I’m big on having a faith which makes a real, practical difference in my life. This means my faith has to be able to handle the world in which I live.
Today, that means a faith which helps me grow in the midst of constant bombardment from 24 hour “news” networks, social media, and an unending stream of opinions on the internet which all want to manipulate me.
These sources want me to be afraid of anyone who I don’t agree with, because a fearful person will watch more TV and read more articles. I have to pay attention so I know what the other side is up to. The people who don’t agree with me are, after all, not only wrong, but they’re also stupid and evil. I can’t stop being vigilant against these stupid and evil people.
Depending on which media outlets I watch/read, the problem might be the Trump Republicans, or the Obama Democrats, or Journalists, or Immigrants, or any other group of people.
As one side becomes more radical, the other side feels it must become more radical in the opposite direction to prevent society from moving “the wrong way.” It turns into a game of tug of war, where nobody is standing in the middle, but rather both sides are far apart and pulling with all their might to move the rope.
This is obviously, to anyone willing to step back and take a look, very unhealthy.
Our society and our world needs people willing to put down the rope and engage in constructive interactions instead. I believe people of faith - followers of Jesus, in particular - should be at the forefront of this.
It’s an amazing opportunity which we should not let pass us by. We can create spaces where people can get off the crazy roller coaster and find peace and rest. More, we can help people become agents of change, inviting others to get off the roller coaster.
But first, we must learn how to stop being part of the problem and instead being part of the solution. I believe there are two major components which a follower of Jesus needs to consider in an effort to be healthy in the world today:
Emotional stability could also be called emotional maturity or emotional health. Emotional manipulation runs rampant through media streams today. Attempts to create fear and outrage are everywhere. Good choices do not frequently arise from either fear or outrage. Neither of those can possibly lead to good relationships, because good relationships are built on trust and respect; the exact opposite of fear and outrage.
For instance, in his brilliant teaching on how to resolve conflict, Jesus starts with the step of going and talking to the person who has offended you. The problem is that if we aren’t able to have a conversation, we miss out on anything else he says - and instead we’re left with dysfunction.
Emotional stability is hard work. Perhaps the hardest thing to do as a human. There’s a reason the Scottish Reverend John Watson said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”
We’re all dealing with fears, insecurities, uncertainly and a deep desire to be known and loved. And yet, each day, we walk out our front door to face a world which attempts to assault and exploit those feelings to make a buck. But in today’s world, we no longer need to step out the front door. It’s piped into our homes by the gigabyte.
Now, more than ever, we have to find solid footing in our emotional lives as others constantly try to knock us around.
The follower of Jesus should absolutely be seeking this stability in prayer, meditation, and scripture reading. In all of these places, we are reminded of who God is and who we are: he is father and we are beloved child. This means we are seeing and interacting with brothers and sisters. Others who have each been made in the image of our creator. We are not allowed to objectify others, belittle them, or hate them.
This is hard work, but it will force us to mature. We will need the Holy Spirit. Often in prayer, I feel as if he is taking my hand and drawing me deep within myself to begin renewing and recreating what is broken and corrupt.
That hard work, and learned vulnerability before God will prepare us to have healthier reactions and interactions with others.
Critical thinking is, in my eyes, the second critical elements to having a healthy faith in the information age. It prevents others from using intellectual manipulation in an effort to control us.
This is a particular passion of mine, and I work hard to make sure I’m never outsourcing my thinking to others. The best way to strengthen critical thinking is to explore healthy perspectives from outside your normal worldview as often as possible.
The means letting good stuff in: reading the Bible, reading books from a wide range of sources. It also means keeping the bad stuff out: reducing or eliminating 24 hour news networks in your home, taking regular breaks from social media, not checking websites over and over throughout the day.
It means we take responsibility for what we think. Often, we want to simply co-sign with what somebody else thinks, because if it proves to be wrong, we can simply blame them. The philosopher Jean Paul Satre observed that humans try to limit our own free will, because if we’re free to choose anything, than whatever results we receive are our responsibility, and that creates anguish. As a result, we prefer to blame results on others so we don’t bear responsibility. But God has given us freedom to make choices, and whether we make healthy choices is up to us. We cannot blame Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or any other news outlet for how we choose to engage in our world.
I would also suggest, as part of critical thinking, we need to resist living with labels in the manner our society has come to accept. The idea that you have to choose Republican or Democrat. NRA supporter or gun control advocate. Pro or anti immigration. Black lives matters or police supporter.
Labels divide and give us an excuse to dismiss others. The “you’re for me or against me” mindset is a fallacy in many cases. Critical thinking leads to conversations, not ostracizing others.
Critical thinking understands and rejects logical fallacies and other manipulation, such as the tactics outlined in the 48 Laws of Power.
If my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ would rededicate ourselves to being emotionally healthy and own the responsibility to think for ourselves, limiting the influence we allow unhealthy sources to have over us, I believe we have a real impact in a society which is is looking for something genuine in the midst of all the noise.
Everyone is looking for a place to belong and be accepted as we figure out who we really are. A place to know and be known. A place to love and be loved.
A church should always be that place.