Sep 252017

Rejecting the New Normal 

Sadly and perhaps tragically, our culture and society seems to be getting more and more uncivil.  We are certainly all too familiar with the rude and crude tone in national politics, talk radio, cable news, celebrity Twitter wars, and social media in general that has created a new normal that is shockingly and appallingly uncivil. Many major news outlets… have stopped allowing readers to offer comments at the end of online articles due to an increase in uncivil commentary. 

Social Learning Theory instructs us that people will model or emulate the behavior of others and especially behavior from models who are seen as high profile individuals like national politicians, Hollywood and athletic celebrities, and so forth. However, just as the  frog placed in an increasingly warming pot of boiling water may not perceive a temperature difference until it is too late for survival, perhaps we too can habituate to increasingly uncivil behavior and especially when high profile members of our society appear to not only get away with it but are often reinforced for it.”

Thomas G. Plante, PhD

I’ve decided that I don’t want to get used to the “new normal”.  

I have millennial friends who seem unable to make it through three sentences without dropping the “F” bomb at least twice.  I’ve been told, “It’s the new normal”.  In discussions, it is now common for people to take the most extreme position possible, yell the loudest and consign those who disagree on any point to eternal damnation.  Shouting others down, I’m told, is the “new normal”.  Careful, meticulous research – the result of literally years of study – can be presented and, in an off handed manner, be rejected as “fake” or “biased” without a single glance at the research, sources or materials presented.  Once again, we are informed that it is simply the “new normal”.  The life, actions and statements of a person in leadership may be shown to be immoral, corrupt, and/or filled with false assertions while openly engaging in nepotism in their position of trust.  When questions about such a person are raised, however, we are informed that they are a visionary, or new to the job, or, indeed, that they have been placed there by the “hand of God” and that such questions are inappropriate at best, or at worst, sinful.  Such reasoning is the “new normal”.

I am speaking, of course, not about politics, but about the Church.

Moreover, I am not speaking merely about one segment of the Church, but about the Church at large.  It is far too easy simply to target ultra-conservatives.  We need to recognize that for every Jerry Falwell, Jr., boasting of “packing heat” to deal with a supposed Muslim threat, we also have those like the ultra-liberal Katherine Jefferts Schori (former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church) who forbade the sale of church properties to congregations leaving the Episcopal Church, preferring to see them become mosques, bars, or simply left vacant.

There is, however, something that links someone like a Falwell and a Jefferts Schori and that is their equal appropriation of the “new normal”.  The bullying tactics of the “new normal” have been employed by both, as have been the consigning of certain groups to perdition, the off handed rejection of careful scholarship, the lack of transparency in financial and pastoral/leadership decisions, as well as the megalomaniacal assertions that they indeed know God’s will in a more profound manner than other mere mortals.  Moreover, they really, really, don’t like people asking them pointed questions, preferring that people simply listen… passively and uncritically.

Whether they know it or not, or, indeed, want to admit it, the extremes are mirror images of one another in employing the “new normal” of belligerency and incivility.

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the “new normal”, whether employed by liberals or conservatives, is inimical to the spirit of the Gospels and the example of Christ.

Some like to believe that by embracing this “new normal” we can somehow sanctify it, after all, didn’t Christ overturn tables and drive the money changers from the temple? Unfortunately, we are much too influenced by the dramatic artistic renderings of the event – tables and money flying through the air, a whip in an upraised hand, animals escaping from cages, priests running away.   Yet the Synoptic Gospels make no mention of a whip and, according to Nathan O’Halloran, it is more likely from an examination of the text in John, that Jesus used some ends of ropes lying around to drive the animals out of the temple precincts, pretty much as any herder of animals might do, no doubt followed by their owners! Not as dramatic (and we do like drama) but possibly a bit more accurate.  Moreover, the point was not to be found primarily in the action that took place, but in the meaning of the action, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

