Facebook and Jesus and Politics

Someone I like very much posted a link on Facebook last night to an article I did not like at all.  This tends to happen a lot (with many of my Facebook friends), and it is more common during election season when rhetoric is at its height and everybody seems to have a very strong opinion about one thing or another.

Not that I am opposed to strong opinion.   I actually love a good debate, and I love tackling difficult topics - when there is genuine room for debate and conversation.  But I don't like doing this on Facebook, because I don't think that Facebook truly allows for such a thing due to its structure (or Twitter - which is worse in this respect).  In addition, I don't like doing this on Facebook because I think most people who hit "share" on a divisive or inflammatory article aren't really looking for any of their friends to express an opposing view anyway - they are looking for cyber-high-fives from the like-minded.  And because of these two factors, as well as the fact that my online time is limited and I can't afford to embroil myself in likely-fruitless conversation, when stuff pops up online that irks me I usually just sit on my hands.  But for some reason, though, last night the Huffington Post article "Jesus vs. the Christians" got me, and before I knew it my hands were on the keyboard.

As soon as I was done typing my comment, I thought that maybe I should just stay off of Facebook until after November elections are over.

But then I thought, well, that's not very realistic.  But what I can do is use my little corner of the internet to tackle this issue in a way that is meaningful and a little bit better than what I can write in that irritatingly-tiny Facebook box or the 140 characters on Twitter.

Here's what got my proverbial goat when I read this article.  I wasn't annoyed that he was critical of Christians, and I wasn't annoyed that he was critical of Republicans.  I am critical of both of those things sometimes too, despite the fact that I am a registered Republican and also a follower of Christ.  Criticism can be a good thing, because anytime you get a group of people together - be it a religious group or a political party or even an group of Avon ladies, there are going to be some people in the group who do something to make the founder/core values/purpose of the group look bad, or who seek to undermine what the group stands for to begin with.  Maybe it's unintentional or maybe their intentions are quite rotten from the get-go, but either way, for the sake of the health and integrity of the group, these people need to be called out.  So no, my issue was not with the fact that he was being critical of people who claim allegiance to the same God that I do, or who likely pull the same voting lever that I will (though I have not decided who I'm voting for yet).

So what's my beef, then?  My issue with this author is that his criticisms are based on a faulty, deeply-skewed understanding of what the Bible says to begin with - which is not surprising, since he has zero scholarly religious credentials whatsoever.  He claims to have read the New Testament, but either he is not being honest, or he is telling the truth but completely did not understand what he was reading, or he read it and only paid attention to the parts that he liked.  And if he was just an individual dude, walking around operating on his personal misconceptions, quite honestly, I couldn't care less. But he's not.  He has a voice, and a loud voice, and evidently people are willing to take what he says at face value and to spread his word.

(On a side note, let me be clear - I do not argue that having scholarly religious credentials means that you automatically know what you are talking about, either.  Some of the wisest people that I know when it comes to matters of faith are not credentialed whatsoever, and there are others who have earned a degree from an institution that still offers religious education but abandoned orthodoxy a long time ago and are therefore essentially credentialed heretics.  But credentials do mean something, because they are proof that you have spent a significant amount of time studying the topic on which you are now claiming authority.  And if you don't have credentials, and you write something like this article - which speaks authoritatively on a very important topic despite the fact that it contains zero footnotes, zero verifiable scripture references, and zero quotes from people who actually have credentials - you have not earned the right be taken seriously, even if people like what you say.)

I am not going to debate the content of his article.  I don't have time to do that, and there are plenty of people who are already doing so in the comment section on Huffington Post.  But I do want to make a few points that this article brings up, and you can pretty much apply these points to any sort of article like this - or the sharing of any such article - in the future.

1.  If someone claims to know what Christianity "really teaches," or what the "real Jesus" did/meant/wanted and this flies in the face of most of Christian history/doctrine/teaching and they have something to gain or an agenda to further by promoting this view, be highly skeptical.  No blogger is going to run up Scooby-Doo-style to thousands of years of Judeo/Christian history and whip off the mask and find out it was just the curmudgeonly Mr. Sanders all along, who would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids.  That makes for exciting cinema, but it just does not correspond to reality.

