Easter – by which I refer to the anniversary celebration of the Messiah’s resurrection – has passed for another year; it’s time to get back to the business of the Kingdom of God. It is His work, not ours, and yet He calls us to proclaim it and live it out. Which is where George Orwell comes in:
“Sometimes, the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.”
Back in High School I read 1984, Animal Farm, and some of his other works. Brilliant and deeply conflicted, Orwell (aka Eric Blair) was both a Leftist and a Christian who nevertheless felt both the Left and the Church had been betrayed from within. As time passes his works become, in my opinion, increasingly presentient.
Case in point: a few weeks ago I joined a comment thread that an old friend brought to my attention. It had to do with a contemporary cause célèbre. Most of the commenters were of the same mind on the topic, and my entry into this online echo chamber caused a bit of consternation. My remarks were attacked for their accuracy, so I cited several sources backing up what I was saying. But instead of engaging on the facts, the others completely ignored the data they had just demanded and began questioning my intelligence, my character, and my motives. That I disregarded their attempts to force me onto the defensive and drive me off-topic angered them even more. It was indeed an Orwellian debate, a reminder that, for increasing numbers of Americans, facts are only useful when they are in sync with their ideology; when the facts contradict what they firmly believe, the facts go out the window.
You might assume I’m talking about right-wingers or Bible thumpers. You would be incorrect. These people are staunch leftists. But admittedly this phenomenon exists on both sides of the political spectrum and, quite likely, in all religions. I am not at all sure of its origin. Does it derive from teaching methodologies which emphasize consensus-building? Is it due to a growing cultural angst, which in turn is fueling a movement to tribalism and groupthink? Is it something else entirely, or a combination of factors?
I can’t answer those questions. I do know that it has infected the Church, to its detriment. A faith based on the living embodiment of the Truth should never fall into dissembling or obfuscation; a follower of this faith should never run from conflict, since its founder declared the gates of Hell would not withstand against His people. But those things which should not be are, sadly, happening. I have counseled young Christian couples who, weeping, said they had no idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin. I’ve had run-ins with unethical, belligerent, arrogant lifelong churchgoers who had never before been rebuked because their fellow churchgoers feared to confront them. In so many words a ‘mature’ Christian said to my face that he lies (and these were his words) when “it would do no practical good” to tell the truth.
Another example: recently I was in conversation with a few people, including professing Christians, one of whom made a number of misinformed statements. I corrected his claims, which he tolerated until we got to the point where he stated “Christianity is an inclusive religion.” This I called “laughable” because Christianity is the most exclusive religion on the planet (see John 14.6 and compare it with John 6.44). Upset, he refused to debate any longer, complaining that calling his ideas laughable was a personal attack against him.
Orwell called this kind of thinking “blackwhite,” i.e. mistakenly (or deliberately) identifying a thing with its polar opposite. Attacking ideas is what we should be doing. Attacking people, not so much. These are not the same thing. But this man – who made a point of the Christian university he attended and that he was ordained to the ministry – is either unwilling or unable to distinguish between the two, and thus is incapable of contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1.3). And as this failure becomes increasingly common in American Church, the worse for everyone it will become.
The sons of Issachar are lauded in Scripture because they were “men who understood the times” (1 Chronicles 12.32). The people of Berea were called “noble” because they didn’t simply listen to what religious authorities told them, they diligently searched the Scriptures to verify what they were hearing was true (Acts 17.10-11). Are we like them? Do we understand what is happening at this pivotal point in history, and are we bringing Scripture to bear in our interactions with others? Are we obeying the Apostle’s command in 1 Peter 3.15,
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
Do it! Yes, as he says, do it in gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience – but do it! Our families, our economy, our social cohesion, our very culture crumble before our eyes. We who follow Christ must engage people with truth. Don’t be afraid to engage them, don’t take it personally when they disagree, and don’t be unprepared for battle.