Thursday, August 25, 2016

Seattle Times' Nina Shapiro report on RICO suit, dismissal without prejudice of suit against former MH pastors Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner
Short version, suit dismissed without prejudice.  Sanctions were not granted as the judge concluded the suit was not frivolous

Of some note from the dismissal, a few excerpts:
 The court finds that Plaintiffs have not acted in bad faith, recklessly, or with an improper purpose. Accordingly, in light of the court’s duty to carefully exercise its inherent powers, the court declines to impose the drastic sanctions Defendants seek.
Mr. Turner’s allegations about Plaintiffs’ behavior in filing this case, apparently adopted by Mr. Driscoll (see Driscoll Mot. at 3), are conclusory at best and do not demonstrate that Plaintiffs have acted improperly. Merely filing a complaint alleging RICO violations for Defendants’ part in the alleged misuse of Plaintiffs’ donations to MHC does not constitute bad-faith conduct, even if the allegations case Defendants in an unfavorable light. (See Turner Mot. at 9-10.) In addition, Plaintiffs’ complaint is not frivolous on its face (see generally Compl.), and there is no evidence other than Defendants’ conclusory allegations that Plaintiffs filed this suit merely to harass and disparage Defendants  ...

and ...

Simply put, Plaintiffs have done nothing to "defile the very temple of justice." Haeger, 813 F.3d at 1244 (internal quotations and alterations omitted) (quoting Chambers, 501 U.S. at 46). Plaintiffs have not committed any acts that indicate bad faith, recklessness, or an improper purpose. They have not misled the court or Defendants; destroyed evidence; disobeyed a court order; willfully abused the judicial process

Dismissal without prejudice means that, in principle, another case could be filed.  Whether one will be in the future remains to be seen. 

Sutton Turner's statement today about how back in 2012 he wanted to meet with former Mars Hill people from the 2007 crisis and was denied permission reminds me of something, one of those pious bromides one Mark Driscoll tweeted earlier this year.
Forgiveness takes one person. Reconciliation takes two.
2:52 PM - 25 Feb 2016
Posted by Sutton Turner on August 25, 2016
Many staff heard me say during my tenure, “It is a miracle this church still exists.” Jesus was saving people and growing the church in spite of issues with organizational structure, dissension within the staff, and dissension with former members. A 2007 bylaw change had split the church. The issues that led to that bylaw change and its implementation heavily impacted the culture of Mars Hill. In 2012, I asked permission to meet with those directly affected by the events of 2007; permission was denied. Those events in 2007 had unfortunately begun the cycle of distrust and a lack of transparency. One fed upon the other to build an unhealthy culture. [emphasis added]

So by Sutton Turner's account, he asked permission of someone to meet with those directly effected by the 2007 re-org and its fallout and permission was denied.  Whoever denied Sutton Turner that permission must have regarded reconciliation as a precious thing.  Then again ...
Forgiveness is a gift to your offender...and to yourself, freeing you up to move on with your life.
5:25 PM - 16 Jun 2013

The thought some people may have now is that it's time to "move on".  Well, there's a problem that could be in that approach:

For those who don't already know, in the spring of 2012 Paul Petry put up a website called Joyful Exiles that includes, among other things, an audio clip of something Mark Driscoll said about casting a vision and moving on in later 2007.  It's worth quoting extensively to provide some context for Sutton Turner's statements from earlier today about how he asked permission but permission was denied.  Who would deny Turner permission from the Mars Hill leadership to meet with former people from Mars Hill?  Well, whether or not we can answer that question beyond a shadow of a doubt we can get some sense of what one leader of Mars Hill from the 2007 days had to say to church leaders about moving forward in vision:
Here’s what I’ve learned. You cast vision for your mission; and if people don’t sign up, you move on.  You move on. There are people that are gonna to die in the wilderness and there are people that are gonna take the hill. That’s just how it is. [emphasis added]

Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff-necked, stubborn, obstinate people. (pause) I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus (laughs) and by God’s grace it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done.

You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options; but the bus ain’t gonna stop.  And I’m just a—I’m just a guy who is like, “Look, we love ya, but, this is what we’re doing.” There’s a few kinda people. There’s people who get in the way of the bus.

They gotta get run over. There are people who wanna take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off (laughs). ‘Cuz they wanna go somewhere else. There are people who will be on the bus, leaders and helpers and servants, they’re awesome.

There’s also just, sometimes, nice people who sit on the bus and shut up. (pause) They’re not helping or hurting. Just let ‘em ride along. Y’know what I’m saying?  But, don’t look at the nice people that are just gonna sit on the bus and shut their mouth and think, “I need you to lead the mission.”
There’s also just, sometimes, nice people who sit on the bus and shut up. (pause) They’re not helping or hurting. Just let ‘em ride along. Y’know what I’m saying?  But, don’t look at the nice people that are just gonna sit on the bus and shut their mouth and think, “I need you to lead the mission.”
They’re never going to.  At the very most you’ll give ’em a job to do and they’ll serve somewhere and help out in a minimal way. If someone can sit in a place that hasn’t been on mission for a really long time they are by definition not a leader.  And, so they’re never going to lead.

You need to gather a whole new court. I’ll tell you guys what, too. You don’t do this just for your church planting or replanting. I’m doin’ it right now. I’m doin’ it right now. We just took certain guys and rearranged the seats on the bus.

Yesterday we fired two elders for the first time in the history of Mars Hill last night. They’re off the bus, under the bus. They were off mission so now they’re unemployed. I mean (pause) you—this will be the defining issue as to whether or not you succeed or fail. I've read enough of the New Testament to know that occasionally Paul put someone in the woodchipper, y'know?

Because they shall know how Christ-like ye are when you put them in that proverbial woodchipper and ... move on.

And now here we are in 2016 and Mars Hill is inactive but not yet completely dissolved as a company.  Expiration date is listed as the end of this calendar year, basically.

If just moving on was such a great-looking strategy to Mars Hill leadership in 2007 how is that a RICO suit came about in 2016?  Is that really a compelling case that "move on" works in a case like Mars Hill? 

today's Turner post discussed tension in the MH board in "A Governing Board Under Pressure", how when A29 removed MH other board members knew but didn't tell Turner or Bruskas; looking back at his April 24, 2015 post discussing a rift in the board over Result Source and Mars Hill Global


A Successful, Unhealthy Church

Many staff heard me say during my tenure, “It is a miracle this church still exists.” Jesus was saving people and growing the church in spite of issues with organizational structure, dissension within the staff, and dissension with former members. A 2007 bylaw change had split the church. The issues that led to that bylaw change and its implementation heavily impacted the culture of Mars Hill. In 2012, I asked permission to meet with those directly affected by the events of 2007; permission was denied. Those events in 2007 had unfortunately begun the cycle of distrust and a lack of transparency. One fed upon the other to build an unhealthy culture.

The Result Source contract decision was made within the context of this successful, but unhealthy church. As I have stated before, I was not a part of that decision making process back in the summer of 2011. Because of the Result Source mistake along with other cultural issues, Pastor Dave Bruskas and I began to campaign for greater outside accountability. I wrote two long blogs about the resulting new board (Result Source 2 & Result Source 3). This new Board decided to never use Result Source again and rightfully so.

A radically fast-growing church like Mars Hill would probably not die in a quiet whimper. By 2012, the Board began to plan for the worst-case scenario: how our Mars Hill churches would become independent churches and who would preach during the transition period.  We planned for a potentially fatal “what if” hoping for God’s continuing favor but realistically preparing for the day when the unhealthy culture would overcome us (Gal. 6:7-10).

I left before all of the final details of the plan were completed and executed (“When to Quit”), but I am grateful to those pastors who led and participated in the process. I am also grateful to the staff that worked diligently to give the resulting independent churches the best start possible. I know they all served well during a difficult tragedy and did their best, and I applaud their effort and the resulting work that continues to this day.

