Author: carl sweatman

still missing the point

I recently began reading a book by Alistair Donaldson on the problems with Dispensationalism (see pic). screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-11-20-40I’m about half-way through and it’s been a fair treatment of the subject so far; I’ll have to wait and see if these things hold true till the end. Two things have been encouraging about the book: (1) much of what Donaldson argues is in line with a number of conclusions that I’ve reached on my own on this topic; thus, it’s good to know that I’m in good company in my thinking. And (2) Donaldson clarifies a vital need when talking about Dispensationalism, and that is: most discussions tend to say, “Dispensationalism has come so far from its origins, and a number of scholars–even Dispensational ones–are showing how the classical form is no longer viable or even biblical. So there’s no real need to debate or look at the older forms of Dispensationalism.”

But the problem is, as Donaldson points out, that recognition is almost exclusively a scholarly perspective. In other words: scholars are the ones who have accepted the advances made; the classical (and even modified) form of Dispensationalism still exists and is taught in many churches, and thus still finds is way into popular Christianity. Therefore, while we are safe to exclude treatments of the older version when talking about it at the scholarly level, there is still a need to include them at the popular level. Here is a case in point:

Over at Beliefnet.com (a site that I only know about in a passing way, which is to say: I try to avoid it as much as possible), Lesli White composed an article entitled, “5 Important Facts About Jesus’ Second Coming”. Sounds intriguing, to be sure. The tagline is (an attempt to be) equally captivating: “While we don’t know every detail, The Word promises these five things will happen when Jesus returns again.” Sounds promising. Except for one thing. Some of what she lists is not what “The Word promises…will happen when Jesus returns again”, rather it’s what Dispensationalism (because of its idiosyncratic and flawed hermeneutic) promises will happen. To be sure, the general points in her list do parallel the teaching of the NT–e.g., Jesus’ coming from heaven, our complete ignorance about the timing, the return will be obvious, and the second will be different from the first. But the parallels stop there. On the surface. Once we start to dig into the specifics of her individual points, we encounter not only a Dispensationally marinated theology but also some basic problems/flaws/inconsistencies.

For example: White’s second point proceeds–without justification, mind you (but that’s the old Dispy’s MO)–with the assumption that “While the two are often confused, the second coming is not the rapture”, and then goes on to explain why the two are meant to be kept separate. Hence, White is advocating a two-stage Second Coming of Christ–one where he sort of comes back, but not really; and a second (/third), where he means it this time. Not only that, but White proceeds on the (equally unproven) assumption that “the church” is a completely separate entity in God’s salvation plan–and by that it is meant, “the church” is neither the Jews nor the Gentiles (i.e., the unbelieving world). By implication from the rest of what she says in this point, this means: at the so-called “rapture”, the church alone is rescued while everyone else is screwed and has to endure 7 years of “wrath” and “great tribulation.” Sorry, but neither of these two teachings is not found in the NT; they are especially not found in (or even supported by) texts like 1 Thess 4.13-18 or (I’m assuming she meant to write) 1 Cor 15.50-54. These ideas, however, are two of the essential pillars for Dispensationalism, so one can easily find them there. And only there.

White’s third point also has some concerns. Two are worth mentioning. First, she is very cautious in how she chooses to word her claims. When talking about the unexpectedness of the event, White focuses her attention on “the return” of Christ. While (seemingly) benign to most everyone else in the church, this phrasing is necessary for the Dispensationalist system of interpretation, which in turn formulates the Dispensationalist’s theology. By focusing on “the return” as an unknown event, White is emphasizing the so-called “rapture” and not Jesus’ (final-and-I-really-mean-it-this-time) Second Coming. Thus, for the Dispy, at the word level: “return” = “rapture”. And she has to follow this notion, partly because, of the two events (wrongly) assumed to be a part of Christ’s two-stage coming, the so-called “rapture” is the only one that is described as unknown, unannounced, without warning, blah, blah, blah. And the other part is because, if this event (supposedly) precedes Jesus’ (final-and-I-really-mean-it-this-time) Second Coming, all one needs is simple math to work out when the Second Coming will take place–i.e., 7 years after the so-called rapture–thus making it a known event. That’s the first cocnern in her point. The second one is easier stated: the passage she ropes in to support her case (Matt 24.36) not only says nothing about a so-called rapture–either before it or after it–but also is, as Dispys typically argue, focused on the Second Coming.

