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/

Cheating on the MCAT

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Recently, two men in BC were caught cheating on the MCAT.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine, who was mainly shocked because “they could’ve got away with it if they only added maybe two more levels of sophistication: Not letting the tutors work together, and doing OCR on the text in the image.”

I have a pet conspiracy theory that for the most part, it is the best cheaters who get into medical school. Maybe that’s just me being jaded, and maybe it’s stories like this, combined with personally knowing some people who not only cheated in their undergrad, but bragged about it and were admitted to medical school.

My friend’s response was that my suspicion sounded plausible, but that “not everyone can get in [to medical school] … and cheating may not be the cause, but there is certainly something wrong with the system.”

Of course not everyone can get in. The sizes of medical school cohorts have been artificially suppressed. The doctor shortage is not an accident. We’re short of doctors in Canada as a matter of public policy, not because factors outside of our control have made it so.

In many ways, our current medical system has been engineered to contain the optimal conditions for encouraging cheating.

First off, the stakes for getting into medical school are very high. Doctors are paid extremely well, and within the medical community (and among people generally) they are revered as nearly godlike.

Not only that, but the consequences for failure to get into medical school can be devastating. Entire university programmes are geared toward prep for med school—there is a huge investment that someone has to make even before a student can even be considered for admission.

By the time someone has got to the point of writing the MCAT, she has invested an amount of money in the five-figure range. All her friends and family know that this is where she’s headed. If she doesn’t make it, she loses all her sunk costs, she loses face and she might also have to deal with the pressure of parents’ expectations, either because they themselves are in medicine or because they helped to finance her education.

The slightest error or even a doubt in the mind of a student, a bad mark or a comment from a well-meaning parent might be enough, in the face of all these pressures to make an otherwise good student cheat.

And as much as professors like to say that universities are tough on cheaters, they’re not. I know from a few personal experiences as a TA that even in schools like McGill, nothing at all is done about academic offenses, even when students are caught cheating red-handed.

So, we have a huge potential payoff, limited numbers of people who can cash in, terrible consequences for failure and we train students not to fear the consequences of cheating.

I don’t know why we’re all acting surprised at this.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1860,
    title = {Cheating on the MCAT},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-06-1,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/06/01/cheating-on-the-mcat/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Cheating on the MCAT" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 01 Jun 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/06/01/cheating-on-the-mcat/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Jun 01). Cheating on the MCAT [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/06/01/cheating-on-the-mcat/

Rookie NDP MP Brosseau

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Brosseau is getting a lot of attention, and her face is on news media everywhere. I think I’ve read more about her than about any other MP. Period.

Here’s a controversial statement that’s worth thinking about: Is Brosseau the most influential person in Canadian politics right now?

I mean, all of her actions recently (and many things she has never done, like visiting her riding) have been the subject of intense media scrutiny. If she said something—anything—she would have an instant audience for it, for good or for ill.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1756,
    title = {Rookie NDP MP Brosseau},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-05-10,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/10/rookie-ndp-mp-brosseau/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Rookie NDP MP Brosseau" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 10 May 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/10/rookie-ndp-mp-brosseau/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, May 10). Rookie NDP MP Brosseau [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/10/rookie-ndp-mp-brosseau/

Happy democracy everyone!

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This election campaign has been entertaining, to say the least. There have been petty scandals and bickering; MP’s have been sacked; vote mobs were invented, which scared a lot of people.

So, don’t forget to vote! As my mother likes to say, “Vote early—vote often.”

And also, don’t tweet election results until all the results are in.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1494,
    title = {Happy democracy everyone!},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-05-2,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/02/happy-democracy-everyone/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Happy democracy everyone!" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 May 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/02/happy-democracy-everyone/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, May 02). Happy democracy everyone! [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/02/happy-democracy-everyone/

Vandalised Bloc Posters

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Bleedy Bloc Poster

Bleedy Bloc Poster

I spoke too soon. Some Bloc campaign posters have been vandalised. Just not the ones of Duceppe on my street.

I like the drippy orange blood effect.

Very graphic.

I wonder if the orange spray-paint is meant to indicate that the person defacing the poster was a supporter of the NDP?

After all, the NDP is supposed to be really popular in Québec these days.

Blue eyes

Blue eyes

I went out for dinner of Friday night, and saw this campaign poster in front of the restaurant. This is the first time that I ever saw a Duceppe poster vandalised. The vandalism says, “blue eyes … i’d run away with you” in English.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1683,
    title = {Vandalised Bloc Posters},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-04-25,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/25/vandalised-bloc-posters/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Vandalised Bloc Posters" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Apr 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/25/vandalised-bloc-posters/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Apr 25). Vandalised Bloc Posters [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/25/vandalised-bloc-posters/

Campaign signs in my neighbourhood

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Campaign Signs

Campaign Signs

The campaign signs in my neighbourhood have not been faring well lately.

It looks like both the Conservative and the Liberal signs were very thoroughly destroyed recently.

Not surprisingly, across the street, the signs for the Bloc have not been touched. I would be scared of Duceppe too.

Duceppe Signs

Duceppe Signs

If you look close in the photograph of the sign for the Bloc, you can see another Duceppe sign maybe 20 metres down the street. There’s lots of them and they haven’t been torn apart.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1677,
    title = {Campaign signs in my neighbourhood},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-04-22,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/22/campaign-signs-in-my-neighbourhood/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Campaign signs in my neighbourhood" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 Apr 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/22/campaign-signs-in-my-neighbourhood/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Apr 22). Campaign signs in my neighbourhood [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/22/campaign-signs-in-my-neighbourhood/

Duceppe, Voldemort, cat

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Duceppe, Voldemort, cat

Duceppe, Voldemort, cat

Could Duceppe be Lord Voldemort?

I keep seeing signs for the Bloc all over Montréal. I make it no secret that Gilles Duceppe has always scared me. Not politically, mind you—facially. I think it’s his eyes. He has a very intense gaze, and his eyes follow you from his photographs. Maybe he’s a nice person on the inside (I don’t know him personally all that well, to be honest), but his campaign posters give me the creeps.

Maybe this was the result of taking one too many bludgers to the head in Quidditch this year, but I did some Googling.

Bared teeth

Bared teeth

There are quite a few photos of Duceppe that remind me of he-who-must-not-be-named.

I kept on digging to see if anyone else had come to the same conclusion that I did, regarding Voldemort and Duceppe. (Often, even some of my craziest ideas can be found on the internet.)

All I could find was an internet meme about a cat that looked like Voldemort who was missing his nose and ears. I couldn’t find any cats that look particularly like Duceppe.

Someone should start a blog: “People and animals that look like Voldemort.” It’ll be the next biggest thing after Lesbians who look like Justin Bieber.

Do you think he's wearing a wig and a prosthetic nose?

Do you think he's wearing a wig and a prosthetic nose?

To be fair, in most of Gilles Duceppe’s photos, he does not look like an evil wizard. Or like the Voldemort cat, for that matter. In fact, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that I’m reasonably certain that Gilles Duceppe is not Lord Voldemort. That said, if you see the Dark Mark hovering over his next political rally, let me know.

Can’t be too careful.

Other political news

For those keeping score at home, we have had the following scandals so far:

  • The Tories are stalking you on Facebook. (CTV)
  • The Liberals are racists. (Global)
  • The Bloc Québecois are probably Death Eaters. (Mon Pays)

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1599,
    title = {Duceppe, Voldemort, cat},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-04-7,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/07/duceppe-voldemort-cat/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Duceppe, Voldemort, cat" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 07 Apr 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/07/duceppe-voldemort-cat/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Apr 07). Duceppe, Voldemort, cat [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/07/duceppe-voldemort-cat/

Doctor shortage in Canada

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It is widely known that there is a shortage of physicians in Canada. The doctor shortage is not an accident, however and it was not unforeseen. It was engineered, planned in order to cut costs for the medical system—if there are fewer doctors, there are fewer people to order expensive medical operations, after all.

That’s why there are so few spots in medical schools, and why I currently don’t have a doctor, and when I talk to anyone in the medical system about trying to get one, the most helpful thing I’ve been told is “good luck,” and “in the meantime, go to the McGill walk-in clinic and hope there isn’t much of a line-up.”

Now that there’s an election going on, I would seriously like to know what each of the political parties has to say about opening new spots in medical schools, and doing something about the doctor shortage. Has any of them made this a significant part of their platform? I’ve only been reading what the CBC puts in their RSS feed on the election stuff.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1565,
    title = {Doctor shortage in Canada},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-04-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/06/doctor-shortage-in-canada/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Doctor shortage in Canada" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 Apr 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/06/doctor-shortage-in-canada/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Apr 06). Doctor shortage in Canada [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/06/doctor-shortage-in-canada/

Vote Compass result

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Vote Compass Result

Vote Compass Result

I have a policy of never telling anyone who I vote for. That said, here is the result I got on the Vote Compass. It’s a fun and enlightening tool—one that would be a helpful starting-place for people who don’t follow Canadian politics very closely, but who still want to be responsible citizens and cast an informed ballot.

You tell it what you think about a few political issues, and then it tells you where you are on the economic and social political spectra, and which parties are closest to you. You can even indicate which issues are important to you, and then it adjusts the picture to compensate!

I’m surprised that I’m not further to the economic left, to be honest.

I’m looking forward to Democracy Day, which I’m told has been scheduled for May 2. My favourite part of elections are the personal, petty attacks on party leaders’ character. Why, I remember the provincial election back in 2003 when I was a student at UWO. There was a press release from the PC party of Ontario, calling Dalton McGuinty an “evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet.” I hope that something like that happens again. Politics can be so much fun when people who should know better do things like that.

Edit: I just noticed that Google has decided that the ad next to this post should be the one for the Vote Compass. Awesome. :)

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1487,
    title = {Vote Compass result},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-03-29,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/03/29/vote-compass-result/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Vote Compass result" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 29 Mar 2011. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/03/29/vote-compass-result/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Mar 29). Vote Compass result [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/03/29/vote-compass-result/

Why isn’t William Shatner the Governor General?

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Mock Outrage from Shatner

Mock Outrage from Shatner

My mother sent me this article that she clipped from the Stratford Beacon Herald. I was definitely in support of Shatner’s bid to become the Governor General of Canada.

William Shatner as Governor General would have made me so much more proud to be Canadian than whoever it is that was actually appointed to the position. I’m not even going to take the time to look up the guy’s name in the article attached to this post.

And the reason for that is because I’m pretty sure that the Governor General doesn’t actually do anything. It’s a ceremonial position, like that of the Queen. The Queen doesn’t actually do anything; her role in government is symbolic. And the Governor General is one step even further removed from any actual power—he’s a symbol for the Queen. I don’t think that Shatner could have done any damage as the Governor General, but he would have been much more entertaining as our vice-regal leader.

We really missed out on this one. We could have had Captain Kirk as our head of state. You don’t even have to be a trekkie to see how that could have been fun.

Oh well. Maybe next time!

True story: Shatner was a McGill student, and a few years ago, the student body at McGill had a vote to try to name the student centre after him. Due to McGill policy, the building’s name has not been officially changed—buildings can only be named after dead people, or people who have given a lot of money—but the building is still referred to as the Shatner building by most of the students.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2010-872,
    title = {Why isn’t William Shatner the Governor General?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2010-08-19,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/08/19/why-isnt-william-shatner-the-governor-general/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Why isn’t William Shatner the Governor General?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 19 Aug 2010. Web. 10 Dec 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/08/19/why-isnt-william-shatner-the-governor-general/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2010, Aug 19). Why isn’t William Shatner the Governor General? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/08/19/why-isnt-william-shatner-the-governor-general/

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