moved to a museum. But cancel culture turned cancerous the second we were no longer allowed to remember our civilisation’s own heritage.

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it, so the maxim goes. We must remember that our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears. Think Auschwitz, the slave-built Pyramids—or the Colosseum, which Michael Cook has satirically suggested must also be razed to the ground.

Some memorials that do celebrate past heroes were erected by contentious people in contentious times. Mount Rushmore’s four presidents were carved on stolen land by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Should it be demolished? Do we bulldoze the work of every chauvinist architect since the Renaissance? How far must the purification go?

Far more productive than cancellation is education. A bit of education certainly would have helped those who tried to memory-hole Matthias Baldwin and other historical heroes in the recent puritanical purge.

“So-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.”

Understanding our history, rather than just raging against it, enables us to debate the good, the bad and the ugly of every era and learn from all of it. We have a lot to learn, not just about those who were memorialised, but also about those who did the memorialising. If we are willing to listen to our ancestors, we can benefit from understanding both their masteries and their many mistakes.

We might even grow some humility.

See, the cancel cult reveal at least as much about themselves as the historical figures they seek to erase. They display a deeply judgmental impulse by enforcing on people of centuries past, a new set of moral standards that we hardly agreed on five minutes ago.

They assume that they alone would have acted differently if they had grown up in the same circumstances. They seem to hope that if a line can be drawn under George Floyd’s murder and all before that be forgotten, the world might be a better, purer place.

“Prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart.”

But in trying to delete the past like they might delete their browser history, they miss what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw after staring Soviet totalitarianism in the face:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

We may make all sorts of progress. But prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart—as the cancellers themselves remind us. Because of this, all of us desperately need the past.

We need it, at the very least, to hold ourselves accountable.

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The Race Rhetoric That Causes More Harm Than Harmony

George Floyd’s cruel murder is sparking much-needed conversations about justice and racial harmony in America and beyond. The ripple effect has already reached us Down Under, with protests taking place in Australian capital cities this past weekend.

Last week I spoke with a friend who has ministered among Indigenous Australians for decades. He told me that in some regional jails he has visited, Aboriginal men made up over 70% of the prison population. Whatever landed them there, this is a deeply troubling picture.

In a recent survey, 10% of Australians said they would tell jokes about Indigenous Aussies. 10% said they wouldn’t employ an Aboriginal person. 20% said they would move away if a First Nations person sat next to them.

“Racism does still exist here in Australia.”

Pre-judging someone—making negative judgments about them based on the shade of their skin—is textbook racism. Racism does still exist here in Australia, and it is a problem we need to address.

But there is an emerging rhetoric around racism that is causing more harm than harmony. It is most easily identified by its blanket claims about white people and Western nations. Countless American celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop singer Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

“Countless celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.”

On Instagram, Mandy Moore wrote, “White friends… we have the burden of dismantling white supremacy.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

All of us should yearn for justice, for George Floyd and for anyone wrongly treated—especially at the hands of those paid to protect us. Voices are always needed to ‘speak truth to power,’ since even the best societies produce inequality.

But so much of what we are seeing from our culture creators, the news media, and on social channels is actually stoking racial grievances rather than healing them.

“Even the best societies produce inequality.”

This rhetoric claims that countries like America and Australia are racist from root to branch. It demands that we hate our own nations as a kind of ideological purity test.

It implicates all white people — even the most open-hearted and caring — as the problem. It convinces people of colour that the white majority should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in. It is a brand-new worldview that actually mirrors the prejudices it seeks to replace.

By claiming that minorities today are still affected by centuries-old oppressive policies is to overlook great nation-shaping events of which we should all be proud. Slavery and Jim Crow are no more in the U.S. because of civil war and the civil rights movement a century later. Indigenous Australians are equal citizens because of reforms in 1948 and 1967, and let’s not forget the apology of 2008.

“There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism.”

Our nations still have problems to address. But resurrecting pain from centuries past does dishonour to the progress we have all made, and it reopens wounds that had already begun to heal.

There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism. In America, for example, only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. Adjusting for crime rates, white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

And while police treatment of black people is a serious problem in the US, the national news there mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. Regardless of intent, the media’s unwarranted slant on this issue only stokes racial grievances.

Here in Australia, Aboriginal deaths in custody are a terrible reality, and First Nations people are tragically over-represented in our justice system.

“The media’s unwarranted slant on this issue stokes racial grievances.”

But we are not allowed to point out that Indigenous Aussies are actually less likely to die in custody than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Or that the majority of such deaths are due to health issues and self-harm — not police brutality.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if we close one eye to the facts, or fail to acknowledge how far we’ve already come towards justice.

Racism still exists in the West. And some of our saddest injustices are complex and difficult to resolve. But what’s remarkable about nations like America and Australia isn’t that we’re racist. Racism is still found in every country. Rather, we are remarkable because we have relented from—and survived—former cruelties like massacre, segregation, and slavery.

As a result, we now live together in stable multi-ethnic societies that provide hope, opportunity, and even a leg up for those who seek it. Our laws protect human rights and dignity for all people—even compensating for disadvantage—unlike so many places still today, and from time immemorial.

“Racism is still found in every country.”

Let’s be straight: if the West really is so evil, why would we advocate for asylum seekers to find refuge and a better life here? And if America is so racist, how did a country with a 13% black population elect a black president—twice?

You used to be called a racist if you treated people from another race unfairly. Now, it seems, you’re a racist if you don’t see white supremacy and systemic racism everywhere, and think the West can only be redeemed by violent revolution.

So if I am labelled a racist, let it be because I want the best for people of every colour, and for the nations that have walked the longest road towards equality.

Let it be because I believe the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who with faith declared to all Americans, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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Are America’s Riots Still About George Floyd?

In case you didn’t think 2020 could get any more perplexing, there are now uncontrolled riots taking place in dozens of American cities. From coast to coast, cars and businesses have been set alight, numberless shops have been looted, vehicles have been driven into crowds, and mob violence has broken out on city streets.

In the week since the rioting began, numerous people have lost their lives and thousands have been arrested. Many cities have imposed curfews and the National Guard has been deployed in over 20 states.

