After Church – Shutting Down Conversation

Have you ever noticed discussion of any particular issue ends at a pre-defined breaking point? That is, the conversation stops when one of the parties involved often lacks the knowledge or understanding to take the conversation any further than a few intimations of an opinion? Perhaps I turn too analytical towards the very process of human interaction, but I find it frustrating that people make a full stop at the point where they might learn something new. That point of ignorance, right at the precipice of my own stupidity, provides me not with a sensation of dread but with an opportunity to learn something new.

Sure, I could take (unsaid) personal offense and attempt to draw the conversation elsewhere, but wouldn’t that strike you as disingenuous? Any kind of talk should, in the realm of rated conversations, evolve naturally out of the wit, knowledge, and capabilities of the people involved. That goes for whether the issue concerns something as light as video games or as serious as the Christian faith. Moving the talk to one’s own little private concerns always throws me off balance as I recognize exactly what happened: the ground shifted under my feet, and no wonder I lost my balance! It’s a subtle movement, and I question whether people do this intentionally, but it can often dictate the flow of interaction.

I had thought this a strange occurrence in most normal discussions, and thought nothing much of its implication in most daily life. However, in the recent days of the #GamerGate events, people draw battle lines extraordinarily quick. Most of said “side-taking” does not actually involve gathering all the facts of the case; rather, people feel a certain affinity to a particular side’s objectives and will side with them immediately. #GamerGate, as I have said previously, interlocks with a huge number of different issues, none of which actually define the “movement” (if we could call a Twitter discussion such a thing) as a whole. Some harassing misogynists exist here, and some genuinely concerned “gamers” exist here, some third wave feminists sprinkle themselves around here, and some social justice advocates poke their head into here. Frankly, nobody could possibly mop up a giant mess like this with a handwave and a smile.

And yet, really, I’ve seen people either overwhelmed with the sheer immensity of it all or take a hard stance. Frankly, I’m not “on” either side in the whole crazy Internet Struggle, mostly because I cannot begin to understand how someone could take a hardliner stance either way. Both sides contain a wealth of diversity and nuances, each of which contain lots of diverse notions of what positions to take and which “side” to take. You’ve got gay, transgender people onf the #GamerGate side, as well as conservatives against cyber-bullying on the journalists side. Who could possibly take a side after looking at the giant Twitter scrawl of this hashtag, which contains a lot of well-reasoned people led by a bunch of extremists?

I posit that humans, when faced with complications or ideas outside their personal sphere, will automatically ignore them. Each person holds some hiearchy of values, akin to an Aristotlean “chain of being”, which determines how they will react in every situation. Let’s say you have a particular thing for women’s rights, and you don’t want to see women driven out of the game’s industry due to the enemy: white nerdy misogynists with, apparently, excellent hacking skills to harass them. If that’s your primary political (yes, I think I can use that word) choice, then you will not bother looking at any of the other attached problems with either side. Most people will slice the issue with their Occam’s Razor and be done with it, rather than consider any kind of alternatives or accounts from other sides.

Unfortunately, much as Occam’s Razor will help you in scientific inquiry, all it does on the Internet and political debate is shut your brain down. Human interaction does not work on logical, rational lines; the emotional element can often override any concerns of objectivity right from the get go. Walking on eggshells and mine fields of the metaphorical variety often means treading lightly in the place of actual conversation. In fact, these mental blocks often prevent the emergence of truth, allowing us to block our mind from the real in place of the comfortable.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Jesus Christ acted in exactly the opposite way. As God (and able to read your mind, at least if you trust Matthew 9:4), He understood how people think and shut undesirables out of their periphery. For Jesus, the Pharisees of His time, thought well-educated and certainly effective teachers of the Law, put on their spiritual blinders and did not follow the same Law they preached. A lot of people seem to think the Pharisees were a horrible, selfish group of dudes, but that’s far from the truth – history tells us they did a lot of good for their communities, and remained the spiritual leaders of Judaism for a long, long time when their religion fell in danger of being wiped out of existence by Hellenization.

However, like most of us, their primary concerns turned into minor obsessions rather than as pieces of the whole of human existence. A sort of faux-spirituality took over their thoughts, wherein what one thinks and looks like actually took precedence over what one actually does. Their actions became hollow vessels of true Godly action, replaced by a culture of doing what “feels” spiritual rather than doing the Lord’s work of helping the poor and downtrodden (Any cursory analysis of Scripture’s whole will show a huge concern towards the poor and needy in both the Old and New Testament). The Pharisees did what made them feel as if they did something effective, and that first of all came from an ignorance of all the facts – a narrowing of the analyzable world, as it were.

When you shut your mind off to your self and start judging situations without knowing enough to make a reasonable claim, prepare for the fall of pride. As Christians, the light of the Word reveals all untruth and unrighteousness; to let our own concerns override that of the Father really slaps a bushel over the whole enterprise. We are not authorities; God is the authority, and He merely deigns to give us the wisdom and understanding to see things as they really are. Please do not waste this gift of human thought and inquiry to something that makes you feel good, that pleases yourself, and inevitably shuts down a conversation before it starts. Don’t settle for having the “right” opinions; figure out what’s happening and see all the sides of the story. Humanity is a vast, untamed sea of differing opinions, and it takes a strong mind to holds convictions and yet open the floor for dissent in the world of ideas. That, I think, is the kind of mind God wants us to have: strong enough for conviction, but humble enough to see that we cannot know everything. But we know One who does, and that makes all the difference. Assigning yourself to worldly authority and worldly ideas will never fit the bill.

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Matthew 23

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.