I’ve always found it interesting that although the Samaritans as a religious community were castigated by the first century Jews in Palestine, Christ did not pronounce a judgement on them as a group.  He spoke of them, and with them, almost exclusively as individuals – the woman at the well, the “Good Samaritan”, etc.  In our own day, in the Church, it has become common to marginalizing someone’s opinion simply by placing them in an opposing group that has a label – “he’s a liberal”, “she’s a conservative”. It is significant to note, however, that it was not Christ that made use of this technique, but his enemies, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  Interestingly enough, Christ only replied that he did not have a demon and ignored the marginalizing slur, saying only, “I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” He was not going to play the game of division by association… and neither should we. What was “normal” for others, was not “normal” for Christ.

All this is to say, that we do not have to accept the “new normal”.  Indeed, by accepting the “new normal” in society, or in the Church, we become less than what we are meant to be as believers and often dishonor the One we claim to follow. 

Oh, by the way, to my good millennial friends – I love you dearly, but keep the “F” bombs to yourself.  In this, as in other matters, I don’t want to get used to the “new normal”.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  71 Responses to “Rejecting the New Normal: Dr. Duane Arnold”

  1. By coincidence , this post showed up this morning in my Facebook memories…

    “The daily standards that you live by should not be relaxed in any way, yet you must deal gently with the faults of others. Learn to be lenient with the less important matters but maintain your firmness over that which is essential. Remember that true firmness is gentle, humble, and calm. A sharp tongue, a proud heart, and an iron hand have no place in God’s work. Wisdom sweetly orders all things.”

  2. Well said Duane. For my part, I HAD to disassociate from most social media because of the tone and belligerence of many people, myself included. Boy did I get really puffed up with my own opinions at times.

    I first became aware of this “new normal” when GWB became President in 2000. Boy oh boy did the hate spew forth. Then when Barak Obama became President in 2008, the hate spewed forth again, but from the other side. The 2016 election induced the same.

    In my personal life and interactions with people, I try to not let people’s politics get in the way of my relating to them as I think Christ would want me to. Try is the key word. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I get more frustrated with those who I side with than those who I don’t side with…mainly due to their attitudes and method of delivery…and I do occasionally let loose…as I have done here on occasion.

    And thanks for mentioning the driving out of the money changers incident in the Bible. This is what drives me crazy about some believers who resort to mockery, rudeness, and belligerence at the drop of a hat. I certainly could point out some examples from well-known Christian bloggers, but I won’t. I don’t know. Some may disagree with me in using this tactic, but personally I am not comfortable with it, and have more than a few times deleted comments before publishing them on this and other websites.

  3. Great quote there Michael.

  4. #1 Michael

    That really is a fantastic quote…

  5. #2 Dan

    If it is any comfort, some of my best emails are the ones I never sent…

  6. Duane, I bet many of us could say that!

  7. It’s a tragedy that even an article like this calling for irenic discourse will be controversial.
    We have been deceived into thinking only in binary terms and that the opposition is not only wrong, but a danger to all we hold dear.
    We have been trained to think of each other as enemies that must be vanquished.

    This…is the spirit of anti-Christ.

    For any ways that I too have been deceived, I repent.

  8. Somewhere along the way ‘class’ became a derogatory term… There was a time when Fenelon’s recommended conduct was a. description of classy behavior – Christian or pagan… At least in this country… …
    In light of 1 Tim 3, maybe Christianity influenced the building of the nation more than we admit … dunno … thinking…

  9. #7 Michael

    Our friend Glenn in Chicago sent me this quote:

    “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” -Anne Lamott

  10. Duane,

    That’s my favorite Lamott quote.

    Scripture has become a weapon against our enemies instead of a mirror to correct ourselves…and I’ve been as guilty as anyone.

  11. #10 Michael

    I see the prejudice in scholarship all the time – he’s a liberal, can’t trust his research or he’s a conservative, can’t trust his research…
    When the person doing scholarship has to have exactly the same views as ourselves, we cut ourselves off from a whole universe of learning.

  12. Scripture as a weapon rather than a mirror? Can’t it be both?
    IMHO the root of the Church’s problem today is that we have no training in the handling of Scripture – either as a weapon or as a mirror… Holy things are not respected, let alone understood … or so it seems to me …

  13. I had a frustrated student walk out of class today and tell me to F… off. While his point was to be disrespectful and dismissive, to me it was neither. I’m not that way. I don’t get offended with the language, because it conceals a bigger truth. I want to get past the barriers and teach the kid. If people can work at being less offendable and more committed to building bridges, the language (and other stiff-arms) will decrease. On the other hand, I’m working hard to avoid language that may throw up an offense to others.

    by the way, I think the f word is losing its power simply to overuse. Routine use has blunted its force.

  14. employment of new testament “love” should always be our new normal.

  15. #13/14 filbertz

    I hope you’re right about “routine use”… We had a couple over for dinner this last month. The woman, 31, attractive, college educated, professional, dropped the “F” bomb so continuously that the other guest – a 36 year old rock musician was blushing!

  16. I admire those with great people skills, are tactful, and peacemakers who can discuss anything diplomatically and respectfully. That kind of poise and self-control take practice and discipline. I don’t think very many of us are patient enough to pursue honing those gifts. When ever I see someone demonstrating that kind of humility in a discussion (N.T. Wright is someone that comes to mind), I always say, “That’s what I want to be like when I grow up.”

  17. #16 BryonM

    Yes, a good example of Romans 12:18… “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

  18. today, from what i’ve observed in my neck of the woods, using the “f” word is a sign of being educated… but for the life of me i cannot see why… unless it is to give the message that decorum is a thing of the past and is phony?
    the signal it sends me is that the user is a destroyer or a servant of him who is the Destroyer

    example is a strong influence and filbertz may be influencing those students more than is seen now… perhaps that is why we are told to stand, rather than attack? dunno, just thinking on this..

  19. Fantastic post and all great comments thus far.

    Those quotes by Fenelon and Lamott…Wow!!!

  20. #19

    Thanks, Captain K…

  21. Thank you Duane. Let’s speak truth in love with one another.

  22. Great post, Doc.

  23. Jean and David,

    Many thanks… Yes speaking the truth in love. I wonder how our social media habits would change if we took Luther’s Small Catechism on the eighth commandment seriously…

    “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

    “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

  24. Duane et. al…(23)

    That is one verse that has been on my mind a lot when I think about social media and the spirit/tenor of the age we are in. How often we speak in the strongest terms and engage in exaggeration and hyperbole in order to win an argument and tear one another down. Let’s call it what it is…lying.

  25. #24 Dan

    Indeed. I think the constant climate of “exaggeration and hyperbole” in public life, the church, and social media has had a numbing effect, when, in reality, we should know better and conduct ourselves accordingly.

    I’ve noticed, for instance, in many issues, the most extreme examples of outrageous behavior will be brought forward to bolster whatever argument, pro or con, is being presented. It really keeps us from thinking through what is actually happening and how we should react as Christians.

  26. It would be interesting to dig into Luther’s comments on the 8th commandment when it comes to “exaggeration and hyperbole” in public life,” – from the one who was the king of such speech in his day.

  27. Calvin was only slightly better…and religious dispute has a harsh history.

    The issue today is that we’re all doing it without either the education or purpose of the old divines…and it’s eating away at the social structure like acid.

  28. Social media if a strange creature – but I don’t think many who get hot under the collar on Facebook or Twitter carry it outside of those environments. Perhaps others have different experiences but I have never had anyone at my last 2 churches talk about divisive behavior on the internet or bringing up “the hot topics” in church.- even during the coffee hour.

    I think the big deal is we need to identify and neutralize those who have difficulty separating themselves from the fantasy of social media when they go back into the real world.

    Seriously, does anyone here (please feel free to raise your hand if you do) take social media discussion to go any further than when people of the past generation played dungeons and dragons?