The unrest started last week in Minneapolis after a video went viral showing the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer.

“George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America.”

The officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as Floyd struggled for breath, and cried, “Please, I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me.” After becoming unresponsive, Floyd was rushed to hospital and was later pronounced dead.

All four police officers attending Floyd’s arrest were fired, and the one responsible for his death has since been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. The other officers may also be charged.

George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America and has justifiably led to grief and outrage, especially among African-American communities. Racial injustice and tension are issues that have plagued the US since the days of slavery.

America has come a long way towards justice, through a Civil War in the 1860s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But over the last decade, racial injustice has returned as a major national conversation, and police brutality has been a focal point of this.

“Radical groups are exploiting the George Floyd protests.”

Peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy. Those protesting nonviolently over the death of George Floyd deserve to have their concerns for justice heard and acted on, all the way to the highest reaches of government.

But the violence and mayhem being unleashed on America’s streets is not the solution. In fact, even as peaceful protests continue, it is clear that radical groups with more sweeping agendas are exploiting the George Floyd protests. And in doing so, they are causing contempt for those protesting lawfully.

US Attorney General William Barr said on the weekend that “voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements” that are seeking to “pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”

And President Trump announced that Antifa—one extremist group believed to be exploiting the protests to cause anarchy—will be designated as a terrorist organisation. He has also threatened to deploy the military if mayors don’t get their cities under control.

George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery, but his pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Though it isn’t widely reported, there have been scenes of African-American citizens gathering to protect stores from looters and armed black business owners guarding their properties. And for good reason, after a low-income housing estate and black-owned stores were burnt to the ground in Minneapolis.

“We do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is because of them.”

Consider more evidence that the protests are being exploited. A black protester caught two white women vandalising a shopfront and called them out on it, furious that the black community will be wrongly blamed for their crime.

A lone white rioter had to be restrained by peaceful protesters before he smashed up pavement to create projectiles. Piles of bricks have mysteriously appeared at many rioting hotspots, though no construction work has been taking place nearby.

White vandals have been rebuked by black Americans for defacing monuments, smashing windows and vandalising police cars. Likewise, the Louis Vuitton store in Portland appears to have been looted by as many white offenders as people of any other ethnicity.

Video footage of a Nike store break-in, a bottle shop heist, and an interview with a young man under arrest also suggests that at least some of the looting has been about cheap opportunism, not justice.

“Behind the carnage are other factors that transcend ethnicity.”

Without doubt, some are using criminal activity as a form of protest intended to highlight or ‘equalise’ injustices against African-Americans. But given the evidence, we do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is by, for, or because of them.

Behind the carnage, there are other factors that transcend ethnicity, which mainstream reporting won’t touch.

One is the epidemic of fatherlessness gripping the USA. Another is a growing entitlement complex among many youth. The mainstreaming of drug use and video game violence in recent decades are other social ills that must be acknowledged as at least part of the problem.

And don’t forget that for many of the young people breaking the law, this is the first fun they have had since their city locked down months ago for COVID-19.

“George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery.”

What is most concerning, however, is the class of rioters who are expressing an open contemptfor their own nation. A love of violent revolution and anarchy, and a hatred of all that America represents can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.

And that is exactly the message being broadcast by cultural leaders, even as the fires burn.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop sensation Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Shawn Mendes likewise tweeted, “As a white person, I not only recognise that this is a problem but that I am a part of the problem.”

“Hatred for America can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

This impulse towards justice is good, since justice reflects the heart and character of God. There must be justice for George Floyd and for all black people who have suffered brutality at the hands of police. But has anyone stopped to ask if declarations like these might be causing more harm than harmony?

These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace. They implicate all white people—even the most open-hearted and caring—as part of America’s problem. They convince people of colour that white Americans should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in, and unless they virtual-signal otherwise.

They make an unbreakable link between the 1600s and the present day, disregarding the many events of American history that have righted so many wrongs of the past—even if the nation still has injustices to address now. And they resurrect old angers to enrage current ones.

“These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace.”

They also ignore some uncomfortable statistics. Only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. And white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

While police treatment of black people is a serious problem, the national news media mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. This is an unwarranted slant, and it only serves to stoke racial grievances.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if newsmakers focus on certain tragedies while ignoring others. And they can’t be honest if all of the good in American society is ignored, and generations of progress overlooked.

Even in the midst of the riots, there have been police showing solidarity with the African-American community, like the sheriff in Michigan who laid down his helmet and marched with George Floyd protesters. Or the black protesters who protected a stranded white cop.

“The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country.”

Protesters and police were seen praying together in Kentucky. Black and white believers were also filmed praying for reconciliation over the weekend. A black man was embraced by a police officer in Miami. Another police officer offered a young black man his shoulder to cry on.

As you read news about these riots, beware of false narratives.

Much of the anarchy and destruction isn’t about justice for George Floyd. It is people of any ethnicity exploiting the black community for their own selfish agendas. Ironically, that is exactly what the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement sought to correct.

The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country and believe it is worth preserving and redeeming, not destroying. And most Americans agree with Martin Luther King Jr, who said it best: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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Three Secrets to the Culture Wars

It’s been many decades since the term culture wars was dubbed, and the label is now more relevant than ever. What began as a reasoned debate on issues like abortion, multiculturalism and homosexuality has turned into a hearts-and-minds battle for the soul of our civilization.

The rapid growth of the culture wars vocab is evidence enough of this.

We’re all familiar with terms like ‘identity politics,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘virtue signalling.’ But have you heard of deplatforming, cancel culture, red-pilled, safe spaces, cisnormativity, or Trump derangement syndrome? Most importantly, do you know what it means to be woke?

It’s not easy keeping up with the jargon. Actually, it would be far safer to let others fight the culture wars. This is especially true now that people make a sport of branding others with so many exotic new phobias.

“There is a much deeper war of ideas taking place.”

But to disengage from the culture wars is to surrender entirely. As George Orwell was apt to point out, if you control the language, you win the debate. Words and ideas matter, because they are precisely where the battle rages.

It has become ever clearer to me that underneath most verbal brawls there is a much deeper war of ideas taking place. When we learn to recognise the hidden debates, it becomes much easier to engage and stay on the front foot.

