Quotable content and ambiguity in writing.

What is quotable content? I don’t really know if it is a term that exists, but I am defining it as: something that sounds good when you tweet it, something that doesn’t require a “See More…” if you put it into a Facebook status, something that is less than three lines, and more or less a topic statement.

A Big Idea in a work is not a bad thing at all. Some sort of topic statement is necessary in order to show the reader what you’re talking about. Broad enough to be something you can actually write about, but not so broad as to dip into many unrelated things. Even the sermons that are preached at my church use Big Ideas, and it helps to focus things.

The problem comes when a writer or speaker tries to fit these one-liners in everywhere. Instead of summing up a cohesive piece of writing or a speech, it ends up being a summary of itself with no further explanation. I believe that this takes a great deal away from writing. Writing is supposed to be the personal thoughts of the writer, and I think that should include the process involved in coming to that conclusion in the first place. You end up with a bunch of little conclusions that sound great on Twitter and that people love for their quotability, but that are ambiguous bumper-sticker statements that mean nothing in and of themselves.

Things like: You have to live life to the fullest! or Live, laugh, love! or Who you are is not what you do.

How about: You are defined by your humanity.

Everyone loves that one. But what the hell does that mean? What is your “humanity?” Depending on who’s using the phrase, it means something entirely different than what it might mean to you or me because it lacks any kind of definition or explanation as to the thought behind it. Usually it will be used in a sentence like, “You are defined by your humanity, so don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, you are yourself!”

Um…okay. Like, who’s self would I otherwise be?

Sure, people can quote it, people can easily copy and paste it and everyone will love it. Not because they know what you just said, but because they know what they think you meant. This is true to some extent of all writing. Of course, everything you read is being interpreted by you, and also by everybody else who reads it, maybe slightly differently. But when you say something that unclear, you’re not really saying anything at all. So, in the quest for quotable content, we’re losing the ability and the urge to really say anything. For example, one person might see humanity as the ability to fail and yet keep on going, while someone else might view humanity as being not an animal. Because you didn’t tell them what it is that you are talking about when you say, “You are defined by your humanity.”

I think that having quotable bits is great. I think it’s necessary to occasionally sum up what you’re trying to say, especially in an age where that is what draws people into reading or listening to the rest of what you have to say. But the original thoughts behind that summary should be easily accessible to the reader (or listener). They should continually come back with more questions, rather than taking each statement at face value and thinking no further about the meaning or the implications of said meaning. If your writing or speaking doesn’t cause people to wonder, then, in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong. Of course people should wonder on their own, but I think that it’s a symbiotic relationship, people who wonder and people who cause people to wonder. They feed each other. Because people who wonder and ask questions don’t want to have all the answers, they want answers that lead to more questions. And most “quotable content” simply doesn’t do that when used to garner views or reads.

Boxes, boxes, everywhere.

I’ve been looking into this Christianity versus atheism thing lately. It’s caught my attention for a few reasons. Mostly because I like listening to ideas and I like understanding things, but also because I see the way Christians and atheists tend to treat each other. We all act like the “other side” is a huge group of stupid people who have never researched anything a day in their lives, came to their conclusion for some over-simplified reason like, “Oh, your parents were Chrsitians/atheists and that’s why you have the beliefs you do,” instead of considering that maybe they put a lot of thought and time and emotion and brainpower into their decision. Maybe it was painstaking, and maybe it even caused issues in their lives, like alienation from family members who believe something different.

Maybe some people are just idiots who have put no thought into what they believe. But I don’t believe that that’s the case with everybody. In fact, I think that that’s an incredibly far cry from the truth.

And we need to stop acting like that is the case for everyone who doesn’t think the same thing that we do. I think that we sometimes do this consciously, but most of the time it’s unconscious. There’s an overwhelming reaction of, “You’re stupid and haven’t thought about this thoroughly enough if you didn’t come to the same conclusion that I did.”

Isn’t it possible that someone could be presented with exactly the same information as all the rest of us were and come to a different conclusion? Isn’t it possible that people can be intelligent and also disagree with other intelligent people? Isn’t it possible that they just people created by a God who loves them just as much as he loves you? Isn’t it possible that we’re all people and that, if you actually believe the scriptures, we’re all sinful, and maybe their sin is just expressed differently than your own? Isn’t it possible that we should be building relationships with people and befriending them, not just to convert them or to fulfill some unspoken super-Christian agenda, but just to be their friends? 

I’ve been watching videos from a popular atheist YouTuber, and he’s posted videos both about what Christians should not to say to atheists and what atheists need to not say to Christians. I’ll admit, when I saw that there was an atheist out there who was trying to get people to respect beliefs that contradict their own, I was a little shocked. But that just goes to show that I bought into the whole atheist stereotype that they’re all douche-bags who hate religious people myself.

I think that in this man’s videos, he says some things I would disagree with. He says some things that I think are a little off about the church and what Christians believe. But one of the things that I hear him say over and over is, “You don’t know me, stop acting like you do.” And this seems to be a common complaint among many non-Christians. I think it’s true. In an attempt to be relatable and to “reach everyone” we forget that people are just people. They’re not an idea. They’re not someone that we need to save. They are not a number. They are a person.