  29. You have shown a softer Jesus in the temple…shooing the animals away gently….wasn’t He over turning tables and causing a scene? Was He not angry?

  30. Isn’t there a time for we as Christians to be angry?

  31. MLD,

    I actually know of churches and families that have split and workplaces that feel like they’re under siege.

    The crazy is spilling over…a lot.

  32. Dusty,

    There is such a thing as righteous anger…but most of what we want to baptize is unrighteous as can be…

  33. Michael,
    “I actually know of churches and families that have split and workplaces that feel like they’re under siege.”

    So who is the problem here? Don’t they know to step back from social media? If they did, it would all go away.
    I turned off cable news 3-4 yrs ago and it all went away … immediately.

  34. Funny thing about language. I grew up around attorneys, and law enforcement types. Two professions who use the “f word” as a noun, verb, and adjective. My dad could cuss with the best of them (he was a lawyer). I remember making the tragic mistake of cussing front of my mom. My dad made it clear, “There is house language, and there is barn language, don’t confuse them ever again.”

    The problem today is that folks don’t have that filter anymore.

  35. MLD,

    I have a theory…

    The amount of programming that is simply people arguing with each other is staggering and not accidental.
    People get addicted to the “rage high” and don’t have whatever it takes to understand that they’re being manipulated for the sake of ad dollars.

    I had one fellow close to me who was told by his doctor to either turn off the TV and talk radio or buy his cemetery plot…and I don’t think he’s unique…

  36. “There is house language, and there is barn language, don’t confuse them ever again.”

    I like that…

  37. Got it, thanks

  38. I refuse to watch almost anything on TV. I will watch CNN when I need news of an event in real time. They are still the best at that.

    I don’t even know why I pay for cable. I hate TV. TV programming serves the single purpose of getting people to buy things – pharmaceuticals, lawyers, As Seen on TV items, and sundry other junk.

  39. #35 David

    “The problem today is that folks don’t have that filter anymore.” Exactly…

  40. David H – not even WWE Wrestling?

  41. There may be value in meditating on what it means to be made “in the image of God”.

    Perhaps a better understanding could affect the way we treat others.

  42. #42 Josh

    Absolutely… It’s something we forget all too often.

  43. Wouldn’t the Holy Spirit guide and correct us if we were walking in His ways, being in His Word daily. Praying without stopping. … 😉

  44. Good word josh

  45. When i was working i noticed over time people would not cus around me…if they slipped they would apologize right away….the way we act has an effect on how those around us act….usually

  46. I agree with Dusty. I can’t remember the last time someone dropped the F Bomb in my house. It makes you wonder what vibes a host gives off if someone feels comfortable enough to do so in your home.

    I entertain many of my kids and their friends here with the boat and the lake – much horseplay among the 30 – 40 yr olds and plenty of drinking – no one drops the F Bomb.

  47. Even when i was put in a lead position over the truck unloaders….the motley crew as the boss called them. Their language and choice topics changed after just a few days of me working there….their work ethic improved….the boss asked me how did i earn their respect like that….i said by treating them like they mattered. And lots of prayer

  48. MLD, that speaks a lot about the respect you have with them. That they have for you!

  49. Good words, Dusty … others too. … I think we all could benefit from thinking on dusty’s and MLDs illustrations … they well may show what it means to “stand” in the best way? still thinking on another good post from Dr. D and the comments on it here…..

  50. #47 MLD

    You were not here, you do not know.

  51. People cuss around me a good bit, but my lack of swearing has been noticed often over the last 15 years, and has opened many opportunities for ministry. Strange as that is.

    There is a point to what MLD and Dusty are saying, without casting any aspersions on anyone else. If we are “salt of the earth”, the main use of salt at that time was as a preservative. Our mere presence in the world should slow the decay around us. That may or may not be recognizable in the language around us, but our presence should make a difference in some way.

  52. Duane – I was not where?

  53. Oh, you thought I was talking about you – hadn’t crossed my mind. However, it still stands – something must tip off that it is OK.