So what are these unspoken battles? I am convinced that if we understand the secrets to the culture wars, the questions behind the questions, we can avoid unneeded hostility—and instead seek out some common ground and some common sense.

Secret 1: Is the Endgame Equality or Power?

‘Equality’ has been the motto for causes of every kind in recent decades. So much so that it’s hard to find anyone today who rejects the idea of equality. Most westerners agree that all people should be raised to a place of equal worth regardless of gender, race or creed.

But in recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed along with the definition of words like racism and sexism. Ironically, these -isms no longer apply equally. Among the woke, they are only allowed to be used in reference to oppressed groups—those who have faced historical injustice.

For example, if I, a ‘white male,’ complain that I have been the victim of racism or sexism, my complaint will be shrugged off—even scoffed at. I will be told to suck it up, since all Caucasians and all males have been living the good life for eons, apparently. According to this logic, it is now my turn to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

“In recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed.”

Those who hold this line genuinely believe in the virtue of defending only those groups who have a history of ill-treatment. But at this point, they no longer believe in equality. What they are fighting for is unequal power. They want one form of privilege to give way to another.

I’ll admit that being both male and of European descent may have brought brought with it certain privileges not enjoyed by other people in the West. But for as long as I can remember, I have sought to regard all people as my equals and not expect better treatment for myself. Most people I interact with seem to live out the same convictions.

“When you see people trying to wield raw power, call them out on it.”

So while Western societies today may not be perfect, they are the most equal and just that history has ever seen: simply ask your grandparents. To whatever degree we are still overcoming the inequalities of the past, we will never be helped by replacing old injustices with new ones.

Ironically, brazen power grabs are exactly what we were supposed to be avoiding. So when you see people trying to wield raw power like this, call them out on it—and bring the conversation back to genuine equality.

And if you’re a Christian, explain the absolute that grounds this value: we have all been made in the image of God, and that is why are compelled to treat people as equally valuable and precious.

Secret 2: Are People Defending a Race or an Idea?

In some quarters, racism and xenophobia are labels thrown about far too casually. Only recently it dawned on me that, more often than not, these accusations have little to do with race or nationality. Many who brandish these terms are actually seeking to protect an idea.

The light came on for me in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Remember when President Trump—and many others—were accused of racism for calling it the ‘Wuhan coronavirus’?

You may not know this, but in the early stages of the outbreak, the same media who later painted Trump as a xenophobe had previously called it the Wuhan coronavirus themselves—dozens and dozens of times.

And why not? As comedian Bill Maher points out, we’ve always named diseases after their place of origin, from the West Nile Virus to Ebola, Guinea Worms, MERS and the Spanish Flu.

“Many who brandish terms like ‘racist’ are actually seeking to protect an idea.”

The renaming of COVID-19 isn’t a hill I wish to die on. But it was a convenient shift for the Chinese Communist Party who covered up the early spread of the virus and (it seems likely) pressured the World Health Organisation to delay warning the world of a pandemic.

All of this to say, naming the virus after its origin in Wuhan has little to do with Chinese people, and much to do with the villainy of an authoritarian government. This remains true even if Trump did it to take the focus off his own early failures. What Trump and others took issue with, in other words, was the communism—not the Chinese-ness—of the CCP.

Sticking to the theme American politics, this year I have followed the ‘Blexit’ movement with great interest. Founded by African-American commentator Candace Owens, Blexit is shorthand for a black exit from the Democratic party.

“Race isn’t the point—ideas are.”

The idea that black Americans might find refuge with Republicans is a shock to many. What has shocked me, however, is how many ‘Blexiteers’ report racist treatment from liberals for their decision to walk away from the Democrats—or “leave the plantation” as some even call it. Frequently they are accused of being ‘race traitors’ and Uncle Toms.

Ironically, the idea that black Americans should only vote Democrat is itself a racist assumption since it lumps all people of one ethnic group into a single category.

Put simply, race isn’t the point—ideas are. This has to be true if people of any ethnicity are able to think for themselves and vote for any political party or cause they are most drawn to.

Next time someone alleges racism or xenophobia, ask yourself this simple question: are they trying to protect a race or an idea? No one should be discriminated against for his or her ethnicity. But all bad ideas can and should be challenged.

Secret 3: Is Western Civilization Good or Evil?

This might just be the question behind the question behind the question. I have seen this and now I can’t unsee it: where the culture wars rage the fiercest, the debate is always about Western Civilization itself.

Simply put, is Western Civilization basically good and worth defending—or is it fundamentally evil and in need of overhauling entirely?

For many today, the West is an oppressive patriarchy that perpetuates, from one generation to the next, the values, beliefs and institutions that oppress minorities and divide society.

In this telling of the story, Western Civilization is one long project of colonisation—the rape-and-pillage of indigenous communities and the environment that continues unabated to this day.

“Is Western Civilization good and worth defending?”

While only the ignorant could deny the West’s many mistakes, such a simplistic version of events has too many glaring omissions. Western Civilization was also the wellspring of countless blessings that have transformed the world—science, liberal democracy, medicine, universal education, and the idea of equality itself, to name just a few.

Violence, slavery, and colonisation are not unique to the West—they have characterised almost every civilization through time. What makes the West unique and truly good is its leading role in subduing these evils, and exporting prosperity and freedom beyond our shores so that others might benefit too.

Even those who say they disagree with me on this point seem confused at best.

“We instinctively know that the West is a blessing.”

The same people who decry nations like Australia, the UK and America as evil, also insist that we open our borders so that people from other nations can flood in at will. If the West is so despicable, why would we want to torture others by welcoming them here? No seriously—why?

In truth, we all want the West to be a blessing to others because we instinctively know that the West is a blessing. We can see that our civilization is not ours to hoard, but ours to share.

And that’s why I’m willing to fight a culture war to defend it.

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Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

It’s becoming more obvious with each passing year, and just about everyone in the West will agree: to be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture. 

It’s such a fixed feature of modern life that Christians have adapted a variety of solutions to this dilemma. Some believers relish the opportunity to cause unnecessary trouble. Others run scared—and in doing so, they compromise their stand for Jesus. Both extremes do damage to the cause of Christ.