2.  Do not accept as scholarly truth something that your sophomore-year English teacher would have rejected due to lack of footnotes and references.  You are smarter than that.  Do your homework, and expect the voices that you listen to (and share with others) to do the same.  Reject those that don't.

3.  Christianity is not stupid.  You may not like it, or you may choose to reject it, but it's not stupid.    Some of the greatest thinkers in history were Bible-believing followers of Christ.  A lot of them are way smarter than any of us.  You owe it to yourself entertain, if only for a second, the thought that it's unlikely that you are right and they were all completely mistaken.

4.  All of us get our ideas and presuppositions about Christianity from somewhere.  Do you ever pause to think about where you got yours?   How do you know that those sources were telling you the truth? Just because you learned about something in Sunday School doesn't mean it's true, but just because you read it in a secular article, or heard it from a college professor, or saw it on the History channel does not mean it is accurate either.  Our culture and educational system is awash in bad information about the Bible, Christian history, and Jesus.  Question your presuppositions.  The truth has nothing to fear from your inquiry.

The "Bible" of car mechanics. Meaning, the trustworthy book that contains all the information they would need.
Not the worthless, inaccurate book that should be discarded. 

5.  Most people who are quick to criticize or discard Christianity have never really read the Bible for themselves.  And by "read the Bible" I don't mean a few sentences here or there.  You should not expect to understand the Bible by reading it that way any more than I should expect to be able to fix my car by reading a few random sentences out of a Chilton's repair manual.  It's more complicated than that, and it should be.  And no, people are not obligated to read the Bible, but if they haven't, you shouldn't give them the right to tinker with your understanding of it any more than you would let a mechanic with limited knowledge tinker on your car.

6.  Beware of approving of an over-simplified or arrogant message just because it supports what you already believe.  Whether they be Christian or Atheist, Republican or Democrat, or whatever, be skeptical of any author that makes a complicated, multi-faceted issue sound cut-and-dry in five paragraphs or less.  Things are rarely that simple.

7.  If an author spends more time defaming the character of the person than he does debunking the content of their argument, it probably means that their argument is not weak.  Just because somebody is a jerk doesn't mean they are wrong about everything.  Truth can come from unlikely - and unlikeable -sources.  Focus on the ideas being shared, not the people sharing them.

8.  One of the best and worst things about the internet is that everybody has a voice.  Think really, really hard about how you choose to use yours, and whose voices you choose to share.   What you say, and what you share matters, and you are responsible for it.

Thanks for listening.  And to the person who I like very much who posted the article that sent me over the edge, thank you.  You know I love you, and you gave me something to write about today, and now I can go back to sitting on my hands with a clear conscience.

Oh, and here's the link to the article, in case anyone else is interested:

Jesus vs. the Christians @HuffingtonPost


Amy said...

Excellent words of wisdom!! Thank you,

Jess said...

Thanks for reading, Amy!

Ephirius said...

Awesome post that sums up my feelings on 'Facebook debates' as my friends and I call them. I wish I had as much talent at 'sitting on my hands'. I feel too often that I'm the one posting things that irritate people, though that isn't my intent. :(

Jess said...

Hi, Ephirius! I'm not always sure sitting on your hands is necessary, though I do think we are wise to "pick our battles." The tough part is deciding which topics are important enough to engage on, and when, and how. If you comment on everything, people will be annoyed or tune you out. If you never comment, you cease to be salt and light. Not an easy balance, but one that can be achieved, or at least strived for. Thanks for your comment!

Ken Hagerman(TheBarba) said...

Thanks for the words to live by. There is no harm in being skeptical and requiring "experts" know what they're saying.

Jess said...

Ken, thanks for your comment,and for dropping by to read my words! I am a big fan of being skeptical... I think it is rarely a bad thing! (Of course, it can often be confused with being cynical, which is not always good, but that's a topic for another post...)

deyessorC said...

Awesome article!!!! Love the Scooby reference in #1 and regarding #4 - so applicable today with so many people that have offered the Zeitgeist movie as a reason why Christianity copied from other religions, for example. When you ask them their sources or press them on this, it simply falls apart. Apparently, youtube arguments are authoritative now vs all the historical an scholarly work that has been done in the past. Anyway, I cannot tell you how much the theme of your article rings true regarding people you love on fb (friends) and what they post all of a sudden. My wife is echoing this all the time lately.