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Why Politics and Religion Make Americans So Angry

by | Nov 26, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

Acts 17:10-13 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.

Why Acts 17:10-13

Hang with me for a minute. I will get to politics and religion in a minute. First, I want to start with this passage. Paul and Silas were doing their missionary-discipleship thing. They had some struggles with the folks in Thessalonica. They moved on to Berea, and things went better. Let’s look at the facts of the case.

The people in Berea, the text says, were “more noble-minded” than the ones in Thessalonica. What made them this way? Were they more progressive? Did they have a better social media following? Were they more “woke” than the backwards people in the other town? No. Of course not. The Bereans had two qualities that the people of Thessalonica lacked. First, the Bereans were eager to learn. Second, they were eager to test what they learned, to make sure it was true. What was the result? The folks from Thessalonica came and stirred up trouble. Partly because they disliked Bereans. Partly because informed, educated, intelligent truth was being cultivated.

The Lost Art of Investigation

We live in an American educational environment that, on the whole, “teaches to the test.” What do I mean by that? Educational ability is rarely measured by a person’s ability to think critically. Rather, questions like: (1) What was your GPA? (2) Did you graduate with honors? (3) How did you do on “such and such” standardized test?: these become the measure of “educational worth and value.” Can you pass the test? This is all we are worried about.

The world of investigation is gone away. We live in a world of “my truth,” and “your truth.” Whatever happened to “the truth.” Of course, some of you reading this will respond, “There is no ‘the truth.’ All truth is relative.” If we were talking right now, I would thank you for proving my point. Cliché statements like this show a world that can “pass the test,” but cannot evaluate through careful investigation as to what is fundamentally flawed with the “answer to the question.” (As a quick, aside: the problem with “all truth is relative” is that it is not a relative statement. It is an absolute statement – which logically makes it a false statement).

We know a lot of things in our world. We have Google at our fingers tips. We can ask Siri and Alexa just about any question we would like. People can write entire dissertations on complex ideas and concepts, never having actually read an entire book on their subject of expertise. We have become wizards at mining for quotes that support what we assume to be true. We have become worse than remedial at investigating and evaluating material to find out what is actually true. We know how to get information. We don’t know how to gain knowledge and wisdom.

What Does This Have To Do With Politics and Religion?

I am glad you asked. These two categories, politics and religion, cause some of the worst fingering wagging, name-calling, back and forth arguing you can find in our culture. Why? Let’s get the elephant-in-the-room out of the way first. Politics and religion are, by their very nature, polarizing. Views on how a society should be governed and people’s essence of being in the universe impact every other thing in life. Yet, the polarizing nature of politics and religion aren’t the real reasons these two things make most Americans so angry. The chief culprit for all the social outrage surrounding these categories has to do with our inability to learn well and investigate what we do learn. We think we are Bereans because we did a few dozen Google searches and found some biting memes to prove a point. All that shows is that we are really like the people from Thessalonica. We stir up trouble if someone starts looking at information too closely, especially if don’t agree with what they find.

All of this is a futile exercise in philosophy without a few practical illustrations. To be fair, I will use a political example that would be a “black-eye,” for a position I hold to. I am pro-Second Amendment. I don’t think greater gun legislation is the answer to supposed “gun problem” in America. I also know, however, that lying about what the “Founding Fathers” of America had to say about the Second Amendment doesn’t help the conversation. I don’t know how many times I have been on some of social media platform and have seen a meme with the picture of George Washington or John Adams with some quote about having and keeping guns. At first glance, it sounds like something one of those guys might have said. But, I want to be sure. I don’t want to get caught up in the cycle of misinformation. Misinformation never supports a position; misinformation always weakens a position. If I unintentionally mislead people, I come off as ignorant and unaware of the facts. If I intentionally mislead people, my character is shot and everything I say thereafter is suspect and devalued.

So, when I see something like that, even as pro-Second Amendment as I am, I do a little investigation. I do some research. I check to see if the quote is properly attributed. If it is, what is the larger context? It takes a some extra time, some extra work. But, the difference between having information (that might be false) and having knowledge is found in the research – the investigation.

On the religious side, I recently had a conversation with someone on a social media platform about the person and work of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin. The person I was speaking with did not like anything at all about the person or work of Calvin. He linked numerous quotes, without references, to things Calvin supposedly wrote. One of the things struck me as odd. The quote attributed to Calvin seemed to be supporting the primacy of Peter among the apostles as a reason to support the Roman Catholic concept of the Pope. I knew (from a great deal of study on Calvin) that he didn’t hold to any sort of idea like that at all. So, I ran that quote down. I did some investigation. Come to find out, the website my friend was using intentionally misrepresented the quote. The words were Calvin’s, but left in their larger context, they actually were saying the opposite of what the website was trying to have them mean.

I have had this happen to me plenty of times. I make an argument, a statement, whatever, and someone points out a flaw. I research; they research…and sometimes this back and forth with deep, valuable investigation leads to a changed mind. My thinking has been adjusted on numerous religious and political things over the years because of this very thing. I know I have also bullishly held to positions that cannot be maintained simply because I didn’t want to embrace knowledge or investigate truth.

They problem we all have, to one degree or another, is that we don’t listen, we don’t learn eagerly, and we don’t investigate thoroughly. Our minds are made up. There is nothing anyone can say or do to show me another way. And if any person tries, I will stir up trouble for them, just like the good people at Thessalonica did for the Bereans. Why do politics and religion make us mad? Because we have lots of information, but we don’t have much knowledge or investigation. We want to make our point on a 140 character tweet, or have it fit on a protest sign – all without the hard work of running down whether we are right or wrong. We need to make the commitment to be like the Bereans. They were “noble-minded.” Why? Because they were eager to learn and even more eager to investigate the truth of the things they learned.


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