So how can we walk the middle road? The answer to this begins with properly understanding our calling as Christians. Why do we clash with the current culture?

“To be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture.”

Following in the footsteps of Jesus certainly means acting with kindness, compassion and care. But don’t forget that Jesus was also a magnet for controversy. There is simply no way to avoid this. If we follow him, we will be too.

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

Paul and Silas are visiting the city of Thessalonica. They make a persuasive case for the gospel, and win many hearts and minds to the way of Jesus. And without intending to, they also cause a stir.

The fact is that if we are true to our calling like the early church was, we can expect the same as them. We should aim to be convincing; we can be confident of our message; and like it or not, we will be controversial in the process.

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’”

Paul reasoned, explained and proved. These shouldn’t be dirty words for Christians. Following Jesus is a heart journey, to be sure. But it also requires our brains.

Like Paul, we are called to be convincing. Our aim is to help people see that the good news of Jesus makes sense in a world starved of meaning. We don’t need to know all the answers, and we certainly can’t argue anyone into the kingdom.

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

But God has entrusted to us the most relevant, reasonable and compelling way of life the world has ever known. Christianity isn’t a ‘leap into the dark’. It’s a very sensible step into the light. So let’s make our best case for that, as the apostles did.

In the process, there’s no need to trust our own prowess or persuasiveness. If there’s anything we learn from the book of Acts, it’s that proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

“Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”

In the short time that Paul and Silas visited this city, a new church sprang up. The gospel is powerful. It transforms lives and whole communities. This is why Paul calls the gospel, “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” It’s a message we can have confidence in.

“The message of Jesus has a power all of its own.”

My Dad is a very skilled gardener. I am not—but I have tried. One year when I was renting with friends, I decided to plant a vegetable patch. Dad happily shared with me with seeds and compost. I dug up the soil and planted tomatoes, carrots, beans and broccoli.

As time went on and my study commitments took over, I neglected to pull out weeds, and I watered my garden with less and less frequency. Eventually, everything I planted withered and died—if the bugs hadn’t eaten it first.

But then pumpkins started springing up everywhere, even though I had never planted them. Soon there were pumpkin vines crawling all over my garden, and even under the fence and into the carport. I deduced, of course, that there must have been pumpkin seeds in Dad’s compost.

“The gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.”

Through my little failed project, I learned that even if my gardening abilities are terrible, I can always count on compost from my Dad.

The gospel is quite the same. Like Dad’s compost, the message of Jesus has a power all of its own. Whenever and wherever it is proclaimed, God is at work by his Spirit to bring people to faith. We can have confidence, because the gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

“But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot… ‘Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,’ they shouted, ‘and now they are here disturbing our city, too.'”

More fascinating still is the crime these Christians were accused of: “They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”

All this talk of caesars and kings can sound worlds apart from our own, but in fact it’s remarkably similar. In the Roman Empire, just like today, people were free to believe in and worship any gods they wanted to. Tolerance and diversity were the catch-cry of the day.

“We are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one way.”

There was only one condition: whichever gods you worshipped, whatever you believed or practiced, you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.

It was common for Roman soldiers to march into village centres, carrying an altar with a clear demand: “Pay homage to Caesar!” One by one, under pain of death, citizens would approach the altar to sprinkle incense and solemnly declare, “Caesar is Lord.”

For refusing to make this confession in either word or deed, eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were killed, and countless more besides. Fortunately, the price most of us pay to follow Jesus is nothing like that. But the Christian’s clash with the current culture is just as real.

“There was only one condition: you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.”

As in Rome, we are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one of many ways, and not the way, the truth and the life. In any age, when diversity and tolerance are prized as the highest virtue, it can sound like treason to declare that Jesus alone can save.

When we do—ironically—there is not much tolerance given to Christians.

Let’s be clear though: we shouldn’t go looking for trouble. Scripture says:

  • Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
  • Always try to do good to each other and to all people.

But Scripture also declares that Jesus is Lord. And if that’s true, then the Caesars of our day are not. Regardless of whether they are despots or dogmas.

When we accept this and give ourselves permission to be controversial—come what may—we’re actually set free. We no longer need to struggle for the world’s acceptance where we were never promised it.

“If Jesus is Lord, then the Caesars of our day are not.”

Next time you’re faced with hostility for following Jesus, be encouraged.

Like the early believers, you’re called to be convincing. You can be confident that the message you carry will change lives. And if you are controversial as a result, rest assured that Jesus is big enough to handle it.

He’s king, remember?

20 Reasons Trump Will Win Again In 2020

From the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, I was sceptical. He was a mogul from liberal New York, unfaithful in marriage, divorced twice, and verbally ruthless towards his opponents.

None of that has changed. And while there is still lots to dislike about Trump’s persona, his performance has surprised me.

“I’m now convinced that President Trump will win a second term.”

I’ve lived in America for the last six months. I’ve heard lots of perspectives on Trump, and I’ve kept a close eye on the media. I’ve explored Washington DC, visited the Capitol Building, and I even got to see Trump speak at a live event.

For a whole range of reasons, I’m now convinced that President Trump will win a second term. Impeachment or not, here are 20 reasons I’m almost certain he’ll be re-elected in 2020.

1. It’s The Economy, Stupid

It’s hard to deny that the American economy is humming. Under Trump, household income is higher than it’s been in 50 years, and unemployment the lowest it’s been in 50 years.

Jobs growth is outpacing expectations. Poverty is down—especially for minority communities; and optimism is up. On top of all of this, the stock market continues to break records.

Debate surrounds the exact figures, but all agree that the Trump economy is impressive.

2. The Black Vote

Black voters traditionally vote Democrat. 2016 was no exception, with only 8% backing Trump. Recent figures, however, place his approval among the African-American community at a jaw-dropping 34%.

Several factors seem to be driving this turnaround. Trump’s economy has been especially good for black communities, with huge increases in black employment and median household incomes.

“Trump’s approval among the African-American community is now at a jaw-dropping 34%.”