A Governing Board Under Pressure

In spite of our best effort to formulate an external board, the board began to crack under the pressure in late 2013 and 2014. Board members faced great scrutiny that affected their full-time ministries and businesses. Many board members probably questioned what they had signed up for in their volunteer role. Communication within the Board became triangulated as informal communication one-on-one and in small groups increased. One board member communicated “to the Board” his ideas for changing the culture in spring 2014. Pastor Dave Bruskas and I (who were members of the board) were not a part of that communication and were not able to discuss and possibly agree with his ideas. When Mars Hill Church was removed from the Acts 29 Network in August 2014, it came as a complete surprise to Pastor Dave and me. However, other board members knew it was coming and never told us [emphasis added] ...


It's worth noting (again) that the start of Jamie Munson's tenure as president of Mars Hill featured the terminations and trials of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry over their objections to the 2007 by-laws, and that notable decision made under Munson's watch on his way out was greenlighting Result Source finding a #1 spot for Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage. It's also worth noting that by Turner's account and of those who have recommended him, Mars Hill was on the brink of something like a fiscal cliff when Turner joined the team.  To the extent that Mark Driscoll insisted that people correct anyone who might even hint that Munson was ever less than above reproach there's been virtually nothing about Turner's account of the history of Mars Hill in which Munson comes across as ... kingly, perhaps is the best word here.

Turner has recounted how he set about formulating an external board.  The tragicomedy of that board is that however it started, by the final year of Mars Hill it was arguably packed not only with insiders, but with people who had advisory roles in the period in which the 2007 by-laws got drafted!
For the details of that process ...

James Macdonald was facing some pressure.  Elephant Room 2 got people wondering how committed he was to the traditional doctrine of the Trinity since not everyone accepted that T. D. Jakes had really proven his Trinitarian confession bona fides.  Then there was the debt situation discussed at length in The Elephant's Debt. 

Driscoll ended up having his controversies in 2013-2014 related to allegations of plagiarism (and since Real Marriage has had plenty of amendations between the first print edition and a subsequent edition it seems that a person could propose that you don't correct citation errors in a book if they weren't there to begin with).  Then Result Source came to light.  Once Driscoll started on the path of Real Marriage and Who Do You Think You Are? he stopped being that guy who just preaches through books of the Bible.  In the 2012-2014 period he also became that guy who preaches through his own book about stuff he said he was in the Bible.

Of course in the end the board reforms didn't seem to help "that" much.  Paul Tripp went so far as to say that the external element of the board was essentially by definition incapable of providing accountability to Driscoll and Tripp resigned from the BoAA.  Surprisingly, Turner at some point concluded Tripp, one of the few people on the BoAA who could have been legitimately proposed as actually having an external role in relationship to MH, didn't quite know the scene.  Either that proved Tripp's point for Tripp, if we take that critique seriously, or it suggests Turner may have objected to Tripp asserting that the external board could not, by definition, do what it was intended to do.

For those who don't remember ...
Posted by Sutton Turner on April 24, 2015
When the criticism of Mars Hill Global began in the Spring of 2014, I wanted to communicate about what happened with Global, its history, the financials, and my mistakes. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to discuss these things just as I was not permitted to discuss the ResultSource situation in the detail that I felt it deserved. There was actually a division on the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) as some men wanted to put all the blame for both Global and ResultSource on me, but I am thankful for men who did not allow that. [emphasis added]

The stories Turner has shared about what was going on at the MH BoAA in 2014 make it sound like there was ... it kinda comes off like the leadership culture at Mars Hill was in trainwreck mode. 

RICO suit against Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner dismissed without prejudice--mentions that in 2012 he sought to meet with former MH people from 2007 but was denied permission to do so.

Turner has posted an update on the recently dismissed RICO suit

For those who were concerned about the Global fund, Turner has published the following:

Mars Hill Global began in 2009 to raise money from the global audience (those who listened via podcast) to help fund the mission of Mars Hill Church: “Making Disciples and Planting Churches.” Until late 2011, Mars Hill had not significantly funded international church planting but was heavily invested in US church planting. From 2009 to 2012, Mars Hill spent $8.6M in U.S. church planting and $170k outside of the U.S.

When I joined Mars Hill in 2011, I built relationships with the Kale Hewyott Church in Ethiopia to train church planters there. My passion for Ethiopia (which existed before I arrived at Mars Hill) began to dominate the message of Mars Hill Global. In hindsight, I see how many believed that the only reason Mars Hill Global existed was to fund Ethiopian church planting.

As I've written a few times in the past, from the Munson period there was a pretty clear explanation of what Mars Hill Global was for and that it could be for anything connected to Mars Hill global expansion as, for want of a better term, a brand or organization.  Unfortunately, the sermon in which Mark Driscoll most explicitly articulated that vision from the Peter series never got transcribed and the sermon got pulled down after a while. 

Turner explains a bit more as follows: [linkage removed, emphasis original]

When I joined Mars Hill in 2011, I built relationships with the Kale Hewyott Church in Ethiopia to train church planters there. My passion for Ethiopia (which existed before I arrived at Mars Hill) began to dominate the message of Mars Hill Global. In hindsight, I see how many believed that the only reason Mars Hill Global existed was to fund Ethiopian church planting.

When people started to question the distribution of funds given to Mars Hill Global, the church brought in ECFA and independent auditors, Clark Nuber. Both groups gave Mars Hill a clear opinion that the church had done nothing wrong. In spite of these findings, we felt led to send 3765 emails and 6000 letters to 100% of donors to Mars Hill Global from 2011 to 2014 to clarify their gift intent. Less than 40 families responded; Mars Hill Church sent an additional $40,000 to Ethiopia because donors requested their donations to Mars Hill Global be for Ethiopian church planting.

A full and total timeline from 2009 to 2014 with videos, blogs and other information is stored here.
From 2012 to 2014, Mars Hill Church spent $13.7M in church planting in the US and sent $545k to Ethiopia and India. During its existence, Mars Hill Church invested over $23M in church planting in the US and around the world. This amount is over and above the general and administrative costs of Mars Hill Church’s central operations and staffing. (47% of the funds given to Mars Hill Global from 2012-2014 were large donations from a small number of donors who specifically asked prior to giving for their donations to be counted in Global.  Many of these donors did not attend one specific Mars Hill location and wanted their donations supporting all Mars Hill operations including U.S. and international church planting.)

Many have asked for these numbers. There was I time when I was restricted from providing these numbers. Now, everyone has the Mars Hill Global information that I had when I resigned in September 2014 (Eph. 5:13).
Once Mars Hill Church/Mars Hill Fellowship became inactive as a corporation ...
UBI Number 601677819
Category REG
Profit/Nonprofit Nonprofit
Active/Inactive Inactive
State Of Incorporation WA
WA Filing Date 12/22/1995
Expiration Date 12/31/2016
Inactive Date 03/24/2016

it seemed like it would be a matter of time before Turner presented some general numbers.  I'd wondered whether the hesitation to discuss and then keep numbers up for public consideration had a connection to the active status of the corporation. 

We'll skip over the compensation parts for the time being.  There's something else Turner mentions that's worth quoting:
Many staff heard me say during my tenure, “It is a miracle this church still exists.” Jesus was saving people and growing the church in spite of issues with organizational structure, dissension within the staff, and dissension with former members. A 2007 bylaw change had split the church. The issues that led to that bylaw change and its implementation heavily impacted the culture of Mars Hill. In 2012, I asked permission to meet with those directly affected by the events of 2007; permission was denied. Those events in 2007 had unfortunately begun the cycle of distrust and a lack of transparency. [emphasis added] One fed upon the other to build an unhealthy culture.

The Result Source contract decision was made within the context of this successful, but unhealthy church. As I have stated before, I was not a part of that decision making process back in the summer of 2011. Because of the Result Source mistake along with other cultural issues, Pastor Dave Bruskas and I began to campaign for greater outside accountability. I wrote two long blogs about the resulting new board (Result Source 2 & Result Source 3). This new Board decided to never use Result Source again and rightfully so.

For those who didn't instantly catch the import of the bolded section, Sutton Turner stated that he asked permission in 2012 to meet with those people directly affected (effected?) by the events of the 2007 re-org but permission was denied.  By who?  Based on the by-laws that were in place the only person who seems could have outranked Sutton Turner as a legal officer would have been Mark Driscoll himself.  It's a little difficult to imagine Dave Bruskas forbidding such a thing, in any case, because Bruskas wasn't even a part of Mars Hill in 2007.  Since Bruskas couldn't have plausibly had any material interest in forbidding Sutton Turner from meeting with former members and staff and since no one else seems to have been higher up the hierarchy than Turner, it seems that either one person above Turner insisted that he not speak to former members or the Board forbade it.  But none of that explains why whoever outranked Turner would have done so.

Remember this comment Driscoll made in 2014?

Mark Driscoll from a video statement July 21, 2014

"If I’m real honest with you, at first it was just a little overwhelming and a bit confusing. We, and I were not exactly sure what was happening and so it took a little while to sort that out... As well, one of the things that has been complex is the fact that a lot of the people that we are dealing with in this season remain anonymous. And so we don’t know how to reconcile, or how to work things out with, with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are [emphasis added], and so that has, that has made things a little more complex and difficult as well."

And yet this very day, Sutton Turner published, "In 2012, I asked permission to meet with those directly affected by the events of 2007; permission was denied." How could Turner have been denied permission to contact people from the 2007 debacle if, according to Mark Driscoll in 2014, they weren't sure who was trying to meet with them to reconcile with them.  Based on Turner's account published today, it seems that when someone from the Mars Hill side proposed meeting with former MH people he was denied permission to do so from within the Mars Hill side.  For those not already familiar with the officers listed for Mars Hill circa 2012:

Who are the officers of Mars Hill Church?
For state law purposes, Mars Hill has a president, Mark Driscoll; a vice president, Dave Bruskas; and a secretary/treasurer, Sutton Turner. Mars Hill also has a chief financial officer, Kerry Dodd; and a chief legal officer, Chris Pledger.

Of those officers exactly one of them was even at Mars Hill in 2007.  So if Turner has reported things reliably whoever denied him permission to meet with former MH people had to know who they were or at least had to stake out a general principle of forbidding Turner from meeting. 

But if the leaders of Mars Hill Church weren't sure who those people were, according to Mark Driscoll from July 21, 2014, what's the explanation from Team Driscoll as to why, according to Sutton Turner's recent account, he tried to meet with people who were at Mars Hill in 2007 but was denied permission to do so?  You can't forbid someone like Sutton Turner from meeting with people when you're not even sure who they are, can you?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mark Driscoll and the art of observing how from 1992 to 2002 he presented different motives for why he started to read the Bible and what that would prove for him, depending on what point he was trying to make for the record

About a week and a half ago we looked back on how Mark Driscoll recounted the story of his conversion in a 1992 op-ed he wrote for The Daily Evergreen.  He provided what was ultimately a boilerplate narrative of "I tried to prove Christianity wrong and became a Christian."  It was notable mainly for who he neglected to mention, Grace Martin and her family.  For as often as Driscoll shared that God told him to marry Grace, teach the Bible, reach young men and plant churches, one of the earliest accounts has no mention of Grace or her family.  To go back and read that if you haven't already, here's the link for that stuff.

But that was the conversion narrative in 1992 tailored to a polemical question as to whether Mark Driscoll was perceived by his peers as a fundamentalist Christian because he was raised that way, back when Mark Driscoll was writing for The daily Evergreen.  A decade later in a new millennium, when the subject was the distinction between faith and works in a sermon it wasn't some Christian guy in a dorm that Mark wanted to disprove the Bible to that catalyzed his conversion.  Not that that guy necessarily didn't have a role to play, but you can read the sermon transcript here to see that in 2002 Driscoll's account of how he came to a conversion experience involved a conversation with a drunk fratboy.

Part 4 of Galatians
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Galatians 3:1-14
June 02, 2002


And my misunderstanding was this: I thought that as long as you believed in God and you were a good person, then God would love you and you would go to Heaven. That’s what I thought. And if you would have asked me, you know, when I was up until the age of 18 or 19, “Are you a Christian?” I would’ve said, “Yes, and a Christian is someone who believes in God and is a good person.” And that’s what I thought. Until a drunken frat guy shattered my world with one decent question, and God uses anything. He used a drunken frat guy, who was like a seventh year sophomore to absolutely upset my theological worldview. [emphasis added]

So in this account from 2002 the catalyst wasn't the Christian guy in the dorm Mark Driscoll was in that he mentioned in his 1992 op-ed at The Daily Evergreen, it was a drunk frat guy who zinged him with a question.  Let's assume that both the Christian guy in the dorm and the drunk frat guy both existed.  The observation here is that Mark Driscoll's stories of his conversion tend to be tailored to the rhetorical point he intends to make in a given context and that details of biography that aren't germane to that point get glossed over or simply aren't mentioned at all. Driscoll explained himself further in the 2002 sermon:

I did not drink because I made a list of rules to declare myself self-righteous. So, I said, “Why, I’m gonna be a good person.” I made this little list of things that I thought a good person should be. I won’t lie. I won’t steal. I won’t cheat. I won’t drink. I won’t smoke. I won’t, you know, beat anyone up who doesn’t deserve it. I won’t – I had this list of things that I would do and not do, and I would declare myself “good.” That is the essence of works and self-righteousness. That was basically my worldview. “I make my rules, and I live up to them. I’m a great guy.” [emphasis added]

Now before we move along with the rest of this story we need to remember something.  Did Mark Driscoll not mention in a sermon from 2001 that he did, in fact, lie on an occasion to get something he wanted?
starting at 54:45
Proverbs 29:21, “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.” These guys are pampered; totally pampered. Okay? And again, this is not a boasting on me. This is a – this is actually a tribute to my dad. I was eleven years old. I was going out for the little league all-star team, and I needed a new glove. My dad said, “Good. Go make some money.” I said, “Hey, dad, I’m eleven.” He said, “Well, you’re taller than the lawn-mower. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” True. So, I get the lawn-mower, and I go and I mow lawns to get my glove. And I come back and my dad says, “You owe me gas money. You used my gas.” It’s the nicest thing my dad ever did. Up until that point, I didn’t know gas cost money. Now, I do. Now, I appreciate gas.It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. [emphasis added] Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

So ... did you catch that in the 2001 sermon he described how he was not a Christian?  Of course you did.  And for the 2002 sermon he said that if you'd ask him if he thought he was a Christian he would have said he was and had reasons for it.  The simple explanation here is that Driscoll considered himself some kind of good-enough sort to be a Christian or a Catholic, but that the Driscoll who made his name as a Protestant would say he wasn't a Christian at the time. America has no real shortage of Protestants who look back on their days as altar boys and decide they weren't really on Jesus' team. Driscoll just happens to be one of them.

So, Driscoll may have had to do some soul-searching about how he had, in fact, lied about some stuff to get ahead.  Ironically Driscoll mentioned that story in a sermon where he lamented that some guys take shortcuts. 

And I realize that, since I was young and I was strong, I could make more money. And so I started dinking around trying to figure out where to make more money. And I find out that guys in unions make a lot of money. And – at least compared to me working at the 7-11. And I got tired of getting robbed and held-up, too. ‘Cause if you run a 7-11 behind a Déjà vu, somebody’s gonna put a gun at your head. And after a couple of those, you realize, “For minimum wage, I’m not taking a cap. You know? I’m not gonna get shot for, like, a pack of cigarettes. I’m not gonna do that.” So, I lied about my age. I falsified my birth certificate again, and told them I was 18. Got a job working long-shoring down on the docks in Seattle. And I would go throw 100-pound sacks of peas, and unload trucks, and work hard. And they paid me tremendous money. [emphasis added] At the time, it was like $10.00-something an hour. This was, like, in 1986 or ’87 or something. And I’d work 40 hours a week, and over-time was double-time. And none of the guys would wanna work over-time. Usually it was on Friday, ‘cause they had to get containers out, and those guys all wanted to go to the topless club.

And so, I would work all the over-time at $20.00 an hour as a 16 year old kid. This is in the mid-‘80s. Right? So, I’m loaded. I have money, money, money, money. So, I buy a car, and I start saving for college, doing my stuff. And with my dad – I thank God for my dad. My dad’s like, “You’re a guy. You work. You pay your way. Good. It’s good for you.” And you know what? He’s right. He was totally right. Thank God for my dad. My brother and my other brother and myself, we’re all doing great, making good money, doing fine. My brothers are all in management leadership running companies or businesses. It’s great. You pamper a guy from his youth, and he just – he gets this course of action. All of the sudden he feels like if his hands are dirty, or his muscles are sore, or if he put-in a long day, or thought something was tough, that’s unusual; that’s abnormal. And so, he avoids it.

For the moment we're just going to note that in this 2001 sermon Mark said he made good money and was doing fine, although in a 2006 book he'd mention something or other about not having a credit rating good enough to buy an outhouse.

So, now, let's get back to the 2002 sermon where he recounted his epiphany about faith and works because a drunk frat guy asked him a question:

So, I had these rules, and one of my rules was I won’t drink because then God will look down and say, “Well, I’m going to pick Mark for my team because he’s such a great guy.” After all, I was.
So, what happened was I was at a frat party in college, which is not the typical place that God shows up in powerful, illuminating, theological acumen. But this drunken frat guy came up, and he said, “Here. Drink a beer.” And I said, “No, I don’t drink.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I’m a good person.” (Laughter)

And he said, “Well, why do you want to be a good person?” I said, “Because I believe in God, and I’m a good person.” He said, “Well, Jesus drank,” which is about the only part of the Bible he really knew. That and, “Thou shalt not judge.” He put those two verses together, and he’d come up with alcoholism. But anyway. (Laughter)

I said, “No, I’m a good person.” He said, “So, how do you know you’re gonna go to Heaven?” I said, “I know I’m gonna go to Heaven because I’m a good person.” And he asked this question that shattered my world. He was basically mocking me, trying to get me to drink. And he said, “Well, how good do you have to be to go to Heaven?” I thought, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know.” And he said, “Do you have to be good all the time? And if you’re not good some days, does that cancel your bad days, and who makes the rules, and how do you know what’s good and bad?” He was just sort of in a drunken stupor rambling, but it was a really good question, I felt, particularly considering his condition. [emphasis added]

I said, “I don’t know,” and I started thinking about that. How good do I have to be? How moral do I have to be, and who determines the morality? Do my good days cancel my bad days, and did my sins cancel my obedience? And I started getting really muddy about where I was at. Up until this point I thought, “I’m a good guy. I’m a great guy.” And then I realized, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough.”

Just consider the wisdom and shrewdness of Mark Driscoll that in this story it was a drunk frat guy asking a question that spurred Mark Driscoll into depths of introspection.  It's almost as if Mark Driscoll were an Augustine considering what he had done to a pear tree or something.

And so, what I decided was, “I’ll read the Bible to get all the rules, and then I’ll do them to make sure that I’m a good guy.” Okay. Now my wife, she was my girlfriend at the time. Moral of the story is if a woman gives you a Bible, give her a ring. She gave me this Bible as a graduation present from high school, and I started reading the Bible.

Oh!  So NOW in the 2002 narrative Grace becomes a substantial supporting character in the conversion narrative!  She was never mentioned once in the 1992 account for The Daily Evergreen.  Driscoll didn't even make much effort to explain how he got a Bible, and just mentioned that he had not owned or read a Bible until he was in college.  So whereas in 1992 he read through the New Testament to prove the Christian guy wrong, in the 2002 narrative he read through the New Testament looking for good people in the hopes he could count himself a good person, too:

I started reading the New Testament, and the first time through I hated it. It made no sense at all. It sounded like everyone was bad, and I kept looking for the good people to figure out what they were doing. And even the people that I thought were good at the end of it ended up killing God, and I didn’t think that necessarily proved that they were good people.

So, I kept reading and reading, and I got through the whole New Testament and I couldn’t find any good people. And I couldn’t find any way to declare myself good, which really troubled me.

And there you have it, a 2002 account in which Mark Driscoll said he thought he really was a Christian because he laid out the rules he felt you needed to follow to be a good person, he felt he pretty much followed them and that meant he was basically a Christian.  Okay and yet there's nothing here about that residence hall Christian guy who bugged Driscoll so much he just told the guy he really was a Christian from the 1992 Daily Evergreen piece.  Neither account highlights a point that Driscoll would bring up later about how he was an altar boy and an arty jock in 2013, yet another decade later.

Maybe he doesn't look back on himself as having been a Jesus-loving Catholic altar boy but the observation presented for your consideration is that Driscoll saw fit to mention that he even was an altar boy as part of establishing what he considered his credentials to be regarding the arts.  Not entirely unlike his claims about having been a professional journalist, indeed even more so, Mark Driscoll's self-attested artistic streak can come across as all hat and no cattle. 

Unless we're counting Mark Driscoll's artful ways in fashioning narratives from the pulpit it's a little tough to know when he's sketched anything with pen or pencil.  Which mediums did he experiment with?  Did he find water color dried too fast?  Did he find acrylic paint hard to control?  Did he find oil paints just right on every point of use except for the atrocious smell?  Did he experiment with ceramics and discover he was all thumbs whereas pen and pencil worked for him?  Did Driscoll admire Bill Watterson and Rembrant?  Oh, ah, no, that's just some reminiscing about an earlier time decades ago for me.  I trust you get my concern--if Driscoll experimented with different mediums it would seem like he'd have had something to share about those experiments. 

Keep in mind, when comparing these narratives the tension is not in the reported events.  The facts (whatever they are) can still be the facts.  That Driscoll in 2002 could say in a sermon he didn't lie or steal, however, becomes slightly more difficult to square with his matter-of-fact claim that he fudged his birth year to get a job.  By Driscoll's account he lied about his age to get a job so he could get a vehicle he proceeded to drive without a license and all that was back when he wasn't a Christian ... in the 2001 sermon. 

But for the 2002 sermon he talks about how if you'd asked him if he was a Christian he would have said he totally was because he had not been confronted with the distinction between faith and works by the drunk frat guy's question yet.  That would come later.  The part where Driscoll assumed he was good enough because he followed his own rules, that part's not too hard to believe. 

Comparing the 2001 and 2002 sermons highlights what a difference a year makes, not least when the point you're trying to make in a sermon requires a substantially different tone of personal narrative to illustrate a point.  It's just a shame that the stories Mark Driscoll shared to show how industrious he became in response to the wisdom of his dad show that his early career was, if we take Driscoll's account at face value (and, perhaps, we shouldn't) he took quite a few shortcuts on being honest about his age, driving without a license, and so on.  He shared stories that showed that even if he urged other men to not take shortcuts he shared the shortcuts he took to get to the point where he had money, money, money. 

People can be complex and multi-faceted, obviously.  It's just that between the 1992 story Mark gave for his conversion and the 2002 story he gave for his conversion we get the 1992 Mark saying he wasn't a Christian and he became a real Christian trying to debunk the Bible.  In the 2002 account he thought he was a Christian until a drunk guy rocked his world with a simple question (which, in narrative terms, makes Mark look like he had keen insight into the nature of the question the drunk guy asked that the drunk guy himself is implicitly held to not have had). 

Let's assume both these accounts are basically accurate, the tension isn't in the events, it's in the interpretations Mark supplies for what we're supposed to observe in the events.  He could be the same nominal Irish Catholic kid in every account, but in the 1992 story he tried selling himself as the spiritual-but-not-religious type who found the truth of Christianity by trying to disprove it.  In the 2002 story he would have us accept that he assumed he was totally a Christian because he had his rules for life and he followed them and that meant he really was a Christian and he took to reading the Bible because a drunk guy asked "how good do you have to be?"  Driscoll proceeded to read the Bible not to disprove its accuracy in this 2002 account, but to confirm to himself his own goodness.

The tension is in the contradictory self-ascribed motives across the narratives.  If we take the narratives as testifying to a whole then Mark Driscoll told us he set out to both disprove the Bible's legitimacy and also look through it to confirm through it for himself that he was good enough to call himself a Christian.  Now if Mark Driscoll was what one biblical author called "double-minded" maybe that's no surprise in the end. 

But sometimes it seems as if what Driscoll does is fashion a narrative in order to make a point and that if narrative A ascribes a motive to Mark that conflicts with the motive in narrative B, well, who's going to pay attention?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

feature at The Guardian on "How technology disrupted the truth"; fivethirtyeight author asks "Who WIll Debunk the Debunkers?"; and Jacques Ellul's definition of sociological propaganda (Big Brother can let us make our own spin on social media)

As regular readers no doubt already know, this year one of the books WtH has blogged about extensively is Propaganda, by Jacques Ellul.

