>Something I’ve Probably Said Before

>This is an email response I wrote to a friend who recently forwarded me some chain letter about the “dangers” of Neale Walsh’s book, Conversations with God. The chain letter can be read here. I have, in the interest of my friend, omitted her introductory text, though I quote enough for you to get the idea. In case you are getting any ideas: i do frequently react virulently to stupid email forwards. This is no exception:

First of all, I am concerned at your idea that a book might pose a “danger to Christians and non-Christians.” While I understand the concept of words and ideas being “dangerous” insofar as they question our assumptions or prompt a change in attitude, it is this very “danger” which makes words so powerful and ideas so important to leave unimpeded. It is in the interest of this danger that our 1st amendment explicitly protects these words and ideas. It is my belief, as it was the belief of the founders of the nation, that the benefits of supporting a free exchange of ideas far outweighed any danger they may pose.

Furthermore, wouldn’t most enlightened Christians invite a broad range of ideas? It seems like the more diverse viewpoints from which a person might view their face, the more complete his understanding would become. An idea is only “dangerous” to the extent that it might hold water. To attempt to block out any idea which someone deems “dangerous” will undoubtedly prove catastrophic. Don’t believe me, go ask China. Ask North Korea. These places are world famous for their intolerance of ideas. And no matter how they might try, these ideas will get in. In fact, the very act of attempting to block out unwanted ideas seems to make ideas even stronger.

If we tell our kids “don’t read that book, it’s bad,” I’ll be willing to guess that they will be equally, if not more, likely to read the book. The difference is that, if we had accepted the ideas for what they are — words on a page that some person or people believe to be useful or valid or “True” — we might be more likely to give our children the context by which they should view the ideas.

This same failure to understand the motivations which lead to actions can be seen in the “abstinence only” programs which are pushed by so many religious groups, as well as those who lately ran the executive branch. It can be seen in the failed D.A.R.E. campaign and “Just Say No.” If you tell someone, especially a child (who, necessarily, and as you well know, will inevitably begin to question the authority figures in his life), that the only acceptable course of action in a complex and nuanced social situation is to deny any nuance and refer to a pre-written script for action, that person, when actually faced with the situation, will inevitably realize the inadequacy of the script. It’s all well and good to practice “saying no” in a classroom or a bedroom or a family meeting, but it’s a whole different story when it’s your friend who offers the weed. Likewise, “abstinence only” fails to address the “what if…” because it absolutely refuses to accept that there is, or ever will be, a “what if…” The concept is steadfast in its idea that the world is black and white, that there is no room for discussion or confusion or questions or replies.

The world does not work like this. There is no room here for “black and white”; we are overwhelmed with gray. What divides a civilized society from a mindless raging mob is its ability to recognize another point of view.

If there is any danger to Christians in this email forward, I would posit that it lies in the continuing — and, i fear, growing — trend in the Christian Establishment (and there is one) to resort to this sort of “all or nothing” rhetoric. Those who resort to it are at risk of alienating themselves and their ideas as they create ever stricter and more one-sided viewpoints and then use misinformation, or disinformation, to move the flock. There is a prevailing viewpoint in the evangelical community that the less you know, the better. Don’t read science books; they’re full of lies. Don’t read books about other cultures, religions, or faith traditions; they might taint your faith: they might raise questions. These “believers” (for they are not limited to the American Christian faith, though the majority will be found there and in the radical muslim community) operate on the erroneous and truly dangerous assumption that you can have Truth — the all-encompassing, deep-feeling, soul-enlightening, Truth-with-a-capital-T Truth — while at the same time denying the observational and experiential truth which has guided human cultural development for the past 10,000 years. They forget (or deny) that religion itself started as a form of science, as we observed our surroundings, observed the inner behavior of our minds, and began an attempt to make sense of it all. They also seek to quash any suggestion that “The Way” is not entirely in line with “Their Way.” This has resulted, in some instances, in the denial of basic truths about the world, and in others, in the denial of basic human rights and dignity.

Finally, any point of view which would demand that we NOT allow our children to read, a standpoint which, to me, strikes an Orwellian discord, should be examined very closely, at least. And yet you freely admit that you have “not personally researched the validity.” I find this statement heartbreakingly ironic when taken in the context of your paragraph, which you end by demanding that I “be a fighter in the War of Truth!” There was a time when truth could be approached not through war, but through debate, discussion, heartfelt appeals, and logic. I long for that time.

Incidentally, I have read (in high school, I think) a large portion of the book to which the email refers. It came out quite a while ago, which leads me to believe that this email has been circulating for quite some time. If I remember, the book’s philosophy might be classified as mystic. That is, it understands the world through a Western, Judeo-Christian lense, but it’s advice almost strikes you as eastern. A lot of talk of peace, I think, and spiritual unity. I’m not sure that the author is, or even claims to be, a Christian. He’s not going for dogma, his aim, as is implied by the title, is conversation.

It’s really quite good. I recommend it to anyone.


About Noah Brewer

I am an English teacher and Debate coach living in Carrollton, GA. I like gardening and critical theory. I like teaching and learning. I like language and technology.
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