Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Using your eyes, ears, and brain as they were meant to be used can yield a lot of useful information. One of the things you learn fairly early into adulthood, assuming you've been paying attention (i.e. using your eyes, ears, and brain as they were intended to be used), is that most people prefer to belong than to be right. Given the choice, they will dispense with the obvious truth in favor of the party line, as long as it raises their social cache. It's no surprise, for example, that we still have people refusing to wear masks or get vaccinated, not because they don't trust science -- these very same people, after all, will go to the hospital if they start to get really sick, making quick use of the best science available at the time (hypocrisy always rears its ugly head in crises) -- but because if they do wear a mask or get vaccinated, they'll have betrayed the party line, broken the code, and risked being ostracized by their tribe. God forbid.
In his book Desiring the Kingdom, James K. Smith talks about the various liturgies that compete for our attention. Liturgies, as Smith defines it, “are rituals of ultimate concern: rituals that are formative for identity, that inculcate particular visions of the good life, and do so in a way that means to trump other ritual formations.” Smith makes the argument that human beings are not primarily thinking agents but feeling ones. Yes, we think, but more often than not we are governed by what we love. We form habits and desires in communities that shape us and even, at times, steer us away from what we know be true, and “if we are inattentive to the formative role of practices…we will fail to recognize that they are forming in us habits and desires…such that we become certain kinds of people without even being aware of it.”
In other words, humans are sheep. We do what we're commanded, believe what we're told, and eat what we're fed, usually without asking many (if any) questions. Yes, there are those who defy the rules, but it's usually because they are playing by another set of rules that tell them to disobey this set of rules. Ever seen a phalynx of non-conformist bikers in a gang passing you on the highway all wearing the same uniform? All these rough & tough "machismos" behaving like a bunch of rule-following schoolboys. One way or the other, at our deepest level, we are homo adorans, as Alexander Schmemann's book, For The Life of the World, so eloquently argues. We are fundamentally worshipping beings, and we will join a group of other fellow worshippers, even if doing so alters the very nature of our commitment to common sense and rational thought.
The quickly morphing Far Right in this country has done just that with almost half the American electorate, which has joined the Cause (the Wave, the Storm, the Movement) with breathtaking alacrity. And as I drove through the eastern parts of California, Oregon, and Washington on my way home last week from Pasadena to Spokane, I saw why. I like to tune into local radio stations as I'm going through small towns to get a sense of what folks there listen to. And let me tell you, woke urban dilettantes, they ain't listening to American Top 40 or NPR. No sirrie, they are listening to "Destined for Victory" with Pastor Paul Sheppard or "A Chosen Generation" with Derald Skinner, both of which are on CSN. CSN? you ask. Yeah, you know, the Christian Satellite Network. Never heard of it? Well clearly you've been watching too many reruns of Breaking Bad or G.O.T.
As CSN's website puts it, "CSN International was a dream that became a reality wrought from the dedicated (sic) of one man with a God-given vision to serve fellow Christians and reach those still in darkness." It goes on to say that
In this era of mass media, the danger of being drawn in by earthly desires is equally strong. As in Paul’s day we too are living in the world, Satan’s domain. It is a challenge not to allow ourselves to be influenced by the secular teachings around us. What was once a sanctuary from the world–our homes–have come under attack as the enemy uses technology to infiltrate them with destructive ideas, images and words.
Note that the world is called "Satan's domain," a domain being "an area or territory owned or controlled by a ruler or government" (as defined by Webster's Dictionary). So the world, according to this view of things, is an evil place, one to be avoided, a place not to be trusted, a domain to oppose at every turn. Is it any wonder, then, as CSN's legions of listeners tune in each and every day listening to preacher after preacher fill the airwaves with hellfire and brimstone messages about "us and them," spiritual calls to arms to engage in holy warfare, and enticements to become "soldiers for Christ" and to join the Crusade, that we have anti-vaxxers and anti-mask wearing mandates? All the while, the Ted Cruzes and Rand Pauls of the world, not to mention the citizen militias slowly taking over the rural mountains, prairies, and countrysides of these United States, continue to peddle in the low-hanging fruit of cheap conspiracies (Global warming is a hoax, COVID is a liberal attempt at discrediting the Trump presidency, and Joe Biden didn't win the election), tawdry political totems (Q-Anon, anyone?), and counterfeit patriotism ("Make America Great Again" masking the real dream to "Make America White Again").
The last time I checked Scripture, God's domain encompassed the entire universe, from the star cluster Icarus to Indianapolis, Alpha Centauri to Zephyrhills, Florida (yes, even Florida with its ridiculous governor). "This world with devils filled" it may be, as Martin Luther's great hymn declares, but it is, finally, the domain of God, where his eternal kingdom is breaking in even now, and where some of the best evidence of his grace and love can be found in the most unlikely places -- yes, even in that scary secular world. After all, Jesus didn't go to the temples and religious schools of his day to find his twelve apostles. He found and called them and the rest of his followers from the prosaic world of the everyday, from the cities, towns, and villages of the world he was called to save, and no amount of tomfoolery from the Far Right or Far Left stopped him then, nor will it stop him now in his aim to bring all nations together under his lordship.
And won't many of us who are crying "Lord! Lord!" now be surprised when that time comes at the end of days when we are culled from the herd by the very Lord we've paid lip service to. And the culling won't happen because we were particularly evil. No, the culling will happen because we refused to submit to the truth when it came to us in the unadorned clothes of the uncommon love of Jesus Christ, which counsels each of us to love the truth, love our enemies, and love the least among us, especially when all three such loves are found in the same person/stranger/immigrant/neighbor. Love our neighbor? It's just common sense.