I think that too often, Christians want to put all non-Christians into a box labeled “Sinners” and we forget that we all are in that box too. We complain that “Not all Christians are that way!” when we see ourselves misrepresented, see ourselves put into a box, but we do the same thing to others quite often and think nothing of it. But I really don’t like box metaphors because I don’t believe you can put anybody into any box without reducing them down to this dehumanized idea that is not a person at all. And even if there were boxes, there would have to be 7 billion+ because there’d have to be one for each person on the planet.

And we need to stop putting people who don’t believe what we believe into those boxes. Humans are so much more complex than we like to admit. They have struggles and emotions and thoughts that are worth hearing and they love other people and they have friends and family and kids and pets. They have lives. They have truth to share that’s extra-biblical, but still true, nonetheless. And it is one thing to live out a life that is in Jesus’ footsteps (which I think we should all be striving after because your life might be the only proof they ever see of God) but it is quite different to run around telling people who don’t believe in God that everything about their life is wrong, that their life is empty, and that they should be depressed all the time because they don’t believe in God.

Not only is that insulting to non-Christians, I think it’s kind of insulting to Christians too, and quite possibly to God. God is not some means to an end. He is the end-all be-all of all things. He is everything. So to reduce him down to something as trivial, as nonessential, and as fleeting as an emotion that you feel in a certain building on Sunday, to say that he is a feeling you couldn’t feel simply by having a loving circle of family and friends, or a pet that you love, or seeing a good movie, is wrong. That’s not what God is, and that’s not what we should be telling people that he is. He exists by himself and for himself. Nothing else. And we are saved out of the very same rebellion that we call others out on by him, and for him because he loves us.

Instead of looking at people as people, we reduce them to this two-dimensional idea that really doesn’t reflect much of anything that’s human. That’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to see a person as something other than a person. We forget that we were allowed to “come as we are” and that they can do the same. And I guarantee you that whatever led you to Jesus wasn’t someone thumping a Bible.

It was most likely a friend.

Thinking outside the box: ask questions.

I hear things like this a lot: “Science and the Bible just don’t go together.”

To most people, these things are mutually exclusive. They’re water and oil. You can either believe in one or in the other, but never both, because both is contradictory. The real hot topics tend to center around old-earth versus young-earth creation, and evolution versus creation.

But here’s the thing. People tend to be mostly informed about one side or the other, and then never inform themselves about the other side. They never attempt to question anything. They just pick a side, as if what’s already there is all that can ever be. What if God and science are not mutually exclusive? What if there are many possible (and not unbiblical) interpretations of the book of Genesis and the origins of life? What if evolution isn’t actually unbiblical in and of itself?

What if we are free to follow the evidence where it leads, to discover extrabiblical truth, and to use our amazing cognitive abilities to interpret, and to discover the God of the universe in the context of his Book?

What if we can’t just throw away hundreds of years of research by many, many extraordinarily intelligent and talented people, including Christians, who were given their talents and gifts by God?

There are many questions that we should be asking, rather than making wrong assumptions and then arguing based on our own uninformed thoughts.

Ask questions. About everything.

I feel like, as Christians, we’ve largely lost our curiosity and our desire to discover, and replaced it with easy-to-understand little boxed answers that make us happy, that are easy to argue (but that cannot, in all reality, be argued well or in any sort of convincing way). I see many, many videos claiming to “destory” atheism and evolution and whatever other ideas Christians seem intent on destroying. And for the most part, I agree with what many of them are saying. I agree with their worldview. But all they seem to do, over and over, is to say, “This is what I believe and you have to believe it too or else you’re dumb!” It’s not nice, it leaves no room for discussion, and it ultimately leads to the stereotypical close-minded Christian who knows they’re right about everything without ever questioning anything. It shuts down many relationships that could lead to salvation for the other person before that relationship even begins. It’s okay to think someone is wrong and still be friends with them. It’s okay to not immediately start telling them about why they’re wrong, and it’s okay to let people think something different than what you think.

I once had a conversation with a first-time acquaintance. I said that I believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. He immediately assumed that I thought that we should never, ever question it because it is inerrant. And I immediately told him, no, absolutely not. I think that it’s perfectly fine to ask questions. How else do we learn? We learn about God and the Bible early on in our Christian life by asking about it. Why does that have to go away? Why can’t the questions continue to get deeper and more complex, getting at deeper and deeper truths about God? By asking questions, you’re putting trust in the inerrancy of your God and his Word, because if you truly trust in him, then, somewhere that’s maybe deep inside, you believe that your questions will be answered through him and his Word. Because it is inerrant. Makes sense, right?

So why don’t we seem to ask questions anymore?

I think that every single person in the Bible questioned God at some point in their life. Maybe they even questioned (gasp) his existence. But really, if you believe that God is ultimately guiding all believers closer to himself and that he is causing all things to work together for the good of those who love him, then why shouldn’t he use our disbelief, our inborn curiosity, and intellect, and creativity (the same curiosity and intellect and creative drive that was made in the image of his own) to give us truth about himself?

I feel that sometimes there won’t be answers for these questions, and maybe we’ll never know even on the other side of heaven. But I think that people are far too afraid of their faith being rattled. Maybe that would actually strengthen it. Maybe we need to be shaken up in order to see how strong our foundation really is. And if your foundation can be eroded by questioning it, then is your foundation really on the Rock in the first place?