Think Well

Of Violence and Volume

June 1, 2020

Violence and volume is all that’s left when truth isn’t an option.

I don’t follow the news enough to make educated statements. This is on purpose. I’m overwhelmed by the sin and sadness in my heart and what I see and hear day to day. I draw my news from people that are informed but I keep myself out of it. It’s nothing I’m proud of. It’s a survival mechanism for a heart that just can’t keep taking blows.

I admire those of you that stay in the fight. Those that sift and filter every morning. That deal with headlines throughout your day. That confront brokenness and bias, slant and sin with every click. 

I’m not one to read 100 books in a year. But I’ll read ten and think about them constantly. I’ll digest them carefully, weaving their lessons throughout my day. So too with the news. And there are stories in the last few months I’ve been stewing on. My soul is shackled with sadness, deep grief for what is and what is coming.

One of the things that grieves my heart is that my culture, that place and point in time where I live my life and raise my kid, has given up on truth.

It may seem callous to be concerned with philosophy at a time like this. But I think the world needs us to be who God created us to be. I’m a deep thinker to my core. I can’t help but see what’s going on underneath. Ideas matter. They don’t stay in our head. They seep out in our actions and shape our world. You find them in art and architecture and literature and yes in history. And several decades ago philosophers were enchanted  in new ways with the idea that truth cannot be known. Today we see the inevitable consequences of those thoughts.

Our culture has given up on truth. It had good reasons. That may be the hardest part. I’ve watched the Matrix. I’ve considered pragmatism and relativism and thought about Simulacra and Simulation.  I know about the blind men and the elephant. I know that for centuries my people (Christians) held truth and used it as a weapon. They knew the Truth but didn’t follow it. They used the power of their reasoning to justify hating and mistreating others.

But truth wasn’t the problem. Arrogance, bigotry, a failure to love thy neighbor was the problem. 

The heart rebelled against a logic without love and at first, the dedication to humble ignorance was not so bad. 

But truth is the guardian of justice. When you lose truth, justice is next in line. 

What began as an attempt to connect us with the other–those that think differently, dress differently, behave differently, has ended in the ultimate disconnection. Total loss of ability to communicate.

We no longer hear each other. And why would we? There is no truth, no understanding that can be achieved from listening. In a pluralistic society, we listen from politeness, not to learn something. 

So what is left to bring about change? How does one fight for justice in a culture where no one is listening?

Violence and volume. I have no words for what is happening. No opinions about what people should be doing. I have deep respect for those that are thinking carefully and speaking strongly at this time. Thank you for what you are doing. 

I speak to something underneath it all. Something I see in the headlines of our response to the pandemic. The questions of whether we should reopen. Of cold-blooded murders and riots.

Violence and volume. Our inheritance for giving up on truth.

If truth is real, if it’s attainable, if there’s right and wrong independent of what you and I believe, then conversation is worthwhile. We can talk to each other. We can listen. We can exchange ideas respectfully or disrespectfully. But talking matters. 

But if the person you’re talking to has his own truth, then conversation is pointless. It’s something we do because we desperately want to be understood and to have what we want, not because we want to change someone’s mind.

Why debate, why challenge someone’s ideas if they already know the truth? “Because that’s how we get better” sounds really hollow when you consider that “better” is your word for “more like me.”

Why listen to another person’s point of view when you get to decide what is true and how you live your life? “Because it’s kind” is cheap when you consider the only people we value listening to are the ones who already think like us.  Facebook figured this out long before we did.

Maybe most frightening is that we’ve even stopped listening to ourselves. We’ve chosen kindness over consistency. We don’t like thinking about those parts of ourselves that are ugly and need improvement. We don’t like the uncomfortability of admitting we might be wrong in how we think and act. We already have so much anxiety, we can’t afford to consider the entire way we think and behave might be mistaken. We admit we could be better, but that’s a weak motivation to change compared with, “I’m wrong.” We would never tell someone else, “you’re wrong” (unless we were pretty sure everyone on social media would agree with us), so why would we say it to ourselves?

We’ve chosen plurality over consistency. I wish I could convey this to every preacher in America. I sit in rooms where we build sermons. Rarely do we face the fact that we can preach our sweat and blood and that people’s M.O. is to clap and thank us on the way out. But they don’t change. They simply added to their beliefs. None of them were transformed. Our sermon was filed right next to a New Girl episode and YouTube video. 

How do we change  someone else’s mind? I’m not even sure at this point we’re trying. I think many have given up and they are simply raising their voices louder. It’s why we can’t disagree without demonizing each other. It’s why we can’t deal with false information on YouTube. If I can’t convince you to agree with me, all I can do is silence you. I’ll drown your voice by raising mine. I’ll shame you into silence. I’ll take violent action against you. I’ll throw you in jail. I’ll riot in the streets.

As Christ followers, now is the time to remember that Jesus said he is the Truth. Truth is knowable. Truth is embodied in a person. This is deeply offensive to a pluralistic society and I understand that. I own and apologize for the way people have misused Jesus’ name and Truth to hate and oppress others. 

I respect my friends who think differently than I do. But that’s not why I talk to them. I talk to them because I value truth and believe that I might be wrong. That’s why I listen.  Because I think they might be right and I might be wrong. Vapid humility says “we’re all right.” Vapid tolerance says “that’s your truth.” It keeps the peace for about five seconds.  Peace is the reward of justice. Justice doesn’t happen without truth. 

We live in world that’s trying to achieve peace and justice without truth and the experiment is collapsing around us.

What are we as Christ followers to do?

As I’ve wrestled with these thoughts, here is what I believe God is leading me to do.

Continue to read the Bible. Every day. Bathe in it. Let it wash over me. Meditate on it. When I find an inconsistency in my beliefs, wrestle with it. Don’t raise the white flag and say, “how do I really know?” Fight for truth. When I find an inconsistency in my life, a disparity between what I think and how I behave, fix it. Don’t raise the white flag and say, “no one is perfect.” Jesus was perfect and I’ve chosen to follow him.

Listen. Truly listen to others. Listen to those you disagree with and don’t just defend your point of view. Fight for truth. I can’t ask people to be serious about truth if I’m not willing to let God cross-examine me through the voices of others. 

Above all,  I’m asking Christ to teach me how to love him and my neighbor.  There is a way to act towards God and to act towards man. And I fall short of it daily. But I want my heart to be closer to Christ and closer to others at the end of this year.

One final thought to my friends that do not share my faith. You may be worried about my reliance on the Bible and talking to Jesus Christ about how I should live my life.  If I claim to have access to Truth, then I can use this as a means to justify oppression. I understand your nervousness.

I worry about your commitment to pluralism. I worry that simply adding beliefs instead of considering them leads to injustice. I invite you to correct me. I invite you to challenge me. When you do, I will be listening because while I believe I’ve found the Truth, I know that I am a broken human being with remarkable capacity for self deception. We share the same dreams of a world without evil. A world of justice. I’m really listening to you. I’m thinking carefully about what you say.

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  • Reply AJ Buerer June 3, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Very thoughtful. I had never considered the harsh effects of not believing in truth. What you said reminded me of the line from the beginning of Superman: “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Our experiment with building a free society depends on justice, which as you point out, depends on truth.

    • Reply denad June 4, 2020 at 6:08 am

      Thank you AJ! Very true.

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