How to play “Dave’s Famous Telephone Charades”

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Dave’s Famous Telephone Charades is a party game that requires a minimum of 4 “participants,” as well as a certain critical mass of reasonably creative “audience members,” probably no less than 4. It was a perennial favourite of my circle of friends when I was an undergrad at Western.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Players 1–4 go to a separate room where they can’t see or hear the audience members talking.
  2. The audience members choose a scene to be acted out silently by the players.
    • The instructions for the scene to be acted out should be simple—aim for 1 sentence.
    • The scene should lend itself easily to physical movement and interpretation.
    • The scene must be something that can be acted out silently.
    • Examples include: “washing the dishes,” “an otter in its natural habitat,” “a day in the life of a …”
  3. Player 1 comes back to the room with the audience, where he is told the scene to be acted out. He is given 10 seconds to think about what exactly he will do.
  4. Player 2 comes into the room and watches player 1 silently act out the scene given to him. The scene should be about 30 seconds long, tops. To be clear: no one tells players 2–4 what the scene is until after the game is finished.
  5. Player 3 enters and player 2 acts out the scene from memory, not knowing the instructions that were given to player 1.
  6. Player 4 enters and player 3 acts out the scene from memory.
  7. Player 4 acts out the scene as best he can from memory, narrating what it is she thinks she is acting out.
  8. Player 3 corrects player 4.
  9. Player 2 corrects player 3.
  10. Player 1 reveals the instructions she was given in the first place.

This sort of game only works with certain kinds of people in the right sort of mood, but when you have the right combination of people with the right sort of energy all together in the same place, it can be hilarious.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3471,
    title = {How to play “Dave’s Famous Telephone Charades”},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-04-7,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/07/how-to-play-daves-famous-telephone-charades/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How to play “Dave’s Famous Telephone Charades”" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 07 Apr 2013. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/07/how-to-play-daves-famous-telephone-charades/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Apr 07). How to play “Dave’s Famous Telephone Charades” [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/07/how-to-play-daves-famous-telephone-charades/

Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media

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I hate Instagram too, but arresting someone for using it is ridiculous

I hate Instagram too, but arresting someone for using it is ridiculous

It’s hard to trust the police in Montréal these days. “Officer 728” is a household name, known for her abuse of power, which was caught on video. There was also a famous CCTV video of a prostrate man being brutally kicked repeatedly by the Montréal police. This problem isn’t restricted to Montréal either. Recently a police officer in Vancouver was caught on video punching a cyclist in the face while putting him in handcuffs.

Technology and the abuse of police power

I used to largely dismiss reports of police abuses of power. When I saw graffiti saying, “eff the police” or something to that effect, I used to chalk it up to conspiracy theorists and delinquent youths. Now that it’s all on Youtube, it’s harder to ignore the problem.

(I also used to dismiss those who spray-painted “burn the banks” in a number of parts of Montréal as conspiracy theorists, but since 2008, I can kind of see where they’re coming from.)

We’re entering into an age when abuses of power by police are being caught on tape more and more often. I don’t think that police abusing their power is a new thing, or even that the rates have changed recently. I’m of the position that it might just be more visible because of the recent development that nearly everyone is carrying around a camera in their pocket that can instantly upload video of police brutality to Youtube. The Google Glass project (and the clones that are sure to follow) may make this even more common.

This is unsettling to me, partly because it might mean that a lot of the times I dismissed claims of police abuse, I was in the wrong.

We should all be legitimately outraged by this

More importantly though, this should make us all angry because this is not how justice works in Canada. Even if the robbery suspect was completely guilty of every crime the police suspected, we don’t allow individual police officers to dole out their own personal vengeance in the form of physical beatings. We certainly don’t allow groups of police officers to do so against suspected criminals as they lie helpless in the snow, and most emphatically, there is no place in Canadian justice for criminals to be punished in this way (or any other) without due process or without even having been formally charged with a crime.

A police officer punching a restrained person is much worse than a regular citizen punching another citizen. This is because the police are, so to speak, the final guarantee that the government has power over its citizens and that there is the rule of law in a country. The most basic reason for others not to steal your stuff is that if they do, there’s a good chance that the police will come and take away their freedom in such a way that it’s not worth it for most people to engage in that behaviour. All laws largely work on the same principle. Sure, there’s other sanctions that a government can use, like taxation, but even that is underwritten by the threat of police coming and putting you in prison if you break the tax laws.

So, when a police officer physically abuses a citizen, he shakes our faith in the proper functioning of the machinery of government. This makes the issue not just one of bad PR for a particular police department, but one of general faith in our country to work in a just and equitable way. Further, if the police are vigilantes and there is no recourse, it legitimizes vigilante justice by the people against the police.

This means that when a police officer abuses his power, there must be some recourse that is transparent, timely and just. There can’t even be the appearance that the police are above the law, otherwise what you will see is ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands to bring the police to justice, which is a very scary prospect.

Ordinary citizens are taking the law into their own hands to bring the police to justice

In response to the issues I have described above, as well as a number of much less famous examples of abuse of police power during the protests in Montréal, there has been a movement toward the use of social media to identify the police who are abusing their power. This is being done by citizens who believe that there has been abuse of power by police in Montréal, and that the normal channels of addressing these abuses have been of no avail.

They are collecting photos, videos, identification numbers, names and addresses of police officers, cataloguing their transgressions and calling for retribution.

The police are calling this “intimidation.” They are calling for it to be taken down. They’re (rightly) complaining that there is no way for a police officer who is wrongly accused in this way to clear his name, and that the police, and even some non-police are being put in danger because of this.

What needs to happen

I have not been involved in the student protests in Montréal. I have never been beaten by the police. I generally believe that if I call 911, it will be the “good guys” who show up at my door. That said, I can understand why someone who was abused by a police officer might be tempted to post this information out of frustration at the ineffectiveness of the official recourse against such abuse.

In some ways, the police have been implicitly training us to use these methods if we want anything to get done: Likely the police officer from Vancouver would have gotten away with punching the cyclist in the face if the cyclist’s friend hadn’t caught it on video and posted it to Youtube.

If the police want us to use official channels to address police abuses, they have to give us reason to think that it’s better to do that than to just appeal to the Internet for justice. Politically-motivated arrests of people for posting “intimidating” things online won’t cut it.

I think we will only see a real change in public attitudes toward police brutality given the following three conditions.

  1. The official channels must be transparent. It must be clear to everyone that something is being done, and we have to see that officers who abuse their power are appropriately punished. Confidence in the relationship between the state and its citizens is what’s at stake, and so the solution must be one that publicly restores confidence.
  2. Official channels must be timely. The old adage, “justice delayed is justice denied” applies here. If citizens get impatient waiting for justice to be applied, they may be tempted to take it into their own hands.
  3. Finally, official recourse against police abuse must be just. This is where an official means of recourse against police brutality could actually outdo Internet vigilantes. Internet vigilante justice will always be faster and more transparent than anything official could ever be, but an official channel can enforce punishments fitting to the crime, and can claim legitimacy in a way that vigilantes never can.

If a police officer publicly faced criminal charges, rather than just a “paid leave of absence” followed by “counselling” and this happened in short order after an accusation of abuse, this would do a lot to restore faith in official channels. The people of Montréal might even learn that the legitimate checks and balances are preferable to pursuing vigilante justice through social media.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3454,
    title = {Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-04-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/06/internet-vigilante-justice-against-the-police-in-montreal-through-social-media/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 Apr 2013. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/06/internet-vigilante-justice-against-the-police-in-montreal-through-social-media/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Apr 06). Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/06/internet-vigilante-justice-against-the-police-in-montreal-through-social-media/

Super creepy Ananas

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Creepy Ananas

Creepy Ananas

Since my sister’s move to Montréal, she watched a lot of Téléfrançais. In an effort to keep up with her level of French, I have been watching it as well. Téléfrançais is an educational TV show designed to teach French to elementary school students. It stars a talking pineapple named “Ananas.”

Inspired by Téléfrançais, I have been working on a digitally remastered version of Ananas in Blender. Tonight I did a little camera tracking test and put Ananas on the kitchen table with my sister and boyfriend. It turned out okay. Click the thumbnail of the image attached to this post to see an animated GIF of Ananas waving at you creepily.

I feel like this creepiness is definitely in keeping with the spirit of Téléfrançais. Next up, time to do some writing. I’m not planning a feature-length film, but perhaps a (series of) short film(s)?

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3245,
    title = {Super creepy Ananas},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-02-17,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/17/super-creepy-ananas/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Super creepy Ananas" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 17 Feb 2013. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/17/super-creepy-ananas/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Feb 17). Super creepy Ananas [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/17/super-creepy-ananas/

New house

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Sesame Street Colour Collection

Sesame Street Colour Collection

In December of 2012, Alain and I became home-owners for the first time ever. The building that we bought is a duplex. We now live with my little sister in the lower unit and rent out the upper unit to help out with the mortgage.