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 1965 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7
There's a concept Ellul described in his book called sociological propaganda and before we get to that definition he provided in his book, let's stroll through a couple of articles from this year's journalism about the problem of social media allowing for rumors and legends to circulate more quickly than anyone in the mainstream press can debunk them. As reported by Katharine Viner:


But while the possibilities for journalism have been strengthened by the digital developments of the last few years, the business model is under grave threat, because no matter how many clicks you get, it will never be enough. And if you charge readers to access your journalism you have a big challenge to persuade the digital consumer who is used to getting information for free to part with their cash.

News publishers everywhere are seeing profits and revenue drop dramatically. If you want a stark illustration of the new realities of digital media, consider the first-quarter financial results announced by the New York Times and Facebook within a week of one another earlier this year. The New York Times announced that its operating profits had fallen by 13%, to $51.5m – healthier than most of the rest of the publishing industry, but quite a drop. Facebook, meanwhile, revealed that its net income had tripled in the same period – to a quite staggering $1.51bn.

The impact on journalism of the crisis in the business model is that, in chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity, news organisations undermine the very reason they exist: to find things out and tell readers the truth – to report, report, report.

Many newsrooms are in danger of losing what matters most about journalism: the valuable, civic, pounding-the-streets, sifting-the-database, asking-challenging-questions hard graft of uncovering things that someone doesn’t want you to know. Serious, public-interest journalism is demanding, and there is more of a need for it than ever. It helps keep the powerful honest; it helps people make sense of the world and their place in it. Facts and reliable information are essential for the functioning of democracy – and the digital era has made that even more obvious.
Earlier this year over at fivethirtyeight we had one Daniel Engber asking who will debunk those who make it a point of debunking? Along the way we get some stories about classic cases of unheeded researchers that turn out to be, well, "supermyths".

Emerging from the rabbit hole, Sutton began to puzzle over what he’d found. This wasn’t just any sort of myth, he decided, but something he would term a “supermyth”: A story concocted by respected scholars and then credulously disseminated in order to promote skeptical thinking and “to help us overcome our tendency towards credulous bias.”  [emphasis added] The convolution of this scenario inspired him to look for more examples. “I’m rather a sucker for such complexity,” he told me.

Could [Mike] Sutton be a modern-day version of Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who noticed in the 1840s that doctors were themselves the source of childbed fever in his hospital’s obstetric ward? Semmelweis had reduced disease mortality by a factor of 10 — a fully displaced decimal point — simply by having doctors wash their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime. But according to the famous tale, his innovations were too radical for the time. Ignored and ridiculed for his outlandish thinking, Semmelweis eventually went insane and died in an asylum. Arbesman, author of “The Half-Life of Facts,” has written about the moral of this story too. “Even if we are confronted with facts that should cause us to update our understanding of the way the world works,” he wrote, “we often neglect to do so.”

Of course, there’s always one more twist: Sutton doesn’t believe this story about Semmelweis. That’s another myth, he says — another tall tale, favored by academics, that ironically demonstrates the very point that it pretends to make. Citing the work of Sherwin Nuland, Sutton argues that Semmelweis didn’t go mad from being ostracized, and further that other physicians had already recommended hand-washing in chlorinated lime. The myth of Semmelweis, says Sutton, may have originated in the late 19th century, when a “massive nationally funded Hungarian public relations machine” placed biased articles into the scientific literature. Semmelweis scholar Kay Codell Carter concurs, at least insofar as Semmelweis was not, in fact, ignored by the medical establishment: From 1863 through 1883, he was cited dozens of times, Carter writes, “more frequently than almost anyone else.”

Yet despite all this complicating evidence, scholars still tell the simple version of the Semmelweis story and use it as an example of how other people — never them, of course — tend to reject information that conflicts with their beliefs. That is to say, the scholars reject conflicting information about Semmelweis, evincing the Semmelweis reflex, even as they tell the story of that reflex. It’s a classic supermyth! [emphasis added]

The story about Semmelweis may not be true but it's got a shelf life because it's the false story that conveys what people consider philosophically true.  But this kind of supermyth, in which an idea promulgated by scholars that's promoted as factually accurate in spite of a dearth of evidence, might not just be an example of how academics are human, too (and in his book discussing King David Jacob Wright essentially demonstrated that one of the pervasive supermyths in biblical scholarship is that the Samuel narratives "whitewash" David of wrongdoing when anyone who spends any time at all with the actual narratives and knows how ancient hagiographies worked across the region would find otherwise).  The supermyth may well be, for the sake of discussion, the scholastic variation of the dynamic at play in social media that Viner has lamented. 

It doesn't seem too huge a stretch to propose that Jacques Ellul's "sociological propaganda" might be able to encompass the echo chambers of social media on the one hand and the supermyths of academics on the other (and Ellul, for those who have read him, described education within state-sponsored contexts as a kind of necessary pre-propaganda).

So here's Ellul on what he meant:

Propaganda, page 64

Sociological propaganda springs up spontaneously; it is not the result of deliberate propaganda action. No propagandists deliberately use this method, though many practice it unwittingly, and tend in this direction without realizing it. For example, when an American producer makes a film, he has certain definite ideas he wants to express, which are not intended to be propaganda. Rather, the propaganda element is in the American way of life with which he is permeated and which he expresses in his film without realizing it. [emphases added] We see here the force of expansion of a vigorous society, which is totalitarian in the sense of the integration of the individual, and which leads to involuntary behavior.

from pages 64-65

Sociological propaganda expresses itself in many different ways--in advertising, in movies (commercial and non-political films), in technology in general, in education ... All these influences are in basic accord with each other and lead spontaneously in the same direction; one hesitates to call this propaganda.  Such influences, which mold behavior, seem a far cry from Hitler's propaganda setup. Unintentional (at least in the first stage), non-political, organized along spontaneous patterns and rhythms, the activities we have lumped together ... are not considered propaganda by either sociologists or the average public. [emphasis added]

And  yet with deeper and more objective analysis, what do we find? These influences are expressed through the same media as propaganda. They are really directed by those who make propaganda. To me this fact seems essential. A government, for example, will have is own public relations, and will also make propaganda. Most of the activities described in this chapter have identical purposes. Besides, these influences follow the same stereotypes and prejudices as propaganda; they stir the same feelings and act on the individual in the same fashion. These are the similarities, which bring these two aspects of propaganda closer together ...

... Such activities are propaganda to the extent that the combination of advertising, public relations, social welfare, and so on produces a certain general conception of society, a particular way of life. ... the individual in the clutches of such sociological propaganda believes that those who live this way are on the side of angels, and those who don't are bad; those who have this conception of society are right, and those who have another conception are in error. Consequently, just as with ordinary propaganda, it is a matter of propagating behavior and myths both good and bad. Furthermore, such propaganda becomes increasingly effective when those subjected to it accept its doctrines on what is good or bad (for example, the American Way of Life). There, a whole society actually expresses itself through this propaganda by advertising it's kind of life.

By doing that, a society engages in propaganda on the deepest level. ... [emphasis added]

If you take to Facebook to share how those people are spreading propaganda on this or that political issue you are yourself engaging in propaganda, sociological propaganda in Ellul's taxonomy of the behavior.
It's hardly a stretch to propose that the way we see ourselves treating each other on Facebook and Twitter and the comments sections of news articles seems to affirm this. 

Social media has become the vector for what Ellul described as sociological propaganda.  Big Brother never needs to make this kind of propaganda, though, because Big Brother gets the basic idea that whenever you take to social media you will voluntarily choose to make this kind of propaganda yourself simply by how you participate in social media. When you take to Facebook or Twitter to opine on the political world and promote your political views you aren't serving Big Brother, you are Big Brother to the extent that you participate in a cycle of sociological propaganda.  Ellul's warning that in order to understand contemporary propagandistic techniques we must understand that they are scientific might need to get revisited. Ellul proposed that the sociologist and the psychologist are no more off the hook for the application of their discoveries than physicists can disclaim credit for discoveries applied in the use of nuclear weapons.  Ellul even went so far as to propose that in order to understand the foundation of American propagandistic approaches you have to understand the ideas of Dewey. 

