In a development related to last month’s article, I saw a news article on the Newtown, CT tragedy that was infuriating.
A man who had provided shelter and safety to a group of kids running from the school has been subjected to harassment from a sizable group of people who claim the whole shooting report was a hoax. These people, led by a Florida professor, believe government perpetrated the fraud to advance its gun control agenda.
I wish this were an isolated example of wackiness, but such conspiracy theories abound in our society. More than half the voters in the recent Alabama primary believed President Obama is a Muslim. A sizeable share of inner-city folks believes crack cocaine was introduced by the government to destroy minorities. A large and vocal bunch claim that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by scientists to a) bilk the government of research money, or b) advance some political agenda. I could go on.
I once labored under the impression that rational, reasoned witness and argument could persuade those to whom I preached. It seems obvious now that many cannot. I have come to wonder if there is anything so absurd that humans will not believe it, despite all evidence to the contrary. This begs the question among those around us: is Christianity among the absurdities that supposedly sane people will believe?
I think it’s worth recognizing this reality, for a couple of reasons. (And yes, I do see the irony in trying to make a rational argument for dealing with irrationality!)
First, it reinforces that we live in a postmodern world where it is commonly believed that reality is subjective, whatever the individual perceives it to be. Ultimately, this leads to chaos, not community. It results in slavery to selfishness, not the freedom that God intends for God’s world.
We recognize as preachers that this attitude is a real and significant part of our context. We will get nowhere claiming to be sole possessors of the truth whose mission is to enlighten others on the specifics of this truth, the possession of which makes us superior to those without it.
We first need to make the case that both ultimate and communal truth exists. Within that context, we then relate how our individual experience with the risen Lord Jesus connects us with the truth. And finally, we need to acknowledge that our individual experience does not comprise the sum of all truth.
Secondly, our experience with irrationality, while it has taken new shape and appears to be growing, is not something new. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made specific mention of those who are rejected and even harmed by those whose minds are predisposed to disregard truth. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers several times to those who not only live in darkness but who prefer it that way.
Had Jesus been familiar with modern perils, he might well have added another type of soil to those listed in his parable of the sower. “Some of the seed fell on toxic soil, so saturated by predisposed notions that it never even had a chance to sprout.”
Of course, the fascinating part of that parable is the extravagant grace of God, which we can take as a reminder that our role as preachers is to send out the word in a way and form that it can produce, and that the Holy Spirit has the tougher task of seeing that it takes hold.