Confessing the sins of the land

Land acknowledgments have become a thing in recent years:

Speakers list the people who were harmed on the land in the distant past. The Native Governance Center recommends "don’t sugarcoat the past. Use terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing, stolen land, and forced removal to reflect actions taken by colonizers."

The implication is that the people on the land owe some kind of sin debt just by nature of being on the land in the future.

Which, when you say it like that, starts to sound pretty biblical.

The Confessional County

Ray Simmons argues for the existence of land curses in The Confessional County:

...we know land curses still apply today because Adam's curse is still here, because curses have always been levied on disobedient nations (not just Israel), because the Great Commission carries God's ethics to the world, and because Jesus specifically declared that houses and cities can be cursed in the new covenant.

- (page 23)

He argues that there are biblical land curses that apply to the United States:

  1. Land curses due to killing the innocent
  2. Land curses due to sexual immorality
  3. Land curses due to sabbath-breaking
  4. Land curses due to idolatry

He goes on to argue that the biblical solution is societal confession, where a county/city/nation comes together and collectively confesses the sins of the land and renews their covenant with God.

How are they different?

When a humanist confesses the sin of the land, there is no endgame. There is no forgiveness. There is only endless confessing to demonstrate your morality to the satisfaction of the audience.

When a society confesses sins to God, there can be forgiveness, the start of a better relationship.

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in their trespass which they trespassed against me; and also that because they walked contrary to me,

I also walked contrary to them, and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled, and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the land.

- Leviticus 26:40-42

There is a God, he is concerned with the historic sins of nations, and we must direct our confessions to him.

How should Christians internalize the evil perpetrated by their side?

When folks of a tribe do something reprehensible and violent, the rest of the tribe has two paths of least resistance:

  1. argue that the action was actually good and moral ("the enemy is so dangerous, these actions were actually warranted!")
  2. argue that the action was actually taken or fomented by some other group ("the enemy is so evil, they orchestrated the whole thing!")

You can see both responses exemplified in the reactions to violence accompanying the George Floyd protests in 2020, and the reactions to January 6 2021 storming of the US Capitol.

During the George Floyd protests

The blue tribe response to protest-related violence was primarily that the actions were good and moral – one personal friend on Facebook exemplified this when he said that he would happily let his house be burned to the ground if it would further civil rights in the US.

In short: unchecked police violence is so evil, that the violence is warranted in search of a greater net good.

There were murmurs about protests turning violent due to instigations by the Proud Boys or neo-nazis or off-duty police officers, but these never became the primary narrative as far as I could tell.

During the storming of the US Capitol

In contrast, the red tribe response to the storming of the US Capitol has been to frame it as the work of antifa/the deep state/other enemy conspirators.

Even those denouncing the violence seem to have difficulty doing so without making some allusion to conspirators from the other side.

Constants

One thing that seems constant to all mob action is the firm belief that, no matter how bad the actions taken by your team were, the other team is far worse.

The Biblical response

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

— John 15:19

Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

— James 1:27

Christians are not meant to side with worldly tribes. We should be consistent in recognizing evil no matter who it is perpetrated by.

The red and blue tribes are of the world. Keep yourself unstained!

How to tell if someone is worth reading

Imagine Bob, a blogger-cum-journalist who primarily writes stories about how bad Japanese cars are. Ostensibly his site says that he writes about "thinking critically about the automotive industry" or "honest car talk" or something, but all his best stuff is about how bad Japanese cars are compared to the rest of the world.

He writes most positively about US-manufactured cars and is neutral towards European manufacturers.

Any time there is a news story about a Toyota or Honda malfunctioning or being unreliable, he writes about it. He makes much hay out of any story where the details are unclear or aren't fully known yet. If clarifying details arise later, he never updates his old posts.

He spent years writing about unintended acceleration issues in Toyota Camrys in the mid-2000s. Whenever any negative detail popped up, no matter what the source, he would be there with another somber post.

In retrospect, only about 10% of those posts were actually meaningfully accurate, but it doesn't matter – the fact that the unintended accelerations were eventually shown to be caused by defects has been used to shield himself from accusations of being a conspiracy theorist ever since.

When he started out, he mostly implied that Japanese cars sucked due to manufacturer incompetence, but after so many years cataloging malfunctions he feels he has no choice but to assume malicious intent. By the end of the decade, most of his posts about Camrys were more rants than journalism – in his eyes, anyone buying a Toyota was a dupe who deserved the fiery death they had coming.

You could call Bob a "Toyota detractor". He has great motivation to say negative things about Japanese auto makers (that's what his readers expect), and no motivation to say anything positive.

Should you read Bob's posts?

No. If you're an outsider hoping for a holistic perspective on what car to buy, you won't get it from Bob. He will recommend a few Ford or Chevy vehicles that might be worth looking into, but you will never get an intellectually honest comparison of the cars on the market today.

Even if you're an industry expert commanding a broad view of the benefits and downsides of various vehicles, Bob's posts aren't worth reading. His regular readers never hold him accountable when he shares bad information, and it's not worth your time to try to sort out the truth from the fanfic.

The other side

Imagine Alice, a writer working at a Toyota dealership. She's worked there for over ten years. A few years ago she started blogging about her experiences and has built up a sizable following.

She writes on her own time and isn't paid by Toyota, but she almost never says anything negative about the company. She wrote very little about the unintended acceleration issues, though she was quick to let her readers know about the weather mat recall when the NHTSA investigation determined that the cause was weather mats getting stuck under the gas pedal.

You could call Alice a "Toyota booster."

Should you read Alice's posts?

Probably not. Even though she's less likely to be lying than Bob, if there are any serious issues that make Toyota look bad relative to other car manufacturers, she is unlikely to share them.

