Writing the recent blogs on forgiveness reminded me of a train of thought I have been following one and off for many years. I think I actually began seriously thinking along these lines when I left home to attend a Christian college for a year before moving on to a secular university. Home was really no place to think such thoughts–it was where I grew up, I knew everyone, we agreed on almost everything and everything was pretty clearly defined. I also grew up in a church context where there was tolerance and respect and acceptance. Mind you, we were a small rural community and the diversity index was rather low so there wasn’t a great deal of difficulty in being tolerant, respectful and accepting.
But when I went to college, things were different. It was a conservative Christian college located in a big (to me at the time) city. As expected, most of the students thought a lot like I did–but I discovered that a lot of them were a whole lot stronger in their way of expressing themselves. Others were pretty sure that some of the things I had learned were okay were not in fact okay and they had no hesitation letting me know how wrong I was. While I sometimes took their comments and attacks personally, I soon began to realize that they were the same way with everyone about everything.
I found the whole thing a little scary but also really interesting. I had a sense of right and wrong; I worked at trying to express a conservative Christian morality; I had some sense of integration of my faith and my life but tended to have a low key approach to many issues, often because being too loud and too pointed about moral issues tended to hurt people I knew and liked.
But at the Christian college, I discovered people for whom Christian morality was clear on a wide variety of issues that I had never considered to be an issue. For example, our town theater had a Saturday matinee and was one of the few things to do for kids in town. Since we grew up poor, I didn’t get there often–but when I could save some money from berry picking or splitting the neighbour’s wood or something like that, I would be in the theater, loving the movie and wishing I had saved enough money to buy popcorn and pop like my friends.
But I discovered at college that “real” Christians didn’t go to movies. It didn’t matter what the movie was. All of them were part of the evil secular world and going to any movie therefore not only supported the evil makers of pornography but also put the soul of anyone attending in danger. Some of them were pretty sure that even the Billy Graham movies that were popular at the time should be avoided.
As the school year progressed, I discovered more and more about what was right and what was wrong. Some people and groups at the school had a clear answer about the rightness and wrongness of everything and were convinced that their answers should be broadcast loudly and clearly no matter what the cost in terms of relationships and people’s feelings.
For every issue, there was one clear choice. For every question, there was one clear answer. For every life situation, there was one clear option. Christianity made life a series of black and white choices: good Christians chose the right thing and loudly condemned the wrong choice. Faith was simply, clear and had great contrast–everything was either right or wrong.
But as the year progressed, I began to see some interesting sub-texts in the black and white scenarios. Some disagreed on what was black and what was white. Some pulled back on issues that others pushed hard on. Some cautiously allowed some blackness to continue unchallenged. A few privately and quietly followed black paths while publically and noisily calling for the white path in that area.
In short, I was beginning to learn about black and white thinking, the kind of thinking that has been a part of the religious landscape since the first human began to contemplate God. Black and white theology has easy and clear answers for everything. I actually tried the black and white approach–for a short time and with a serious lack of commitment because even as I tried it, it didn’t feel right. But that is another blog–stay tuned.
May the peace of God be with you.