I have been reading Chris Haw‘s new book From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism, which I received to review courtesy of Ave Maria Press. I must say that it is an excellent book. Haw documents his transition from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism, and even if you are not considering this path, this book is worth reading because Haw does such a fine job of exegeting the culture that many of us younger Christians in North America have been trying to understand (especially those who are in their late 20s or early 30s and who, like me, seek to reconcile the positive aspects of the evangelical world within which we dwell to the historic practices of the catholic church). When I am done with the book I will write a review on this blog.
I asked Ave Maria Press for a copy of this book because as I sat in a Barnes & Noble Bookstore a couple weeks ago the book caught my attention, so I decided to skim through it, but obviously couldn’t finish it in one brief setting. Chapter Eight: The Search for No Accent is the one that I chose to read because as a Roman Catholic he discusses the problems with denominationalism, and how many denominations pretend to be the group without traditions that happen to return to the purity of the apostolic church. Since I, as an evangelical, worry about this and what it has done to the church, her unity, and our self-perception, I went to that part of the book first (currently as I read it for review I am back in the third chapter). There is quote from this chapter that I felt like sharing, because it is poignant, and accurate.
Haw challenges what he calls “the cult of neutrality”, or that aspect of our culture where we think of our own particular brand (or accent of speech as he uses for analogy) is universal, when in fact it has a context as well. He challenges the idea that we can do anything without presuppositions, a worldview, and biases, and that we are in danger of hurting ourselves and others when we pretend that we are “neutral”. This is when he launches into a series of wonderfully accurate observations that I wanted to share here because (1) I am guilty of them and (2) I see them used all the time by people I know. Haw writes (p. 130),
“Another way to illustrate how a seeming neutrality can mask a whole set of biases is by noting what passes for an insult these day. We call someone ‘dogmatic’ when we wish to imply that they are too rigid, when it is perhaps closer to the truth that their dogmas collide with ours. We consider being called ‘opinionated’ an insult; but we don’t use this word because someone happens to have an opinion–but because they have the wrong one or are pushy about it. We call being ‘ideological’ a sin, not because having ideas is a sin, but because we think our ideas are better than others’. We accuse politicians of getting ‘political’ when what we actually mean is sectarian–not they had fallen into the heresy of having political thought. I also hear of people speaking of ‘propaganda’ as if it were a bad thing, and I wait for the punch line, and it never comes. If I don’t like propaganda, it is because it is propagating an idea I don’t like, not merely because it attempts to propagate. (The word ‘agenda’, too, is often used like this.) Or, we hear of a group being denounced as ‘a cult,’ when it might have been more precise to call it a bad cult, for isn’t collective worship of anything a ‘cult?’ When we scoff at the manipulation of children by youth pastors in movies like Jesus Camp, calling it ‘indoctrination,’ it might have been clearer to say that children ought to be taught better doctrines. All of these instances abuse language with a linguistic sleight-of-hand, distracting the mind by saying a disagreeable idea has a bias, whereas the magician remains unbiased.”
Now I understand what people mean when they use these terms. Sometimes we don’t have time to unpack why we think someones’ “indoctrination” is wrong, or the attitude of their opinion is distasteful, or dogma needs to be reconsidered. We use this as a short, quick way to say, “I disagree, but I have other things to do.” Sometimes this is fine. I know of groups that I find to be the “bad cult” types whose members I won’t engage because I’ve “been there, done that” and I know there are other things to do with one’s time. There are people who hold to certain ideologies that protect them from having to consider any other ideas, so we dismiss them because conversation/dialogue has proven fruitless. I understand this and I agree, but Haw is correct–if we don’t watch our language we can find ourselves thinking higher of ourselves than we ought. We might ignore our own biases, pretending to be neutral, blinded by the sad reality that we are like those whom we have labeled as “dogmatic,” “opinionated,” “idealogical,” and so forth.