The house has everything we wanted, and even a few things we didn’t know that we would want. It has a garage, which is great for snowy Montréal winters. It also has a big beautiful back yard with gardens all around. The house is 4 minutes by foot from the métro, and it’s sort of near the Olympic Stadium.

There are two things that we really plan to change about the house: The tile floors in the front hallway and the kitchen need to go, and we’d like to renovate the bathroom. It’s fine, but it isn’t beautiful. Also, the bathtub is kinda shallow.

Cookie Monster paint colours

Cookie Monster paint colours

The previous owner of the house had made some questionable decorating choices, and so when we moved in, painting was in order. When we went to the hardware store to find books of paint samples, one in particular caught our eye: The Sesame Street Colour Collection (see the first image attached to this post). My little sister wanted her room to be coloured “Cookie Monster,” so we painted her room a nice calm light blue with a cream-coloured stripe along the middle. She has darker blue curtains for her window, and we plan to find some pots to paint dark blue and put googly eyes on.

Ernie and Bert paint colours

Ernie and Bert paint colours

As for me and Alain, we really didn’t have a choice when we saw that there was a “Bert and Ernie” theme. This turned out to be a lot of work, although the official story is that the whole paint-job took 20 minutes. When it was half-way done, I was a little worried about how it would look when it was finished, but then by the end, it  turned out much better than I had anticipated. The doors to the bedroom have orange translucent glass panels in them, which happened to work with the orange lines in the paint—not by design, but purely by accident. You can see in the video below the way that the paint looked when the green masking tape was still on the walls.

 

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3213,
    title = {New house},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-01-13,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/01/13/new-house/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "New house" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 13 Jan 2013. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/01/13/new-house/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Jan 13). New house [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/01/13/new-house/

Nitrile gloves for cleaning the apartment

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I used to have a couple pair of big yellow rubber gloves that I used for cleaning up—one pair for doing the dishes and another for when I would use harsh chemicals to wash the bathroom or kitchen counters. I get dry skin easily, you see. The problem with big yellow rubber gloves is that water gets in them and over time they start to mould on the inside. This is the reason that I started buying disposable nitrile gloves for these sorts of tasks.

Nitrile gloves fall into that weird category of things that doctors and nurses carry around, that you wouldn’t expect normal people to have, but that anyone can just buy without a licence or a prescription or anything.

Here are some other things that fall into that category:

  • Lab coats
  • Stethoscopes
  • Blood pressure cuffs
  • Clipboards
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Reflex hammers
  • Scrubs

This is creepy to me in the “impersonate a medical professional” sort of way.

Anyway, last week I was thinking about this while I was in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen. I received an email and went to check it without taking the gloves off. This is why Alain found me sitting in the living room typing at my computer, wearing blue nitrile gloves and humming the theme to Dexter all while smiling like an idiot.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-3059,
    title = {Nitrile gloves for cleaning the apartment},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-10-8,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/10/08/nitrile-gloves-for-cleaning-the-apartment/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Nitrile gloves for cleaning the apartment" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 08 Oct 2012. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/10/08/nitrile-gloves-for-cleaning-the-apartment/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Oct 08). Nitrile gloves for cleaning the apartment [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/10/08/nitrile-gloves-for-cleaning-the-apartment/

Weird thing to find in my readings for “Health and Physical Assessment”

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My textbook for “Health and Physical Assessment” is called Physical Examination and Health Assessment (first Canadian edition) by Carolyn Jarvis. I’ve only done two readings from it, and it’s mostly what I expect. Largely, it’s written in a very scientific tone. It’s a textbook about anatomy, some common forms of illness, and techniques on how to assess a patient.

What’s surprising is something I found right in the middle of chapter 18, (thorax and lungs). The author uses an emotive, almost poetic voice to describe the baby’s first breath:

Breath is life. When the newborn inhales the first breath, the lusty cry that follows reassures anxious parents that their baby is all right.

(Jarvis, C. Physical Examination and Health Assessment. First Canadian Edition. p. 442)

The chapter continues immediately afterward in its characteristic, professional manner for the rest of the chapter, as if nothing happened. I read it, and had to go back to make sure that I didn’t imagine it. I don’t even know what they’re trying to get at with the whole “breath is life” thing. It’s almost philosophical, but then there’s no content there.