And here we are with journalists and scholars wondering how on earth it all came to this and yet it would seem the overall process, however long it has taken, is ultimately not that complex.  If the institutional formal media has not fully appreciated the speed with which social media has allowed for sociological propaganda to, er, propagate, there's time to catch up.  And if scholars have wondered how it is that people who it seems shouldn't have been able to move in the directions they moved step back a moment, maybe in our urging students to question everything on the basis of, say, supermyths, we didn't stop to consider that one of the side effects of a "supermyth" is that it can boomerang. 

One of the more popular and pervasive internet myths about Mark Driscoll that has been promoted by folks like Lindy West, and other writers with progressive/secularist/feminist interests is that Mark Driscoll said Ted Haggard's wife let herself go.  This is so easily debunked that doing it a sixth or seventh time isn't worth the trouble.  At this point it is enough to point out that the reason this internet legend stuck with progressives and secularists about Mark Driscoll is because it was something they wanted to be true because it appealed to the stereotype with which they have assessed Mark Driscoll as a stand-in for the entire twenty year history of Mars Hill and for Mark Driscoll as some kind of preacher in general.  So if it turns out that there were people at Mars Hill who were into Christian anarchism or sympathetic to socialism or politically progressive policies, well, it doesn't matter who those people were even if they did exist for the kinds of writers who contribute to AlterNet or Salon or even Slate.

Journalists have had their say about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll but scholars are, no doubt, setting about to writing books and one of the things that will happen is that supermyths will form.   There will probably be no shortage of scholars who are ready to run with the idea that Mars Hill was right wing and the stereotypes about people on the right wing will inform their work.  If it were to turn out that a co-founding pastor of Mars Hill was happy to endorse Obama, whatever, Mark Driscoll has become the sole personality through which people attempt the history of the community that was known as Mars Hill.  That a former Mars Hill pastor recommended Ellul to me (before he was a pastor, granted) won't be of interest. 

Which is to say I'm proposing in advance that sociological propaganda can happen in the academy as well as social media. 

But there's the fact that we're here in 2016 with an election cycle and people have asked how we've gotten so balkanized toward each other, how it is that people red and blue seem so incapable of imagining that the other people are really American.  Well, Ellul wrote it wasn't clear what the long term impact of the two parties in the United States embracing the methods of propaganda might be, but if they went for it the likely result would be that third parties could never possibly catch up to having comparable levels of influence and that the two would remain the only two formal options. 

I'm not an optimist about the future of the United States and it's not because we don't have a wonderful nation in so many respects, it's because so many are in the thrall of a propaganda war between red state and blue state, between left and right, between groups who have fashioned mythologies for themselves in which they and their constituencies are the heroes and the other folks are villains, but all these folks are fellow citizens.  Ellul's warning was that once democracy had been transformed from a process of government into a way of life that it would in the end prove as emotionally and intellectually and socially totalitarian in its conduct as a bunch of storm troopers. 

The way people behave on Facebook and Twitter seem to have proven Ellul right there.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

an old Terry Teachout riff on there being no classic TV with a swipe at Trek; Richard Brody's passing remarks on Star Trek Beyond, and a few thoughts on the franchise at 50 years--considering television as integration propaganda and Trek as one of its classic examples

It thus occurs to me that I really ought to say something in this space regarding the only piece reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader about which I’ve had second thoughts–of a sort. In 2001 I published an essay in the Sunday New York Times called “The Myth of Classic TV” (they called it something else, but I restored my original title when I put it in the Teachout Reader). In it I wrote:
As it happens, only thirteen episodes of The Sopranos are aired each season, and the series is expected to have a fairly limited run. More typical is St. Elsewhere, which ran for 137 consecutive episodes, each of which grew organically out of its predecessors. Such long-running series can only be experienced serially, which for all practical purposes means during their original runs; once they cease to air each week in regular time slots, they cease to be readily available as total artistic experiences, and thus can no longer acquire new viewers, or be re-experienced by old ones. This is why there is no such thing as a “classic” TV series: we never see any series enough times to know whether its overall quality justifies the multiple viewings which are the hallmark of classic status. (Needless to say, I’m not talking about those fanatical cultists who have seen each episode of Star Trek a hundred times and can recite the dialogue from memory. To them, my heartfelt advice is: get a life.) [but, of course, Teachout said it anyway!]
[btw, emphases added]

Some think The Sopranos will break this iron rule of ephemerality. I understand that a great many videocassettes of the first thirteen episodes have been sold, presumably to latecomers who weren’t subscribing to HBO in 1999 and wanted to find out what they’d missed. But if you aren’t already watching The Sopranos, you’re probably not going to start now, unless you’re prepared to sit through reruns of 26 additional episodes between now and next March, when the fourth season begins. Nor are even rabid fans likely to watch The Sopranos from beginning to end more than once. Who has the time?

Since I wrote those words, the DVD has replaced the videocassette, innumerable TV series of the past have been released either in their entirety or in large chunks, and the most popular of these box sets rank among the hottest items on the home-video market.  ...

So why did I fail to foresee the explosion of interest in TV series on video? I don’t have an easy answer to that one, but I suspect I made the biggest mistake a cultural critic can make, which is to confuse himself with the public at large. [emphasis added[]

And yet here we are at the fiftieth year since Star Trek began and Star Trek Beyond hit theaters this summer.  Let's float this idea to explain why Terry Teachout turned out to be wrong about classic TV but in spite of the fact that I think one of his key arguments against why there "should" be classic TV in theory is completely plausible.  Teachout made the case that the reason we can't assess classic TV as classic TV has to do with the inherently immersive and open-ended nature of the medium.  You can't distill 137 hours of narrative into something that lends itself to genuine criticism, can you?  You can do this for novels and for film and for epic poems because these are, by nature of their medium of reception, more easily subjected to some kind of critical analysis. 

Ergo, The Sopranos and other shows that have short seasons and a few seasons' worth of story can be subjected to criticism in a way that Days of Our Lives could not, even if every critic on earth thought that a series in which Stephano dies no less than twenty times were worth discussing critically.  How do you attempt to assimilate literally half a century of continuous narrative in the form of television episodes?  Well, even within the industry these shows are not regarded as Art. 

If decades after it aired we're not still discussing St. Elsewhere or Hill Street Blues that suggests the nature of the medium is ephemeral.  What may signal that a show makes an impact is whether a show thrives in box set sales, perhaps.  Or, maybe we should take a cue from how not to Terry Teachout this and propose that the shows that gain dauntingly loyal cult followings and spin off shows should tell us something.  If the continuation of a series by way of spin-offs within TV and translations into the big screen are indications of "classic TV" then the cult following rather than the critical consensus by itself, will probably tell us what classic TV is.  Sticky wicket there, because there's a sense in which what makes for "classic TV" is partly (but only partly) a decision of market activity.

But here, too, Star Trek suggests otherwise.  The show was a cult classic and the original series (which I still like to watch now and then) seems indisputably classic TV now. 

But this introduces a really awkward possibility for film critics.  If the classics of TV demonstrate their classic nature by being transformed (yes, that pun is as intended as you might think it is) into big screen narratives then Transformers is more classic TV than Hill Street Blues.  A classic gets defined within TV not merely by longevity but by its capacity for cultural saturation.  So Scooby-Doo is more classic TV than The WireMacGuyver is more classic TV than Breaking BadStar Trek is obviously more classic TV by now than Game of Thrones will ever be, not just because it so obviously is classic TV but also because it was conceived as a televised narrative to begin with, not as an HBO prestige drama adaptation of pulp fiction fantasy with high-brow TV critic cred. 

Any television program that becomes a classic has probably, by the nature of its medium and broadcast time, become something Jacques Ellul would probably call a feat of integration propaganda. 

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 1965 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 75
Integration propaganda aims at stabilizing the social body, at unifying it and reinforcing it. [emphasis added] It is thus the preferred instrument of government, though properly speaking it is not exclusively political propaganda.  ... this type of propaganda can also be made by a group of organizations other than those of government, going in the same direction, more or less spontaneously ...

page 75-76
The most important example of the use of such propaganda is the United States. Obviously, integration propaganda is much more subtle and complex than agitation propaganda. It seeks not a temporary excitement but a total molding of the person in depth. Here all psychological and opinion analyses must be utilized, as well as the mass media of communication. It is primarily this integration propaganda that we shall discuss in our stud, for it is the most important of our time despite the success and the spectacular character of subversive propaganda. [emphasis added]

Let us note right away a final aspect of integration propaganda: the more comfortable, cultivated, and informed the milieu to which it is addressed, the better it works. Intellectuals are more sensitive than peasants to integration propaganda. In fact they share the stereotypes of a society even when they are political opponents of the society.  Take a recent example: French intellectuals opposed to war in Algeria seemed hostile to integration propaganda. Nevertheless, they shared all the stereotypes and myths of French society--Technology, Nation, Progress; all their actions were based on those myths. They were thoroughly ripe for an integration propaganda, for they were already adapted to its demands. [emphases added] Their temporary opposition was not of the slightest importance; just changing the color of the flag was enough to find them again among the most conformist of groups.

And so we can read how a writer like Richard Brody can afford to be a bit condescendingly cynical about the longevity of the Star Trek franchise in a way that he might not be about the films of Godard.  In his somewhat brief write-up about the recent Trek film there's no point where Richard Brody steps back to suggest that the political and social ideals of Star Trek are at any point wrong, silly or stupid; he only more or less implicitly indicates that perhaps Star Trek is too silly and stupid a franchise with which to serve as advocacy for ideals he would, simply by virtue of being a film critic writing for The New Yorker, hold sacred.  He can afford a bit of cynicism about the pop culture and even about America, but not the ideals themselves. 

an Alan Jacobs piece, a Mere Orthodoxy piece on Schaeffer and Christian intellectualism, and some preliminary concerns about Schaeffer as the American evangelical's one-man Frankfurt school

from a recent Alan Jacobs article:
Political liberals who long expected to live in an increasingly liberal world may find themselves disoriented by these manifestations, whose nature they are ill prepared to understand, and they certainly wish such “forces of reaction” would just go away. But these forces will not go away. If we were to wish for something less fantastic than the disappearance of our political opposites, we might think along these lines: It would be valuable to have at our disposal some figures equipped for the task of mediation — people who understand the impulses from which these troubling movements arise, who may themselves belong in some sense to the communities driving these movements but are also part of the liberal social order. They should be intellectuals who speak the language of other intellectuals, including the most purely secular, but they should also be fluent in the concepts and practices of faith. Their task would be that of the interpreter, the bridger of cultural gaps; of the mediator, maybe even the reconciler

Half a century ago, such figures existed in America: serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now. It would be worth our time to inquire why they disappeared, where they went, and whether — should such a thing be thought desirable — they might return.

The article is a bit on the long side (not Alastair Roberts/Steve Hays long (and Steve's posts have been getting shorter over the last decade)) but still long.  Jacobs' historical sketch is of Christian intellectuals who addressed issues of Western democratic stability in the wake of the Second World War--there were concerns that the West might lose the peace after having formally won the war.  If the peace was governed by pragmatic technocrats rather than principled humanists the fabric of democracy itself might not survive, to keep it perhaps too short and simple for the sorts of readers who haven't already read the Jacobs piece.

The long-form case from Jacobs isn't even all that implicit, the pragmatist technocrats basically won.  There could be a variety of reasons proposed for this--one being that even during the height of the Cold War religion was useful as a bulwark against Communism first and just secondarily as a thing to be considered that could be critical of contemporary trends within democratic societies and market economies.  As Frank Schaeffer would eventually demonstrate before his brand became leveraging a flip, there were Christians in the United States who argued that capitalism was most consistent with the exercise of Christian freedom. 

But now that we're in an era in which new atheism has been a thing it's easy to see how Christian intellectuals may be viewed with skepticism both because (on the one hand) there's been a history of mainline and evangelical commitment to alliances with institutional political power; and (on the other hand) a connected belief that the concerns of religion aren't the concerns of science and reason and can lead people to ask "who'd listen to these Christian intellectuals?"  We have plenty of people who would say that Christians should not even be making art because of a largely tacit assumption about the definition of art; in a comparable way, there are those who would insist that it's not possible to even talk about Christian intellectuals because by some contemporary secularist definitions an oxymoron. 

That by now we don't have to think that long to observe that the Hitchens razor that proposes that claims asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence works fine until the value of individual human lives are considered.  We haven't shaken off a fundamental desire within Western cultures to assert that individual human lives have dignity and value regardless of our inability to formulate a coherent or evidentiary based case for that.  We live in a cultural moment where Ta-nehisi Coates can urge his son to not take seriously any appellation to a divine law on the one hand while arguing for the legitimacy and even necessity of reparations from a state whose foundational narrative can be understood in terms of a pervasive white supremacist animus that held that, by definition, black lives were worth less than white lives--Coates' feeling for the injustice of that is something I can agree with as a Christian but his case for reparations is paradoxically ultimately the kind of case an absolute dreamer would make. 

It's also the kind of case that ironically might have to depend on insisting that human lives have price tags that can be paid for by a federal government, which might have to grant as the foundation for practical application of reparations the very objectionable principle that allowed so many whites to own slaves for so long.  If we don't argue for the value of human dignity, beauty and liberty on the basis of an appeal to something divine then even if we had a scientific case for human dignity the social forces in play that can enforce that seem to be peer pressure and the state.

Religious thinkers might be able to bridge the potentially impassable gap there, and we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as someone who more or less took the approach Coates won't or can't by dint of different convictions and approaches.  

So, with that rather long preliminary, Jake Meador has a piece up about Francis Schaeffer and Christian public intellectuals.

In an era in which Christopher Hitchens could be regarded as in any sense a public intellectual we might be looking at a generally lowered bar.  Hitchens was a readable journalist with a lively style and memorable opinions, but he vanquished his reputation with the left he used to be connected to by advocating for Gulf War 2 and, as leftists have so succinctly put it, defending empire.  Hitchens' views on social and economic matters will never entirely endear him to the right, let alone a religious right.  The question of whether the left has fully reconciled itself with the necessity of its agendas depending on the stability of American empire is something for another time.  This is all an aside to suggest that to the extent that atheists have been able to treat Hitchens as a kind of public intellectual it may be in part because Christians have paved the way for such a person to be regarded as a public intellectual in the form of evangelical lionization of Francis Schaeffer.

But let's throw Hitchens a bone by way of remembering recent history.  If Hitchens' had a book that sold 300,000 copies did they sell because people bought them?  That seems like a captain obvious observation but it was just a few short years ago that Mark Driscoll was embroiled in a controversy about using Result Source to secure a place for one of his books on the New York Times bestseller list, Real Marriage. Now it's hard to argue anyone will ever consider Mark Driscoll a public intellectual even if anyone ever mistook him for one before his plagiarism controversy, but the point here is that if Meador wants to raise the question of influence by sales numbers, in a post-Mark Driscoll's Result Source scandal north American evangelicalism that's not the kind of appellation I would personally be making!

When Meador writes this:
What we need is a different kind of interpreter, less Reinhold Niebuhr, that establishment figure who lived and taught in New York City, and more Francis Schaeffer, the missionary-in-exile, far removed from the hubs of power and influence and better equipped to speak to them in distinctly Christian ways precisely because of his distance from them.

It just reminds me that in the last fifty years it has obviously been Schaeffer and not Niebuhr whom evangelicals quote more often and more approvingly.  But why Schaeffer?  Schaeffer's criticisms of liberalism in Western theology weren't necessarily more cogent than the criticisms made by Emil Brunner, were they?  I mean, if we're just going to stick to people who can be broadly identified as having a connection to the Reformed tradition Brunner's just one name we can mention. 