Trump has also won favour among African-Americans by prioritising prison reform, designating as “national monuments” many historic sites important to the black community, and giving big-name supporters like Kanye West unprecedented access to the Oval Office.

If anywhere near 34% of the black vote goes to Trump, he’ll probably be re-elected in a landslide.

3. The Hispanic Vote

The pundits expected Hispanics to overwhelmingly vote against Trump in 2016 because of his strong stance on immigration. But in the end, he won 28% of their vote. This was at least ten points higher than pre-polling suggested.

Die-hard Republicans suspect that Democrats want open borders in order to secure more Hispanic votes. Whether or not this is true, it is simply not a given that Latinos vote Democrat.

“Almost 60% of Hispanics support Trump’s strong border policies.”

Many Hispanics are Catholic or have a Catholic background, which means they are more conservative on issues like abortion.

And it turns out that they too want their jobs protected from illegal immigrants: almost 60% of Hispanics support Trump’s strong border policies.

4. Incumbency

The modern trend in American politics is that sitting presidents are re-elected. Obama stayed in office for two terms, as did Bush before him, and Clinton before him.

In fact, since the Second World War, only three out of thirteen presidents have been unable to secure a second term.

Incumbency isn’t everything, but the odds are in Trump’s favour.

5. Promises Kept to Evangelicals

Christians like me still have to squint to see the Christianity in Trump. Either way, he has largely kept his word to people of faith, fulfilling some 90% of the requests they put to him.

Trump has made religious freedom a signature issue of his presidency. In terms of policy, he is one of the most pro-life presidents in history. “Every child, born and unborn, is a sacred gift from God,” is a phrase now regularly heard from his lips.

“Christians like me still have to squint to see the Christianity in Trump.”

In his three years so far, Trump has made 173 judicial appointments, at a pace doubling that of Obama’s. These mostly-conservative judges will shape America for decades to come, and may end up being Trump’s most significant legacy.

The evangelical vote has long been seen as crucial to election victories in the USA. And like it or not, Trump has worked hard on policy to secure it for a second term.

6. Fake News

Donald Trump is well-known for his complaints about the “Fake News Media”, and for calling the modern press “the enemy of the people”. Fans of Trump have taken to mocking media bias with trending phrases like Trump Derangement Syndrome and Orange Man Bad.

Their opposition to mainstream news isn’t unwarranted: a recent study found that, out of 700 evaluative comments made about Trump on major news networks, 96% were negative. During the same period of six weeks, only four minutes were given to discussing Trump’s economy.

“Pundits on the left and right point out that this overt bias is playing into Trump’s hand.”

Earlier this year, CNN’s president and other staff were secretly recorded exposing an extreme anti-Trump bias that drives their network’s coverage of him.

A month later, an ABC reporter was caught on hot mic revealing that back in 2016, her network quashed a story on billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein at the same time that Hillary Clinton—with ties to Epstein—was running for president.

The intent of these outlets appears to be Trump’s defeat in 2020. But pundits on the left and right point out that this overt bias is playing into Trump’s hand by confirming his claims, and firing up his supporter base.

7. The Media Echo Chamber

There is an additional danger for the mainstream media. The risk for journalists who lurch leftward faster than America is that even as they congratulate each other and believe their own news, they neglect that everyday people aren’t joining them for the ride.

If it’s true that “the ratings don’t lie”, then the meteoric rise of Fox News and the ratings freefall for CNN and MSNBC seem to confirm this reality.

“American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites.”

Groupthink, echo chamber, confirmation bias, the media bubble. It goes by different names, but it is a real phenomenon. It was the reason whole nations were taken by surprise when ScoMo won Australia, when Brexit and Boris swept the UK—and most of all, when Trump took America the first time around.

The shock of Trump’s victory helped even left-leaning outlets diagnose the problem: that American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites who live in a different world from most of their readers.

“Mainstream news outlets will need to make their case with more nuance if they hope to avoid a repeat of 2016.”

Not so long ago, journalists saw their role as informing public opinion instead of forming it. It might be asking too much to turn back the clock on this.

But if mainstream news outlets want to keep acting as a de facto propaganda arm for progressive parties, they will at least need to make their case with more nuance if they hope to avoid a repeat of 2016.

8. Impeachment

Plans to impeach Donald Trump began before he even took office. Democrats finally felt they had enough evidence to launch a formal impeachment inquiry late this year.

This week, they were successful in impeaching the President. But to remove Trump from office, a two-thirds majority in the Senate would have to agree to it. This is very unlikely given that the Senate is currently controlled by a Republican majority.

“Plans to impeach Donald Trump began before he even took office.”

Worse still, Americans are souring on everything impeachment. Since proceedings began, support for impeachment flipped among voters. While it was 48% for and 44% against beforehand, the most recent Emerson poll shows has this reversed at 45% opposed, and only 43% in favour.

In fact, in a dramatic move, congressman Jeff Van Drew has grown so sick of the drama that he will reportedly defect from the Democratic party this week and become a Republican.

Impeaching Trump may be the Democrats’ biggest gift to him yet.

9. The Polls

The polls more generally are picking up for Trump. Overall, his approval rating has been poor—on average hovering in the low 40s. That recently rose to 43%, which according to Gallup makes Trump as popular as Obama was at the same point in his first term.

Now that the Democrats seem to be overplaying their hand on impeachment, Emerson has seen Trump’s approval rating spike to 48%, which puts him well within striking range of re-election.

“Trump is as popular as Obama was at the same point in his first term.”

There is also the phenomenon, confirmed by research, that in polls people suppress their voting intentions if their views are publicly demonised.

In other words, since it’s now seen as social suicide to vote for Trump, some of his supporters won’t reveal their voting intention in a poll, and will instead take their opinion straight to the ballot box. So on the quiet, Trump’s approval could be well above 48%.

10. Betting Odds

It’s worth taking a look at betting odds for presidential elections, too. Polls measure people’s emotions and shifting opinions—whereas betting agencies deal in cold, hard cash.

Even now that the impeachment process is underway, Trump is far-and-away the favourite on betting markets. He is around even odds on all legal online betting sites: they’re offering next to no payout on Trump, so great is their fear of his reelection.

