Caldron Pool founder goes the full Nelson

Nelson Muntz is Springfield’s resident bully. Famous for offering nothing to the town’s public square more enlightening than a little ‘hee hawing’ like a donkey — or ass — at the misfortune of others, and a few punches here and there.

The Caldron Pool is a deep dark corner of the internet here in Australia that likes to throw rocks at people and host a good old ‘hee haw’ session about everyone who isn’t aligned with them. It must be exhausting believing that you alone have the words of eternal life. Founder, Ben Davis, whose background is in illustration, is a full Nelson, an illustrating bully who runs the risk of becoming a cartoon caritcature.

A full nelson in wrestling is an attack from behind — a stranglehold. Ben — and his loyal troop of Caldron Poolers — don’t attack from in front, or go toe to toe with critics; they love to strangle any voice who dares raise concerns with threats of legal action, or letters to one’s employers (that’s what he did with me when I dared raise a criticism of the platform in an Eternity Article now deleted because Ben claimed he’d send in the lawyers). My understanding, from his own comments in another angry cesspit — the Unofficial Presbyterian group on Facebook — is that a lack of disciplinary action applied to me by my denomination caused him to leave the Presbyterian Church. For an angry mob who talk lots about free speech and cancel culture, they sure don’t like it when anyone dares call them out for their bullying behaviour. And look — people need to stand up to bullies, to not do so enables their behaviour and turns us all into victims. The Caldron Pool hasn’t just become ugly, they’ve just started taking that ugliness further and further towards the moderate right, or anybody who doesn’t align with their views — they’ve published hatchet jobs of many people within the Australian church — including voices more conservative than me like Murray Campbell and David Ould — because those blokes dared to criticise the platform and the myth being peddled by the founder.

In a now deleted parody site I set up (Ben Davis hated this more than anything else), I made the point that in the Chronicles of Narnia, the Caldron Pool is the tributary that sends living water into Narnia; it’s also where Shift the Ape convinces Puzzle, the donkey, to dress up as a fake Aslan. Caldron Pool is a bunch of asses acting like lions. Much of my radio silence in these parts lately has been an attempt to stay above this fray, but I’m sensing that others are starting to understand just how insidious this form of the Christian right is, and how, left unchecked, they represent a danger to the mission of Jesus.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where, through misadventure, Bart Simpson decks Nelson. We find out the punchy bully has a glass jaw; he runs home in tears calling out for his mother. Bart does his best to not become the new bully in town; but the cheering crowd want nothing more than for a new bully to maintain a certain sort of social order. Principal Skinner even gives Bart the ‘school bully’ parking spot.

Caldron Pool is full of glass-jawed full Nelsons; all clamouring to be the bully for the day hee-hawing about whoever they want to send the mob after on a given day. In recent times this has been the Gospel Coalition, and particularly an article by Amy Isham. I know Amy a bit from the online world, she is lovely and seeks to sensitively engage with people who don’t share her view of the world. For this, and for calling for a posture like this when engaging with the LGBTQIA+ community — Caldron Pool’s favourite whipping community — they love nothing more than a hee-haw at sexual minorities — Amy was the subject of an awful hatchet piece. I find myself in this weird position where I think TGC is too conservative, theologically and politically — though I love many of the contributors and board, and have written for them at times in the past, but for Caldron Pool they are beyond the pale (just like Eternity). TGC must be doing something right to be garnering enemies like this…

Stephen McAlpine is more politically conservative than I am, and has spent years establishing himself as a sharp cultural/political/Christian commentator with a readership that leans conservative. He and I, perhaps not despite, but because of our disagreements, are friends. I respect and admire him greatly. He has backbone. He has a track record of speaking up against abusive systems, and people, at cost to himself. I’ve especially admired the way he has called out conservative men for mistreating Christian women who speak up about issues that we men might be unable to see. His defence of Aimee Byrd when she was deplatformed by her podcast cohosts and thrown to the wolves online; an equivalent group of people to the Caldron Pool/Unofficial Presbyterian in the U.S (and there were posts about Byrd from the usual suspects here), was particularly notable. Stephen is a good man. He is not a coward. He has form at confronting bullies head on. He is not the type to embrace a full nelson or a coward punch. He dared to speak against the Caldron Pool piece about Amy. And the angry mob came for him. The angry mob hides a man with thin skin and a glass jaw. An ass in a lion skin they’ve been tricked into following. Perhaps they aren’t sure how to back out and so they double down in their support, and so they’re sent into the fray by a bully who can’t stand being called out.

He must be called out. Bullies must be faced. Not with violence, but with truth and love.

The really significant thing about Nelson Muntz is that he’s deeply insecure and hurting. He needs love, not punching. He needs connection. It feels like someone, somewhere, hurt him badly and now he lashes out as a means of self-protection. There is something deeply troubling about his response to criticism and how quickly he both plays the victim and engages in behaviours like DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender). It doesn’t take a specialist to recognise something deeply unhealthy in his approach to people, and yet so many are happy not only to enable but champion him through this misguided sense that courage without wisdom or love is a virtue; that what we need in this moment is any ass prepared to be a lion. Ben doesn’t need a good punching to sort him out, he needs those who will turn the other cheek. He needs to meet Jesus — or Aslan — through people embodying the way of Jesus. In the meantime his reactions — and those of Caldron Pool — to anybody who speaks up to criticise their approach will be an unveiling; they’ll pull the lion skin off and reveal a puzzled ass underneath.

In the Last Battle the Caldron Pool is not a cesspit; and it’s not just the tributary that feeds living water into Narnia. It is the gateway into the new creation. In the last chapter in the whole series the followers of Aslan make their way, with Puzzle, further up and further in into a new creation.

“Now they saw before them Caldron Pool and beyond the Pool, the high unclimbable cliffs and, pouring down the cliffs, thousands of tons of water every second, flashing like diamonds in some places and dark, glassy green in others, the Great Waterfall; and already the thunder of it was in their ears. “Don’t stop! Further up and further in,” called Farsight, tilting his flight a little upwards. “It’s all very well for him,” said Eustace, but Jewel also cried out: “Don’t stop. Further up and further in! Take it in your stride.” His voice could only just be heard above the roar of the water but next moment everyone saw that he had plunged into the Pool. And helter-skelter behind him, with splash after splash, all the others did the same. The water was not bitingly cold as all of them (and especially Puzzle) expected, but of a delicious foamy coolness. They all found they were swimming straight for the Waterfall itself.”

The Caldron Pool is living water one climbs into the heavenlies; not some hatchet job site hee-hawing like a donkey at anyone who’ll listen. But Lewis understood the Gospel, and so Puzzle the ass-lion is redeemed when he meets Aslan and is given grace.

The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty. And the very first person whom Aslan called to him was Puzzle the Donkey. You never saw a donkey look feebler and sillier than Puzzle did as he walked up to Aslan; and he looked, beside Aslan, as small as a kitten looks beside a St. Bernard. The Lion bowed down his head and whispered something to Puzzle at which his long ears went down; but then he said something else at which the ears perked up again.

The crucified and risen Jesus who ‘turned the other cheek’ and responded to mistreatment with blessing (as he commands us to) makes me look small and kitten like; he exposes human bullies for what they are. And when we act the same way, it has a similar effect.

I’m not perfect in any of this — I’ve lashed out plenty of times responding to my own mistreatment — but I’m thankful for the grace under fire I’ve seen modelled by others this week. And I won’t stay silent while people like Amy and Stephen are attacked, because I didn’t love it when people stayed silent when the mob came for me. I need to keep seeing Jesus in the response of those who respond to hate with love.

When Ben sees this he’ll almost certainly come at me; there’ll be a mob calling me out as some sort of chinless liberal (that’s what they called Stephen though, and I’m definitely more to the left politically than he is). He’ll wave his arms and threaten legal action and try to silence those who speak out; but bullies operate using fear and an angry mob. And I am not afraid of Ben. I just hope somehow, sometime, he meets Jesus and repents.

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