Wringing Rob’s Bell

“If we can’t scrutinize matters of faith, issues of life, then I am not sure what we can. I mean if we are going to examine a meltdown on Wall Street or the Government’s handling of the budget crisis; are we not going to treat people who purport to be handing out the Purpose of Life to us – are we not going to treat them with the same level of disciplined scrutiny?” – Martin Bashir

If you haven’t been following the recent happenings in ‘Evangelical America,’ a lot of hoopla has been going on over the March release of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. Rob Bell is the founder and pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Bell’s new book has prompted many Yoko Evangos to call him a “Universalist, Heretic, and Apostate.” With all the drama going on amidst Christendom USA you might think that you were watching an episode of Maury or the Jerry Springer Show. Further hubbub has been incensed with an interview of Rob Bell by Martin Bashir on MSNBC.

Many of the viral video titles associated with the interview state something to the effect of “Martin Bashir Makes Rob Bell Squirm.” And the MSNBC interview does just that. As a consequence of the interview, Bashir has received ill repute by some and loud laudations by others. One such praise of his interview was displayed in a radio show interview of Bashir on the Paul Edwards Show. In the radio interview, Bashir defends his questions and the journalistic approach he took toward Rob Bell on TV. One such defense is made at the end of the interview and is noted above at the beginning of this article. Bashir makes an astute point regarding what we as a culture deem worthy to scrutinize.

It’s a bit curious: isn’t it? When it comes to our Government’s Budget Crisis or the short comings of Wall Street we are ready to put anyone and everyone responsible above the pyre. “Burn them!” we yell, “She’s a witch!” Errr, well maybe no one is a witch and we are not actually burning anyone either; but we’re making them pay big-time hardcore cowboy style. YEAH!

Yet when it comes to matters of faith, or people’s beliefs and proponents thereof rather, we seemingly hold contempt for anyone that should dare to ask “is that belief true?” Why do we do that? It’s a bit of a double standard don’t you think? Society says it’s okay to hold these guys (i.e. public officials and Wall Street) over here  accountable, but when we even hint at questioning the accuracy of a particular worldview people act like you’ve just infringed upon their inalienable rights. And in all actuality, that’s probably what people are feeling.

We are all about our rights here in America, especially freedom of thought and speech. DON’T TREAD ON ME! This is ‘Merica! The unfortunate thing about this is people are generally unaware to the emotional attachment they have for their own beliefs (and by no means is emotional attachment wrong). When someone poses a threat to our values/beliefs we tend to respond in anger; rather than attempting to take a step back and examine the ‘truthfulness’ of our own beliefs. Additionally, people who question other people’s beliefs typically don’t do it in a way that is not condemning or not attacking. So it may be the case that in efforts to pursue paths of ‘least resistance’ our society has developed the norm “it’s okay to believe whatever you want is true, but it’s not okay for anyone to question what another thinks is true.” But why? No one would ever think it right or acceptable to let a 1st grader perpetuate the mistake of thinking 2+2=22. The answer is just wrong.

As far as I can tell there is one major difference between burning public officials at the stake for their failures and burning proponents of worldviews at the stake for their untruth: material consequence. And when I say material consequence, I mainly mean consequences related to America’s socioeconomic infrastructure.  The material consequences of our Nation’s Budget Crisis are severe: people will lose jobs, taxes will increase, and government funding will decrease. These consequences affect everyone in our country in such a way that we will have to alter the way we live. So it makes sense that we hold public officials (or someone for that matter) accountable for the Budget Crisis because we want political/social leaders that are going to manage and prevent further damages from the Budget Crisis so we can keep living the way we have been and would like to. BUT! – and this is a BIG-BUT, like a “Big bottoms talkin’ about big butts” This is Spinal Tap BIG-BUT – but when it comes to matters of faith/belief and meta-physical truth claims there is really no socioeconomic consequence towards me if my neighbor should believe in Allah or Zeus or Jesus or Atheism or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. However, the moment my neighbor starts using their beliefs to examine my beliefs (and vice versa) then things start to Run like D-M-C and get Tricky!

As it is, we are okay with people believing whatever they want, but we are not okay with people examining our personal beliefs. Typically, our emotional response to these ‘belief battles’ is anger. With this type of exchange of ideas someone, is invariably right/wrong. And for whatever reason we don’t really like it when we are challenged in a way that we could be proven wrong. Part of what defines us as individuals is what we believe. Our very identities are woven throughout our beliefs. Whether or not we acknowledge it, what we actually believe has significant consequences on how we each live our own lives. For example, [hopefully] all of us believe that murder is wrong; thus we don’t murder people. And when people do murder, we arrest them and put them in jail. These are real consequences to a real belief. So when Ned Flanders comes over knocking on my door to tell me about his fun-suck legalistic God, or when Richard Dawkins tries to incriminate me for believing in Jesus, of course I get upset/flustered/perturbed because they are questioning the being of my existence and what I have chosen it to be. “Have chosen” are key words to focus on because there is an element of personal control we all employ with our beliefs.

There is no doubt in my mind that each of us individually desires control/power (this desire isn’t inherently a bad thing). I am sure all of us have seen little children throw temper-tantrums because they didn’t get the toy or candy they wanted; which is really to say they are mad because they can’t control their parents’ decision. And just because we are ‘adults’ now, don’t act like you don’t get upset when things get out of your control too. We just display our temper-tantrums in more ‘covert/sophisticated’ ways. Because of this I am inclined to think that we use our worldviews in such a way that establishes our control/power, or domain rather. Thus, we will employ worldviews that more readily broaden the realms of our domains. Our beliefs, therefore, provide the justification(s) for the way we control our lives. So, when I begin to question the ‘truthiness’ of your beliefs, of course you get mad because if I happen to prove that your beliefs are wrong then necessarily something must change about the way you control your life. You can no longer look to your worldview as a good justification for the way you live.

If I had to give a guess as to why we think it’s okay to hold politicians, CEOs, and social leaders accountable for their actions, but not to hold people accountable for their Truth claims, it is because the moment we do, we set a precedent for examining our own personal beliefs. And the moment we examine our own beliefs, and find them to be wrong, there is a component in which we each must relinquish individual control and submit to another idea/belief that is not under our control. We don’t want to let other people examine our beliefs because that will thwart our personal domains.

And so now the question becomes what’s more important: Is it more important for us to continue believing what believe, at the expense of Truth, because it allows us to satisfy our individual desires for control? Or is it more important to question our beliefs for the sake of Truth and what that means for every person in the world?

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3 thoughts on “Wringing Rob’s Bell

  1. Last year I taught a nine month study called: Turning ‘Whyingi’ to Wine. I studied all the times that Jesus asked the quesion “why.” Most of the occasions had to do directly with an individuals faith or specific belief. Jesus questioned the faith and beliefs of His followers. The end result was always a deeper understanding of truth and a more real relationship with Him. Control is good, but often leaves us blind. I agree that it is better to question and be questioned. Jesus thought it was good too. And I’m with Him. Great Post

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