Sunday, August 26, 2012

The home team advantage

The last two posts were to show that you can go through a formal course of education, master all the material, and still be ignorant of things that weren't considered worth teaching. Who decides what is worth knowing? Who decides what questions are worth asking? Who decides which parts of the big picture are worth hearing, and which views are worth explaining?

We've all seen it happen to our own group: someone has a really mistaken idea about us, and they can't be parted from it.

Sometimes it traces to a single conversation they had years ago, and that one personal experience is filed away in their mind as "the truth about what that group really believes." Anyone who says differently is trying to disregard "the facts" because, in their personal experience, they "know better". How many people cling to the first person they meet from a certain group as "the real thing"? How many people cling to the worst person they meet from a certain group as "the real thing"? (For our own groups, don't we all tend to hold up the saints as examples? But I haven't seen us accord that courtesy to others. Double-standards, really.)

Sometimes we have only heard our own group's presentation of one side of a disagreement, with the other side badly represented (if it is represented at all). It is like a courtroom where the prosecutor first presents his case, then also makes the defense's speech and (unsurprisingly) does a bad job that just happens to make the prosecutor's job easy, and prove his points. It never seems to be seriously considered that this is nothing but a charade. Each group practices the same exercise, each group representing both their own side and their opponents, and the home team always wins. This remarkable home team advantage is rarely considered as exposing serious flaws in the system; it's generally taken as a demonstration of the remarkable superiority of the home team. The home team has an undefeated record; all the more reason why there's no need to take the away team seriously. Why see them play in person? After all, have you ever heard them make a single good argument? (Nevermind who was representing them, when they sounded so comically absurd.)

My point is: It's all of us. When our group has a question about what we teach from the Bible, we line up our proof texts and talking points. But we never consider whether the church down the street might have brought different proof texts to the same question -- or have brought a different question. The Bible is a big book. And what we do to the church down the street is something like what all my childhood history books did to the Nestorians and the Copts: act like they don't exist, like they don't matter, to the point where they aren't even worth a hearing, or worth acknowledging.

It's never quite that easy. Some people really do have wrong-headed views. But if we haven't heard those other views for ourselves, we shouldn't take it for granted that we're right and they're wrong, no matter what the score is back on the home court.


Martin LaBar said...


I'm attempting to lead a small group study of what the Bible says about the question of whether a converted person can subsequently lose his/her salvation, and trying very hard not to present it the way your prosecutor does.

Weekend Fisher said...

And it's trickier if you're leading a class as an official representative of a group that has an official position. (Been there, done that. Ever wanted a do-over on a portion of a class you're teaching? Just saying.)

You're UMC, right? Is there an "official position" in the mix?

Best of wishes with the class.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF