By Chad West
“Truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being the truth.” –Kierkegaard
There’s not much I love more than learning. Maybe writing about what I’ve learned. Turning the ideas over on the page; kicking them around a little to see how much of a beating they can take. Ignorance can be dangerous because I’m apt to believe whatever’s most comfortable. But facts can be dangerous too. I’ve been known to narrow my eyes in a petty search for the slightest wrong to correct. I’ve balled up my hands and punched down those with whom I have disagreed, and it felt like heaven. Like anything good, knowing can be bad.
I would sit all day in front of my computer as a teenager, playing games, making websites, and studying the bible. I’d lean back in my chair and listen for hours to lectures and sermons, read commentaries and articles. If I had a question, I’d look for an answer until my eyes burned. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some kind of spiritual giant. I spent way more hours watching television, playing Mario Bros. and looking at slowly loading pictures of naked women via a 56k modem than I did all that religious stuff. But the bible was important to me. I learned that God loved me. I learned that I was forgiven, not because I was good, but because God is good. I learned that if you don’t know what I know, I sometimes look down on you. I learned that knowing theology is good, but that theology, like other good things, can make you mean.
When I was young, I didn’t understand how a person with a lot of knowledge about the bible could also be a jerk. She had been there since the beginning. The church was a large brick building now. A steeple you could see for miles above the trees. She was there when it was a small mobile building, working to make it more, inviting everyone she knew, giving what she would, and no one liked her then either. She was there every service, faithfully tithed, and volunteered for every event. But people I invited to come, they would sometimes frown and mention her name. Mention some thing she’d said or done that didn’t make them feel welcome. She always had a smile.
It was a cognitive dissonance that I constantly fought with when I saw people who were more knowledgeable than me blithely crushing others. But I could’ve understood if I’d just looked at my own life. I was the poster child for the uber-conservative, liberal-hating, judgmental, fundamentalist-minded Christian at one point in my life. I meant well, and I only wanted to do God’s will, see other Christians do God’s will better, and see non-Christians become Christians. Heck, I always had a smile.
I grew up Baptist, and when you’re really into being a Baptist (or, as I’ve discovered, a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentacostal, etc.) you look down on people who aren’t what you are. You equate your brand of Christianity with the right way to do Christianity and, so, are exceptionally annoying to be around. I now go to a denominational church, but I don’t agree with everything that denomination says, and I can still be exceptionally annoying as well. But, it’s generally when I believe I’m arguing from some place of authority.
I believe in facts. I’m certain there are knowable, verifiable facts, spiritual and otherwise. But, as much as I love facts, they’re not the point. And, all the denominations can’t be right about everything they think they’re right about. Which is kind of humbling when I remember that applies to me too. Knowing is important, but being also seems to be the point Jesus kept on about. I can quote a lot of theologians, have some impressive books in my library, know the right people, and have some fancy letters after my name, and still be a butt-munch. Or, I can let the facts that matter mean something more than the fact that I know them. It’s pretty tempting to be seen as spiritual because I know much about spiritual things, but (in my wiser moments) I’d rather be seen as a fool and live spiritually through Christ.