Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gullible Christians

I visited a message board yesterday that mostly was about Christian music, but with the recent campaign to say that Democrats dropped the ball on terrorism, someone posted a story that Oliver North warned of Osama bin Laden during the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987. As I read this the thought hit me - 1987? bin Laden wasn't a terrorist until after fighting Russians in Afghanistan; this doesn't make sense.

No, it doesn't make sense. I wasn't surprised that I easily could find more than a dozen sites that debunk this plus the later refinements to this story that blame Al Gore for being part of these hearings, which he wasn't, and blame the Clinton administration for releasing Muhammad Atta from an Israeli prison, also false, that lie building on a different Atta being extradited from the US to Israel, not the other way around. It did surprise me that all of this was so well known in 2001 that even Oliver North issued a denial of the story in November 2001. Something this thoroughly debunked is still making the rounds? Of course I hadn't heard it before, so there is a fresh audience for it, but what still propagates it?

One thing that keeps it going is that not enough people question the story. About a dozen comments on this message board hadn't questioned it, but instead welcomed how this adds to other reasons why anyone outside the right wing is stupid. Granted this was a music site, not someplace where people invest their ego in knowing something about bin Laden, which makes this falsehood obvious. But it strikes me how similar this is to what has always bothered me about traditional Christians.

From the time that I knew anything about science in school, it's been clear how untroubled traditional Christians are in making conclusions about science despite knowing little of what they speak. Some Christians know things about science, but still have blind spots large enough to swallow whatever apologetics say evolution is wrong or other mainstream science is wrong. Even those Christians far out of step with the secular mainstream in some very technical area of science have complete confidence they are right.

Similarly with theology, most traditional Christians have complete confidence in gospels written 40 years or more after events. Why are they any different from the sort of story that was on this message board? Doesn't God ensure the truth now the way He would have had to then to make the gospels accurate?

One cannot be for the truth and be careless about lies. Christians strongly resist that they tell lies. All people do. Yet most people I come across tell lies. They repeat rumors. They tell one-sided versions of science, history, and spirituality. It is human nature. It seems we have to learn to be skeptical. Maybe it's good for gullible Christians that life was gentle enough to them for them not to learn skepticism, but now that there are so many resources to debunk anything, learning skepticism doesn't have to be as unfocused as it once was.

If it were just a matter of experience, though, I expect this wouldn't be such a problem. I've shared many times about what's wrong about some argument only to watch the other person shift to another argument, if they even give up saying that their original argument is just fine. When an argument is just ammunition, not a building tool, then what is the point? If someone is not chastened when caught telling a lie, even innocently, that's something other than just being gullible. That's an allegience that's hard for me to label, but how can it be anything but idolatry? How would God lead people to be so single-minded? I don't think He does. I think our nature gets us stuck on some way of seeing things regardless of facts. I think God frees us from that, to be able to accept whoever and whatever He is, as well as whatever everything else is.

Faith does not make us gullible. Faith frees us to accept whatever is true. Those are two very different things, even though they both emphasize acceptance. The gullible can be stuck with having taken in beliefs they can't drop without dropping everything they believe. The faithful have faith regardless of beliefs. I wish I had some good, brief arguments to prove that. Instead my proof is like it is with many things. Look around, how else can you explain everything?


elbogz said...

It really blows my mind, where the church is going on this. I hear people in church say, of course the book of Job talks about dinosaurs. The Grand Canyon proves Noah's flood. There is no evolution and that’s been proven scientifically and they are just hiding the results because they hate God. They say this with the same conviction they say God loves you. I stare at them blankly knowing better than to even go there.

We are a society that insists on both sides getting a say. The trouble is, one side is just wrong. It would be easier to prove the earth is flat, than it would be to prove the earth is young. At least the earth kind of looks flat, if you don't look to hard.

I read bulletin boards and comment fields that all say the same thing. Good people with a small amount of science training are walking away from God, because they were given a false ultimatum of choosing science or choosing God.

This false teaching is driving people away from God.

DavidD said...

I'm sure some people are driven away from God this way, but then there is the opportunity to find God more clearly somewhere else.

I'm convinced that our entire society is in a time of transition. We haven't even had enough time to adapt fully to the agricultural revolution, how that gave us enough things to obsess over and fight wars over. Now here comes the Enligtenment and the scientific revolution, with even greater challenges to what we know and how we should live. Many people react to this with simplistic beliefs, whether traditional ones, New Age or atheism.

I wish I knew magic words to fix all this or God did. It's gets so painful watching the strife that grows out of this, but maybe it's unavoidable. I'm optimistic this all works out, in 500 years, maybe more. If it's too much for human beings, maybe there are some spirits that will get something out of all the confusion.

I do know that for any one of us personally, we can know what we need to know to live, that my life is beyond me to run myself, that there is help for that, wherever one sees that help coming from. This I feel confident about. For the human race in general, I have more of a blind hope.