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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Tyranny of Opinion

We live in a culture dominated by opinion. As a culture, we used to believe in facts. Now we believe in opinions. Websites supposedly dedicated to delivering news regularly post nonscientific polls of their visitors. As I write this, one major news site has a poll asking, "Do you think sick people should fly?" Another asks, "What are you looking forward to most about Thanksgiving?" The interactivity of the internet has catapulted your opinion on the most mundane matters into the news.

Those tasked with delivering that news frequently deliver opinion polls as though they were of terrific importance. Note that these public opinion polls are not surveying experts or even people who are informed on the issues. This is not the television commercial of my childhood that proclaimed, "Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum." No, these are not the opinions of anyone with authority -- they are just people caught at random to answer a question or two so that someone can publish a poll.

Those who are set apart to lead our country consult public opinion polls and make decisions not based on what is right, but based rather on what people think at any given point in time. It is what is popular, not what is proper, that matters most. Many web pages have a special section advertising the most popular searches people have submitted on that page. Currently on Yahoo! the top ten list is: Susan Boyle, World of Warcraft, Kate Hudson, Mark Sanford, The Origin of Species, Katee Sackhoff, Dancing with the Stars, Michael Jackson, Israel, and Turkey Recipes. Don't you feel better for knowing that is what people are searching for on Yahoo!?

This tyranny of opinion is directly linked to our desire to be in charge of ourselves. What I think rules the day. No one can dictate the rules to me. I have My Opinion. The awful irony is, so few of us have enough real information to have a meaningful opinion about anything. So instead of doing the research to figure out important issues or appealing to an authority who might help us, we watch the stats of what the crowd is doing. If everyone else is doing it, it must be right. Right? What do you think?

Reminds me of my favorite piece of graffiti, observed on the back of an old building in downtown Fargo many years ago: "Go, Lemmings, Go!"

My point is, you should not care one whit what I think about anything, unless my opinion is backed up by something better than, "That's just what I think."

This is why I am utterly convinced that the church of Jesus Christ is being called today back to a greater reliance on the Bible as our authority. In a culture that has rejected authority out of hand, where "submission" is a dirty word, in the face of "that's just what I think" reasoning where the individual opinion rules over all, we must stand under the authority of the Bible. If Christians cannot submit to this word the world is correct in rejecting our witness. If we are simply a group of people who have a certain opinion about God, about the correct agenda for the world, about good and evil, the world should shrug and walk away. And that is exactly what the world has been doing for decades.

But look at churches that cling to the Bible and say, "This is more than just opinion. We take this as our authority because in these pages God speaks. We don't understand it perfectly, we don't always get it right, but this is the book that corrects us and holds us accountable and helps us to follow Jesus." Those churches consistently grow, not because weak minded people gravitate toward such authoritarianism, but because those churches are bold enough to stand against the current of culture. They are strong enough not to bend in every breeze. And they are making a difference in the world.

At least that's what I think.

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