11. Trump’s Tweeting

A consistent complaint of Trump’s presidency is his tweeting. The president’s constant trolling, his unfiltered opinions, incomplete sentences and SHOUTING IN CAPS LOCK annoy even his allies.

But Trump’s tendency to tweet is tactical. More than any president before, it allows him to circumvent the media and address everyday people directly. And in the process, it reinforces his image as a freedom fighter standing against corrupt institutions.

Even the way Trump uses language works in his favour. Many mock his awkward grammar and sparse vocabulary as unintelligent. In fact, researchers have found that his linguistic style helps voters see him as more relatable and authentic than regular politicians.

12. America First

Trump has surprised many—and somewhat stolen the thunder of Democrats—with his anti-war stance.

It’s part of a broader “America First” push of the Trump administration. Trump is playing hardball on trade. He is infamously strong on borders. He has persuaded America’s allies to contribute more of a fair share to the NATO budget.

“Trump has stolen the thunder of Democrats with his anti-war stance.”

You only have to read the news to see that Trump isn’t presenting the best of America to the rest of the world. But he is presenting a proud America to the rest of the world, instead of apologising, or talking America down.

And like it or not, this resonates with voters—especially in America’s heartland.

13. Pro-Israel Policies

America has a long history of support for Israel. Like much of what he does, Trump has supercharged this stance—to the praise of many, and the fury of others.

Earlier this year, Trump invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. Just after Israel’s leader told Trump, “Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Trump announced that the USA will now recognise the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli soil. This is a move that decades of presidents have feared to make.

“America has a long history of support for Israel.”

While Clinton, Bush and Obama all tried to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Trump actually did it. The President has also made strong policy moves to help protect Israel from its neighbouring enemies.

Just this month, in response to rising anti-Semitism back home in the States, Trump signed an executive order protecting Jews from discrimination on college campuses.

All of this will likely bode well with Jewish, Christian and even mainstream American voters.

14. The Rust Belt

The Rust Belt describes the inland “fly over” regions of America that experienced industrial decline beginning in the 1980s—in particular the Great Lakes region and the Midwest.

Donald Trump promised this region a resurgence in manufacturing, and on this promise he was able to swing key Rust Belt states to help him secure the presidency.

“Recent polls show Trump performing better than expected in key Rust Belt states.”

During his first two years, Trump somewhat delivered on those promises. Jobs growth in manufacturing was solid and benefitted industrial regions.

This growth slowed over the past year, and it seemed as though Trump was losing his shine in Rust Belt territory. But recent polls show him performing better than expected against all of his Democratic contenders in the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

15. Draining the Swamp

On the campaign trail, “Drain the Swamp” was a favourite phrase of Donald Trump. It was his pledge to trim administrative costs in Washington, and unseat corrupt career politicians.

His early attempts at this were quite rightly seen as a “revolving door” at the White House. For a while, the news cycle struggled to keep up with all of the dismissals and resignations.

“On the campaign trail, ‘Drain the Swamp’ was a favourite phrase of Donald Trump.”

Regardless of how successful Trump’s swamp-draining efforts have been, the perception of Trump as a fearless outsider in D.C. has stuck. His refusal to pander to politicians, his unpolished speeches, and his tendency to shoot from the hip ensure that Washington elites despise him.

That’s just what Trump wants. And his fans with their MAGA hats and “deplorables” t-shirts love him all the more for it.

16. Building the Wall

Arguably Trump’s most controversial policy from the beginning has been his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, to prevent the flow of illegal immigration.

Media has criticised both Trump’s border wall policy, and the slow speed with which he is executing it.

“Trump has deported less than half the illegal immigrants that Obama did.”

Even so, Pew Research has found that 68% of Americans want increased security along America’s southern border, and 54% believe more should be done to deport illegal immigrants.

It also turns out that Trump isn’t quite the xenophobe that his critics make him out to be: despite his tough talk, he has deported less than half the illegal immigrants that Obama did.

17. Democratic Candidates

Perhaps the biggest boost for Trump’s re-election prospects are the Democratic candidates on offer for 2020.

Since the primaries began, over two dozen contenders entered the race. Now that the field has thinned out, the most popular are former Vice President Joe Biden on 26%, and both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tied at 16% apiece.

“The biggest boost for Trump’s re-election prospects are the Democratic candidates on offer.”

But with Biden’s gaffes, Bernie’s socialism, and Warren’s lack of likeability, the Democrats fear that none of these candidates will be able to defeat Donald Trump. The New York Times recently reported that Democrat doors are in a scramble, asking, Is There Anybody Else?

Eager to avoid a repeat of 2016, Hillary Clinton has resisted running for nomination. But in a recent poll, Democrats still favoured her over the current frontrunners—though she’s not even in the race.

18. Democratic Policies

One thing that Americans seem united on in this moment is that America is a divided nation.

From sporting heroes to movies to corporations, everything has been politicised. Both parties have vacated the centre, and hold increasingly polarised political views.

“America is a divided nation.”

Pew Research recently found that most of this shift has taken place on the progressive side of politics. The data confirms that while Republicans have inched increasingly to the right, Democrats have swung hard to the left.

Last month, even Barack Obama sent a warning to his own Democratic party. He said that average Americans aren’t interested in “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party.”

“The data confirms that Democrats have swung hard to the left.”

He went on. “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision we also have to be rooted in reality,” Obama said. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

It’s not entirely clear that the current crop of candidates are listening to their former President. In terms of policy, precious little separates them. Among other hot-button issues, they all back big government, tax hikes, open borders and taxpayer-funded abortion.

19. Trump’s Indestructibility

Satire site Babylon Bee recently ran a parody article entitled Trump: ‘If You Impeach Me Now, I Shall Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine’.

In humorous and hyperbolic terms, it captured something of the impressive indestructibility that Trump has developed through his three years in office.

“Where other politicians would apologise in the face of criticism, Trump doubles down.”

The President has a snarky and egotistical persona that provides limitless fodder to his critics. And yet that same characteristic is indispensable to his success.

Where other politicians would backtrack and apologise in the face of criticism, Trump doubles down. In an era of ubiquitous thin skin, Trump’s adaptation to hostility provokes amusement—and even admiration—in more people than might be willing to admit it.

