Danger of the Single Word

There is an atheist who often comments on my blogs and he uses a lot of loaded terms to describe Christianity. He says in Christianity God “raped” an “underage girl” so that her son could grow and be “murdered” by his father, or at least to commit “assisted suicide.” There are a lot of kind of technically true terms here. But he is using words to which our culture has attached such resolutely decided emotion, to misrepresent an otherwise very positive message.

Chimamanda Edichie, in her TED talk, tells the danger of the Single Story. When we hear about a new culture or conflict we usually hear about it through a single story. We’re often left with just that one story. And until we have another story, or a series of other stories, it’s really easy to feel certain that that is the whole and accurate nature of that situation.

Chimamanda says we must be aware of the danger of the single story. No situation involving multiple people is as simple as one story. We cannot claim a certain opinion on anything if we’ve only heard one side, or one person’s story.

I think the same danger threatens us with the way culture often uses single words or phrases.

Do you find yourself filled with one type of strong emotion when you hear some of these words? Do they fill your head with one main narrative that bends your favor very far in one direction or the other?

Sex Offender, Molestation, rape.
Communism.
Colonialism/Imperialism.

The danger and the power of such certain and unquestioning acceptance of emotions associated with each of those words (and many others) is that anyone can claim one of those words for any one of their situations (that sort of technically applies) to gather all the followers of that word into their camp, no matter how bad or good their situation really is.

Let’s say we hear that the old man next door was placed on the “sex offender” registry because he was accused of “sexual molesting” and “revealing himself” to a child behind a gas station. Would we have pretty resolute and angry thoughts on this? Would we treat him differently because of those words? Well what if I told another side of the same story with other words.

It was the boy’s grandfather tasked with taking care of his grandson for a day, and the kid really had to go to the bathroom while they were driving by a gas station, but when they stopped he was scared to go into the gas station bathroom alone, and the old man who obviously wasn’t his father didn’t feel super comfortable walking into the bathroom alone with a scared little kid, so he told the kid they could pee behind the station. But he didn’t want to physically help the kid pee which could be seen as really bad if glimpsed from an outsider. So he said he would go with him and he would pee beside him into the woods together. But someone saw him unzipping his pants and immediately went inside and called the cops. The man was picked up after he had successfully helped the kid to pee. But the viewer who had been overly sensitized to those words filed an accusation because technically that’s what happened and all those words were stained onto him forever.

What about “communism.” Remember the McCarthyism after WWII? If the politicians accused someone of being a communist because maybe at some time in their life they entertained a communistic idea, their life and career were ruined (I don’t understand it super well, but see if you can get my point). We relate the word “communism” to nazism and so we automatically think it is wrong.  Well, remember that Jesus’ disciples set up a communistic-ish society for a time in Acts? They were supposed to bring their money and the Christian leaders were supposed to distribute wealth evenly to all in need. It was meant to be a very beautiful thing for that specific time in history, for people who were willing to trust and be generous to each other. So, it’s sad that we often don’t allow for that word to have any redemptive meaning because it has one very loaded story attached to it.

And as far as “colonialism” or “imperialism” I did a couple blog posts on trying to clarify the good and the bad of evangelism (which is often errantly considered to by synonymous with colonialism).  “Spreading Christianity is not always wrong” and “Why Bring Christianity to Other Cultures?

So my encouragement is that we be careful not to fully buy into any term until we’ve heard not just both, but multiple sides of any story. And be cognizant of the power we wield when we do use those terms. And we shouldn’t be a blind follower that gets behind a cause whenever someone uses one of those special words.

Because if we believed our God “raped under-aged girls” so he could “murder” his children we might be prone to condemn him for trying to save us.

Raw Spoon, 5-27-17

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