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Nathan Davis Hunt

In Jesus-Christ.
For Shalom.
Through Love. 
Toward Solidarity. 
With Joy & Grace. 

Why didn't Christians listen to "the facts?"

Why didn't Christians listen to "the facts?"

The contradictions in the human heart and the world we've built were laid bare this political season. Among them was the odd swell of "fake news" and an unabashed rejection of "what the experts have to say." If research showed x, it seemed like people just doubled down on y

What's going on here? 

Let's start with a comment from Parker Palmer:

"Research reveals that people who are shown solid evidence contradicting their most fundamental beliefs often become more forceful in advocating those beliefs. We will want the information we need in order to come closer to the truth only when we stop fearing whatever might challenge our convictions and value it instead." [1]

He's referencing an article from the Journal of Psychological Science called "When in Doubt, Shout! Paradoxical Influences of Doubt on Proselytizing" -- an essay that just begs reading by anyone who considers him or herself an evangelist. 

It turns out that cognitive dissonance doesn't automatically overwhelm our other anxieties. Instead, it can just further inflame those anxieties if the alternative truth being suggested would implicate a reality we fear. Which handily explains why fact-checking had basically no impact on this year's election (or maybe the inverse relationship fact-checkers hoped for). 

What all that suggests to me is that we're living through a national epidemic of what the bible sometimes calls 'hard heartedness.' It's a posture of closure toward the other -- their suffering is lost on you because to acknowledge it's truth would be to undermine the world that benefits you. It was impossible for Pharaoh to let God's people go. To do so would be to abdicate his throne. 

Hard heartedness is anti-relationship. It sinks a taproot for sin. To be righteous in the biblical imagination (i.e. not in sin), is to live with fidelity to the covenant, to be committed to relationship come hell or high water. As such, righteousness feels like love to those experiencing it. And as Dr. King taught us, love made public is justice. When hearts are unable to love, there will be no justice.

An epidemic of hard heartedness -- with its epicenter in the white evangelical church -- should alert us to a crisis of discipleship.

Discipleship is a Christian's word for the cultivation of a heart trained for loving relationship. Discipleship teaches us to share the mind of Christ and forge the ethics of the cross into our character until the fruits of the Spirit become reflexive. This is hard, decompartmentalizing, intimate work. And it digs unavoidably into a persons identity and politics. 

We all fear a world that would discard us, bring us pain, or seek our death. So we fight to preserve our lives and our wellbeing. But as we fight, our willingness to lean in to messages that might contradict what we think is good for ourself is strangled. We do not listen openly because to do so might be to risk our life. 

How strange then, to follow a Lord who came "to give his life." To follow such a savior is to know we are called to give our life for others from the very beginning. It is to be freed of self-preserving anxiety, and opened to listening and loving our neighbor.


[1] - Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy, 16 

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