Even though everything she writes is factual, she meticulously leaves out any context that would give readers the ability to use those facts to make an educated comparison between Toyotas and other cars.

Alice's posts don't give you any appreciable advantage when it comes to making your next car purchase.

So who should you read?

If you filter all the detractors and boosters out of your feed, and learn to close the browser tab as soon as you realize you're reading one of them, you're ahead of the game.

There is good analysis to be found, but don't stress out about finding it. If you're diligent in avoiding bad sources, but you have some friends who care about the full truth and distrust anyone taking a "side" for or against Toyota, you may eventually get to read about what actually happened to those Toyota Camrys. Oftentimes the most truthful answer is "well, it's complicated."

Biblical incrementalism

If you start talking about applying the Bible in pro-life circles, some folks will start accusing you of being impractical. "We're not going to just snap our fingers and suddenly live in a biblical society that obeys all of God's commands. We need to take small steps in the right direction!" These folks sometimes call themselves incrementalists.

What are we incrementing towards?

Most folks in the pro-life community seem to misunderstand God's commands. They have a strong sense that God hates murder (correct), and that their mission is to decrease the amount of murder in the world (broadly incorrect), and that God wants them to change the nation's legislation to reduce murders per capita (very incorrect).

God's commands to decrease murders are personal, given directly to every individual. "You shall not murder." You, personally, are expected to reduce your murders per capita to zero.

God's commands to his people about other people's murders are a bit different. "He who strikes any man mortally shall surely be put to death."

We are not commanded to reduce national murders to zero, we are commanded to put murderers to death.

What biblical incrementalism is not

  • legislation that makes it more difficult to kill your baby
  • punishing murder, but calling it something other than murder
  • punishing an accomplice (e.g. a doctor) but not the other guilty parties
  • any new legislation that treats abortion like some new special case rather than murder

None of these things move us closer to what God has commanded.

What is biblical incrementalism?

We must take steps in the direction of obeying God. Here are biblical steps we could take:

I am only interested in incrementing towards what God commands us in the Bible.

The Flywheel of Anger

Why do some people always seem angry about a few specific topics? Because they're constantly rewarded for dwelling on how awful those things are.

Be angry, and don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.
— Ephesians 4:26

If you want to be appreciated, share a mean story

Anger is popular and it spreads easily. As studied by academics and condensed by CGP Grey, people love to spread stories about how angry the other team makes them even more than they spread useful information or funny stories.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, share an angry image macro and half your acquaintances roar with approval.

Sharing outrage-inducing stories provides the sharer positive feedback in the form of positive interactions from people who agree, giving them a satisfying us-versus-the-bad-guys feeling.

It's not the high that kills you

CGP Grey's metaphor of stories as viruses mutating into a maximally-shareable version of themselves explains most of the links you see shared in your feed every day, but doesn't dwell as much on what happens inside the brains of the people reading the angry stories.

The outrage you can feel when you read a story doesn't exist in a vacuum – it is emotional energy manifested in anger at Something. When you read multiple stories in a row about how bad Something is, it's not just a few hits in a row of a well-targeted high, it is building up a momentum of anger that sticks around longer than any of the details of the story or joke.

That anger momentum primes you to read future stories about the evils of Something. Once you're properly aghast at the evils of Something, it takes less and less of a shocking story for you to get that same level outrage about Something.

Flywheels as a metaphor

Flywheels are sweet machines that store energy. Get them going and it doesn't take much energy to keep them spinning – take your foot off the pedal and they spin for longer than you'd expect.

(My grandparents had an old spinning wheel in their house and I loved to pump away at it.)

Who is everyone angry at?

Folks who achieve even a small amount of fame discover they've attracted persistent haters.

It is downright common for non-crazy people to hate a full-on "public figure":

  • Obama
  • Trump
  • Elon Musk
  • Bill Gates
  • Mark Zuckerberg

Vaguely-defined groups are easy to hate:

  • The ultra-wealthy
  • The medical establishment
  • Capitalists
  • Academia

Abstract conspiracy-theory-level concepts that don't exist in any meaningful sense:

  • The Patriarchy
  • Cultural Marxists

And of course, the Red and Blue tribes, the ultimate outgroups, which often focus their energy on a particular set of flywheels selected from the lists above.

But I'm not angry

If you go looking for it, meditate a lot, and get really introspective about it... it's still way easier to notice the flywheels of anger in other people than yourself.

I don't even think most people with actively spinning anger flywheels would describe their emotion as "anger" or "hate". If you find yourself reading lots of articles about Cultural Marxists, you don't think of it as feeling anger towards an outgroup, it feels like educating yourself on cultural changes. When your friends talk about the oppression of The Patriarchy, you think of it as describing a system that causes visible harm.

By default, people only notice it when they see what other people are saying about their group, and recognize it as almost entirely fabricated.

It's almost entirely lies made up through a series of many blog posts, opinion pieces, questionable news stories, and funny memes.

The dangers

Exposing yourself to angry discourse has downsides.

Exposure to disinformation is the obvious one. I won't say too much on this now except to note that most of the popular sources of news or discourse online write their stories to cater to one set of flywheels or another.

Even if you don't maintain a set of frantically-spinning anger flywheels, it's easy to only consume content full of half-truths and missing context intended to be read credulously by readers who appreciate a quick hit of outrage to feed their flywheel.

More importantly, God doesn't expect us to be motivated by anger. We are supposed to leave the wrath to him.

Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”
— Romans 12:19

Even if sharing articles and memes about how outrage-worthy Something is was effective as vengeance, it would be ungodly.

cast all your worries on him, because he cares for you.
— 1 Peter 5:7