Silencing the Accuser of our Times

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything is terrible. It’s all just the worst . . . the absolute worst.

This is what most people in the Western world walk around thinking most of the time. It’s not true, of course. Things are generally pretty great. The fact is, wherever it has spread, Western/Christian Civilization has created levels of comfort and abundance that are nothing short of mind boggling.

The typical American, even one of modest means, lives a life that medieval kings would envy. For most of human history, people spent most of their days trying to acquire enough food to keep their family alive. Winter was a dreaded existential threat.

Today Food is so abundant and affordable that it’s no longer about survival or even sustenance. As hundreds of television series testify, food is now about art and pleasure and style, and frequently, virtue signaling. It’s a luxury no generation on earth has even been afforded.

Instead of spending our days scrounging and scraping for food and fighting off invaders, we indulge in pursuits available only to the ultra-rich just a couple of generations ago. We’re free and able to dabble in art, style, design, hobbies, and travel–both in reality and in our television viewing and internet browsing.

The struggle for shelter has become a quest to express your individual design style and aesthetic in the most authentic way possible. And our major unconquered diseases are the ones associated with old age.

To be sure, infant and child mortality are still heartbreaking realities is some corners of the world, but almost exclusively in those places where the gospel and Christian Civilization has not yet worked its tranformative wonders.

No matter what measure you use:

  • Number of people living in absolute poverty
  • Child labor
  • Percentage of income spent on food
  • Violent crime
  • Literacy rates
  • Hours of leisure time
  • Deaths in war

. . . the statistics show that things have never been better.

By the way, if you want to understand how and why Christianity made all this progress possible, I highly recommend this brand-new book by the UK historian Tom Holland (no relation!). It’s beautifully written and absolutely fascinating:

So given all of this good news, why are we all walking around with clenched teeth and knots in our stomachs? As if there have never been grimmer, darker times than this particular moment? I addressed this question, in part, in a recent white paper I presented at a theological round table. Here’s an excerpt:

Three factors work together to cause us to over-estimate the present power and success of what Paul called “world forces of darkness.”

One is the 24-hour instant news cycle—enabled by the Internet and fed by ubiquitous video cameras in more than 3.5 billion smart phones worldwide. If something horrific happens anywhere in world, we’re all watching video of it and shaking our heads in sadness within the hour (and sharing it with all our friends on social media). 

The second is our woeful ignorance of history. We have little understanding of how dark things in the world really were prior to the dawning of the light of the Gospel. Nor do we have the information that allows us to put in perspective the transformation the world, and the kingdoms of this world, have undergone as the carriers of that light have spread across the planet.

(By the way, if you want a little historical perspective on what truly crazy times previous generations lived through, check out a series of posts I wrote called, “We’ve Seen This Before.” Here, here, and here.)

The third is an America-centric myopia. Believers here in the U.S. often come perilously close to conflating the Kingdom of Jesus and our own nation-state—as if they were one and the same thing. We also observe what has happened in what has come to be called “post-Christian” Europe, see many of the same patterns being replicated here, and leap to the conclusion that the lights are going out all over the world. 

The fact is, the Gospel is advancing in extraordinary ways all over the planet.

There is another reason we all seem to believe that things are terrible when they’ve never been better.

With our phones constantly in our hands and computers on most workplace desks, we’re spending massive amounts of time online. And the online marketing world has learned to monitize outrage, fear, resentment, and horror.

Clicks equal money. And nothing generates clicks like news designed to enrage, alarm, or frighten you. Attention is the scarcest commodity in our economy, and few things attract attention like tragic news or someone saying something infuriating.

As a result, massive digital fortunes are being made by inundating you with online ads filled with headlines crafted and meticulously tested to trigger fear or anger in you.

Likewise, “likes” and “shares” are the currency of the social media world. Thus our social media feeds overflow with links to stories designed to have the same effect. We share and retweet the outrage of the moment in hopes of feeling significant or striking at perceived enemies. (This’ll show ’em!)

Esseentially, we’ve all voluntarily signed up to be bombarded throughout our waking ours with news, posts, and ads intentionally crafted to stir up negative emotions. Is it any wonder an entire generation of people are convinced that everything is terrible?

Many aspects of this are not new. The news business has always known that bad news sells papers much more effectively than good news.

You mean your waist doesn’t look like this? How can you live with yourself.

And from the very beginning, the advertising industry has understood that the most effective ads play upon our deepest fears and insecurities.

Ads are designed to make us feel like we’re not enough, or don’t have enough, or that others who have more are more significant or more happy. And the science of psychology has made advertisers more effective at these things than ever before.

