Imagine a township in which literally hundreds of people died every year from heart attacks.
In this one municipality (unlike all others), cardiac fatalities were so insanely common that they now went largely unnoticed, except when the paramedics came to your door.
In response, citizens studied the situation and formed possible solutions that involved a variety of factors: diet, exercise, smoking, family history, and better medical testing.
This wouldn’t end all heart attacks, of course, but it might stop some.
Then imagine if a well-meaning Christian offered this:
“Stop bringing up all this stuff about diet, exercise, and smoking! Clogged arteries are a heart issue—and only Jesus can heal hearts.”
How might we respond?
THE TROUBLE WITH FALSE CHOICES
We could point out that “Yes, heart attacks are ‘a heart issue’—but they are not just that.” And because they are not just that, it would be foolish to prevent them with only prayer and preaching. The reason, however, has nothing to do with prayer and preaching being weak. “Heart issues” require a variety of responses.
Since they have a variety of causes, they require nuanced, both-and thinking, and they are not solved by false dichotomies: trans fats vs. lack of exercise; family history vs. sugary sodas; stress vs. smoking.
It’s not either/or—it’s both-and. And yes, it is also “a heart issue.”
Unfortunately, in our current climate, both-and thinking seems to be anathema, and especially in the land of social media–where nuance goes to die.
It’s either “a heart issue” or “a gun issue.”
It’s either “a failure of parenting” or “a failure of the mental health system.”
It’s either “what happens when we turn from God,” or “what happens when even self-advertising psychopaths can access their own private arsenal.”
Never have I seen so many false choices.
One is tempted to scream, “MAYBE IT’S ‘ALL OF THE ABOVE’!!!”
JESUS AND FALSE CHOICES
Which brings me to Jesus. One day after yet another horrific massacre, a student in my Bible class asked this:
“In the Gospels, why does Jesus almost never give people a straight answer?”
It’s a great question, and I was about to answer it until I remembered Jesus. So I proceeded to ask questions and tell stories.
“Do you remember what was written on the whiteboard today?”
A few nodded.
Someone had written two “options” on the front board prior to class. OPTION ONE was to craft an essay entitled “Take away all guns,” while OPTION TWO was to “Give them to the good guys.”
(I have since learned that this was not a professor’s own view. The inscription simply made a point about how thesis statements work. My misunderstanding therefore presents yet another example of how we easily create false choices. But I digress…)
Then I asked: “Is it possible that those might NOT be the only two options?”
What if framing the debate in such simplistic and false-dichotomizing terms actually prevents someone from answering intelligently?
That’s why Jesus rarely accepted the premises of his partisan questioners.
“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2)
“Whose wife will she be in the Age to Come?” (Matt 22:28)
When you’re asking the wrong “either/or question,” you can’t get the right answer.
As someone mentioned recently, it’s as if the binary codes that run our social media (all ones and zeros) have infected us. We have been conformed to their electronic image. And now we too must be all “ones” or “zeros” on every complex issue.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
In the end, I don’t know how to solve mass shootings. They have many causes, and I suspect they will require many nuanced solutions—all of which will cost us something.
But I do know this: We’ll continue getting nowhere so long as we fall into our partisan talking-points of “gun issue” vs. “sin issue.”
It’s time to stop being “ones” and “zeros” and start being people.
This is an adapted version of an old post (Feb. 16, 2018) that I wish were no longer relevant.
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