  54. I hear it constantly…in line at the store and elsewhere.
    I think it’s simply that the standard for what is acceptable discourse has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.
    There was a day when you couldn’t say “damn” on TV…now you can say what you will on tv, radio, online, and in music.
    It’s not acceptable to claim that someone must give tacit acceptance to such…that’s a thinly veiled insult and won’t be tolerated.

  55. Not being argumentative here, but does the behavior of either Dusty or MLD give “tacit approval? Aren’t they conveying a higher standard? Would be interested in how we can draw the line… As Michael noted, in my part of the world there are potty mouths everywhere… Maybe the role models today (TV and radio) are where the cleanup begins? But that is a free speech right … maybe better name would be free speech wrong, eh?

  56. I was ot trying to insult anyone 🙁

  57. We live in an era when the President can call someone a SOB in a public rally…the standards have changed.

  58. Dusty,

    I didn’t think you were…it’s all good.

  59. Standards have changed…a gentleman used to never swear in the presence of a lady or child. Now the “ladies” are worse than the men ..and the children are out of controle as filbertz’ example shows us. What can we do?

  60. #58 Michael

    If you think that is a lowering of public discourse… check the name of the new Tom Ford cologne.

    Of course, someone must “tip off that it’s OK”…

  61. Actually, with a name like that, I will bet they spent a million bucks in customer survey panels to be tipped off was OK to be outrageous and ‘naughty’ … and to use a word 90% of the population has no idea what it means. It will be similar to an inside joke.

  62. normal and I have never been on good terms. the status quo in the evangelical churches in my area is largely the windmill I tired of jousting with. no one seems to miss my attendance, tithe, input, service, frivolity, or jaded mindset. Much like the Who’s lyrics with a slight alteration, “meet the new normal, same as the old normal.”

  63. One thing I am sure of – the folks who frequent the PhxP who have been chased out or frosted out of the churches … or maybe even those who have just walked away … All these folks lumped together would make quite a wonderful church… good things would happen … Or so it seems to me. 😏

  64. 64 😊 It is a church of sorts. The only one I keep “entering” almost every day and grateful no one can kick me out off, if I manage to behave myself somewhat LOL! Though I’ve definitely gone walk about, I treasure the relationships, thoughtful discussions and even some of the occasional sibling rivalry I find here (especially seeing how it gets resolved sooner or later). ❤️

  65. 64. I left my old evangelical church because of the fact that I was becoming a bigger jerk with each passing year and I needed a more robust form of Christianity if I had any hope of salvation. I wasn’t chased out or frosted out; they tried to keep me, but it was too late.

  66. #66 Xenia

    Other older folk here may know, but I don’t. Did you go immediately to the EO?

  67. Duane, yes.

    Some Sundays I would wake up, not knowing for sure which church I would attend. I would drive down the road and come to the intersection where I could either turn in an eastward direction, to the Orthodox parish, or turn in a westward direction to Calvary Chapel. For a while I didn’t know which way I was going to turn but my car 🙂 always wanted to go East. Eventually, I always turned East and after a few months, asked to be received into the Greek Church. That was 15 years ago. We are now members of a Russian parish that is right here in town.

  68. There was never a Sunday when I didn’t attend church and there were some Sundays when I attended both!

  69. Xenia, when I lived in MN/Minneapolis area, I always wanted to attend one of the Russian Orthodox churches in the area, mainly out of curiosity and having an interest in Russian culture. I know little to nothing of the faith tradition, but was curious. Now that I am in the Bible Belt and married I have forgotten all about that desire. Maybe someday I will ask my wife if she would like to check one out…if we can find one down here.

  70. #68 Xenia

    Good to know. My interest in the EO goes back to the late 70s, early 80s and patristic studies. I also became a good friend of a Russian Orthodox priest who had gone to St. Vlad’s. He made me read The Rudder from cover to cover! Over the course of a few years, it was a great learning experience…

    Quite a jump from CC to EO!

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