One of Satan’s primary tactics is to accuse. He is, at the vile, miserable core of his being, an Accuser. It seems it’s not just people he accuses. He’s smearing our times. And in the process robbing us of much peace, contentment, and hope.

It can’t be healthy to walk around angry and fearful all the time. Silence the accuser.

(Published 9 years ago yesterday) 41 Years Ago Today

I was nine and had a special parental dispensation to stay up as late as I could manage to keep my eyes open.

Like countless other little boys in the late sixties, I was captivated by space travel and astronauts. And on this night, men were walking on the surface of the moon.

The Eagle had landed at 3:17 that afternoon, Wilburton, Oklahoma Daylight Time. Around 7:15 Neil Armstrong took a small step and created a human footprint on another world. Walking outside a little later, I found the half-moon low in the pink western sky, chasing the recently set sun. I recall thinking, “Men are up there. Brave men. Men from my country.” I also remember wondering what amazing places we would be exploring when I was my father’s age.

Today I am ten years older than my father was on that wondrous night. Of course, we haven’t had many “gee whiz” moments since that era. But I must admit that some of the pictures those little rovers on Mars sent back were pretty stunning. And more than a few of the images of Saturn and her moons delivered home by the Cassini-Huygens were simply jaw-dropping:

Take a look at the above image in full glorious resolution (here) and you will see a pale blue dot inside the next-to-outermost ring on Saturn’s left side. That dot is home. It is Earth, as seen from almost a billion miles away.

It has become increasingly clear that it is not government-funded space exploration that is going to be providing our gee whiz moments in the future. As Bill Whittle points out in this wonderful video piece for Pajamas TV (free registration required), if we’re ever going to see a real version of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, it most likely is going to built by private enterprise.

Last year, the National Geographic Society marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing by releasing freshly restored video imagery of the mission. Enjoy. And feel the wonder again.

How We Miss Paul Harvey

Paul Harvey passed away ten years ago today. In tribute, here are a few words we wrote at the end of the Introduction to “Paul Harvey’s America.” They still ring true for me:

“There are some who suspect that something in America died with Paul Harvey—or is dying as time relentlessly claims the remnants of what has come to be known as “the greatest generation.” Something precious and noble and good. 

“And though Paul Harvey is gone and his generation is now passing away, perhaps the flame of that American spirit can be rekindled in remembering who they were and what they meant to us. Paul Harvey, ever the optimist, would have believed so. 

“On the pages that follow, then, let’s gather ‘round the fire of this amazing life and warm ourselves in its good-humored glow. Perhaps we’ll take away a few sparks and embers that can light our way in the gathering gloom of the twenty-first century.”—Paul Harvey’s America

What “They” Know About You

You’d be astonished . . . okay, make that creeped out . . . no, horrified, if you knew how much information is collected about you each day through your digital activities.

If you dare to find out, start with this informative article in Quartz Magazine.

An excerpt:

The task of these profile-mapping algorithms is to guess things that you are not likely to willingly reveal. These include your weaknesses, psychometric profile, IQ level, family situation, addictions, illnesses, whether we are about to separate or enter in a new relationship, your little obsessions (like gaming), and your serious commitments (like business projects).

My Great Twitter Purge of 2019

Such a sweet little logo.

I “unfollowed” about 100 good, smart people this weekend. Allow me to explain.

I joined Twitter back in August of 2008, when the relatively new platform was just beginning to gain traction. That was early enough that I was able to register my own name (@DavidHolland) as my Twitter handle—as opposed to something like @DashingDallasDave77 or such.

Eighteen months earlier I’d also registered my name on another emerging social media platform—one that was big with all the college kids. Facebook.

I’d learned in the Internet boom years that when a new platform rolled out, it’s a good idea to stake a claim to your own name on the platform before someone else grabbed it, just in case the platform took off. I’d discovered that there are a lot of David Hollands in the world (especially in England.)

For example, when Google rolled Gmail out in beta form in 2004, I missed being able to register DavidHolland at gmail dot com as my email address, and ended up having to throw my middle initial in there. Ever since I’ve been getting emails intended for some guy in England and I have no doubt that the David Holland with no middle initial has gotten hundreds, probably thousands, of emails intended for me.

Anyway, I noted last August that I was passing my ten year anniversary on Twitter.

In that decade, Twitter (and Facebook) essentially morphed from a way for friends and family to share where they were and what they were doing into a micro-blogging site for political pundits.

. . . and as a result, Twitter (and Facebook) turned us all into political pundits. We woke up one day and we were all George Will.

Social media, delivered to a device that is constantly in our hands, is addictive. Twitter was my addiction. I have friends and loved ones whose drug of choice is Facebook or Instagram. Neuro-scientists are just now getting a feel for what social media is doing to our brain wiring.

