Adiaphora and How You Squeeze the Toothpaste

Last week a student asked me, "Dr. Beck, what makes for a good marriage?"

I responded, "Care about very little."

Puzzled, the student inquired, "What do you mean?"

"Well," I continued, "say you care about how the toothpaste should be squeezed. Some people care a lot that it be squeezed properly. Or you might care about if the toilet roll hang a certain way. Seriously, some people like the roll to hang over the top and some from the bottom. Or you might care about when you should open Christmas presents. Your husband or wife might like to do it on Christmas Eve when you think that's an abomination before the Lord. Presents on Christmas morning for you.

You might care about what kind of car to buy. Or what color it should be. You might care about the square footage necessary for your house. You might care about what color to paint the walls of your bedroom. Or the color of your bath towels. You might care about the quality and diversity of your family meals. Or if your vacations are exotic enough.

You might, in short, care about a great many things.

And for every single thing you care about you have the potential for argument, stress and frustration. So my advice is this: Don't care about any of this. Don't care about cars, home decor, paint, toothpaste, family rituals, food, or toilet paper. Just don't care. Free yourself up to care about and invest in what really matters. You'll be happier and fight much less."

In theology there is a term called "adiaphora." It is a term used to refer to things which, theologically speaking, we are indifferent to. We, in a sense, don't care about these issues. We won't let differences on these points be a source of conflict or division. My marriage advice to the student was about adiaphora: Become indifferent to trivial things. Don't fight about inconsequential stuff.

My advice for the church is the same: Expand the space of adiaphora. Stop caring about inconsequential stuff. Focus on the matters of importance. People are starving to death today. Someone at work is lonely. An innocent man is sitting in jail.

Let's not fight over how we squeeze the toothpaste.

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2 thoughts on “Adiaphora and How You Squeeze the Toothpaste”

  1. My mother has been saying to me, for years "I'm going to care 60 percent less..." about things. I'm working on caring 100 percent less. Its very refreshing. I love the concept of adiaphora. Also, the point about toothpaste is very well taken. My husband left for a week for work and I instantly relaxed about my (very bad) habit of squeezing the toothpaste from the middle. Now I think what I should do is buy two tubes of toothpaste, one for him and one for me! Then we can both care 100 percent less.


  2. This reminds of what I've learned from Buddhism about 'letting it go' or having a 'friendly' attitude towards something. I think everyone has triggers (most of us have many triggers) that when touched result in a reaction that has very little to do with caring in the sense of love and very much to do with caring in the sense of ego-protection and identity-strengthening.

    The slippery slope seems to be caring so little, or about so little, that _that_ stance becomes a knee-jerk reaction, too.

    Jesus seemed to care about some things (maybe one thing?) very much.

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