Just weird, that’s all.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2675,
    title = {Weird thing to find in my readings for “Health and Physical Assessment”},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-01-18,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/01/18/weird-thing-to-find-in-my-readings-for-health-and-physical-assessment/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Weird thing to find in my readings for “Health and Physical Assessment”" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 18 Jan 2012. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/01/18/weird-thing-to-find-in-my-readings-for-health-and-physical-assessment/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Jan 18). Weird thing to find in my readings for “Health and Physical Assessment” [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/01/18/weird-thing-to-find-in-my-readings-for-health-and-physical-assessment/

Misunderstanding the lyrics to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”

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I make it no secret that I have a hard time understanding the lyrics to most music. Usually, Christmas music is an exception. Christmas songs are the same, year after year. Even more helpful, if you’re in a choir or if you attend church, often the lyrics of Christmas songs are printed out and handed to you so you can sing along. Even with all that help, though, Walking in a Winter Wonderland is a song that took me a long time to figure out.

One part of the song goes as follows:

In the meadow, we can build a snowman
And pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say, “Are you married?”
We’ll say “No man!
“But you can do the job when you’re in town”

As a child, I thought “Parson” was some guy’s first name. I figured he was some famous person I hadn’t heard of in other contexts. Clearly I didn’t think about it too hard.

But if you don’t realise that “Parson” means “member of the clergy” and “do the job” means “officiate your wedding,” you might think that the singers of this song were a bunch of floosies, and that they had another “job” in mind for him to “do” while he was in town.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2572,
    title = {Misunderstanding the lyrics to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-12-20,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/20/misunderstanding-the-lyrics-to-walking-in-a-winter-wonderland/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Misunderstanding the lyrics to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 20 Dec 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/20/misunderstanding-the-lyrics-to-walking-in-a-winter-wonderland/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Dec 20). Misunderstanding the lyrics to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/20/misunderstanding-the-lyrics-to-walking-in-a-winter-wonderland/

Ask a Québécois(e)!

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Foosball

Foosball

Next time you have the chance, ask a Québécois(e) to tell you the name of the popular game pictured to the left in this post.

In English, we call it “foosball.”

In French it’s called “baby-foot.” I’m not saying that a literal translation of the French term for “foosball” would be “baby-foot”—the French don’t call it “pied de bébé.” The French say the English words “baby-foot” as their word for “foosball.”

I’m not sure why I expected the French word for “foosball” to make sense. The English word is confusing to me as well.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2564,
    title = {Ask a Québécois(e)!},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-12-19,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/19/ask-a-quebecois/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Ask a Québécois(e)!" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 19 Dec 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/19/ask-a-quebecois/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Dec 19). Ask a Québécois(e)! [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/19/ask-a-quebecois/

An alternate ending to Captain America (or “Captain America and the Therapeutic Misconception”)

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The therapeutic misconception

In medical practice, the efforts of the medical team are directed toward therapy. That is to say, when a doctor or a nurse or some other medical professional performs some action on a patient, her actions are morally underwritten by the benefit she hopes to provide to the patient.

For example, a blood draw is somewhat uncomfortable. But we allow medical professionals to take blood if it is done for the purposes of diagnosis. Same thing with setting a bone—very painful, but it is allowed because it is aimed at providing some direct medical benefit to the patient.

In human research, this is not the case.

In human medical research, the efforts of the research team are directed toward gaining useful and generalisable knowledge. That is to say, when a doctor or a nurse or some other medical researcher performs some action on a patient, her actions are not morally underwritten by the benefit she hopes to provide to the patient. Rather, her actions are morally underwritten by the benefit she hopes to provide through the use of generalisable knowledge in informing medical practice.

Blood draws are very common in many kinds of medical research as well. But they are allowed in human research, but not because the patient will necessarily receive any benefit. Instead, it is the benefit to others that makes drawing blood from the patient permissible.

To put it simply, medical researchers are not necessarily trying to help their subjects. That is not what they are doing. This is probably pretty clear at this point.

But what about cases where the patient-subject is receiving some new “experimental” therapy? Perhaps our hypothetical example patient-subject has already been through multiple therapies, none of which worked, and this therapy is the patient-subject’s last best hope.

It’s in cases like these where the line between therapy and research becomes fuzzier.