Photo: rawpixel on Unsplash

Spoiler alert: It’s not good.

What we know less about is how, in the Obama-Trump era, social media also began to fundamentally warp the fabric of our society. I should also note that Instragram is just as potentially toxic but in different ways for different reasons.

Some platforms fuel rage. Others fuel envy and insecurity. Neither is healthy. But to repeat, Twitter is my drug of choice. And, the only person in the world I can control is me.

And thus I made a decision.

This weekend I ruthlessly culled my Twitter follows with a clear set of criteria in mind. In each case I asked:

“Does this account consistently bring me either joy, laughter, encouragement, wisdom, or useful knowledge of things I enjoy knowing more about?”

Or conversely, “Does this account typically bring me information that makes me want to punch somebody, or at least give them a good and proper tongue lashing to straighten out their thinking?”

If the answer was “yes” to the latter, rather than the former, I unfollowed (or in some cases muted). The “unfollow” did not mean that I didn’t like or admire the person behind the account. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t rooting for them. It didn’t mean I wouldn’t go read that person at length on a blog or in a publication.

It simply meant that I’m now curating my Twitter feed in such a way that I’ll walk away from each session on the platform a happier, wiser, smarter, more hopeful person.

As opposed to a rage-filled, hyper-tensive, pessimist convinced the world is going to hell because it’s filled with horrible people.

What brings me joy is faith, history, science, archeology, maps, space exploration, books, military stuff, sports, and humor. And now my Twitter follows reflect these interests.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not sticking my head in the sand.

It’s not that I don’t believe in staying informed about our nation and world. I was a highly well-informed individual before social media existed and I will continue to be one long after I’ve purged the culture wars out of my timeline.

What I won’t be is a constantly outraged, worried individual.

As I think about it, social media has probably lowered the depth and breadth of my knowledge about what’s going on in the world. On Twitter and Facebook, everything you read is about the one or two stories that constitute the main ingredient in the outrage du jour.

Each new day brings hundreds of people saying and sharing basically the same thing about one or two things. This crowds out other important, but non-sensational events.

So, this morning over coffee, as is my habit, I reached for my phone to pop open Twitter. I did so knowing that what I would find there would most likely bring me joy.

It did. And I thought: Why didn’t I do this long ago.

Why the Long Arc of the Moral Universe Still Bends Toward Justice

Today the nation marks the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. For some federal and state workers, this means a day off. For many on social media, it means a cue to virtue signal by trotting out a well-known MLK quote. A couple of snippets from the well known, “I Have a Dream” speech will get the most use.

Few Americans outside of academic circles have ever read King at length. We know him almost exclusively in pithy quotes and grainy, black-and-white sound bites. But he was a brilliant, eloquent, persuasive writer. His best-known speeches are really just extensions of his genius as a writer.

His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a stunning tour-de-force apologetic for the Civil Rights Movement in the tradition of the great Christian apologists of the second and third centuries. In it, he builds a case, addresses common objections, and appeals to the better angels of the readers’ natures. A taste:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. 

Poetry. In “Birmingham Jail” King reminds me of the early church father Tertullian of North Africa, who wrote repeatedly to the the Roman authorities pleading the case of the oppressed, persecuted, and scapegoated Christians of the Roman Empire. Tertullian famously warned the Romans:

The more we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

One of Rev. King’s most oft-quoted phrases is some variation of: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (It is sometimes quoted as “the arc of History . . .”) King used this phrase in a 1958 article called “Out of the Long Night” published in The Gospel Messenger—the official publication of The Church of the Brethren.

This quote did not originate with King. In fact, he put the phrase in quote marks in the article to indicate that he was citing a saying that he assumed was already known to the reader. King later repeated the phrase is several speeches. The originator of the saying was a Unitarian abolitionist minister named Theodore Parker, born in 1810.

Rev. Theodore Parker (1810-1860)

What MLK quoted was a boiled down version of what Rev. Parker originally wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.


In both forms, the message rings as true. Doubly so if you’re a student of History. But why? Why has the story of the last 2000 years been one of gradual but consistent upward progress, particular in the West?

The answer, of course, is Christianity . . . or more accurately . . . the presence of the kingdom of God on earth, expanding, unfolding, leavening the cultures of the world like yeast.

The abolition of slavery; the elevation of the status of women in society; respect for private property and the rights of the individual; and the gradual dissolution of class distinctions are all the emerging expressions of the Christ’s emerging kingdom.

It’s tempting and far too easy to focus on what remains to be done. But the kingdom cotinues to expand. The arc still bends toward justice.