God is a unique speech-actor. He can create what he commands in the very act of commanding: “Let there be light.”
But humans are hilariously and pitifully different: When we announce our intentions we are less likely to follow through.
At the risk of losing some friends, but to the benefit of those vulnerable, let me describe what makes for a good MLM (multi-level marketing business). It:
I have a seen a few good examples of direct sales (cleaning products, bags, scrapbooking, craft supplies, candles). But the vast majority of MLMs do not pass muster. Most people think their MLM is the exception. Maybe yours is, but the bar is high.
I am not trying to judge you. Good, intelligent people have soiled relationships and wasted thousands of dollars on MLMs. I am trying to help you. Your best friends may feel reluctant to critique your MLM. They love you. They don’t want to lose their relationship with you.
If you need to provide for a family, then responsibly develop a career, cultivate a skill set, get an education, look for an internship, or start an entry-level position. If your family needs supplemental income, then look for part-time or contract work. You probably should not waste your time on MLMs. If you want residual income, then develop a residual skill set lucrative to the marketplace of dignified, daily work. Your family and friends and children and church and local community are cheering you on!
1. Even if a report is true, is it not merciful to contain its impact, to regard the reputation of another as precious? “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
2. Love comes with an optimism: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Optimism about another can be undeserved — even eventually disproven — but gracious. Better to be wronged than to wrong. Better to be lied to than to lie about another. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1 Peter 2:19) “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7)
3. Love isn’t safe: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis)
4. The only realistic human alternative to giving each other the general benefit of doubt is hypervigilant cynicism. What an awful climate for love! To walk on eggshells, to constantly judge, to be on guard, and assume others are judging you. To constantly think of yourself, and be convinced that no one loves you. To be hypercritical and assuming — this makes for a resistant, quarrelsome, reviling, rude misery.
5. But no! True Christians are a forgiven people. Here is the most beautiful part. He was so good to us, so gracious. How can we not love others with an undeserved submission, obedience, gentleness, and perfect courtesy? Watch how Paul brings it all together:
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:1-5)
It seems like we should respect people by assuming they don’t actionably believe many alarming things they say they do. To respect them is to charitably assume that their common humanity is more fundamental than some of what they say they believe.
Consider heated arguments. Someone you love says something alarming and dramatic. But you dismiss it as “breath in the wind”, something that he didn’t think over, that hasn’t percolated through his life and worldview. You love and respect him by charitably assuming he is incoherent. He is not fully consistent with the implications of his words.
This follows a positive ethic of, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, and a ‘negative’ ethic of, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” You want people to give you the benefit of doubt. To be gracious.
This gives us breathing room to talk out loud, to say tentative things and have them bandied about and put under scrutiny. To engage what someone says seriously, but with patient courtesy. This is what keeps us from being reactionary or hyper-vigilant or hyper-sensitive to offense, or overly worried about what someone will actually do.
It doesn’t make words any less irresponsible (especially reckless accusation or slander), or worldview any less a driving force for life, but it is a reason to slow down and be at peace. It also makes friendships and conversations with people very different than you (even ideological and religious enemies) much more fruitful and satisfying.
“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)
Like reducing Nebuchadnezzar to a beastly state of eating grass on hands and feet, God humbles Christian intellectuals to a desperately low state of singing lullabies and whimpering, “I don’t know, I don’t know. I will trust you.”
Oh Lord my heart is not lifted up
My eyes are not raised to high for Thee
I do not think on things to great or marvelous
Or matters too difficult for me
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child is my soul within me
I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me
O Israel trust in the Lord
From this time forth and forevermore
O Israel trust in the Lord
From this time forth and forevermore
Psalm 131 / Waterdeep lyrics
By “conspiracy theory” I mean: an explanation that typically requires orchestration between multiple malicious parties and many involved parties keeping it a secret.
They are unlikely because of the high probability of a whistleblower and the low probability that evil takes the form of competent orchestration. They are tempting because they are thrilling, fascinating, fear-inducing, or useful for maligning those we oppose.
Reasons you should avoid conspiracy theories:
Please, for the love of God, don’t waste your life on conspiracy theories.
Recognize your carnal flesh: it loves to demonize your neighbor, it loves “evil suspicions”, it is tickled by what is “possible”, it loves to be intellectually lazy, it delights in suggestive slander, it loves to be entertained by gossip, and it avoids accountability. No!
Invest yourself in dignifying work. Lead with risk-management that prioritizes probabilities over mere possibilities. Get “distracted” by far more worthy endeavors and causes and trains of thought.
Your time on earth is short. Your window of influence is temporary. Flex the muscle of your imagination on something glorious.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Four more arguments against conspiracy theories: (1) pro-life, (2) conservative, (3) repentance, and (4) pace.
1. One pro-life virtue is valuing humans even when distant. They could be small, or foreign, or “other”, but they are still humans, royal kings and queens in the image of God. Conspiracy theories often depend on distance. It’s easier to assume the worst of people when they are so far away. You don’t have to see them every week or play hockey with them or work alongside them. You don’t get to know about their kids or their medical problems. It isn’t personal. Conspiracy theorists don’t bat an eye when they accuse a thousand American civil servants of orchestrating the intentional cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent American civilians on 9/11.
2. One traditional conservative virtue is local responsibility. We want local institutions to be strong. We want to mind our business, and take care of our own, and clean our own house. The sins of others usually isn’t our business. But we feel entitled to know everything and to have an opinion on everything. We check the news constantly while our kids beg for a bedtime story. We listen to gossip without objection. We read the leaked private communication between a mother and her daughter. Conspiracy theories distort our sense of privacy and locale and personal responsibility.
3. Repentance calls for a sensitive conscience to past error, a conscientiousness over failure. But conspiracy theorists don’t feel the need to repent over spreading false theories.
If 5% of parachutes made in a factory failed we would shut it down. But when a conspiracy theorist has a 5% batting average he presses forward with a determination and resolve. It’s lottery-logic: being right once, or even the possibility of being right once, is enough reason to repeat.
4. A liar will always outpace a truth-teller. He has faster legs. We appreciate reporters who pause to correct long-forgotten mistakes, even minutiae. We feel frustrated with a judicial process that methodically inches forward, but then appreciate its final verdict. But we feel overwhelmed by the rate of false claims that come the mouth of a demagogue or conspiracy theorist. It takes 10 seconds to tell a lie, but ten minutes, hours, or days to refute the lie. Meanwhile this same person has told more lies. Truth-tellers have a tendency to slow down and inspect, reflect, and debrief past claims.
Terrorism, e-mail scandals, and police shootings are cosmic theater.
When a terrorist kills a single citizen, it captivates an entire nation.
When a police officer kills a single innocent black man, it arrests us all.
This is out of proportion to crimes committed in private or local circumstances. People steal, lie, and murder in our own cities. Why are the public sins so captivating, even more than supernova or passing comets? Why do we feel so right to be *especially* outraged?
Maybe we’re really upset because if none of that matters, if public evil can’t be identified and condemned, then maybe goodness and justice and beauty aren’t real and don’t matter at all. It’s all meaningless star dust.
Maybe cosmic theater matters because God designed us to pay attention to epic stories of cosmic significance, and justice and righteousness matter more than exploding stars.