The therapeutic misconception is something that happens when patients regard medical research as medical therapy. Often, patients will have an exaggerated idea of the chances of success of the procedure. In other cases, patients will full-out not understand that it’s possible that they would be randomised to a control group and not receive any treatment other than a placebo.

The therapeutic misconception is a major problem in human research ethics, and different ethicists have had different ideas on how to deal with it. Some have suggested that doctors should wear red labcoats when they are working in their capacity as a researcher, in contrast with their normal white ones. Others have suggested that patient-subjects always be compensated financially for their participation in a trial, so that the patient regards the money she receives as the benefit from the trial, rather than the “treatment.”

I saw Captain America on Friday night. While it is a fun movie, it doesn’t help things too much in terms of the therapeutic misconception. I know it wasn’t written with human research ethics in mind, but really, we’ve got a guy who is a subject of a medical experiment, but who receives tremendous medical benefit.

People who are participating in medical research watch films like this and even though they know that they won’t come out of the research protocol standing a full two feet taller with rippling muscles not having spent a minute at the gym, they still get the wrong idea—that when you’re recruited to human research, one of the researcher’s goals is direct medical benefit to you.

Alternate ending to Captain America

Most of the movie would be the same, but just as Captain America is about to save the world, we find out that Steve Rogers was actually randomised to the placebo group. Captain America crashes the evil airplane into the ice and everyone says, “Oh no. It was just a placebo all along.” The body is never found.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2106,
    title = {An alternate ending to Captain America (or “Captain America and the Therapeutic Misconception”)},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-08-29,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/29/an-alternate-ending-to-captain-america/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "An alternate ending to Captain America (or “Captain America and the Therapeutic Misconception”)" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 29 Aug 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/29/an-alternate-ending-to-captain-america/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Aug 29). An alternate ending to Captain America (or “Captain America and the Therapeutic Misconception”) [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/29/an-alternate-ending-to-captain-america/

When is a Christian not a Christian?

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Breivik

Breivik

In the wake of the attacks in Norway on July 22, a lot of ink has been spilled with regard to how we should think about Breivik. Is he a terrorist or is he just a mass-murderer? Is he a madman or is he a responsible for his actions? Further, it is a matter of great debate how we should think of his right-wing political views and how we should think about his profession of Christianity. I have read a number of articleseditorials and tweets that all say the same thing: Breivik is not a Christian.

I’m not going to enter the debate about whether he’s a Christian, or to chide us all for the hypocrisy of associating terrorism done by Muslims with Islam, while letting Christianity “off the hook” for terrorism done by Christians, as pertinent as such debates are, and as much as I find commentary on latent racism in news media interesting. (I have honestly never seen so much news coverage regarding a person’s hair colour and eye colour before in my life!)

More interesting to me is another question that has been raised in my mind by this crisis and the scramble to distance Breivik from Christianity. Namely, When is it acceptable to unilaterally declare that another person is not a Christian? I’m not talking about cases where a person says of herself, “I am not a Christian.” I’m talking about when another person sees someone who has claimed to be a Christian at some point in her history, and makes a judgement based on her actions or words that she is not a Christian, in spite of the person’s profession of faith.

Without loss of generality, and hoping not to get bogged down in a debate about this particular person, let’s take Breivik as our exemplar case. As far as I know, the term “Christian” has been applied to him on the basis of his blond hair, blue eyes, a Facebook profile attributed to him, and possibly the contents of a manifesto he left behind before his attacks. So, we could say that, on some level, he has claimed to be a Christian.

Let’s imagine for the sake of argument that Breivik believed that Christ died for his sins, and that by trusting in Jesus’ name, he would be in right relationship with God, and yet he still committed these terrible attacks. I think we would still have the same sort of “he’s not a real Christian” reaction even if he could articulate the gospel as clearly as Billy Graham.

But is it acceptable for someone to assess Breivik by his actions, say “This does not accord with Christianity,” and then unilaterally judge him to be outside of God’s elect?

In an effort to figure out what Christians would take as justifying a judgement that someone is not a Christian, regardless of that person’s profession of faith, I have composed a table of putative sins, whether they are non-controversially wrong, and whether or not I think Christians would be comfortable with unilaterally assessing a person guilty of that sin as being a non-Christian.

This is admittedly not very scientific, as I am relying on only my own personal experience and anecdotal evidence here, and you may have different experiences of Christians. That said, I think the first 7 rows are fairly non-controversial, and the others could be defended.

