Saturday, January 07, 2006

Robust competition, whether we like it or not

Another notable answer to The Edge's featured question, "What is your most dangerous idea?" This is from Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University:

Dangerous does not mean exciting or bold. It means likely to cause great harm. The most dangerous idea is the only dangerous idea: The idea that ideas can be dangerous.

We live in a world in which people are beheaded, imprisoned, demoted, and censured simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Yes, those vibrations can make us feel sad or stupid or alienated. Tough shit. That's the price of admission to the marketplace of ideas. Hateful, blasphemous, prejudiced, vulgar, rude, or ignorant remarks are the music of a free society, and the relentless patter of idiots is how we know we're in one. When all the words in our public conversation are fair, good, and true, it's time to make a run for the fence.

This is a reality that some Christians have a hard time handling, particularly when trying to reach out to a postmodern culture. It's not nice out there, and we better get used to it. In the fullness of the Kingdom all the words in public conversation will be "fair, good, and true", just as ours must be right now. But that freedom to be offensive, ignorant or rude is the same freedom we have to present the Good News to the world. If we spend too much of our time and effort trying to shut someone else up, others may have little regard to what we have to say. It's time to realize that, as Christians, we no longer have a privileged position in this society to speak from. Many people will not stop and pay attention to us just because we say we represent Jesus, or the Church. The challenge now is not nominalism, but secularism. Our message is going to have to compete head on with all the other ones floating about, just as it did quite successfully in the Roman world.

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