Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Holy/Different: Honest

[I never really planned to make do any follow ups after the previous post on holiness but yet after writing it the vagueness of it all bothered me. I felt that I made a case that we should be more holy in a practical way but then stopped short of actually getting practical about it. I could already feel my retinas burning from the blinding flash of the obvious. So then here is one practical way I could think of. Agree, disagree, have a different opinion? - I would love to hear it. This is merely my attempt to make practical sense of a difficult subject. Also please note that I don't offer this as the entirety of the matter, rather I list this as just one small facet. ]

How honest would you say you are? Chances are, you aren't half as honest as you think. I say this not because I doubt your character (though technically I have no idea who you are, this being a public forum on the Internet and all but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here!) but simply the information age has somehow managed to turn us all a little dishonest. We are just bombarded with so many factoids, soundbites, gossip, opinions, propaganda, statistics and disinformation that despite our best efforts to always tell the truth (again, benefit of the doubt) we all tend to spread some absolute nonsense at some point. Think you have been spared? Well if you have ever told someone about the "fact" that we all swallow about 8 spiders per year in our sleep, or that humans only use 10% of their brains, or that men think about sex every 7 seconds, or even passed on the time honored advice about the need to wait 30 minutes after eating before swimming - believe it or not, you lied! Ditto for pepper staying in your digestive tract for 7 years (it moves through and out like everything else including bubblegum mom!) or a ducks quack not giving an echo (the Mythbusters actually tested this one). The unfortunate truth of the information age is that the extreme amounts of misinformation we are fed makes liars of us all.

I know this useless trivia seems pretty insignificant and I completely agree. It really doesn't matter if you frequently quote a piece of info that apart from being useless is also completely false. The only reason I mention this at all is just to make the point that I don't have crazy and unrealistic ideas about honesty. I get it. We are human. We repeat things without fact checking, we gossip about things we really don't know much, we add on to stories, we round up our figures - of these things I'm pretty sure we are all guilty to some degree. Yet when it comes to being a Christian, these little transgressions of untruth become a little more serious. When someone as a Christian, starts spreading untruths about issues of faith and spirituality, then it becomes a lot less insignificant and a lot more problematic -even when this misinformation is shared as unintentionally and innocently as any other fake factoid. A silly statistic around the watercooler is harmless - an equally silly statistic used to make a point in a serious debate/sermon is not. Unfortunately, thanks to the Internet, Christians worldwide have a growing reputation for ignorance and utter dishonesty.

A term used rather often these days when referring to Christians is "Liars for Jesus". Sad thing is, that isn't as undeserved as we would like it to be. A very common - but extremely damaging - example of this is of course the horrible practice of quote mining. Now I would like to believe that most cases of this happens due to misinformation and ignorance on the part of the Christian - that it's usually just a case of someone repeating a piece of emailed trivia or some unfortunately fake factoid heard from the pulpit or read in a piece of literature - but that hardly makes the person using it look any better does it? Quote mining is a clear case of breaking the 9th commandment that no opponent in a debate would ever pass up the chance to mock. In fact quote mines can collapse pretty spectacularly as seen here. However as I pointed out right at the start, anyone can become a victim of bad information. It is nevertheless a disturbing trend to find that so much of what Christians quote falls under quote mining. You may be shocked to find that any time a Christian quotes a famous person (atheist especially) the quote is usually wrong and often misleading. It's for reasons like this that the quote mine project even exists! It's not limited to the evolution debate either - from philosophy and science to other faiths and cultures, there is quote after quote that is wrong, taken out of context or even completely fabricated. None of this makes Christianity look very good! There are a lot of high profile Christians telling big lies and in doing so they are making us all look dishonest. (Alas, these big lies spread throughout the Christian movement with as much ease as the little ones) Then there are the cases where I wouldn't feel comfortable calling someone a liar but the way they present the "facts" seems pretty dishonest none the less. I for instance would have a hard time reading any of Lee Strobel's "A case for..." books. He may be making some good points in there but the whole setup just seems dishonest from the get go. He sets himself up as a former skeptic/atheist/"evolutionist" who after thoroughly looking into the issues became a believer in Biblical inerrancy. Yet in every one of his works you see everything but skepticism and thoroughness - you just see someone having a one sided conversation with a group of "experts" hand picked to support the main premise completely. What happened to looking at all sides of the issue? Where is the skepticism? Where is the chance for rebuttal and dialogue? None of this seems honest to me at all! Mr Strobel's apologetics work is pretty mild next to some others though. Some Christians seem to have no problem with willfully and purposefully lying for the cause. From Ben Stein's deceitful movie Expelled to the blatant dishonesty put forward by Way of the Master in their videos to the endless examples of outright lies by creationists like Kent Hovind and Duane Gish, there is plenty for Christians to be ashamed about. Just recently a poster on Youtube held a competition for the "Golden Crocoduck" which awarded a prize to the person telling the biggest most obviously blatant lie in furtherance of the creationist cause - there were no shortage of nominations. In case you're wondering, it was won by none other than the great Kent Hovind and I have to agree - it takes some moxie to show the audience a slide that proves you are lying while you are lying to them!!

