If you are offended by this post, please, as a Christian, respond ethically and in a Christ-like manner. That is, following the directives of Jesus in Matthew 18: 15-17 please contact me first. You should also know that I've submitted my spiritual life to the direction of the elders at the Highland Church of Christ. Please feel free to contact them about your concerns as well.
In the bond of peace,
Following up on the last two posts it seems clear that a certain degree of bullshit is needed for social cohesion. That is, lot’s of our speech acts are decidedly not about speaking truthfully but about relational issues. We may bullshit around an issue to spare a person’s feelings.
This, I tell my students, is fine with me. When we interact with each other lots of values collide in our conversations. Honesty is clearly a prime virtue. But it is not the only virtue in play. And, often, we have to choose between competing goods. Sometimes honesty will trump. Sometimes bullshit will trump.
Some students get upset with me when I draw this conclusion. Their fear seems to be that if we admit this truth about ourselves we will be subtly endorsing bullshit and lies. And, via this subtle endorsement, we promote even more lies and bullshit.
The situation is a bit of a conundrum. We all know our interpersonal interactions are full of bullshit, obfuscation, lies of non-acknowledgement, and little white lies. For example, someone tells me a joke. I think it’s lame. But I don’t say that. I smile and laugh. The smile is a bullshit smile. But I feel fine smiling, ethically speaking. However to admit this situation seems to encourage dishonesty. It might be a slippery slope.
So, the conundrum is this:
1. We can’t stop being dishonest.
2. But neither can we admit we are dishonest (for fear of endorsing greater levels of dishonesty).
So what do we end up doing? This: We become dishonest about our dishonesty. We just don’t speak of the fakery we so readily employ. It’s like we are all collectively participating in a very poor magic trick. We all know how the trick works but we pretend not to see. This is why I think my students get upset with me. I'm telling them how the magic trick works.
I’ll call this lie about our lies a meta-lie. I think lots of life is governed by meta-lies, the bullshit about our bullshit. Meta-bullshit.
Agree or disagree with me I now want to try to say something theological and constructive about bullshit in our lives.
This conversation about bullshit interests me because I would like the church to be a place where there is less bullshit. But to make that happen we have to realize how ubiquitous and vital bullshit is to human interactions. My concern is that we work in the church under the meta-lie--the bullshit about our bullshit--sailing along under the assumption that our interactions are very honest when, in fact, they may not be. I personally think people get turned off by church because the bullshit actually gets ramped up in church. That is, there may be more bullshit in the church than outside of it. If politeness and good cheer are forms of bullshit (at times) then there is a lot of bullshit in the church. I believe it is this dynamic that leads people to feel that church is "fake" and "hypocritical." The super-polite conversations come off as superficial and "fake." I think we've all felt this at times.
But we are stuck as we saw in our analysis above. We know there is a problem but we can't state the problem without seeming to endorse more dishonesty. We can't stand up and say, "Life is built around a lot of bullshit. And that is okay, we don't need any hand-wringing. We just need to be honest and see the situation clearly." Why can't we say this? Because people would rather have the meta-lie, "That's not true! I'm a very honest person. I don't bullshit people. The only thing your cynical view will get us is more bullshit by telling people it's okay."
In short, I don't think we can speak candidly about our situation in church. The meta-lies interfere.
I, personally, would like to speak more truthfully in church. I'd like for church to be a bullshit-free zone. But to do this we will need to lay down different social patterns.
Here are two suggestions about making this happen:
1. If we are to replace the "Hi! How you doing?" and the "Good. How are are you?" then we need to change both the structures and expectations of church. Borrowing from my friend Mark Love, we need to claim the idea of a Divine Interruptability. As followers of Jesus, we need to be interruptable. To be interruptable is to allow someone else's concerns, agenda, and life to trump your own. To do this, we will also need to slow down to both allow for interruptions and to take the time to take up each other's concerns. To allow space for, in the words of the New Testament, "taking up each others burdens."
2. Again borrowing from Mark who e-mailed me a comment about these posts a few days ago, we need to claim the sense of "being known" by the One. Our intercourse with God should be transparent and bullshit-free. You can't bullshit God. Yet, I think many people try to. They try to hide from God or offer rationalizations to God. Their prayer life is full of bullshit, refusals to see themselves or present themselves honestly before God. But spiritual maturity sets aside those meta-lies about the self. This acceptance of "being known" is truly humbling. We know what kind of crap exists inside us. To allow God access to that, to surrender it all to God, is a fear-filled but liberating project. Once completed, as Mark suggested to me, our inner anxieties and pride-issues about being transparently known by others should attenuate. You then become more willing to make authentic moves in conversation. More willing to risk interrupting people with your life, trusting that love will meet you halfway. We begin to take ourselves and our concerns less seriously and less urgently. That is, "being known by God" meets a deep need so that when we share with each other the sharing, as is so often the case, is not desperate, needy, clingy, dependent, or attention-seeking. It's simple honesty. We don't spill our stuff for therapeutic catharsis. Church is not group therapy. It's rather a place where honesty, transparency, and authenticity reign. Where new, bullshit-free patterns of social interaction are experimented with and practiced.