Finding the Truth in a World of Interpretation (Epistemology)

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I know that a lot of people in Christendom are careful about what they read.  I am, too.  I don’t pick up a copy of Playboy each week to understand how Hugh Hefner is influencing the world for Hedonism.  I don’t listen to Prince and the Revolution as much as I did when I was a teen.  I know that a lot of people in Christendom will not read Harry Potter, watch The Life of Brian, or shop at Starbucks or Walmart (Starbucks has alleged connection to the New Age and Walmart sends its profits to support the homosexual agenda).  I question whether being an ostrich in the world is what Christ meant when he told us to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. 

Some Christians have never learned to think, but just to swallow.  They have not developed discernment for themselves and rely on people like James Dobson to tell them what to think.  Some hand over trust to their pastors to do all the brain work for them, and if the pastor tells them not to watch something they won’t watch it.  Some Christian Art is accepted because it is Christian, but it doesn’t even merit the word Art.  Some beautiful representations of God’s universe are rejected because the artist is an atheist or homosexual. 

I know some Christians who will only read things that reinforce what they already think.  I wonder if they are afraid.  It does not seem like a powerful way to live.  You tend to notice over time that a pharisaical purity develops in communities that think this way.  They begin to thank God that they are not like other men.  They do not hold their views up for scrutiny or respect Christians whose views may be different from theirs.

One particular area where this has become apparent recently is politics.  I see a lot of shallow thinking by Christians in this area, but we should engage with our detractors and hear what they are saying about people of faith.  Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris published articles in Time and Newsweek this past week encouraging Christians once more to go away and shut up.  Harris points out that Christians believe the world will end with apocalyptic genocide and people who believe that can have little positive affect in the public sphere.  Dawkins argues an atheistic perspective on origins.  How do we then respond to people like this without losing our faith or giving the devil a foothold?

  1. Law of Exposure

I believe that Christians should read Harry Potter, Friedrich Nietzsche and listen to Black Sabbath.  How can I say such a thing?  I believe that it is a simple question of ratios in terms of exposure.  I have read Harry Potter because I have read the Bible, Thomas a Kempis, C.S. Lewis and other Christian authors more.  I believe that the scales should be tipped heavily towards positive, edifying, Christian literature.  That foundation enables me to assess the evil or the twisted in other literature accurately.  Ironically, reading Nietzsche does help me with my spiritual growth.  Critiques by thinkers like Marx and Nietzsche are frequently accurate.  It is their solutions that are diabolical.  Watching a movie like Saved allows us to see what we are communicating to the world about Christian Education and to correct our behavior, the movie’s postmodern solution of a huge group hug does not satisfy. 

We equip ourselves through Biblical understanding to engage with the world and to be in it but not of it.  There is no legalistic quantifying of exposure to the godly and ungodly.  There is a discernment of how much of the truth I need to study to be able to engage with a lie.  I see too many Christians who are lazy with their study of truth or too afraid of lies.

  1. Multiple Sources of the Same Issue

I like to read The Nation.  It is a left wing paper with pro-homosexual and pro-choice leanings.  I like to see how the other half interprets things like the “War on Terror” or “Drilling in Alaska”.  I also like to read the Washington Times which makes George W. Bush seem like a liberal.  When I visited Provincetown, the gay capital of America, I found that they grossly misrepresented the political right in their stance on social justice and compassion.  When I visit most churches I find that they grossly misrepresent Democrats as evil baby-killers who want nothing more than to crush a baby’s head and suck it out of the uterus.

This issue of misrepresentation has become apparent in my own household over Israel and God’s plans for the future.  I have friends and family who doubt the salvation of those who can say they are Christian and who do not support Israel.  I have other friends and family who wonder how any Christian can even try to justify Israel’s actions or existence.

How do we discern the truth?  We get the news from multiple sources.  Everyone who reports the news interprets and edits the news.  If you are a conservative Christian and only read conservative reports you only get half the picture.  It’s like watching Fox News and never watching CNN.  If you are a liberal who reads the nation, you should also read The Washington Times and ask, “How can rational people with better than average intelligence think so differently than me?” 

