Friday, April 01, 2011

Sympathy for the Person We Call the Devil

Thoughtful Christian (how we wish that adjective could become redundant!) blogger Ed Stetzer is these days offering advice on Christians on how to criticize Christians. We think that the advice is critical.

Part 2 is what we recommend today, International Atheists Day. Stetzer sagely suggests that Christians ought to understand others' statements with sympathy, from their own point of view, before launching critique that is based on what a person's words could mean or might lead to or seem to suggest or such.

We are struck with the irony of all this. Christians rightly insist that to be understood, the Bible must be read sympathetically. We can't expect to understand it if we're looking for something to ridicule or reject at every turn. The effective reader has to enter into sympathy with the thing she's reading, suspending disbelief and all its adjuncts (indignity, anger, fear, ridicule, exaggeration, etc.) to have a shot at understanding what's being said.

But the same Christians who insist on that with a book that they regard as divinely inspired will apply a very different standard to a speaker or writer who no one regards as divinely inspired. So a quotation, excerpt, snippet, title, or some such thing, often passed along to them without a context, is enough to convict. This is, of course, a project destined to one and only one possible ending: a conclusion that condemns the person whose statement is read without the reader's suspending hostility and adopting sympathy--if only for the sake of argument.

In other words, we've got to stop interpreting other Christians like atheists interpret the Bible--jerking things out of context to find something to condemn.

Well, why do people do such things? We think they're afraid. Christians who do this are afraid that a false view might prove so persuasive that people will abandon their faith. So they erect great walls of condemnation to protect people whom they imagine are less thoughtful than themselves.

Atheists fear God--in an ironically twisted way.

Brothers and sisters, stop imitating fools.

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