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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Next Step's a Doozy

I was talking with my mother yesterday about the process of falling into apostasy (pretty hefty subject, I know). It rarely happens that people wake up one morning and decide to believe the opposite of what they believed the previous day. People don't change their minds that rapidly without a reasoning process, especially on matters that are important to them, such as religious beliefs.

No, in matters of apostasy (abandoning one's principles or beliefs, to paraphrase the dictionary), people have to do it in steps. The slide starts with subtle things the individual may not even recognize as a threat to his/her faith. Eventually, these things penetrate deep into the individual's mentality, so they hardly even enter conscious thought. Once the person has placed very small erroneous beliefs into the category of "givens," he/she is open for less-subtle concepts that build upon these assumptions. And so, in baby steps, a person can be led away into foreign territory, until he/she is faced with the dilemma (the Hobson's choice, really) of choosing between faith and something else. But is this alternative to faith really built on fact, or is it actually assumptions or bald-faced lies?

On The Road to Apostasy

Take, for instance, one of the most powerful basic "assumptions" in U.S. culture (and it may appear in many other cultures, as well): Teachers know more than everyone else. I expect that this might make some readers angry or defensive, but before you jump to conclusions or write me off forever, please read to the end of this post. By that point, you'll at least know why you're angry with me.

As I was saying, people assume that "Teachers know more than everyone else." My objection to this stems from the absolute nature of the statement. Teachers who teach reading definitely know more about their subject than a kid who can't read, but they may not know more than other teachers in their own field, and they may not know anything at all about teaching algebra. It isn't really a true statement, but it is one that many people subconsciously accept without question.

This alone isn't a clear threat to faith. What's the worst that can happen? You ask your kid's reading teacher for some advice on an algebra problem, and she says, "I have no idea"?

The problem starts to arise when you follow up that assumption with another, subtle one: "It is foolish not to take advice from those who know more than you do." This, also, doesn't really sound like a bad assumption, but it can be. If you assume that teachers know more than you do, and then follow that up with this idea, you will probably think that it is foolish not to take a teacher's advice. If a teacher isn't an expert in the area about which you are seeking advice, his advice may be bad. Wouldn't it be foolish to take bad advice?

Okay, but say this teacher gives you advice on a subject in which he is considered an expert. At this point, you should consider the source of his expertise. After all, experts once taught that the earth was flat, that illness was caused by an imbalance of "humors," that the stars and everything else revolved around the earth, and so forth. Yesterday's expert teachers may end up being tomorrow's laughingstocks. The definition of "expert" may itself be built upon a multitude of assumptions, so be careful.

What am I getting at? Well, I see a pattern of belief emerging out of this complex set of assumptions. Don't you? Are teachers to be believed without question? Should we take spiritual advice from people who aren't claiming to be spiritual? Are even spiritual teachers and experts to be believed without careful analysis?

There are a lot of teachers out there who are now teaching us that we should question everything, but that we don't have the right to draw conclusions about what we see. That's not "in," not "trendy," not "modern." We are told to be content with not knowing the answers to questions that have been answered long ago. I honestly have to say that I have questioned quite a lot of things, and it led me to throw out the advice about not drawing conclusions, because it doesn't make any sense. It even undermines itself, because what conclusion led these teachers to preach such things? I do have answers to the last three questions I just posed in the last paragraph: No, no, and no!

So, back to what I said at the start of this post: apostasy is a series of baby steps away from what we know is true, which end up in a denial of faith. I know about this, since I've been led down this road, once, starting in my freshman year of college. Suddenly, late in my sophomore year, I found myself on the verge of denying my faith, and in desperation, I wondered how it had come to that. I looked back and saw the track of very subtle assumptions and lies that had been stepping stones, and I threw them out. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here, arguing for faith and for Christ. This really is a serious issue in a lot of people's lives.

Devil in the Details

I think it started with the assumptions about teachers that I've already dismantled in this post, so far. What followed was a series of bad advice from the teachers I trusted so implicitly. Once I assumed that several of the religious leaders in my life were always experts in spiritual things, I listened to them when they taught how it was wrong, even sinful, to call something someone else is doing, "sin." They based it all on the whole, "do not judge, lest ye be judged," misquote of the Bible, and said that I couldn't call a spade a spade when I didn't take into account the heart and the motivation of a person. Unfortunately, I temporarily was led to overlook the fact that the Bible makes no distinction between disobedience born out of good motivations and disobedience born out of wicked motivations. Machiavellian logic is not supported under God's plan! But, I didn't want to seem mean, or unwilling to take advice, so I accepted this.

The next step was worse. Multiple teachers (adults, slightly older or better-traveled peers, etc.) who did not claim spiritual authority began to teach how it is mean, xenophobic, even unchristian, not to accept other cultures in their entirety. It wasn't long before I was asked to accept the validity of these other religious beliefs, as well. Just to make sure I didn't protest too much, they all systematically compared other belief systems to my own, attempting to get me to accept the validity of these other systems ("You think yours is valid, so why don't you accept these others, which are just the same thing with different names?").

At a crisis moment (I seem to recall this happening late at night, as I was doing my homework), I found myself teetering on the edge of a huge drop-off. If I chose to believe them, I would be willing to accept that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. I would be denying my faith in Christ, because I would be rejecting the most basic thing He taught. I would be walking away from everything I believed, and everything I had ever based my life decisions upon. The next step would be a doozy, if I chose to take it. But I didn't.

I prayed to God, right then and there, that He would help me see the way out of the tangled mess I'd fallen into, and He answered my prayer. So here's some of what I realized:So, if you find yourself in the murky waters of apostasy or teetering on the edge of the last step away from your faith, please listen to me, and don't go there. God can help you straighten everything out, you just have to be willing to listen to Him. Don't become one of those people Jesus was talking about, when He said, "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible" (Matthew 24: 24 NIV). If you want help, ask God to make this come true in your life, instead:
If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand." (Psalm 37: 23, 24 NIV)
Ask the Lord to guard your steps--your physical steps, your logical steps, the steps you take to reach your goals in life. And when you are finished asking God, be ready to listen to Him and do what He tells you.