Putative sin Moral status Moral status according to agent Would a Christian be comfortable with a unilateral judgement that the agent is not a Christian?
Compulsive lying Wrong Wrong No
Gossiping Wrong Wrong No
Selfishness Wrong Wrong No
Cheating on taxes Wrong Wrong No
Rudeness Wrong Wrong No
Failure to help the poor Wrong Depends No
Alcoholism Wrong Wrong No
Left-wing politics Debatable* Right Sometimes
Right-wing politics Debatable* Right Sometimes
Homosexuality Debatable* Acceptable Yes
Abortion Debatable* Depends Yes
Belief in evolution Debatable* Right Yes
Divorce Debatable* Depends Yes
Breivik’s attacks Wrong** Necessary Yes

* I have indicated these as “debatable,” because there is a significant proportion of Christians on either side of the debate. I do not indicate whether I believe the debate is legitimate or not.

** I have indicated Breivik’s actions as “wrong” here despite Breivik’s claim that his actions were necessary because I can think of no one besides Breivik who would argue that his actions can be morally defended in any way.

What is interesting here is that it is the “sins” that are most political and in which we arguably have the least amount of consensus on what is right that Christians are most comfortable with unilaterally declaring a person to be not a Christian. In cases like selfishness, gossiping, or tax evasion, even though everyone, including the sinner, agrees that it’s wrong, we have a hard time saying, “you aren’t a Christian.”

You would think that if a sin is non-controversially wrong, regardless of the size of the sin, if a person is living in that sin unrepentantly, that would make Christians very comfortable with unilaterally judging such a person to be a non-Christian, regardless of their profession of faith. (Note that I’m not talking about people who have committed an offence and have repented and are now trying to live better lives. I’m talking about people who are currently living in their sin, whether they admit it’s wrong or not.) But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

So then, you might think that it’s the “bigger” sins that make us more likely to reject someone as a Christian: Sins like abortion or Breivik’s attacks end lives, and that’s why we reject such sinners as Christians at all—if they were real Christians, the Holy Spirit would have stopped them from committing those sins in the first place, right? But then that doesn’t explain why I have seen people rejected as being a Christian just for voting Liberal or why just the endorsement of homosexuality or the belief in evolution—regardless of any action at all—is enough to make people question one’s position before God.

Further, failure to help the poor is a terrible sin in Christianity. It was enough to make God destroy the city of Sodom. (Ezekiel 16:49) It’s also hard to sustain the notion that alcoholism is a “small” sin. And yet I think Christians would be very uncomfortable publicly tweeting that a person who throws out a request from a charity for a donation to the poor was not a Christian, or that an alcoholic is not a Christian.

I think the difference between the “Yes” and the “No” sins in my table is not the enormity of the sin, or certainty regarding the person’s salvation or anything like that. Rather it’s whether the issue is one where Christians feel like they need to draw a strong “us” vs. “them” boundary either because there is genuine moral uncertainty, or because of the politics of a particular issue.

When it’s just a matter of personal morality, we just don’t talk like that. After all, it isn’t constructive toward actually helping a person get over his selfishness to tell her, “You are not a Christian. You’re too selfish.”

I think the “genuine moral uncertainty” thing is not a necessary condition for the “he’s not a Christian” reaction, but I think it’s important to note. We don’t have to worry about anyone actually coming out as having a pro-selfishness position. Some moral positions are intuitively clear, and so we don’t have to haul out the “big guns.” Other moral issues, like homosexuality, abortion, divorce, etc. are ones that could generate genuine moral uncertainty, and so we need people to be afraid to come down on the wrong side of the issue. If your belief in evolution becomes a salvation issue—if you know that people will tell you that you’re going to hell for it—then you will think long and hard before you come out as an evolutionist.

The attacks by Breivik were non-controversially wrong—there was no moral uncertainty—but I think that the “he’s not a Christian” reaction happened because the issue was political, and Christians felt a need to draw an “us” vs. “them” line that excluded him. Perhaps Christians were rightly afraid that they might be treated the way they treated Muslims for the last ten years.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1996,
    title = {When is a Christian not a Christian?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-07-29,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/07/29/when-is-a-christian-not-a-christian/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "When is a Christian not a Christian?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 29 Jul 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/07/29/when-is-a-christian-not-a-christian/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Jul 29). When is a Christian not a Christian? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/07/29/when-is-a-christian-not-a-christian/

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