A Close Shave
I want to talk to you today about razors. No, not the fancy Gillette Mach 12 pro-glide, diamond, ultra power for her Christmas edition that I use to keep this face baby-bottom smooth and my wife annoyed by my moustache - rather I want to talk to you about philosophical razors. The tools that thinking people use whether intentionally or intuitively (and often unconsciously) to cut through the disinformation, the double-speak, and the flat out deception of statements and actions to discern the truth of the matter.
Specifically I want to talk to you about razors because the more news I watch and the more people I talk to the more I am convinced that Christians, en masse, all decided to participate in No-Shave November and that intellectually and socially we are paying the price. I cannot remember a time in my adult life when the church has been as drunk on conspiracy theories, idolatrous philosophies, and flat-out denial of reality as it has been of late. For sure the pandemic has exacerbated things, and for sure the American Election that kicked off this crazy month has poured gasoline on the fire, but the church didn’t get to this tipping point overnight. So let’s slow down for a few minutes here and talk about razors today.
Specifically I want to talk about two different razors here. Occam’s Razor and Hanlon’s Razor. You may have heard of them before—I know that I’ve mentioned them in my sermons, but lets quickly define what they are.
Occam’s Razor postulates that that when presented with two or more competing hypotheses as solutions to a problem, and where either one is plausible, the simplest answer is preferred. This means that if you are trying to figure out whether Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the state of Georgia and you have the choices between a)A massive coordinated conspiracy where the Republican Secretary of State, the republican governor, and thousands of election workers somehow changed ballots while being surveilled by cameras and partisan observers, and even managed to hide their duplicity through a drawn out and even more closely scrutinized hand recount as part of a massive conspiracy by the American Left or b) Biden just got more votes than Trump—Occam’s Razor postulates that the simpler solution is the right one.
The same thing goes for conspiracy theories that promote the pandemic as some great engineered event by the United Nations to seize power and create a new world order, or that the coming vaccine is an attempt by the deep state to control you by injecting microchips into your body. Take a deep breath, unplug from your social media echo chamber, think about things for a second and ask what is the more likely reason for these things? What is the simpler solution? Occam’s Razor tells us that more often than not—that will be the real truth.
Hanlon’s Razor is a bit different, but helps us get to a similar place. Its name comes from a joke written by Robert J Hanlon which reads “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” but the idea has been articulated throughout history in less winsome ways. What it means is that while there are certainly malicious actors at work in the world, most of the things that we would like, in our emotional excitement, to attribute to malicious intent on the part of our leaders can more adequately be attributed to incompetence and error. That’s not to say that many of our leaders are demonstrating dangerous tunnel-vision brought on by ideological blinders (and you and I might disagree on which ideologies do more harm in the current situation), but to say that they are acting with malice is likely unfair. If I’m honest, this is something that I struggle with a lot—both as the person who is too quick to ascribe malice to people, and as a person who is (hypocritically) really bothered when other people do the same.
Hanlon’s razor has the power to reveal our prejudices, our hypocrisies, and our ideological blind spots. Think about the leader, official, or politician that you hate and filter their actions through this philosophical razor and ask, am I guilty of “othering” them because I disagree with their politics? Or are they really the devil incarnate?
Now that’s all logical and reasonable to say, and hardly constitutes a hot take in the current climate, but here is the part that gets #toospicyforsundays: Western Christians are terrible judges of both truth and motive. We have developed and unhealthy, and unrealistic persecution complex rooted in our diminishing influence and power in an increasingly pluralistic culture. We feel the fact that the cultural power and influence that we have traditionally enjoyed in this society is waning and we refuse to accept the simple solution (Occam’s Razor) that changing demographics and the diminishing commitment of Christians to their own professed missional mandate has produced a church that is in decline within our context. Rather than blaming the incompetence exhibited in the church’s own failure to present a compelling case to the unchurched in our community (and increasingly the formerly-churched in our community) that Jesus and his gospel are difference makers in this world and to live out our own values with integrity—we would rather blame our government, or our leaders, accusing them of a malicious goal to destroy the church through their increasingly secular policies.
So let’s take off our tinfoil hats and put down our pitchforks for a while and spend some time looking in the mirror instead. Perhaps if we can use these razors to cut through some of the noise in the world, we might be able to start to see ourselves as we really are and more importantly than that, to see ourselves, and our world through Jesus’ eyes.
I’m Pastor Chris and this message is #toospicyforSundays