Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Being Open to Change

James McGrath had a post recently, It's Hard to Be "Biblical", in which he states the following:

"The Bible says a lot of different things, and I personally think that the whole notion of being 'Biblical' is problematic. What sense does it make to say that one’s beliefs or practice conform to a collection of writings by different authors who do not all say exactly the same thing?

"But if there is a thread that runs through the Bible from beginning to end, it is an emphasis on (or better, warning about) the fact that we as people can delude ourselves into thinking we are Biblical, or moral, or right, or whatever, when in fact we are not.

"Yet it is precisely those who most avidly proclaim their 'Biblical' character, and most emphasize that this is the way everyone should be, who tend to be the least open to correction, to challenge, to being shown that they are not on the right path."

I agree with a lot of what James McGrath is saying here. I used to hang out on an evangelical Christian dating site, and one of my pet peeves was not so much the beliefs that the people there held, but rather that some of them were so unwilling to learn from others. I could have a discussion with them, in which I'd make my points, and they'd make their points, and I'd store their points in my memory bank, whether I agreed with them or not. But later, when there was a discussion about the same topic, they would make the exact same points that they made in the discussion with me---sometimes even going so far as to copy-and-paste their points! It was like I hadn't even talked with them!

Don't get me wrong: I'm not expecting people to be floored by my wisdom. I'm not that vain! But I myself tend to modify my positions in some manner when I discuss them with other people. Even if I still hold the same position, what the other person has said still influences how I shape, define, or formulate that position. In short, I'm not the exact same person after the discussion that I was before the discussion---for the other person has given me things to think about, or to take into consideration. Granted, there are times when I will use some of the same arguments that I used before, but I still acknowledge that other people have their own way to get around those arguments, and I take that into consideration.

And so, in light of how I try to be (probably more so now than in the past), it just irks me when people repeat the exact same arguments, over and over, without giving any indication that they have learned from previous discussions. It's like I'm bending, and they're not, and I just get to the point where I don't want to discuss issues with them anymore---since I'm tired of them making the same arguments over and over, and I resent that I'm at least trying to understand where they are coming from, whereas they are not extending to me the same courtesy.

Okay, so there's my pet peeve, whether it's right or wrong! Some will probably say that I sure do attach conditions onto my love, and maybe they're right! But, at this time, I want to acknowledge a time when a right-wing evangelical Christian I know at least was open to changing his mind---or to modifying how he did things in light of information that he received. This fellow was at an evangelical Bible study that was going through the Book of Acts, and Acts 23:5 stood out to him. The passage is a quotation of Exodus 22:28, and it says that you are not to speak evil of a ruler of your people. The apostle Paul was quoting this passage when he was apologizing to the high priest for calling him a whited sepulchre, who did not obey the law that he professed to uphold. After reading this passage, my friend was convicted about the times that he had spoken evil of President Obama. There were commenters on his thread who tried to absorb that verse into their own anti-Obama worldview---as they said that Obama technically is not the ruler of the United States, for the rulers of the United States are the American people. (I don't think that these commenters were making a "birther" sort of argument!) But my friend stood firm with his new insight, and he responded that, with that sort of reasoning, one could bypass any rule in Scripture, period! My friend is still a conservative. But, in this case at least, he was open to learning and changing.

Of course, my friend would say that he's following the "Bible", as if the Bible is monolithic, even though, in my opinion (and also James McGrath's), the Bible can be used to support all sorts of positions. One can say that Jesus speaks evil of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, or that the Psalmist and the prophets often speak out against oppressive power structures. I am glad that my friend is willing to go with the charitable parts of the Bible. And yet, even then, my personal solution would not be to discard the parts that appear to be not-so-charitable. This is an issue for which the Bible can be used to start a discussion, not end it (as Rachel Held Evans likes to say), as people ask when it is appropriate to speak out, and when it is better to stay silent, and how one can oppose evil, while still being loving.

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