We live in a time in which sound bites are designed to express a world of emotion and perspective in the fewest possible words. Social media, news tickers, media scrums, question periods, and press releases are expressions that have become shorter and denser in recent years. We seldom slow down sufficiently to read long articles or multi-volume books. Our attention-span is considerably shorter than that of previous generations. While our ancestors may have sat around a fire for hours at a time listening to well-told stories, we get our information, wisdom, and emotional direction from 90 second news updates covering multiple stories. The incessant speed with which information is presenting itself to us does not allow for much consideration. Most often our reactions are highly influenced by the emotions and intensity of the person who gives us the news. Alternatively, our reactions and emotions default to well-worn channels of our thought processes that take us in the directions that we have always taken before.
Recently, I was struck by the words of a person who was very good at slowing down and thinking through concepts with which he was presented. This author, thinker, and teacher seemed much more able to slow his thoughts sufficiently to get to the heart of a concept. I found myself desiring to be more like C.S. Lewis. The following example may help to show you what I mean.
Many of us struggle with the words “hate the sin, but not the sinner.” This phrase has been much maligned, and both those who use it and those toward whom it points feel uneasy in the use of the expression. In the early seventies, C.S. Lewis found himself struggling with this terminology and so he thought about it long enough to come up with a solution. He had this to say about it in his extremely insightful book, Mere Christianity.
“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. ...I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life -- namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I know that this will not solve the struggle in using this terminology for every person; C.S. Lewis’ opinion will not be the last word on any subject. Yet, his thoughts are helpful precisely because they show that he did not reject a concept quickly. One can tell that he was uncomfortable with the concept and so he meditated upon it until he could get at why he was uncomfortable and how he might resolve his discomfort with a concept that was accepted by others whom he respected. There is a great deal of humility and a search for unity in the process that Lewis uses.
It seems to me that I might use a similar technique when it comes to phrases that do not sit well with me. Rather than using stock answers to sound bites, could I seek a similar humility and search for the common ground of unity. Might I try this with phrases like, “Black lives matter,” and “All lives matter”? Could I seek greater respect toward those whose foundation for truth, morality, or love is different than mine?
It takes a great deal of strength and considerable time to truly listen to another’s argument and feel it in our bones rather than simply rejecting it outright. It is much easier to counter one argument with another argument without truly hearing the other person. In this way, many a debate between opposing positions has fallen short as we watch the speakers talk past each other’s understanding and over each other’s heads.
I want to learn to slow down and listen before formulating my response. I do not want to be guilty of responding with a half-formulated answer to a concept, rather than thinking upon the words that have been spoken to me. May God grant me greater peace, greater patience, greater understanding, greater love, a greater desire to walk a mile in another’s shoes. Perhaps I might be able to contribute to a better and more unified world.
Lewis, C. (1978). Mere Christianity. Glasgow: William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd.