My wife and I get a lot of advertising in the mail from different candidates in our area. We find a lot of the advertising to be amusing. They all fall in one of three categories.
- Vote for me, because my opponent is an idiot/evil.
- Vote for me, because I will make life better for you (or I will meet all your needs).
- Vote for me, because I will make life better for you, and I am not my opponent.
In the marketing realm this is called "differentiation." It is the process of using meta-messages to convey that this or that candidate is unique, and that it is beneficial to those who would vote for them. (Sorry, I see everything through a marketing lens sometimes.)
Okay, what does this have to do with me as a Christian?
We are bombarded with meta-messages everyday in our culture. Meta-messages are small bits of communication designed to share a broad and complicated thought in shorthand for a culture used to sound-bites and pseudo-information. We are taught to even think in meta-messages. In fact, many Christians talk in meta-messages, not even realizing where these messages originated. And these meta-messages influence the way we think, and ultimately how we view reality.
For instance, we all know that we should not believe in evolution. Right? Well, why? Is it because it goes against the idea of a Creator God, or because it isn't true? Do Christians hold a particular view because it was communicated (marketed) within their sphere of influences, or because they examined the evidence for and against the assertion? Do we believe something is true because we know it is true, or because we were taught it?
Now, these questions are tricky, because they don't have an easy good or bad approach to it. But they can help us understand how we form opinions on different subjects. And why the Bible can sometimes not be the main influencing factor in our lives.
What can we do to minimize the effects of meta-messages?
For me, I need to first recognize the meta-messages and parse them. When someone says they hate the war in Iraq, or that Bush is evil, I don't stop with listening to the message, but I ask if it is a message designed to shut down all thought processes, so I would interpret the world in a certain way.
Second, I want to do my own homework. I try to reserve judgement until further notice. Yes, it annoys some people when I don't agree with them right away. But why spread slander and gossip if I can avoid it. I will hold my tongue and seek understanding first.
Third, after coming to my own conclusions about matters, I am not quick to share it. Instead, I listen to people's perspectives, test their statements against what I've discovered, and even test my own conclusions. If I must share (because I recognize an underlining violation of reality or direction the person is taking that is away from God) I would try to gently instruct based on what I know — not what I don't know. (I sometimes fail at this.) Ultimately, I want to allow them to come to their own conclusions on the matter.
Last, considering all things the best I can, I must act. This action can be voting, but it is hardly reduced to this. Action involves helping another person come to a deeper understanding too, testing my understanding, worshiping God, prayer, humble acceptance, learning to love those who differ in opinions, and living honestly.
We must mature from reeds moved about by the wind and the waves, into a stable oak tree.