And in a culture like America’s, that’s a quality that goes a long way.

20. It’s the Economy, Stupid

The average American isn’t on Twitter, has tuned out of the impeachment coverage, and is more interested in sports than the latest news panel complaining about the President.

But the average American feels they are better off under a Trump economy, and that matters. 69% of Americans are optimistic about their personal finances—a 16-year high. 71% say the economy is either “somewhat good” or “very good”—the highest since 2001.

“Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall.”

Trump’s tax cuts and aggressive deregulation aren’t just a boon for big business: it has translated into pay rises and better employment prospects for people with low-paying jobs, disabilities, criminal records, and those from racial minorities, too.

In a recent CNBC survey, over two-thirds of chief financial officers believe Trump will be re-elected. Moody’s Analytics has predicted a 332-206 Trump victory at the electoral college. Two economic modellers who went against popular wisdom to predict Trump’s win in 2016 are making the same forecast for next year.

“The average American feels they are better off under a Trump economy.”

Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Americans can look forward to five more years of Trump’s America.

Donald Trump’s surprising performance is undoubtedly behind this. But in a strange twist of irony, those who deserve the greatest thanks for Trump’s victory will be his haters.

Religion Causes all the Violence—Just Look at the Crusades

Religion causes all the violence—just look at the Crusades. Have you heard this before? It’s a claim that many critics of Christianity make. In summary, it goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, Popes declared ‘holy war’ and sent religious fanatics marching to the Middle East. They went there to colonise, and they slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t convert to Christianity along the way.

 

So many Muslims and Jews were killed in the streets of Jerusalem that blood flowed up to the crusaders’ knees. All of this violence was condoned by the church so that Christians could expand their empire and line their pockets with wealth.

Maybe you’re so appalled reading this that you’re ready to hit the back button. Who would bother trying to defend this kind of violent hypocrisy?

Without doubt, the Crusades were a bleak period of church history. Those who fought and led had clearly ignored the words of Jesus, who said:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.”—Luke 6:27-29

But it’s also true that the Crusades are victim to a lot of Fake News. If we’re going to talk about the Crusades, we need to rescue the facts from the fiction.

What Were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of campaigns fought by European Christians to recapture the ‘Holy Lands’—those places where all the Bible’s major events took place. Think modern-day Israel, Turkey and Egypt.

The First Crusade (1096-1099) was probably the most infamous. It was a successful but bloody recapture of Jerusalem. It also led to the founding of several ‘Crusader states’ in the Middle East.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was a failed attempt to retake a defeated Crusader state.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched to recapture Jerusalem after it had been overtaken once more by Muslim armies. The Crusaders failed again.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) began like the others, but along the way, the Crusaders got mixed up in the local politics of Constantinople. After a dispute, they sacked the city, plundering it and killing fellow Christians. The whole episode was an embarrassment and a great injustice.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was another failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem, this time via Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) involved almost no fighting. Through diplomacy, the Crusaders secured Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was by far the best equipped, but it ended in almost total annihilation for the Crusaders.

Other minor Crusades can be added to this list, but it’s these seven that have captured the popular imagination. With the exception of the first and the sixth, the Crusades were an anticlimax. The last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, bringing the era of crusading to an end.

The Context of the Crusades

We’re rightly outraged by the Crusades. But there is context to these events that many people have never heard but that change the way we view them.

First, what made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence: almost every medieval culture was extremely violent. By our standards, the Crusades were shocking, but by the standards of the time, they were unremarkable.

What made them unique was that the command to wage war was given by a Christian leader, the Pope. Not only is there no grounds for this in the teachings of Jesus: there’s also no precedent for it in Christian history—and fortunately, no repeat of it either.

“What made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence.”

Second, not all of the violence that took place was condoned by church leaders. Popes condemned the sack of Constantinople, along with much of the violence and pillaging that took place en route to the Middle East.

Third, it turns out to be a myth that Crusaders went for fame and fortune. Most who went bankrupted themselves for armour and travel costs, and they didn’t count on coming back alive. They went because—misguided as they were—they believed it was a noble venture.

“Popes condemned much of the violence.”

Fourth, it’s a myth is that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity. The purpose of the Crusades was to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Lands.

Fifth, the story about blood running up to the Crusaders’ knees was a myth. The siege of Jerusalem was ruthless, but it was exaggerated beyond possibility in the retelling.

“It’s a myth that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity.”

All of these corrections might seem minor. But there’s one more fact many omit that fundamentally alters our perspective on the Crusades, and it’s this: the Crusades were defensive wars.

In the 6th century, most of Europe and the Holy Lands were Christian. Pilgrims were free to traverse the empire and visit Jerusalem as they wished.

But the birth of Islam changed this. While Christianity had spread peacefully, Islam spread rapidly, and mostly through warfare. Within a few centuries, Islam conquered over two thirds of what were previously Christian lands.

The First Crusade was proclaimed by the Pope, not as an act of aggression, but in response to an existential threat. The Crusades slowed the advance of Muslim armies into Europe, and probably helped spare western civilisation.

Funny how this fact barely rates a mention in the popular retelling of the Crusades.

“The Crusades were defensive wars.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t condone the Crusades. Violence is not the way of Jesus. But if we view them not merely as religious conflicts and instead see them as the defence of a civilisation, they make a whole lot more sense. Context is everything.

Here’s a little more context for the claim that ‘religion causes all the violence’. The Crusades were bloody, resulting in the tragic death of around a million people. But communism—which sought to bury religion forever—was far more savage. It took the lives of over one hundred million.

Even if we correct for population growth, communism was still twenty times more ruinous for humanity than the Crusades—and in just a quarter of the time.

This isn’t a cheap-shot. My point isn’t that Christians are better because they’ve killed less people. I’m simply countering the claim that religion causes all the wars, or that more Christianity equals more violence.

“Violence is not the way of Jesus.”

On the whole, Christianity has been a powerfully civilising force through history.

Its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t merely say, “Love your enemies.” He practiced what he preached—all the way to the cross. He chose to endure violence rather than commit it.