Conclusion

What galls me so much is when mindless accustaions are thrown around with poor thinking.  When I listen to conservative radio it is like listening to the agressive bravado of a disrespectful student at the front of the class who is so cock-sure that he knows you as the teacher are wrong.  When I listen to liberal radio, it is like listening to a snide student at the back of the class who is so sure of their intellectual superiority they don’t have to listen to the teacher but can criticize her on her choice of dress or hairstyle.  Both sides sound ugly to me.  Surely there is a way to deal with truth claims in a well-informed and gracious way.

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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7 Responses to Finding the Truth in a World of Interpretation (Epistemology)

  1. “I got sick of the emotionalism, the feelings that replaced the thoughts. ‘These colors don’t run,’ a bumper sticker read. ‘Support our troops,’ a politician told us. All of it aimed at stirring up emotion rather than logic. We were living on sentimental cliches’. Our country had become a team and we were wrapped up in whether or not we were going to win the game against them. It was like the World Cup, except with guns.” -Donald MillerI think we should make a bumper sticker with ‘These colours don’t run” on it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Peter…you are right on! I found you while looking in “God’s Viewpoints” and I’m passing your blog on to my son who is teaching in Korea for a year.  He will love the points you have made so perfectly! So many Christians are nothing but mind-numbed robots.  I am NOT one of them. I hate to be so harsh, but come on…God has given each one of us a brain…use it! Thanks for your blog, Peter!
    Stop by my site sometime and say hello!

    Sher

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yes, “some Christians” have never learned to think.  “Some Christians” have been brought up to not question, so learning to question and thinking for oneself is an ongoing process–a breaking of habits that have had years to solidify.  “Some Christians” is me.  I don’t want to be like those you describe in your article, but I have the tendency to want to block out that which is evil—and not even evaluate it or to view a side as being absolutely right or wrong.  I agree with your “Law of Exposure” and “Multiple Sources” but there are times that to research one more thing is just too much for an individual.  For those for who survival (emotionally or physically) is the priority of the day, they just cannot put the effort into understanding every view and every issue.  And for those of us who don’t have to struggle with mere survival, there are so many issues out there that we all must pick and choose which to look into and which to let go.  We all cannot be so completely informed on all issues.   
     
    But, we do have aresponsibility to present our arguments in a respectful manner.  Yes, the Christians that are portrayed in your entry seem to show no grace towards others they disagree with and are possibly uninformed.  And there is no excuse for that. But remember that some of them may just not be aware of what they are doing and how they come across.  Many have been taught that their behavior is correct and God-honoring.  The church for years “has been producing mean and angry Christians”, teaching that “it is more important to be right than to be Christ-like,” and “You must be righteously ####### people who are wrong.”  And in effect, the church has found “There are ways to be Christian without being Christ-like.” (Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard)  Don’t forget to allow your grace and mercy to shower over them as you struggle with their lack of grace and mercy.  For some, they are a product of their environment.  This is not an excuse, but an explanation, and yes, a call for change.  In ourselves as well.  “Their problem” ultimately stems from the same sin we all have: pride.  “Their problem” causes others to see a side of Christians that we are ashamed of.  Make no mistake about it, ours does too.    
     
    By the way, is “redemptionisgood” British?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oops.  In the above comment, “You must be righteously ##### people who are wrong”  was supposed to say “You must be righteously ####### people who are wrong.”   By the way, great article!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ok, one more time.  If this does not work, something is wrong with my computer.  It was supposed to say: You  must    be     righteously     hard     on     people     who     are     wrong. 

  6. Anonymous says:

    ok… so the picture of the donkey doesn’t mean I am a democrat… but is being a democrat wrong? Is being a republican wrong? This may sound ignorant… but “we the people” are darned if we do and darned if we don’t. We the people need to take a look at the bigger picture and quit putting signs in our yards supporting the lesser of two evils. And if I get one more recorded politians message on my answering machine, I will be sure to NOT vote for them.

  7. Anonymous says:

    very much agreed.  self found discernment is so important. 
    i’ve been thinking about the political issue lately too.  about the instances where people are voting straight democrat, reguardless of their views, in efforts to end the war.  there is something there that tastes funny.
    have you seen “The Prestige”?  amazing.  great display of deception. 

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