I’m going to do something a little different in this post. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for awhile may have noticed that I usually have a pretty strong opinion on whatever issue I have chosen to discuss. However, in this case I am facing a moral dilemma and I’m honestly not sure what the right answer is. So I’m just going to explain my dilemma, and hope that some of you will weigh in with your opinions.
Here’s the sitch:
In response to one of my recent posts, I ended up getting into a lengthy exchange with a man named Adam who I am pretty sure would be described as a Fundamentalist Christian. His views – on the Bible, and on religion more generally, are quite different from my own. In some ways I was rather excited to have a dialogue with this person. I love hearing from people with different views and find that this process of challenging and questioning often leads to greater insight. However, I will acknowledge that I have deep and abiding issues with Fundamentalism, and in many ways view my blog as one small attempt to show an alternative path to faith. So – as the conversation progressed, I became increasingly annoyed with Adam. In my last few responses I was, in my own humble opinion, downright snarky.
So – here’s my question: Given my heart-felt commitment to try to live according to Christ’s example and teachings, did I behave wrongly, and should I apologize for my behavior?
I was prompted to ask this question after reading chapter eight of Karen Armstrong’s most recent book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, entitled “How should we speak to one another”. In this chapter, Armstrong contrasts the competitive dynamic of debates in the Athenian assembly with the Socratic method, which she describes as “a spiritual exercise designed to produce a profound psychological change in the participants, and because its purpose was that each person should understand the depth of his ignorance, there was no way that anybody could win.”(p.132) She goes on to show how both Buddhism and Confucianism have similar traditions of peaceful and productive dialogue where all participants start from a position of humility and openness. And of course she cites St. Paul’s famous passage from I Corinthians– that love is “patient and kind….(it) is never boastful, never conceited, never rude…(it) takes no pleasure in the wrongdoing of others”. The passage in this chapter that struck me the most was this one:
“Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation; and each one began with what was perceived to be an assault by the liberal or secular establishment. History shows that to attack any fundamentalist movement, whether militarily, politically, or in the media, is counterproductive because the assault merely convinces its adherents that their enemies really are bent on their destruction”.(p.136)
After reading this chapter, I felt terrible. I felt that I had utterly failed to live up to my goal of being a compassionate person of faith – and of all places I did this on the blog where I’m trying to demonstrate faith’s promise. I was all geared up to simply write a public apology to Adam, and hope for forgiveness. But then I realized something that made me less sure of the right path. You see, Jesus had a pretty sharp tongue himself. Check out this passage in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus addresses the Pharisees and Scribes (who were essentially the religious conservatives of his day):
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may also become clean.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:23-28)
Dang! Compared to that, what I wrote to Adam was peaches and cream. I mean, Jesus, tell us what you really think!
And this was a reminder to me of why I became so inspired by Jesus in the first place. It was discovering this real Jesus – not the sanitized, pastel version that is taught in Sunday school – but the man who was genuinely pissed off at the injustice and hypocrisy of the world and stood up and called it like is. The man who stood up and said “Wait – y’all have God’s message TOTALLY WRONG”. That is the man that inspired my faith.
So- do I owe an apology to Adam? Does it matter why I behaved the way I did? I think it may. To the degree that I acted out of my own ego-driven desire to win the debate, I think I owe an apology. To the degree that I truly, deeply felt (and feel) that he is getting God’s message wrong -well, that’s where I’m not so sure…
Please do respond with your views. I just modified my blog so you can post anonymously (so if you are my friend and want to tell me I’m a meany, go right ahead).
Finally – for those of you interested in seeing an abbreviated version of my exchange with Adam rather than reading it all from the site- here it is below (he goes by the user name Sabepashubbo). It’s actually kind of interesting on its own (feel free to also comment if you have points to make about the substance of the discussion):
…It is the only way we can look at God’s Word and really believe that it’s God’s Word, instead of man’s.
…… I think the Bible is meant to be clear. While there may be many ways to use the Bible in terms of its application, there is only one meaning to the text. Think about it like this: people can take your blog many different ways. Some may see it as inspirational; others may see it as hateful. Still others may see it as misleading, and some could say you are breaking new ground. All of these are different applications of the same blog, but you only had one purpose behind creating the blog. That is how the Bible works. There is only one meaning to the text, and when reading a verse if you look at what is actually being said, using hermeneutics to understand the context for what is actually on the page, the meaning usually becomes quite clear. It’s only difficult for those who either try to read too much into it or not enough into it to understand the context. I’d be more than happy to try and demonstrate that type of hermeneutical thinking for you if it would help you in your study.
I have limited time to reply right now, but I find it interesting that you didn’t directly answer my question. Let me try again, adding in the nuances you mentioned: based on your understanding of the Bible, did African-American slaves who simply escaped from their Christian masters (but did the masters no physical harm) – did these slaves disobey God’s will? I’m looking for a yes or no answer here: Yes, they disobyed God’s will, or No, they did not. Looking forward to your reply.
You’re asking for a yes and no answer to a multi-level question. That’s rather unfair. If you could give me the motivation behind why they escaped, I might be able to answer your question. But you’re asking me to understand the heart of an African-American slave who escaped. Perhaps the better question, which I will now pose to you, is this: if YOU were that slave, why would you be escaping, and do you think that reason is disobedient to God? Not God’s will, to God.
And just so you’re clear on my position, who was more obedient–Joseph (Jacob’s son) or the prodigal son (Luke 15)? Both were under authority, and one escaped. Who was the more obedient of the two? And who was the more rewarded of the two?