Jesus has shaped us more than we know. He’s a big reason whyeven with all their contextChristians and critics alike still can’t stand the violence of the Crusades.

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“Don’t Judge”—What Jesus Really Meant

Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”.

These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”

“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.

But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.

So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus himself said all along, if we read his quote in context. It’s from Matthew 7:1-6, and it famously begins like this:

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge. 

See the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.

So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?

Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a

First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…

If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.

The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.

“If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour.”

If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.

When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.

Judge Others Humbly | v5b

So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, he’s not.

In fact, his whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what he says in verse 5b:

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.

If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.

The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.

Judge Critics Wisely | v6

This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:

6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but he hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.

If we follow him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.

A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.

“Jesus opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble.”

Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.

On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.

This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.

Good and Bad Judgment

It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.

Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.

“It’s easy to misquote Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.

When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

And then we can judge as we should, with the honesty, wisdom and humility that he supplies.

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Israel Folau and the Hogwash of His Heresy Hunters

It’s been three months since Israel Folau’s sacking, but the nation’s big news outlets are still finding stories to publish about the saga. Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald carried two hit pieces on the former rugby star, and they’ve unsettled many who had sided with Izzy.

In an article called Did Israel Folau actually misquote the Bible? Hell, yes, John Tait took issue with Folau’s use of the KJV Bible, accused him of misquoting Scripture, and claimed Folau is reading modern ideas of hell into the text.

“I’m convinced that Folau’s heresy hunters are full of hogwash.”

A few days later, Kate McClymont wrote, Why the PM and most Christians are ‘going to hell’. In it, she depicted the Folau church as an ‘isolated hate group’ that denies the Trinity, promotes end-times conspiracy theories, and is deeply judgmental towards outsiders.

It’s enough to rattle anyone who’s stuck by Folau thus far. Or is it?

This is the sixth article I’ve written about Israel Folau since April, and personally, I remain unmoved by these latest ‘revelations’. The SMH has not only missed the point of the entire issue, but they’ve further exposed their own deeply illiberal motives.

Here’s why I’m convinced that Folau’s heresy hunters are full of hogwash, and why deep down, they think little of freedom.

They think freedom is only for the orthodox

From the beginning, I have defended Israel Folau’s right to free speech. But along with the majority of Christians who’ve sided with him, I’ve distanced myself from how Izzy communicated his beliefs.

You’ll never see me post anything like what Izzy did on Instagram. It was clunky, brash, and came off as judgmental—even to me, a Christian.

But the fact remains that what he posted was a paraphrase of a Bible verse. The Bible, or parts of it, are considered holy writ by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and a thousand cults besides. Moreover, this book has had more influence on the West than any other piece of literature.

“The end of anyone’s precious freedoms is bad news for everyone.”

If someone can’t paraphrase the Bible without losing their job in 2019, it’s not just sports stars who are in trouble—it’s our civilisation. This is why I continue to stand with Izzy, despite how wacky some of his beliefs might be.

The SMH have sought to disperse Folau’s supporters by appealing to Christian doctrine. Does anyone else find it odd that a secular paper, so often hostile to Christians, is suddenly to be trusted as the standard-bearer for Christian orthodoxy? I certainly do.

I also find it odd that they assume Christians only want freedom for like-minded Christians. Most of the vocal Christians that I’m aware of in this debate all seem to agree that the end of anyone’s precious freedoms is bad news for everyone.

“The Bible has had more influence on the West than any other piece of literature.”

The minute our society defends freedom only for ‘orthodox’ beliefs—whether sacred or secular—is the minute we abandon freedom altogether.

Maybe Folau’s church does deny the Trinity. Maybe they’re guilty of every accusation the SMH could throw at them. Still, I would repeat those words attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

There’s little point to freedom otherwise.

They gave Folau no freedom to speak

Both articles included quotes from Israel’s Instagram account—and Kate McClymont especially went out of her way to find the juicy ones. But neither of the journalists actually spoke to Israel.

Martyn Iles is managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, the group that hosted Israel Folau’s fundraiser and are in regular contact with the Folau family. He said this in response to the McClymont piece:

“[Folau’s] alleged beliefs are largely unsourced and unreferenced. It is written by hostile journalists who have been listening to a woman with an axe to grind against Izzy’s family (who won’t identify herself and has been trying to make trouble for a while now).

“Izzy’s people asked to include a comment in the article, even if only one sentence, and were refused.”

And if you’re wondering what Folau and his family thinks about the allegations, read on:

“We are extremely disappointed the Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont did not seek comment from Israel, his family or his church, for her story focussed on Israel’s church and its doctrine.

The story carried a number of factual inaccuracies which could have been avoided had Ms McClymont simply followed standard journalism practice and approached us for comment.

The story appears to be based predominantly on quotes from a single anonymous source who has been acting in concert with Rugby Australia. Any suggestion that Israel would stand in judgment of another person is incorrect.”

If McClymont is so interested in what Israel Folau believes, why didn’t she just ask him?

They disregard the fount of our freedoms

In the rush to uphold the new rainbow orthodoxy, many journalists are using their free speech to shut down Israel’s—and they don’t seem to realise the irony.

It isn’t just people who quote the Bible who should have the right to speak freely. It’s also people who are hostile to it, including Izzy’s opponents. After all, freedom of belief includes freedom from belief.

But the desire to put an end to these freedoms is born of a dangerous disregard.

“If they successfully shut down Folau’s freedoms, they ultimately undermine their own.”

English philosopher G. K. Chesterton wisely said that if we come across a fence that our society has constructed, we’d do well to inquire of its purpose and origin before we rush to dismantle it.

What Folau’s critics are yet to realise is that if they successfully shut down his freedoms, they ultimately undermine their own.

Freedoms like speech, conscience, religion and association were hard won. They’re easy to lose, hard to regain, and still considerably rare on the global stage.

“Journalists who think little of Christianity are a dime a dozen.”

Most important of all, these freedoms were deeply informed by the Christian faith that Israel Folau subscribes to.

Journalists who think little of Christianity are a dime a dozen. But as they enjoy the freedoms it inspired, they forget just how indebted they are to this civilisation-shaping faith.

And they’d do well to think on this before they continue their crusade against it.