And that brings me to the final¹ concern in White’s case. In her fourth point, White is correct in describing the return of Christ as “visible and audible”. This is a breath of fresh air from the otherwise dank claims of older Dispensationalism which tends to advocate a “secret rapture” (cf. this). But the relief stops there, for White immediately launches into a treatment that leaves one rather puzzled. I say that because, in speaking of Christ’s “return” we are left with the impression that White is still referring to the so-called “rapture”–an impression that is encouraged by references to texts like 1 Thess 4.16, a passage that some have rightly defined as “one of the noisiest” in the NT.² But right alongside this are references that Dispys typically use to speak about not the so-called “rapture” but Christ’s final Coming–i.e., Matt 24.26-27, 31, and (from the previous point) 36. This would suggest, at the very least, that White–in her exuberance to make a point–accidentally conflated the two ideas into one. Or it would at least suggest that the (wrongly) assumed two-stage Coming of Christ is not as important or necessary or clear-cut as White so adamantly claimed in an earlier point. Or, at best, it would begin to expose the fact that Dispys have no biblical case for a two-stage Coming of Christ, but that they have to make such a case in order to sustain an idiosyncratic and flawed hermeneutic–one that created a rather idiosyncratic and flawed theological perspective³–and in making such a case, they simply get things wrong. And they get things wrong, because they’re missing the point: the final Coming of Christ is not about the rapture. Not even close. It’s about so much more.

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¹ Well, the “final” one to be noted here.
² S. Wohlberg, End Time Delusions (2004), 22.
³ My problem with Dispensationalism, especially the Classical and Modified/Revised forms of it, is twofold: it surreptitiously (1) questions the  NT writers as inspired advocates of God’s truth, and ultimately (2) downplays the full scope of Christ’s salvific, redemptive, atoning, and fulfilling work.

books* read in 2016

In keeping with last year’s format, this year’s list includes those books, articles, and essays read for pleasure, academic, and/or church-related purposes–hence, “books” with an *. One difference from last year (and the years before) is that I’ve simplified the categories to two: “Books” and “Articles, essays, etc.” Here’s this year’s list (in order of reading, according to category):

Books:

  • Berke Breathed, The Night of the Mary-Kay Commandos (1989)
  • Berke Breathed, Tales Too Ticklish to Tell (1988)
  • P.G. Wodehouse, Pigs Have Wings (1952)
  • Steven Pressfield, The Legend of Bagger Vance (1995)
  • Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything (2002)
  • Patrick Gray, Opening Paul’s Letters (2012)
  • Tom Clancy, Red Rabbit (2003)
  • Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (1960)
  • Robert Ludlum & Gayle Lynds, The Hades Factor (2001)
  • Robert Ludlum & Philip Shelby, The Cassandra Compact (2002)
  • M. Robert Mullholland, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation (1985)
  • J. Budziszewski, Ask Me Anything (2004)
  • J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy (1921)
  • Robert Ludlum & Gayle Lynds, The Paris Option (2002)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (1954)
  • G.H. Schilling, The Book of Revelation: It’s Purpose and Structure (1895)
  • Jim West, 1-2 Thessalonians: For the Person in the Pew (2011)
  • Jim West, Genesis: For the Person in the Pew (2013)
  • William Biederwolf, Russellism Unveiled (1920)
  • Ulrich Zwingli, The Christian Education of Youth (1526)
  • Bryan Lewis, Jews and Gentile Reconciled (2016)
  • James Carmichael, The Errors of the Plymouth Brethren (1888)
  • Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (2004)
  • Thomas Lewin, An Essay on the Chronology of the New Testament (1854)
  • George Milligan, The Autographs of the New Testament in the Light of Recent Discovery (1910)
  • E. Earle Ellis, The World of St John: The Gospels and the Epistles (1995)
  • Edwin Woollard, Eschatology (1908)
  • Alpheus Wilson, The Life and Mind of Paul (1912)
  • Ravi Zacharias, The Lamb and the Fürher: Jesus Talks with Hitler (2005)
  • Jim Apfelbaum, ed., The Gigantic Book of Golf Quotations (2007)
  • Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus (2016)
  • Brandon Gilvin, Solving the Da Vinci Code Mystery (2004)
  • John Feinstein, Tales from Q School (2007)
  • Lewis Grizzard, Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night (1989)
  • Jacob Cerone, Into the Deep (2016)
  • Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (1992)
  • M. Sashi Jamir, Prophetic Conflict and Yahwistic Tradition (2016)
  • Dann Spader, 4 Chair Discipling (2014)
  • Lewis Grizzard, Don’t Bend Over in the Garden, Granny. You Know Them Taters Got Eyes (1988)
  • Slavoj Zizek, Zizek’s Jokes (2014)
  • Plato, Protagoras
  • R.W. Beers, The Mormon Puzzle, and How to Solve it (1887)
  • Thom Rainer, Who Moved My Pulpit? (2016)
  • Leonard Sweet, The Three Hardest Words in the World to Get Right (2006)
  • Rowan Williams, Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life (2016)
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (1959)
  • Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger, Simple Church (2011)
  • Oscar Cullmann, Baptism in the New Testament (1950)
  • Leon Wood, Daniel: A Study Guide (1975)°

Articles, essays, etc:

  • Jeffrey B. Russell, “The Myth of the Flat Earth.” (1997–found here)
  • Stanley E. Porter, “The Future of Theology and Religious Studies from a Confessional Standpoint.” MJTM 11 (2009-10): 121-38
  • Richard Coggins, “What Future for the ‘History of Israel’?” Ethel M. Wood Lectures (1994).
  • W.G. Lambert, “The Background of Jewish Apocalyptic.” Ethel M. Wood Lectures (1977).
  • Mark Jokinen, “The Four Canonical Gospels Were Never Anonymous.” MJTM 15 (2013-14): 3-16.
  • H.F.D. Sparks, “On Translations of the Bible.” Ethel M. Wood Lectures (1972).
  • Michael A.G. Haykin. “And Did the Father Die? The Perennial Threat of Modalism.” Evangel 5 (1987): 13-14.
  • Hugh Ross, “A Beginner’s–and Expert’s–Guide to the Big Bang: Separating Fact from Fiction.” JISCA 4.1 (2011): 1-27.
  • Hans Scharen, “Gehenna in the Synoptics, Part 1.” BibSac 149 (1992): 304-15.
  • Hans Scharen, “Gehenna in the Synoptics, Part 2.” BibSac 149 (1992): 454-70.
  • Richard Bauckham, “Universalism: A Historical Survey.” Themelios 4.2 (1978): 47-54.
  • Michael R. Licona, “Using the Death of Jesus to Refute Islam.” JISCA 2.1 (2009): 87-110.
  • Steven B. Cowan, “How to Make a Case for the Inspiration of Scripture in the Current Mileu.” JISCA 2.1 (2009): 65-85.
  • Ariel Sabar, “Did Jesus Have a Wife?” The Atlantic (July-August, 2016–found here)
  • Charles F. Pfeiffer, “Epic Elements in Biblical History.” Journal of Hebraic Studies 1.2 (1970): 1-15.
  • A.R. Millard, “Daniel 1-6 and History.” EvanQ 49.2 (1977): 67-73.
  • A.R. Millard, “Knowledge of Writing in Iron Age Palestine.” TynBull 46.2 (1995): 207-17.
  • Thomas D. Lea, “The Early Christian Views of Pseudepigraphic Writings.” JETS 27.1 (1984): 65-75.
  • Michael Heron, “The Naked Young Man. A Historian’s Hypothesis on Mark 14,51-52.” Biblica 79.4 (1998): 525-31.
  • J.A. Cross, “The Acts of the Apostles: 1. A Criticism of Lightfoot and Headlam.” JTS 1.1 (1899): 64-75.
  • William Lane Craig, “Middle Knowledge: A Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement?,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man (ed. C.H. Pinnock; Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995), 141-64.
  • John  E. Sanders, “God as Personal,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man (ed. C.H. Pinnock; Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995), 165-80.
  • Bruce M. Metzger, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal.” Theology Today 10.1 (1953): 65-85.
  • Andreas Köstenberger, “What Does It Mean to be Filled with the Spirit? A Biblical Investigation.” JETS 40.2 (1977): 229-40.
  • D.K. Innes, “The Meaning of She’ol in the Old Testament.” EvQ 32.4 (1960): 196-202.
  • B.B. Warfield, “The Millennium and the Apocalypse.” PTR 2 (1904): 599-617.
  • Mladen Jovanovic, “The Restoration Movement of the Churches of Christ.” Kairos 1.1 (2007): 117-29.

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This refers to those items where I willingly subjected myself to mental torture.
° Since I was not sure if I would be able to finish it before the end of the year, this one was left off when I originally posted this list. However, I was able to complete it this morning; hence the update.

review of Mark A. Howell’s commentary

Well, it’s been over a year (I think) since I agreed to perform a review of a commentary in a new(ish) series. The commentary is from Mark A. Howell* entitled, Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and the series is called: Christ-Centered Exposition (NT), from B&H Publishing. The really, really long review is available here (…it’s 35 pages). The reason for the length? The honest answer is: the commentary is saturated with problems–e.g., typographical, logical, exegetical, theological, etc–and it took some time to work through them. (In fact, I had to make a decision to stop writing the review). And by “work through them” I mean, point them out and explain why they are problematic. If you want the short version about the commentary: it’s not one that I would recommend. If you want to know why I say that, you’ll have to read the review.

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* Right before posting this, I discovered an error in the review: Howell is no longer the Pastor at First Baptist (Daytona, FL); in July of this year, he became the Pastor at Hunters Glen Baptist (Plano, TX). However, I have decided to keep the details as I have them in the review, primarily because they reflect things as they were at the time of writing it.

a curious appeal

At present, we (our church) are doing a sermon series entitled: “Credo: Faith and Identity.” It’s a seven week series that runs through confession of the Apostle’s Creed. (In short: it’s a “what we believe” series). While preparing for the various topics, I refreshed myself on some of the common misconceptions about each point in the Creed, and I did this so that I could help our people become aware of such things. For the one on the Holy Spirit, I naturally defaulted to the views of the “Jehovah’s” Witnesses–since they are a modern group who flat out deny the personhood and (true) deity of the Spirit (see here).

What I found intriguing in their denying explanation is the first entry under their “Misconceptions” section, and entry that deals specifically with the personhood issue. As you can see (if you clicked on the link), the JWs declare: “Misconception: The ‘Holy Ghost,’ or holy spirit, is a person and is part of the Trinity, as stated at 1 John 5:7, 8 in the King James version of the Bible.” There are a handful of problems with this assumed misconception–not least of which are the underlying assumptions about the KJV (and the JWs incessant use of it as a reliable text)–but I’ll leave those alone for now. The thing that struck me was the response or rebuttal the JWs gave to this so-called misconception:

Fact: The King James version of the Bible includes at 1 John 5:7, 8 the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” However, researchers have found that those words were not written by the apostle John and so do not belong in the Bible. Professor Bruce M. Metzger wrote: “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain.”—A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

Okay, yes, what is claimed here is indeed factual. And it’s primarily factual because of the inferior (=crappy) manuscript testimony that undergirds the KJV translation. But let’s be fair and honest (and not merely selective with our “facts”): scholars have known this detail for ages. So, nothing new here; move on, please. Moreover, simply referring to this passage and pairing it with some inflated rhetoric does not deal with the assumed misconception in a convincing way. So, you’re going to need something more.

That “something more” would seem to be the JWs peculiar appeal to Metzger as their supporting voice for denying the personhood and deity of the Spirit in particular and the doctrine of the Trinity in general. True, Metzger–in nearly everything he writes on that passage–does say it is not a part of the original (or best/earliest) manuscripts and is most likely a (much) later addition. But again: so what? Scholars have known that for years. Even Erasmus knew about it. But here why I find their appeal peculiar:

There are many other passages in the New Testament which reveal how deeply the Trinitarian pattern was impressed upon the thinking of primitive Christianity. Thus, besides the direct and obvious statements in Matt 28:19 and II Cor 13:14, there are texts as I Cor 6:11, 12:4-[6]; II Cor 1.21-22; Gal 3:11-14; I Thess 5:18-19; I Pet 1:2; and others.[*] (Because the manuscript evidence of I John 5:7-8, King James Version, is insufficient, this text should not be used. There is, however, abundant proof for the doctrine of the Trinity elsewhere in the New Testament.)

That quote (with emphasis added) comes from… You guessed it: Bruce M. Metzger. And the source: a rather polemical article entitled, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ”, found in Theology Today 10.1 (1953): 65-85. It would seem counterproductive (and counter-intuitive) to rope in someone to support your case when that someone utterly contradicts (and rejects) the very case you’re trying to make. Moreover, Metzger was adamantly opposed to the hermeneutical gymnastics that JWs perform in order to justify the claims they often make–and not just about Trinitarian doctrine.

On a slightly different tact, I find it odd that on both their Holy Spirit page (noted above) and their Trinity page (see here), they do not engage with any of the texts that Metzger cites–instead they focus on only a very small handful which they have already deemed questionable. And while they do have these texts in their “translation”, in each case the reference to the Spirit is downplayed–i.e., it’s always lower case (because they think the Holy Spirit is a thing [an impersonal force] and not a person). But that is highly suggestive of the fact that they are allowing an existing theological presupposition to determine the interpretation of the texts that deal with a given topic, and thus interpret those texts a way that favors or supports their existing theological presupposition. That’s eisegesis. And in hermeneutics: eisegesis is bad.

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[*] Metzger provides a footnote to JND Kelly’s book, Early Christian Creeds (1950) for the interested reader to find a more extensive list of texts supporting a Trinitarian view.

cracks in the dam(?)

Dedicated readers of this blog will know at least two things: 1) I am poor at posting consistently, and 2) a number of posts have dealt with the problems of plagiarism. Many of the instances of plagiarism I highlight tend to come from students who either fail to abide by the rules of proper citation or are ill-informed about such rules, or from (more or less) popular writers/authors–and often for similar reasons. In the main, I can excuse such things because they can be seen as rookie mistakes. Thus, I tend to get over those instances rather quickly. I see it. I gripe about it (usually to myself, sometimes here). And then I move on.

But there are times when I don’t move on as quickly. And these times are related to when I discover plagiarism in scholarly work–either personally or I hear/read about it from others. Recently, two seasoned scholars have been criticized for plagiarism in their respective commentaries, and both have admitted to the regrettable causes for it (e.g., pressures of publishing, time-crunches) and it appears that both commentaries will be pulled from circulation. This bothers me, in part, because scholars should know better–or at least they are better informed about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. But as we’re discovering, that idealistic view is being rattled by reality. And what I fear is that this kind of rattling is creating cracks in the dam, which if it gives way will bring about disturbing and disruptive consequences.

I still remember one of the more disturbing instances I encountered: it was in 2011, while I was doing some follow-up research during my doctoral studies. Specifically, I was reading a published dissertation on a theme in Pauline theology.¹ I first suspected it when the writer made an argument that was surprisingly similar to the scholar he cites. The differences in wording were minimal at best (e.g., transposing two words, alternate spelling on a Greek term, an elision of one minor clause). However, I became concerned because the writer did not place the argument in quotes, despite the minor differences. Though, to his credit, he did cite the scholar’s work with an in-text reference, but the citation gave the impression of an allusion to the other’s work, not one that signals explicit reliance upon it. So I ultimately let it go as a one-off, one that might be debatable and thus not sufficient for further thought.

But then it happened. When reading an earlier portion of this same dissertation, I found an explicit use of another’s work without proper citation–let alone quotation marks. In this second example, the author presented an explanation of a particular Greek term and this explanation carried on for nearly 120 words (essentially the length of the preceding paragraph in this post). Only at one point did the author place a portion of the explanation in quotes (5 words, to be precise), followed by an in-text reference. However, by looking at the argument found in reference cited and comparing it with what is found in the dissertation, it is obvious that the author lifted more than the five quoted words. In fact, nearly the whole 120 words were lifted from the source used. But again, since there were no quotation marks around this larger section, thus signaling the use of another’s work, one would not suspect that the larger section was boosted. The only reason I knew of the similarities is because I had read the source used only the day before. Thus, when I came to this portion of the dissertation, things sounded far too familiar.

Not knowing what to do, and being a mere PhD student at the time, I decided to ask a professional. His initial response was this: “From your description it sounds to me like carelessness rather than deceptive plagiarism (i.e. there is a reference to the source material, but the wording is too close to the source without being acknowledged as citation). And it is not uncommon. Deceptive plagiarism (if no source/reference is given, and large portions are found to be derived from an unacknowledged source) is a different matter and would perhaps warrant some further probing.” Even though this distinction and criteria for making it were a touch different than what I was used to, I heeded his follow-up response, which was (paraphrased): I’d leave it alone. You don’t want to start your career as being the one who outed an established scholar and professor for plagiarism.

To borrow from Ron White: “I told you that story to tell you this one”. This morning, while doing some research for a sermon series I’m doing, I came across the following:

img_6603

The book on the left was published in 1978, while the one on the right was published in 1993. (I am going to leave the authors for these two works unnamed for now). The parallels in the larger description are close enough to raise an eye-brow, though such material might be said to fall into the category of general knowledge, which is not necessarily required to be cited. (I would debate some of the nuances of that escape clause, especially in this case, but point taken). However, it’s the smaller paragraph that bothered me. The wording is exactly the same, with the exception of one qualifying phrase (i.e., “of the guild”). But there is no reference. No footnote. Nothing. There’s not even a entry in the “Further Reading” list of the newer book for the older one. This should not be happening, especially by a scholar who is known for thoroughness and precision.

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¹ I’m being intentionally cryptic at the moment because I am still torn with how to proceed with this.

a subtle poke(?)

While reading a published PhD dissertation from 1900 (as you do), I saw this in the introduction:

It is the purpose of this book to present a study of Alexander Campbell’s theology by the historical method. He was not a voice crying in the wilderness and having no connection with his age except to receive from its degeneracy an impulse toward reformation. Try as he would, he could not sweep aside all that men had thought during the past eighteen centuries, and lead a religious movement or formulate a system of Christian doctrine as if a true word had not been spoken since the death of the Apostles.¹

I may be wrong (which is always possible), but I think he just took a shot at Joseph Smith with that last sentence. Or maybe even Dispensationalism. Either way: If so… well played, sir.

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¹ W.E. Garrison, The Sources of Alexander Campbell’s Theology (St Louis: Christian Publishing, 1900), 14-15.

something else

So apparently, this Gap ad was perceived to be racist*–despite efforts to explain the pose:

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 10.37.28 AM

Yet, as far as I can tell, this earlier version was not perceived in a similar way:

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 10.38.54 AM

But putting that debate aside, I’d like to point out one small(ish) detail that’s getting missed:

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 10.46.54 AM

Either Cherokee/Target or Gap has some ‘splainin to do. Who wants to go first?

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* And since perception (not truth) is all that really matters these days, it must in fact be racist.