Francis Schaeffer may really have been a kind of missionary in exile in some sense during his life but it might be worth asking whether that exile was one he had imposed on him or whether it was a self-selected exile.  And given the extent to which mainstream Christian evangelicals approvingly quote Schaeffer in the last thirty odd years' worth of culture war diatribes it's tough to buy the idea that Schaeffer has remained since his death far from the hubs of power and influence.  If Francis Schaeffer were alive today his environmental views might have him at odds with contemporary evangelicals of the sort who might endorse, we know who.

Think of it this way, Frank Schaeffer couldn't have built a cottage industry out of parasitically repudiating his father's legacy as the only reason anyone would bother to know his name unless Francis Schaeffer himself was not a brand.

We're approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the publication of Francis Schaeffer's trilogy.  The God Who is There, Escape from Reason and He is There and He is Not Silent were hugely formative for me in my teens and early 20s. In the history of evangelical Christian examination of popular culture and scholarly life Francis Schaeffer has been regarded by evangelicals as essentially a one man Frankfurt school for conservative Protestants.  That's not really overstating things too much to go by how American evangelicals invoke Schaeffer's work--you'd almost get the sense that Francis Schaeffer is a conservative Protestant's dream of combining Adorno and Walter Benjamin into one Presbyterian hippie-bearded dude.

I've been blogging this point throughout 2016 but it's impossible for me to shake the sense, revisiting Schaeffer's trilogy, that here in this century with the knowledge we have of the evolution of the Religious Right in the United States, that one of the most salient weaknesses of Schaeffer's trilogy is that even if we grant the post-Christian America narrative at its core his narrative is of fragmentation that is in itself a bit fragmentary.  He tended to work with a pejorative definition of humanism that would seem to preclude the possibility of Christian humanism, for instance.  Christians who endorse Hayek or other seminal influences on semi-libertarian economic theory might have no use for a Francis Schaeffer.  Schaeffer's influence may be more as someone who gave the Religious Right a guiding narrative than as someone who formulated potential paths to take forward.  As Darryl Hart put it a bit briefly in one of his books, Francis Schaeffer gave evangelicals a useful history, not necessarily a scholarly history, but the kind of history that Leonard B. Meyer mentioned in a postlude in his 1990s reprint of Music, the Arts and Ideas:

Though we have lost faith in a shining future, the past is still available. Not, however, the past resulting from historical research, but a past emanating from ethno-mythic fabrication.

Music, the Arts and Ideas
Leonard B. Meyer
(c) 1967,1994 by The University of Chicago
isbn 0-226-52143-5
page 338

That's a point I've been making this year about Schaeffer, that the sum of his narrative, read in an American context with an eye toward a more truly global conception of Christianity in historical terms (i.e. not just Western Christianity, since the Eastern tradition is massive, and not just American Christianity since a great deal of American Christianity is still indebted to a Western tradition that it may need more interaction with) reads as too American.  To put it still more bluntly, it's hard to shake the impression, even as a moderately conservative Presbyterian sort, that Francis Schaeffer's trilogy reads in 2016 primarily as a legend of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant decline. 

Schaeffer's trilogy presents as a tragedy what can be read as a comedy in a single Whit Stillman film, Metropolitan, with its light and nearly frivolous touch handling an American upper class WASP set that has no idea its day in the sun is already over.  That Francis Schaeffer was able to articulate within the late 1960s to establishment Christian Protestants who might be willing to listen that "our day in the sun has already been over" may still be a valuable thing--the thing is that it seems that white evangelicals took Schaeffer's message to mean that if we lived in a post-Christian America that meant we needed to take America back rather than figure out how to live with the new reality of not being the default civic religion of the American ruling class. 

I don't really contest what Jake Meador says our take-away about Francis Schaeffer's work "should" be because that's kind of what my approach has been over the last twenty years, working slowly toward thinking about what a post-American Christianity may be while evangelicals have wrung their hands about a post-Christian America.  Now that the Cold War is over we should be able to take some time to ask whether evangelicals who hitched their wagons to the star of the United States weren't blinkered by that. 

Yes, compared to Soviet totalitarianism American style democracy seemed like the better alternative.  Yes, the values of personal peace and affluence were ultimately inwardly curved and that became a problem but once anti-totalitarian polemics got brought into the mix wasn't personal peace and the opportunity to strive toward affluence presented as what Western democratic/capitalist society provided the opportunity for that the communist regimes didn't?  If the thing that theoretically Schaeffer argued was a sign of Western failure and decline from an ideological standpoint was functionally the "proof" of the freedom "our" team had that the Soviets didn't then, well, our best sociological/economic evidence for our case was that there was more personal peace and affluence available in Western democratic/capitalist or Western democratic socialist systems than in the Soviet bloc. 

Schaeffer presented a simple, readable account of Western fragmentation but fragmentation and chaos in the West isn't "that" new.  Just speaking in terms of music history we could say the entire world and thousands of years of history are available for us to consider but that this is a variance in degree rather than kind if we have a truly global conception of Christian history.  American evangelicals have been so obsessed with the fragmentation they have not bothered to spend as much time as they could looking at processes of consolidation, certainly not where the arts are concerned. 

I think Meyer's proposal that the nexus of Renaissance optimism with Protestant impulses to self-improvement as the engine of revolutionary exploration makes sense--and that proposal highlights a nother potential problem in Francis Schaeffer's narrative, his polarized account of the Renaissance and the Reformation as somehow different rather than overlapping iterations of a Western drive.  It doesn't take that much reading of authors with a more Eastern Christian stance (hint, Dostoevsky!) to point out that some Christians regarded certain revolutionary issues in Western thought as endemic to even Western Christianity. 

It's possible to appreciate Schaeffer for what he was trying to get at while still highlighting some shortfalls, really significant shortfalls, in his actual writings.  One of them can be a failure to recognize that the trajectory of the West can be read as a natural outgrowth of taking the revolutionary aspects of Protestant reforms seriously (i.e. we can just so that the radical reformation rather than the magisterial reformation ended up defining the West in some ways). 

In a similar way, it's possible to point out, as a Roger Scruton can probably recognize, that if we look at the ideological engines of 19th century Romanticism with the repudiation of aristocratic conventions and norms and the desire to break free of the shackles of stifling rules that this obviously led us to the atonalists--which is to say that there are conservatives who look at the last few centuries and try to repudiate the artistic results of ideological and philosophical trajectories revealed in historical liberalism they would like to have dropped but not at the expense of the animating ideologies and philosophies that so obviously catalyzed the undesirable art to begin with.  I.e. let's dispense with Schoenberg but keep the German idealism that helped pave the way for Schoenberg. 

I think Schaeffer, particularly on the subject of the arts and motivating ideologies, was spectacularly wrong about how the Romantic era ideologies had been abandoned.  No, if anything the avant garde arts and particularly the avant garde music of the last century has arguably demonstrated that the Romantic spirit remained an animating impulse.  But that's something I'm trying to put together some other writing for.

Schaeffer's affection for Baroque music isn't that hard to pick up on for those who are familiar with his work.  But the Baroque era was a chaotic era of fragmentation and nationalism within Europe.  What we tend to think of when we think of the Baroque era is not the early Baroque in which tonal music and functional harmony had not yet normatively emerged; or about the norm in that era of the first and second practices in which people were expected to be musically multilingual, grasping the core ideas of the old Renaissance style with the more modern "Baroque"; we tend to think about the high baroque fusions exemplified by Bach or Handel and when we get that in musical education we don't get the century long process of experimentation and consolidation that someone like Bach exemplifies at a personal and regional level.  Schaeffer's narrative laments a loss of that Baroque art in a way that betrays a lack of understanding of how that art was a long process of fusion. 

We need to keep talking about the influence of Francis Schaeffer on American evangelicalism and I do think that it's fair to say that Francis Schaeffer's being the default one-man Frankfurt school for conservative Protestants in Anglo-American society needs some more scrutiny.  I think we need this because rather than propose Schaeffer as a paradigm to follow I think we may need to regard his narrative of WASP decline as having a use by way of moving past it.  After half a century of his public role in evangelicalism, we might be better off paying tribute to what Francis Schaeffer was attempting to do by shaking ourselves a bit more free of the influence of his cultural narrative.  If we keep paying homage to the legend of WASP decline in his writings we'll fixate on the fragmentation he kept observing rather than working toward a possible Christian synthesis.