I am becoming convinced we don’t think thinking is worth the trouble. Too often it is just too hard to think about things so we pay others to do our thinking for us. We listen to what the experts tell us because it is easier than figuring it out for ourselves. And when they tell us contrasting things within a month’s time, we often don’t realize their duplicity because we stopped thinking about whatever they’re saying long ago. It is time we once again elevated thinking to a priority, and took steps to sharpen our minds and analytical ability before we actually come to think sound bites and tweets are intellectual gold.
What I’m talking about is a phenomenon Neil Postman called “amusing ourselves to death” in his groundbreaking book of the same title. In it he decried the fact that we are more prone to amusement than critical assessment, and it is killing us. That book was published in 1985 and largely predicted our predicament today.
I’d like to adapt Postman’s mantra and suggest that today we’re “conveniencing ourselves to death.” In my view, convenience has made thinking for ourselves almost obsolete. Too many set themselves in front of their favorite pundit or expert or pastor, open their minds and mouths wide, and just remain still as someone’s opinions are chugged uncritically down their throats in a hurry. They get all they need in a few moments, and then proceed to live their lives in line with a few well-chosen slogans, aphorisms and clichés.
In my world this is particularly devastating. As a pastor/preacher, I spend my days telling people how to think, and how to live. My life is spent teaching and leading in the most important areas of life and death, of sin and forgiveness, of judgment and redemption. And while I enjoy being listened to (who doesn’t?) it is important that those who hear me preach or read my writings take the time to critically assess what I’m saying.
There is a great text in the biblical book of Acts that describes an event at which the Apostle Paul preached to the people of Berea. After he finished, the author records that his listeners went home, and got out their Bibles, and assessed Paul’s teaching to see “whether what he taught was true.” Imagine! Hearing the greatest theologian/biblical scholar of the day and then running home to check it all out!
Perhaps the real problem is that, for the most part, our society no longer has anything to check what we’re hearing against. It is as though we’ve lost our plumb line. We’ve largely lost any sense of absolute truth grounded in some authoritative source as the standard of what is right and wrong. We’ve become a severely nuanced society. Truth has become so squishy it is no wonder we have trouble thinking critically about what is right and what is wrong. What is wrong is easily spun into right, and right has become “just your opinion.” And all the while we are being sucked into the vortex of relativism from which it will be impossible to extricate ourselves.
As someone somewhere has said, “We can’t do everything but we can do something; and what we can do, we must do.” What we must do is champion thinking. Our kids must be motivated to learn analytical and critical thinking skills practiced in areas that really matter.
And most of all, we must reacquire a body of absolute truth against which every thought and action can be measured.
I say we start with “In God We Trust.”
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.