Saturday, January 14, 2006

Paper Thin

Perhaps the greatest part about attending the GCN conference last weekend was getting to know some of the people I've been interacting with online over the last year or so. I'd interacted with many of them online, read their thoughts, seen their photos, laughed at their jokes, but it would have been a stretch to say that I really knew them just from that. Suddenly they were no longer just words and images on a computer screen - they were now large-as-life, flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional human beings, each of them far more unique and quirky and interesting and beautiful than any online profile could ever hope to convey.

No matter how much information you exchange, you can't really, truly know a person until you've met them face to face and allowed your life to intertwine with theirs.

I think this also goes a long way toward explaining just what's so dangerous about pornography. Pornography reduces human beings to two-dimensional images on a page (or monitor) that exist solely to titillate the viewer. They have no life of their own, no real personality, no soul - and it's very easy to begin viewing the people around us in those same lifeless, self-serving terms.

In fact, many sincere Christians have fallen into a similar trap. In their zeal to apply the Bible to their lives, they've focused on what they can extract from its passages to the exclusion of all else. We spend our days reading books, listening to sermons and 'studying to find ourselves approved,' and we reach all of our conclusions about life based on Greek word conjugations before we ever set foot out the door.

In doing so, we have reduced the world around us to two dimensions, as we filter everything in it through the lens of our preconceived conclusions. The people around us cease to be fully human as they fail to conform to the rigidly-defined categories that we try to squeeze them into; anything that doesn't fit we either ignore entirely or explain away as the work of the devil.

And thus we see the failure of the church when it comes to dealing with the issue of homosexuality. The actual lives and experiences of gay individuals are completely irrelevant, since we have already reached all of our conclusions about them based on word studies and cross-references. As with every other life situation, it becomes unnecessary to consider the effects that our doctrines actually have in real life, since our theologians have already determined them to be true. If our proclamations of 'truth' cause pain and drive people away from God, then they were just godless rebels to begin with and good riddance.

But are they really the ones at fault? What happens when you try to fit a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional space? You smash it. You distort it. You crush the very life out of it. How much more, then, do we become bringers of death when we try to impose two-dimensional ethics onto the three-dimensional people around us? If we truly want to bring life to those around us, then we must be ready to make corrections to our theology based on how it plays out in the real world. Truth is ultimately apprehended through community, not through endless, isolated study.

I'm not saying it's easy to do. It requires risk and a painful dose of humility and an equally heavy dose of self-sacrifice. Is the church ready to stop shooting its own wounded and once again become a place of life and love?


Peterson Toscano said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I so enjoy the way you think and how clearly you express your thoughts.

The face to face encounters with friends and foes alike change us all and are vital to our personal and communal health.

Christine Bakke said...

A-men and A-women, Peterson and Eugene.

Liadan said...

>>What happens when you try to fit a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional space?<<

Given that I'm currently a visual art student, maybe I can put a different spin on this.

Answer being that you can't. What you *can* do is create the impression of three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface. However, the image is always by necessity static, since depth, the third dimension, is always a trick of linework and shading. (Believe me, it's a pretty damn hard trick to pull off. I've taken enough classes in perspective to know.)

In other words, you can make it look like you have a fully rendered take on something so long as everything is in the same place you drew it from, but as soon as you, it, or anything else moves, your work is revealed as the illusion it is.

In that sense, reducing life to two dimensions isn't so much a distortion thereof as it is robbing life of depth in favor of a useful deception.

Mark said...

Thanks for this perspective. I think its really insigtful and I appreciate you sharing it with us.

Wish I coulda been one-of-those-in-Orlando but there you go.