..before it heals
So I’ve taken to a new diet of contention on YouTube — theological debates. Roman Catholics vs. Protestants. Reformed vs. Arminian. Saturday vs. Sunday, Gifts vs. No Gifts. I’m beginning to believe the serious inquirer, on any subject, won’t need anything like a “channel” anymore, not because content consolidators aren’t useful, but because with the gatekeepers stripped of their franchise, it’s difficult to compete with the truly open market place of ideas. Networks and production companies tend to work by committee. They produce focus-tested, manicured content that rarely challenges the approved consensus. Individuals and small ministries and like-minded politicos don’t so much “produce” as they “post.” They nail theses up on the cathedral door. They scold each other. They rant and and rave and pin each other down.
Much of this, of course, is sheer crap, but eventually, these battles lay bare empty rhetoric and mere emotion and faulty reasoning. Eventually, there seems to be a quiet, reasonable voice, summing up what we really know and don’t know.
I’m sure that’s why the elite power brokers want expression restricted: as a species, we’re getting closer to the truth. Almost every proposition put forward can be at least challenged almost instantly, if not refuted. In the old days, even a trip to the library sent you back to the reference desk, hoping some university archive could reproduce a document affordably. Can you believe, only 20 years ago, people were still testing the status quo against odd little book-and-tape outlets? These days, if Mark Driscoll preaches something flat-out false, a dozen bloggers will be calling him on it within 48 hours.
You really can put every theory to the test these days, almost instantaneously.
I write that, knowing that I fall asleep with what feels like a tornado of clashing contentions and a kind of lament before God: “you figure it out, Lord. I’ve got too much in my head for one night.” I also know that it’s easier than ever to fall for truly fake news. A few months ago, someone made some false claims about the sort of treason Jane Fonda committed in Vietnam, and I fell for them. (There’s no question her acts were treasonous, but these particular claims were false.) Even here though, I’m proving my own contention: false memes really do get shot down a lot faster than they ever could 30 years ago.
Now, of course, the larger the marketplace, the more thieves will thrive, but that’s not an argument for returning to an oligarchy of approved information vendors. Freedom is greasy. It stinks and rots and composts and up through its soil, we get more grain than we harvested last year.
So why is this messy, contentious, but ultimately fruitful compost a problem? Why can’t I make a joke, wryly contending that “all men are evil,” without Facebook bots blocking the comment? Why can’t an English pastor offer his opinion that pride events are not good for children without enduring death threats? Why is it so hard for Diane Feinstein to believe that a citizen might be a better journalist than a credentialed White House pool writer? Why must a few lumpy feminists block pictures of abortion victims at anti-abortion outreaches?
I’m sensing it’s our old Pharisee spirit. Someone could be revealing a truth so powerful that the dead are raised and it would get in the way of someone’s franchise. The truth, once found, requires us to change in some way, even it’s just an old, internal allegiance. We protect our places, pensions, and positions with the most wicked weapons we can find. We don’t even need money or career on the line either. I’m convinced the average atheist holds doggedly to effect-without-cause because it makes him feel more ideologically fashionable than Benny Hinn. If the truth leaves you falling in with a crowd of WalMart shoppers who have accepted the same conclusion, you happily re-embrace falsehood. I’m sure there’s some truth to be found on campus, but it’s mostly just club membership, and if the truth offends club sensibilities, guess what gets thrown out the academy window?
The truth might leave you disappointing your dear old grandfather, your wife, your old college friends, and that grim municipal board of ribbon-cutters who have been told how to vote by their equally conventional general counsel. The truth might make some family occasions distinctly awkward. The truth leaves a young Gideon taking the axe to his father’s pagan idol. The truth leaves you on your own, fed by ravens, while lies make for cozy company back in the king’s court.
The truth may set you free, but it can also leave you alone. The truth can end relationships, dissolve investments, and break coalitions. The truth usually breaks things up before it builds them up, better than they were before.
And that seems to be the real problem we face: will we pay that price?