Don't even get me started on Kirk Cameron and his Crocoduck...

But that is enough ranting. This isn't a post about Christian dishonesty, this is about holiness. I do often feel as if I'm making accusations but not providing enough proof to back it up - hence the rant if you would be so kind as to forgive me for that. Bear with me thought there is actually a train of thought here. In my previous post I tried to explore the concept of "being holy" as "being different". So therefore with dishonesty becoming the disturbingly expected norm for Christians, one great and truly practical way for someone to be holy by being different would be to practice honesty. Even for those who disagree with my take on holiness as difference - those who prefer to think of it as being Godlike or obedient to the Bible - well, that changes nothing - after all, the Bible is pretty clear about the fact that the followers of God should be honest (Lev 19:11; Col 3:9 - to list but a few).

However, don't get me wrong. The reason I chose honesty is not to list just another nice sounding but impossibly hard way to be "holy". That is why I started this blogpost the way I did. I get that to be 100% truthful in all things at all time is well nigh impossible. It would certainly be inhuman. In fact it may not even always be wise or good. After all, should the midwives who hid the Israeli babies in the time of Moses have been more honest? Should Rahab have been more honest about hiding the spies? (Interesting article on that here) For another thing, honesty has gotten a bit of a bad reputation. People use honesty as an excuse to be cruel and hurtful sometimes. Seems like honesty only matters to certain people when they can use it as a defense against a charge of behaving like a total douchebag. Let me be clear, I don't mean honesty in any of those terms. I think that honesty is a very good, very practical way to practice holiness. Not as an impossible measure of perfection or an all purpose defense for being slanderous or mean but rather in the sense of being consistently reliable and trustworthy, especially as pertaining to the sharing of information.

The best part is, it's not even that hard to do. All it takes is the willingness to take a moment to think about the things you've heard. Sounds too amazing? Maybe it is. The great thing about the information age is that it is also easier than ever to check your facts. is a fantastic resource for checking up on the veracity of the rumours and factoids in your inbox, use it as much as you can, they have a wealth of articles there that are easy to search. Wikipedia (for all it's imperfections) is a great tool for quickly checking information. If you aren't a 100% convinced that the Wikipedia article is accurate, check out the bottom of the page - a good entry should have proper citations and links to more scholarly work allowing you to further investigate. (Here is a very good guide to verifying information found on the Internet by Johns Hopkins university if you want to become a more dedicated fact checker) Another easy way is to simply google what you heard - that may not always give you the truth BUT it will tell you who is really saying it. If it is true and real then you should be getting a lot of pages from the relevant authorities on the subject. If the only pages mentioning it are some fringe groups or conspiracy theorist bloggers then maybe you shouldn't be so quick to believe it. My point is, we have a choice when it comes to dealing with information. We can blindly pass things along the grapevine and be a part of a broken and dishonest system OR we can take (literally in most cases) a minute to just make sure that what we pass is actually the truth.

I also believe that a good thing to be honest about is the unknowns. Is it really so hard to say "I don't know" or "I don't understand that either"? Especially in spiritual matters, I would rather be honest and tell someone when I have the same doubts, uncertainties and fears that they have than to give them the glib, stock answer. You may just find that it makes a far bigger difference for someone to know that they aren't the only people in the world with questions.

So then, while I am by no means a Christian authority or any kind of authority on the subject of holiness, I do offer these things as practical advice. Check your facts. Don't be afraid to admit when you don't know, don't understand or when you have questions of your own. Don't round up your numbers, don't adjust your statistics - you probably aren't fooling anyone anyway. Will this alone make you holy? No, of course not. But I do believe it is a good start and what's more it is practical and within reach of everyone. It may be only a small step on the road of holiness but I do believe it's an important one.

[Edit: 18 Nov 2008]
I have done some thinking about this subject - why go from the subject of holiness to honesty? Well when I first wrote it my reasoning was as follows: Honesty was something we could all work on and what is more we could all work on it with ease and immediate success. That I have always felt was crucial when starting something new in your life, whether it was a diet or an exercise program or any type of difficult project - find that ONE thing you could do and get right. When you have that then the road forward becomes a lot easier. Any difficult quest becomes easier to start when you can start off with a victory after all. Now that I had a chance to think about it though I realize there is more to it than that, honesty is a better starting point than I thought. Maybe if you can start off with being a little more intentional about making sure you are being honest about what you tell people, after a while it will spread to other parts of your life. Maybe after a while you will want to start being more honest with God when you pray. Maybe after a while you will start wanting to be more honest with yourself and less comfortable with the easy excuses. Maybe after a while you want to start being honest about questions like "What am I really like?", "What do I really believe in?", "What do I think of myself?", "What do I truly believe about God?" Come to think of it, I find it hard to imagine a better first step on the road to being holy-different than simple honesty. I don't think its a journey you can begin in any other way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I found your blog while searching for info on Focus on the Family's "Truth Project." As a Christian, there is little I loath more than intellectual dishonesty.