Black & White


What issues or concerns are truly black and white? Of those, which ones do we actually treat as such? Some people tell me many things are cut and dried, and we humans mess it up by introducing our own gray areas through weakness and a lack of morality, not to mention basic subjectivity. That may be true, but I am hard pressed to find anything so cut and dried that upon careful examination doesn’t need some room for a medium shade according to context and circumstances. Commonly the black and white crowd (at least the ones I know) are conservative Christians, or at least look to that set of beliefs as their guidance in life. Let’s look at an example.

  • Conservative Christian doctrine posits that marriage is the requirement for ethical sex.
  • Progressives tend to believe that consent is a required element. But they don’t hold that it is always sufficient.

When pushed on the issue, conservatives struggle with the stance that consent is vital and is considered required by progressives. They feel it ignores or at least de-emphasizes the marriage aspect they feel is so important. This highlights one of the faults of the black and white thinking, as much of the world ends up being viewed through that type of binary prism. To conservatives marriage is the key component, and because of the black/white, right/wrong mindset it is often considered sufficient when pushed in the context of doctrine.

Many others struggle with the conservative Christian views in part because they don’t necessarily treat consent as a vital component. Conservatives don’t always recognize a major difference between any type of sexual act that falls outside of the basic criteria of marriage. All those acts are deemed wrong, and to some they are equally so. Adultery is in some ways not different from raping a child. If the issue is black and white then there is by definition no room for any moderation or qualification.

But it’s more than just that. Conservatives often do not agree with the progressive’s consent criteria because the default understanding through doctrine is that there is only the one simple black and white choice. Since conservative doctrine bases it all on marriage then they incorrectly may assume that the consent camp bases it all on consent. The black and white thinking produces a lack of understanding of the nuance that there are multiple criteria, each of which is important, but maybe not equally important, which means there can be a range of how bad of an offense it is to falter. Progressives may hold consent AND marriage as important, but with the greater focus on consent the misunderstandings are exacerbated.

The notion that things are black and white stems in part from the pressure that the text mustn’t be questioned. The rules are laid out, if unclearly at times, and faith promotes a semi-blind following of them that contributes to the fundamental chasm of mindsets and ways to interpret things.

Now at most practical levels I’m aware of in the conservative Christian community (people I know) something like child molestation isn’t seriously considered to be the same as adultery (although a sin is a sin, no?). They seem willing to allow some room for interpretation. Adultery between consenting adults being wrong because it is outside of marriage. Raping a child being wrong because…(of something more?).

So Christians take a black and white doctrine and then apply certain interpretations to it, with the result being to make it less than absolutely black and white. And in some cases making it or allowing it to be uniquely personal. Is it up to the individual to believe in his/her interpretation of the bible, or should he/she follow the letter of the law? How much grace or deviation is allowable? How much comfort and forgiveness permissible? This gives rise to so many subtly different and potentially incongruent beliefs based on all of the interpretations that it seems almost laughable to me that one would cling tightly to any absolute bad/good, right/wrong view of the world. And yet a black and white attitude is often taken after having applied the very judgement, context, and often some personal perceptions to it that render it no longer absolute, if it ever was.

This is just one of the ways religion, as it is commonly practiced in our culture, fails us.

Definitely not saying anything goes here (that would be another kind of black and white). Best to acknowledge that it’s all shades of gray, and you’re just trying to figure out which shades you want to believe and live by. Don’t expect others to see it the same way, considering they weren’t part of the same programming you experienced.

Finally…because of the potentially volatile nature of a post like this I feel I should make it clear to any conservative Christian acquaintances of mine that I am not poo-pooing their beliefs or way of life, or even their thinking. I grew up in church and know the story. I have written about things like this before. I advocate tolerance and open mindedness, allowing room that we’re all flawed, and none of us lives in a house so rigid we can’t be wrong. Feel free to read back through this blog and you will see that there are other views presented from time to time. Because I don’t have it all figured out either.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: