Returning from university in The Netherlands, I contemplated a pandemic in which the major contagion was opinion quick and fixed. What a study of the mind and society, as each filters and falters to turn information into knowledge. That January, new issues ignited around John de Ruiter. Followers departed and critics condemned. Regarding Covid-19, my viewpoint is limited, but my knowledge of John de Ruiter is comprehensive. Familiar with the myths around John, I chose my approach to Covid: to believe little, especially as convictions boom from the rooftops and radiowaves. Whether I know much or almost nothing, the compass of discernment depends on a quiet and open heart. Not what I believe, but how, becomes the question.
I tended to trust universities and public broadcasts on Covid. When skeptics dismissed BBC or McGill, a reflex of annoyance affected my thoughts: “how can you claim to know more than University professors?” An emotive impulse leads the mind as the little rudder steers the whole boat. But I checked this influence. After all, I am no expert on the inner workings of the world: “I should be quick to listen, slow to speak; open to read but careful to judge,” because it doesn’t take much to stuff what little sight we have.
On the matter of John de Ruiter, I expect few to see what I do. Most assume he is a textbook cult leader, and why not? One reason might be that you actually know him, how he lives, what he does day to day. Another reason might be that your heart, like mine, comprehends something profound in him – a wisp from another world – or another world in full. Then you would face my predicament: hold to your heart’s knowledge at the risk of appearing a fool, or pretend everything is as it appears, and be embraced by the screen-gazing jury.
Millions took the headlines at face value: “John de Ruiter — four counts of sexual assault.” Volumes of fact challenge this view, too much for this essay. My reason to write, gleaning insight from the Covid-era, is to explain what has meant the world to me: thinking with care and honesty, especially when stakes are high. History has shown it can mean life or death, as victims of tyranny, hell-bent religion, and other violence have been doomed by judgement without reason. What I’m proposing is the heart of philosophy, in John’s words: “to believe fully and only what you know to be true. Socrates put it this way: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Accused of corrupting the youth, Socrates was killed.
I was glad that I dropped the bias towards the BBC and universities, to “follow the evidence wherever it leads” as Dr. John Campbell suggests. Significant research challenges the reliability of the vaccine and its institutional promoters. My point is not about flus and shots, but the line of honest, open-hearted discernment, and my experience walking it. From my mother’s house in The Netherlands, I took trains and planes across Europe and the Atlantic, approved by negative Covid tests. I flew home thinking, “surely, they won’t leave a man thousands of kilometers from home, while he’s got nothing but a suitcase and a plane ticket.”
Alas, I was barred from the plane. It was February, minus 20, and I had hardly slept for 30 hours. I urgently sought transportation and asked one manager who scowled and said, “Why aren’t you vaccinated?”
“Reasons, but my question is how to get to Edmonton.”
“I don’t know, but you shouldn’t even be in this airport.” In that manager, I saw how an emotive bias grows into such a weighty opinion that sense and sensitivity is lost. The difference in political viewpoint is a non-issue, but I was amazed at the gap in humanity, the gap between mind and heart.
Another airport employee said, “if I find you a solution, will you go away?”
I said, “yes, please suggest a solution, but I don’t promise to just go away.” He pulled up the Greyhound website. It was non-operational and no bus could ‘legally’ board me anyway, so I went for the last resort: there was one car left for hire, a Honda Civic. A $2000 bill and a five day drive was better than being stuck in the cogs of politics and opinion. Traversing 3500 km of ice and snow, without a map or internet, I was free from the machine, heart and mind intact after months of coercion to do something that did not make sense to me. Cold, hungry and adrift, I was comfy and happy knowing my integrity was whole.
Skies were wide, Northern Ontario glittering in hills and ravines, mist rising from Lake Superior. Despite the beauty, my eyes stuck to the highway. I parked to eat and pass out in the driver’s seat from midnight to 6 AM. I had 5 days of pure driving time ahead. Exhausted, I kept saying out loud, “the main point, Nicolas, is to not die.” Meanwhile, big glowing billboards insisted: “STAY SAFE. GET THE VACCINE.”
As I drove for seemingly endless hours, especially when I went to the USA border and realised the only way further was to go back to Toronto – 8 hours of wasted driving – a frustrating fact hung about me. Because the government decided to change the rules so that a healthy person could not fly without a shot and a stamp, I was forced to lose my plane ticket, spend 5 days and thousands of dollars, and risk my life to get home. It was the most I had ever experienced the consequence of policy, and an annoyance at its unreason. But Justin Trudeau’s decisions have nothing to do with mine.
My world was the little cab of a Honda Civic, looking to silver hills and snow. The stress of the drive brought an equal measure of joy. The joy was knowing that nobody can step into my head and set the tone. Nobody’s folly implies that I should participate in it. Nobody’s malevolence forces me to waste a minute’s needless reflection on it.
At one point I halted behind a traffic jam, with a lane open next to it. Of course, I didn’t want to recklessly bypass the line, but also wanted to be sure I wasn’t waiting for no reason. I got out and walked to a semi-truck idling in front of me. I looked up to the driver, who turned to me with a big glowing face, a mustache fit for monarchy, a grizzled smile.
“It seems obvious,” I said, “but I can’t just drive down this open lane, right?”
“Not unless you want to end up like whoever caused this traffic jam,” he said.
“Right…where are you headed to?” I asked.
“All the way to Edmonton.”
“That’s where I’m going!” I said.
“Oh good!” the truck driver said. “You can follow me all the way.” It was so sweet I could could almost see him pulling the quintessential horn in the joy of life. His face was that bright. But amongst the other trucks, he disappeared in the blizzard. Through wide, white days and short, cold nights it was was just me and my thoughts. The gift was really getting to know the character of that company.
The drive was solitary, exhausting and utterly beautiful. The magnificence of the landscape was just the icing on the cake.
Part 2: One way home
Procuring food on my drive across Canada reminded me of a principle of thought: the cheap is immediate and gratifying, while quality is difficult to reach. Reduced to Subway sandwiches or gas-station snacks, I remembered my summer garden: premium food is hard work. Information is similarly tiered. Finer material requires care and attention, while the billboards and newspapers paint pictures in coarse, dramatic strokes.
The vaccine is safe and effective; hospitals are filled with the unvaccinated and doctors are frustrated. Those who take the vaccine are doing the right thing and standing up for society; those who don’t are selfish, ignorant, or worse: “racists and misogynists in tin foil hats.”
Their lines about John de Ruiter too are sensationalist and simplistic:
Adoring acolytes see John de Ruiter as the living embodiment of truth. To others he is a cult leader wielding a dangerous amount of power.
The imagery of packed hospitals and angry doctors strikes an emotional note, as do the headlines and stereotypes about cults. With a satisfying narrative hung lower than nuanced discussion, why consider further? Contrary information from top scientists requires additional research and the transcendence of emotional preconceptions. Speaking with real people may create vulnerability and new perspective, but life is about building bridges, not burning them. I leave the low-hanging fruit of emotional reaction and assumption. I look for the bright and clear, even if it requires reach. The climb to the high and delicate branches is life-giving all on its own.
The first thought in the head is not the wisest out the mouth. But beneath automatic reactions are pearls of wisdom, which as Matthew 13 illustrates, require everything before they yield themselves. If truth were easy, we would live in a world of saints. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” With 2 billion Christians on earth, it seems Matthew 13: 13-14 is not about subscription to the official faith. To me the narrow gate is the entrance to the heart and deeper knowledge inside, too narrow for bloated beliefs and investments. So, millions skip the narrow path, opting instead to believe according to bias, preference, and familiarity.
“Destruction” may refer to no hell but the demise of love, communication and reason within and between us. Now that’s a pandemic – and no surprise when believing only what you know, doing and speaking only what is true, comes at a price.
The narrow road
Sometimes you don’t get the best. You get by. Almonds, carrots and Subway sustained me across Canada. CBC was not balanced commentary, but the classical music was sweet. World news doesn’t require the deepest of my mind as I have little access and responsibility to it, but my relationship with John de Ruiter is close and full of responsibility. I chose to stay near a purported cult leader who speaks of deeper realities and who has been sexually involved with his followers. I hold myself accountable to that and to all the critics who wonder why anybody would respect such a man.
I have known John all my life. I know how he is in private, how he treats people whether they know him or like him or not. I see how he handles money and how he relates to women; how he responds to criticism and to people who are powerless. In all details I have seen, he has no traits of a coercive and self-aggrandizing guru, but the character of an honest farmer or shoe maker. Considering my knowledge of John, his cosmic claims, and his controversial actions, there is no way but the narrow way for me. Dismissing John because of the controversy – or believing him because he is my father – are both dead-ends. They draw on shallow impulses and none of the deeper knowledge in me. The third way is awkward and inconvenient, but no matter the road, my heart is whole. That makes everything beautiful, whether I’m traveling with John or alone across Canada.
Allegations are searing, but is this story not about truth, and is truth not about knowledge? Whether you think John is a sage or fallen man, what do you actually know? If you care enough to judge, care enough to know. Those now stating that John is corrupt also described divine experiences in connection with him. Which statements did they know were true? Not both.
People quickly believe without knowledge, conclude without information. When the stakes and the pressure are high, that is the moment to slow down and to think, to inquire and believe according to knowledge. Carl Jung said, “thinking is difficult, therefore let the herd pronounce judgement.” The quote is often paraphrased as “thinking is difficult – that’s why most people judge.” To most people, the judgement warrants no second thought, and I would expect that from distant observers of John. So controversial are his actions and fine the threads of goodness throughout them, that I expect few to follow those threads to the heart – unless you have known John for years or decades, seen how he lives, and experienced the depth he communicates.
Those of us who spend time around John are responsible to read and respond to what he does. We are not an audience, but a jury, which brings a philosophical weight to our views. An audience cheers and boos at will, but a jury needs to think and speak with reason – and to love. To practice philosophy is not merely to think analytically, but to love wisdom. As you know, love is not always easy.
John was in jail for 7 days and faces a serious trial. Let’s see what proof comes forward, but the court of public opinion runs with or without evidence. Even those who react via iPhone are judges, often forgetting that the blindfold and the scale matter as much as the sword. Their judgement has no bearing on John, but on their own selves and friends. Bit by bit, we form the habit of concluding, which can be done cheaply or responsibly, and depends more on honesty than intellect.
Emotional conclusions fractured society in the Covid era. Conclusions can split a person in two. Forfeiting the immediate satisfaction of conclusions leaves very little to claim as knowledge, but less is more. When I’m faithful to that, there is no need to be right to be right – and no need to be safe to be home.