From my earliest memories, the importance of “evangelization” was impressed upon me. It was my duty, my calling, to spread the “good news” to everyone who was not a fundamentalist Southern Baptist or non-denominational Christian. Summers were spent in vacation Bible schools where I, along with my friends, learned the steps of leading someone to a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ: impress upon them their sinfulness, explain God’s plan for saving them from burning in eternal fire, and praying a specified invitation/incantation for becoming “washed in the blood” and permanently saved from an eternity of torture, delivered into assurance of material wealth and contentment in the life to come where mansions and gold streets are promised to every convert.
This methodology relied on speed and efficiency – there was no time to waste (and little time to spend knowing the very people we were so concerned about saving from the wasteland of godlessness). Instead of listening and learning from others’ life experiences, we were taught to see “outsiders” as having no redeemable contribution to society or life until they accepted Jesus as their “personal lord and savior.”
Years after my initial indoctrination, I found myself in conversation with a very close friend as he recounted meeting his new neighbor – a self-proclaimed Buddhist, along with the man’s wife and children. He shook his head in amazement as he described their interactions, exclaiming in a mystified voice, “They are such good people – and they aren’t even Christians!”
“Surely you don’t believe that only Christians can be good people?” I asked him incredulously and with a touch of sarcasm.
His momentary silence gave me the answer I did not want.
“You know, I guess I always have thought that only Christians can be good people…” his voice trailed away.
Both of us sat in stunned silence – neither of us fully comprehending how far the other had drifted from a previously common understanding of the world around us.
While revelations such as this seem simple, acknowledgment of hidden bias can be incredibly jarring to one whose ways of seeing the world are bound up tightly in a small box.
In fact, it is implicit bias like this that can stymie any one of us as we navigate the world and relationships around us; we all harbor unexamined nooks of thought, prejudice, or belief. And, increasingly, it appears we unconsciously bring these stereotypes to bear in many social interactions in our globalized society – dismissing an opposing political party as exhibiting “hateful” or “snowflake” tendencies, for instance, or rejecting outright all religious practice or spiritual experience as “evil” or “of no use at all.”
We rally around powerful, polarized words as the war banners and standing stones of our new millennium. We choose criticism over critical engagement and reckless rhetoric over mindful dialogue.
Instead of spending time learning how someone comes to their perspective(s) and why they believe what they do, we lob verbal attacks and socially isolating missives at those we see as our “opponents.” In an “us vs. them” society, civility suffers and progress sputters.
I submit the pressure to exhibit ideological purity – regardless of tribe or position – in conduct and conversation is damaging social cohesion and our ability to speak and collaborate with each other. We are sorting ourselves into smug echo chambers and, if not careful, will find ourselves completely unable to cooperate when most needed.
Is it possible to slow down our reactions and listen?
Can we resist jumping immediately to “warp speed” in rhetoric and assumptions?
What would the world look like if we found a way within ourselves to pause and listen?
How can we respectfully dialogue with those who hold different opinions than our own?
Is it worthwhile to engage with those who are absolutely convinced of their rightness?
Can we be made aware of the role ego plays in our conduct?
If so, how can we overcome the temptation to revert to easy talking points or presumptions?
These are questions I ponder – and I hope you do, too.