Some Cultures Need to be Ruined

Daniel Everett is a celebrated linguist who started off as a missionary, but eventually abandoned his Christian faith. His mini-bio in Mastery makes this drift sound noble, because a big reason for his growing doubts was the realization that the Gospel would ruin these cultures in which he had been immersed. In particular, the Pirahã’s concept of truth and how it affected their language.

But the truth is that some cultures should be ruined. They are not all equal. While it is possible to “plunder the Egyptians” as Augustine put it, we should not look with longing and awe at the pots of meat back in Egypt, wishing to gorge ourselves.

That same Pirahã tribe forced alcohol down and infant’s throat to kill it, an infant that Everett and his wife were attempting to nurse back to health. That was their truth.

Some cultures need to be ruined (And if we’re honest, we’ll just look at our own culture and agree with this.) They need to die, so they can be resurrected. The Gospel does not ruin cultures to leave a smoking crater in its wake. It ruins so it can bring about a new birth. So it can create something new.

That doesn’t mean everything should be the same, one big morass of indistinguishable humanity. The glories of the Chinese church, for example, will look very different from the glories of the Western church. Those pilgrims will travel the same path, but they might go a different speed, notice different things along the way, manifest strengths that we had never thought about, sing songs that leave a different taste on the tongue. Their language and culture will be part of the rich tapestry of nations that God brings streaming to the Celestial City.

Welcome to Trump 2020 and Beyond

After it was clear that Donald Trump won the election, I wrote some takeaways and predictions. Among them:

However, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if, at the end of 4 years, he has higher approval ratings than Obama ever did.

And look at the latest approval numbers from Rasmussen. 50% approve.


Obama, by comparison, had a 43% approval rating at the same time during his presidency.

It’s doubtful the Democratic party will be able to put up a strong candidate to unify behind.  By the time the primaries comes around, the party will put up some sacrificial lambs, much like the Republicans did with Clinton in 1996. And then hope they can solve their own identity crisis before 2024.

Welcome to Trump 2020 and beyond. And yet again, people will be shocked and surprised, because no one has really learned their lesson. Something else I wrote in that same piece:

Echo chambers around the country cracked open, and amongst the hissing caused by the release of stale air, comes crying and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Instead of getting some much needed sunlight, however, they will soon retreat back into those same chambers, covering the cracks with duct tape.

The Left will not learn their lesson, and will continue to belittle, shame, and insult those who disagree with them. And try to get them fired or ruin their livelihoods.

So far this seems pretty on the nose. Many have already retreated back into their insular social media circles to continue to pat themselves on the back for having the right opinions. For bodysnatcher-screeching at and scolding all the right people.

And then they will again be surprised about how many people voted for Trump. It’s like the same script is playing out again.

Stoicism and Ingratitude – Legend All the Way Down

The popularity of Stoicism is on the rise, and it’s not hard to see why. It offers some sense of direction and purpose to a generation that is lost and has been taught from birth that everything is meaningless. It speaks some hard truths people are desperate to hear. It calls for responsibility and discipline and is above all a very practical philosophy, with maxims to practice and do.

It also has the advantage of having a large body of literature that is accessible and readable, and the Stoics should probably we required reading for all people of the West.

A pagan could do much worse than Stoicism. Though ultimately, it can lead to despair. Just read up on the lives of some popular Stoics and how their lives ended. Or how they wrote about suicide.

One of the other dangers, I think, is a cultivation of ingratitude. This isn’t unique to Stoicism, but it can fester in unique ways.

Take this quote from Marcus Aurelius:

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Or making love – something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid. Perceptions like that – latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time – all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust – to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

If this is the lens you start to see everything through, your life will start to seem rather drab and dreary. True, it will help inoculate you if you ever lose access to the finer things…but to what end? What if the vaccine is worse than the disease?

Better the Christian way. In everything, give thanks. Everything is sanctified through thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). All things are a gift from God. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and either way, blessed be the name of the Lord. It was never ours to begin with. We were just stewards for a time.

Enjoy them, but let them point you to the One who is eternal and never-changing.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” – Psalm 34:8

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  – Isaiah 25:6

May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
     A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” – Proverbs 5:18-19

This is how the Bible talks about these things. Revel in the legend that encrusts them, because the creator of the legend was God himself, and it turns out that when you get through the crust, it’s still legend all the way down.

Stoicism wants us to see things as they really are. But that’s only possible through unrelenting gratitude and the eyes of faith.

Even a Whisper – Malleability of the Mind

The mind is a malleable thing, sensitive to outside influences. Waitzkin, in The Art of Learning, talks about how a Soviet player unknowingly interrupted his natural rhythm of thought by tapping a chess piece against the table. The sound was barely audible, yet it caused him to make careless errors at critical moments.

Only when the tactic was explained to him was he able to notice it and counteract it.

Our minds are not immune to outside influences, especially if they are subtle and we aren’t paying much attention. Just what are we putting into our mind? Are we being intentional about it? Are we paying careful attention to what we read and watch and allow to enter our ears? Even a whisper has the potential to alter our behavior.

To be careless in this seems dangerous. In this, we should train to be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).