The China Problem

Argument: China is already undergoing a demographic shift unparalleled in both speed and scale, transitioning from a young country to an elderly one within a single generation. Its vaunted “rise” is fraught and likely doomed, but this is not something to rejoice over. The many terrible crises China will soon face will be the story of this century. Our story.

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Watching God’s Children

Christianity is so sad.

The psychology of it is on full display in this video. Behold how stupid these people are. They have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re completely oblivious to the reality of what the Bible is, where it came from, and the innumerable interpretations of it. There’s nothing resembling a consensus on Christian eschatology, and it’s pretty clear why if you actually read the material cited. Ezekiel? Zachariah? Hezekiah? Revelation? It’s all a bunch of rambling nonsense. Many clutch at very specific verses as examples of fulfilled prophecy (ergo, credibility), glossing over the 99% of the text that’s chock-full of incomprehensible references and predictions that never came true. The Bible is fantastic literature, but the idea that anyone would take it as some sort of concrete roadmap is beyond me.

I’m lying. Of course I understand, since I was Christian until the beginning of my third decade, but I also get why the uninitiated might be baffled. Of particular interest might be why Evangelicals are so obsessed with the Apocalypse. Well, they’re not. Obsession isn’t the right word. Yearning is. Once the Apocalypse comes, the grave tribulation they’re suffering–banal economic turbulence, liberals gaining more and more power and influence, young people falling away from the Church, gays everywhere, brown people finding a voice, other brown people blowing up white people on rare occasions–will disappear. All will be right with the world. Never mind how many people will die or suffer in the process by their own admission. Two thirds of Israel will die, but they’re heretics or whatever. Logically, it’s vital that they try to accelerate the timeline of prophecy (don’t think about it) as much as possible. Why would you want to sit around waiting for all this chaos to work itself out? If you donate $5 and vote for Republicans who “love” Israel, you’ll get you brownie points with God and make your salvation extra secure.

People wonder why I have such venom toward the religion that I came from. To be honest, I can’t understand why anyone who lived through it wouldn’t be a tad bitter toward this corrupt, broken institution, infested from top-to-bottom by charlatans, zealots, and bigots exploiting even greater bigots below them. Once you realize it’s all comforting lies for privileged special snowflakes whose fragile worldview can’t handle the slightest bit of nuance or discomfort, it all makes perfect, painful sense. These people are so insecure and frightened by anything and everything different or inconvenient that they’ll channel untold amounts of money into aiding and abetting a brutal policy of occupation against innocent people. It’s disgusting. There are two emotional conclusions you can draw from the modern state of Christianity in America: disgust or pity. Put any respect, admiration, or even empathy out of your mind. What you see in this video is an evil that needs to be defeated and buried. It’s scared people abusing the world because they can’t handle their own inner fretting, nothing more. Going to Israel and taking some tours of dusty rocks and hills is merely a highly elaborate ritual of masturbation. It’s a way to blow off steam and keep silencing those nagging thoughts.

I speak from experience. I spent much of my teens pouring over Christianity’s essence, studying apologetics, studying the Word, studying various outlooks and analyses of it, but the cold truth was I just wanted some certainty in my troubled life, for everything to make sense, for the constant gnawing doubt in my head to just go away and leave me alone. I couldn’t turn my brain off, so I took the only logical path available: finding satisfying answers. The only problem, as I realized far earlier than my conscious mind knew, was that Christianity didn’t have them. I hung onto the trappings of it for a while, but in my heart I’d given up a long time ago. I would force myself to go to Sunday-night church before raiding in WoW as a stiff ritual, hating every bored minute of it, tired of trying to socialize with other teens that I didn’t understand. That was the last ember of it all, somewhere when I was 18-19. The whole thing fell apart very quickly the moment the social and emotional impetuses ran their course. I can remember a quiet period of a few months in 2009-2010 where I my deconversion rapidly completed itself. The whole thing clicked. The door shut behind me.

Again, try to understand this through the frame of emotion. Intellect has naught to do with it. Unlike me, the people you see here can turn their brains off, can run headlong into comforting scammery, can embrace the most immoral and reprehensible behavior imaginable so long as you say the right words, make the right gestures, and use the right imagery. They’ll jerk off in front of Palestinians whose land has been paved and planted with suburbs. They’ll hoot and holler and cheer for a slimy scam artist like Trump. Anything. Anything to keep the thoughts away.

But Caesar, for God’s in His Heaven

Another day under Trump, another journalist wonders how it’s possible for white Evangelicals to support him with such zeal and passion.

One of the enduring puzzles of contemporary American politics is why white evangelicals, who loudly proclaim their devotion to the teachings of the Bible, continue to support the thrice-married, six-times-bankrupted, multiple-times-unfaithful, chronically lying president, who has, at the very least, violated three of the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness”) and arguably several others.

As someone who came from the Church, what’s far more remarkable to me is how people continue to be shocked by this.

Look, kids. Here’s the dirty secret about Christianity: there are no real Christians.

First off, this is something you can infer directly from Scripture itself. The Bible speaks quite plainly to how only God will be able to separate the “tares” from the “wheat” when Judgment Day comes, whatever “Judgment Day” means. It was precisely these kinds of verses that led me down the blessed path of full deconversion, away from Calvary: nowhere is complete, 100%, absolute, foolproof salvation ever stipulated within Christianity. None. It’s not there. You can be as virtuous as Christ Himself and still be a tare as far as He’s concerned. You might even earnestly believe you’re among the saints, but only God will truly know when the time comes. Salvation is a complete crap-shoot by Christianity’s own standards. There’s no way you can lock it down, no way you can believe and/or work hard enough to know you’re among that number. That’s why Calvinism gained any sort of popularity in the first place: it solves this fundamental problem, only at the expense of Christianity’s soul. It’s the fundamental downside of an omnipotent, omniscient Creator: He can do whatever He wants, pick whomever or whatever He wants to be in His particular 700 Club, and if He decided at the last minute to just change all the rules and condemn you, earnest, fearful believer, to eternal damnation, there’d be nothing you could do about it, because you’re a tiny gnat before your Maker.

All of that is neither here nor there, of course, because God doesn’t exist. But even if He does, God doesn’t matter, which is why the bickering over His existence is a giant waste of time. We can still measure the impact His ostensible touch has on human behavior–rather, the complete lack thereof. Christians are indistinguishable from their heathen brethren. They eat, drink, sleep, pee, poop, and fuck. They like socializing. They like having things and they like enjoying things, especially that sex thing. There is no behavior of any subgroup of Christianity, from the poorest to the elite of the elite, that falls outside the confines of anthropology. Scientists can detect variances and draw strong conclusions about the nature of the universe based on the tiniest variations, the most infinitesimal specks in a picture of the observable universe. Whatever Few True Christians out there would be very noticeable, even if the success rate of Christianity was something pathetic, like 0.0001%. That would still get you into the millions based on sheer math.

Now, Christians know this, far better than anyone. They have eyes, ears, mouths, and functioning nervous systems. It’s the reality they have to deal with, one with a complete absence of God in any practical, useful sense. They have to work with a Church and culture inhabited by and run by those same humans from top to bottom, no exceptions. Nope, not even Sir Awesome Hat up in Rome, despite two millennium of writing on the topic that boils down to a giant yuh-huh. The Pope is elected from within a tiny group of men who dutifully worked their way up the corporate ladder, complete with paper-trail. It happens on camera in front of the whole world. He’s just some guy. God has nothing to do with it. Any of it.

That means Christians–every last one of them, just like everyone else–are making this shit up as they go along. 

See, the crux of Christianity is Witness. Christians are supposed to be different from other people, to be distinct and undeniable, to reflect God before the world. But you can’t do that without, you know, God. There has to be some Divine Spark somewhere: your friends, your pastor, his superior, whoever, somewhere, someway the Spark has to trickle down so people can work off it, no matter how small.

Here’s an example: Christians buy insurance. Why? Because there’s risk in their lives.

“But wait, why is there risk? God is God. I should be protected if I’m saved.”

“Weeeeeeeeeeeeell,” says the Church, “I know we sold you on that, but reaaaaaaaaaally, there’s no way to guarantee either your salvation or God’s protection at any time.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one, you’re not living up to the standard.”

“How am I not living up to the standard?”

“Well, I mean, come on, you’ve gotta be doing something wrong.”

“No, I didn’t. You know I didn’t. God as my witness.”

*God bursts in like the Kool-Aid Man* “BITCH ARE YOU QUESTIONING ME?”

“No no no, of course not! I love You!”

“Oh, cool, just checking. Here’s some more stuff now, ’cause I feel like it.”


You know what that’s from?

The Book of Job.

Yep. The whole point of the Book of Job, since none of you bothered to read it, is that Job is sinless but God can, surprise, do whatever He wants. The Book’s lesson is that no amount of righteousness, even complete perfection, is any basis to presume you’re shielded from bad stuff from happening to you. Conversely, your commitment to Him shouldn’t be contingent on whatever material boon He deigns to grant you, as that’s just not gonna work out well. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” So why is such a depressing lesson even in the Biblical canon, not that far from Ecclesiastes? Because practical experience informs us of this. Job is Christianity’s answer to a very simple question:

If God’s on my side, then why is He still fucking with me?”

Well, because He can and does. It really undercuts the whole Witness thing, which would logically lead to you forgoing the concept of insurance altogether. There are some Christians who do this, but 99% of the rest of the Church severely criticizes them for being fools, and rightfully so: they all end up being struck by normal disaster and get screwed. Job was right.

But this is a minor example. If God were really on your side in any appreciable way, then Christians would appear absolutely nuts to all other humans. They wouldn’t care about money, or politics, or what society was doing, or what anybody was really doing. They wouldn’t even care about particular moral foibles like premarital sex or lying. They certainly wouldn’t invent a cosmic travesty like Contemporary Christian Music to try to attract fellow kids. They would be radically different, their Witness completely undeniable, which would also mean it’d be very effective. It’d work. Christianity wouldn’t be beleaguered or in trouble or even remotely concerned by anything temporal. They’d be a supermajority born out by simple effectiveness. Who wouldn’t want to be Christian if the Fruit of the Spirit were real and demonstrably attainable by an average person? Who doesn’t want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, against such there is no law?

That’s what the Faith insists, but reality is completely different. Christianity is beleaguered. Christianity is marred. It’s inhabited by weak, filthy, shameful, disgusting, greedy sinners who have never had any right to lecture anyone. It attracts televangelists and charlatans. It attracts hypocrisy and deceit like flies to honey. It promotes abuse and pain. It’s unpopular and lame. Most devastating of all, it’s helpless. The Rock is tossed about by the vagaries of the World, its most hated Foe. Christians know exactly how much Christians suck, and Christianity most of all. What is God if He can’t step in and squash these icky gays and keep our kids from bumping uglies together in the woods? What is God if He can’t let me pray in schools? What is God if He can’t fix my marriage? What is God if He can’t tell me how to get my kids to like me? What is God if He can’t pay my rent? What is God if He can’t make my bones stop hurting?

Christians want an answer to these questions, relief from the immense burden of cognitive dissonance they carry every second, the cross that makes them all so miserable deep down inside. They just want something tangible for their struggle, not just Sunday promises and platitudes. Like any sane creature, they want some results. Everything should be going their way, easy peasy lemon squeezy, but it’s just…not. They pray and God doesn’t answer. They preach and no one listens. They try to stand up for their faith and no one respects them. You can’t call black people the n-word anymore. You can’t keep those Muslims out of the public square. The gays are everywhere. Everything and everyone is changing, but God sits up on His throne, silent as the grave, and I’m down here watching it all, waiting.

What’s that?

Mexicans are rapists? Yes, finally someone speaks the truth. Muslims are dangerous? Yes, a man after our own heart. He’ll put our people in the courts and put them back in their place? Yes, sign me up. Yes, Caesar, strike back in God’s name. Yes, do His will. We’ve been waiting for you. Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

How is that surprising?

How is that shocking?

How is that puzzling?

Christians are people. And people, if given a choice between power or principles, will always take the former. Power gets you what you want. Principles get you nothing, except some vague salvation some way off in the future after death, but I’m here now and my heart’s in the right place. After all, Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.

What’s a little blood?

What Comes

So Pakistan hit 50 Celsius on April 30.

It’s become something of a ritual for me to try to remind people around me that the world we know is fast coming to an end. Temperatures here in Germany have been well above average since spring came along, touching near 30 at one point over the past month. For sobering context, the average high in my area of Germany is 25 in July. Already we’re pushing past the temperature norms that have informed civilization for all its existence up to this point. There is far worse ahead. We’re in uncharted territory now, making history up as we go along.

Cherish those winters, children. They aren’t long for this world.

The Weight of Nerddom

I saw a Facebook Memory today that I haven’t been able to retrieve since losing it amidst the chaotic flow of algorithms, but to sum it up, it was about Star Wars, as is appropriate for May 4th. More precisely, it concerned my belief that Star Wars is a middling sci-fi franchise that made its contributions to culture thirty years ago and has offered little of substance or worth since. This spawned some rather productive conversations among my friends on not just the Star Wars franchise, but what it means to be a “nerd”. I took the tack that nerddom, as a whole, has been compromised by its success on the larger cultural stage, that it has by and large prostituted itself before general society in exchange for money, fame, power, and influence. In my view, that takes it out of the sphere of nerddom altogether. Others disagreed. Two years later, I still hold to this view with an even tighter grip, Infinity War creeping overhead.

I say this not to be some sort of cruel gatekeeper in the vein of Ready Player One‘s malefic, mediocre protagonist, but as a sort of gadfly to remind people of what the original conceit of nerddom was and how it has morphed over time. Nerddom has always carried with it a connotation of uncompromising confidence, a kind of shameless zeal towards a certain topic or topics that both commends and damns itself. From my view, a nerd is someone who loves things such as comic books and Star Wars in a passionate way regardless of the social consequences, although not in a way that excessively harms oneself or others, of course. One can be a nerd for just about anything, but the idea is that you’re willing to put up with the philistine fists of an ignorant bully for the sake of something you love, or perhaps mockery, shame, exclusion, etc., because the thing you care about is more important.

It’s been a recurring gripe of mine towards nerd culture in the past decade as it has ascended the heights of capitalism and reaped the rewards of longsuffering. Nerds are the hot demographic now, all their formerly embarrassing passions the very object of the System’s desire. Nerd culture is everyone, embedded in everything. I can’t go a literal three seconds without some sort of post or allusion to the MCU, Star Wars, or D&D. This, in itself, is not a bad thing, but it reflects a colossal change in the power dynamic that has governed this subculture until now. It follows that its nature would shift to respond to it.

I don’t see that shift as a good thing–certainly not a net positive. I heed some of Tolkien’s words: Reward on earth is more dangerous than punishment. It’s a good thing that nerds aren’t shoved into lockers as much for carrying around Marvel comics, that cosplayers have a safe, welcoming space to practice their careful art, that Star Wars is the thing that the host casually referenced on the local American radio station without any sort of stigma. In the grand scheme of things, though, these aren’t exactly fantastic achievements either. They come with some heavy costs, most of which are invisible or intangible. Nerd culture is starting to demonstrate more and more, well, excess than anything else. It’s becoming less and less comfortable for me to outright associate with it in a proud way. I hover more on the fringes, enjoying things as I can in as healthy a way I can manage, a balancing act that grows more difficult with time. It welcomes more, but feels less welcoming deeper down.

As an example, I go to Blizzcon every year to visit my guildmates who helped me through a lot of bad times, whose company I cherish and enjoy, but the con itself is just an excuse to plan that gathering. In my little group, we’re more like to make fun of those around us, to keep our interests within measured confines, to raise our eyebrows at the next new “epic” announcement from a giant corporation that likes money and spare no insult against those who bend the knee. Each Blizzcon for the past five years now, things get a little more whacky, the convention offerings get a little more shameful, dragging Whil Wheaton onto the stage to embarrass himself with bad comedy that drags on forever. Probably the most enjoyable event for us is the cosplay contest, but only the cosplay is fun and interesting. Everything else around it–the announcer, the judges, the way attendees behave–is a terrible joke that we all hate and love to hate on. We could never say that in public though, hashing this out while waiting in line to test out the latest build of Overwatch. People would not approve. We have to do it in the comfort of our own house, in our own little safe space away from the larger safe space.

Nerd culture has always danced with that particular flame of gluttony. Now the chains are weaker, allowing people to act out more freely. Their criteria for approval is less sheer knowledge and more a check for a certain kind of psychology and attitude. The MCU gets most of my public ire these days, mostly because it’s an easy target that keeps shoving itself into my field of view. It’s a simple fact of taste and a competent critical eye that Marvel movies are bad. They don’t suck, but they aren’t good. They’re passable action movies at best, easily forgettable in their prime form. That’s not the coverage or opinion you see in most media, though. The demographic must be appeased, lest nobody answer the journalist’s calls next time around. There’s an ironic, yet natural element of bullying to all this. Since they’ve had a taste of popularity and power, nerds (those in their lucky fiefs, that is) are less willing to tolerate someone just saying that. The New Yorker got crucified for pointing out Infinity War is weak, baffling without the heavy context of twenty other mediocre movies. It’s not like that’s an outlandish take on the matter. That’s exactly what IW was hyped as: come see this movie to see all your favorite Marvel superheroes IN ONE MOVIE!!!!!! What’s followed is a shameless offensive of mendacity that involves everyone pretending IW’s highly predictable cliffhanger (not ending) is something worth an ounce of thought. Point that out and, well, I guess you’re an asshole who hates nerds or just wants to yell. Ten or twenty years ago, that offensive might’ve proven less effective.

Look, nerds. I think it’s a bit wise to step back and wonder how you’re coming across. That’s healthy advice in real life; it’s healthy advice here too. At the moment we live in a happy bubble of success and spotlight, but these halcyon days will pass, in one form or another, and then we’ll have to live with the choices we’ve made as a subculture. Stranger Things Season 2 wasn’t as good as the first one. That will continue. As it is right now, I don’t like the choices we’re making. I don’t like that we’re treading a worn path of indulgence. I don’t like that we’ve become more willing to censor those who don’t fall in line. I don’t see nerddom as something to be proud of if it isn’t somehow brave. It’s not brave to like Infinity War or The Last Jedi. It’s not brave to dislike them either. It’s brave to think about them, to wonder what real value they have and what your passion is worth to you, and finally to follow those conclusions wherever they lead. It’s brave to love something, but knowing how to let it go when it starts to hurt you, no matter how much it stings.

May the 4th be with you.