Yesterday I said that it was okay to just get your tradition from your church, as long as you judged the source by their fruit.
Today I want to talk about when you have to do your own research.
You have to do your own research when you claim you do your own research. Most of the time, that means when you’ve appointed yourself an apologist for your church’s tradition.
For me, evolution or apostolic succession are the places I see it most because both subjects really offend particular brand names of Christianity. Protestants who hold to a 7-day creation week just 6,000 years ago really don’t like hearing that there are legitimate Christian traditions that have never thought that Genesis had to be literal. Churches that have apostolic succession really don’t like being told that they have twisted an early Christian doctrine that never meant anything like what they hold to today.
Worse, there are many thousands of self-appointed apologists for these doctrines that pretend to be researching the subject.
The problem is, they’re lying.
I’m using the word lying because I think we need to use strong words with ourselves. We have to acknowledge what we are doing when we ourselves are guilty of what follows.
I don’t really want to call most of those self-appointed apologists liars.
For example, I listened to a video of a young lady recently who began by saying that she had researched evolution. It only took about 30 seconds to realize that she hadn’t spent more than a few minutes "researching" evolution.
I don’t blame her. She seemed to be a very sweet deceived girl.
I don’t believe she was a liar, and it would be really awful to call her one.
But she was lying.
She didn’t really research evolution despite saying she had. She could have answered every one of her own arguments with 5 minutes of Google searches.
That would have been research.
One argument against evolution that I hear occasionally is that if Homo sapiens had really been around 200,000 years, then the earth would be grossly overpopulated. Then some math is presented, guessing at numbers of generations and reproductive rates.
Come on. Do I really have to tell anyone that plagues, wars, and droughts destroy those mathematics and make them completely irrelevant?
Another example, concerning apostolic succession, is the Roman Catholic habit of quoting Cyprian, an immensely respected north African bishop of the 3rd century, as teaching that the bishop of Rome was the successor of Peter.
How dishonest is that?
Cyprian only wrote over a space of about 10 years, and during most of that time he was feuding with Stephen, bishop of Rome, over whether Novatianist baptisms should be recognized by the church. (—Novatian formed a church that was orthodox in its theology but divided from the united churches over what to do with Christians that lapsed during persecution but repented later.)
During his feud with Stephen, Cyprian called a council of 82 North African bishops and declared that no bishop could call himself a bishop of bishops because no bishop could have authority over any other bishop.
So the man who called this council, specifically directed against Stephen, the bishop of Rome, believed that the bishop of Rome was the pope with authority over all other bishops???
I don’t think so. And I think that anyone who claims otherwise has not done their research or is woefully disinterested in honesty. (A little research, such as reading Cyprian’s short tract On the Unity of the Church will reveal that he believed all bishops inherited authority from Peter.)
Not Interested in Truth
These people who claim to have done research, but refuse even to think about what they’re saying, are never going to find the truth.
I began this series by quoting Origen. Let me quote him again:
It was the intention of the Holy Spirit to enlighten [only] those holy souls who had devoted themselves to the service of the truth. (Origen, De Principiis IV:1:14, c. A.D. 230)
It is those who keep seeking who find. God does not reveal truth to lazy people. He reveals truth to those who keep seeking, keep knocking, and keep asking.
And never get it wrong, truth comes from God. We humans are too easily deceived. That’s why Jesus gave us a check for what we’re hearing and believing. If it’s truth from God, it will produce good fruit: love, faith, joy, peace, unity, holiness, praise toward God.
Reading a book by a person arguing for a point, then quoting them without checking anything they say, is not research.
As I pointed out, it’s okay to get your information from someone else if you have reason to trust that someone, but once you do that don’t say that you’ve researched the subject. Be honest! Say, "I read a book on this subject. I’m no expert myself, but the person who wrote the book said … "
It’s okay to disagree with a person even if you haven’t done as much research as they have! You don’t actually have to enter a debate with them and pretend like you know more than they do … especially when the sum of your experience is 15 minutes on Wikipedia or a one-hour video you purchased.
Taking the Time To Reason
A reader wrote me once to disagree with something I said about the Sabbath. I had quoted Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch in the early 2nd century, as saying that even Jewish Christians no longer kept the Sabbath, but instead lived in observance of the Lord’s day.
This person was at least honest enough to tell me that one 19th-century book says that this passage could be translated as the Lord’s "way."
I doubt it’s true that the passage could be translated that way. We have Ignatius’ letter in Greek, and odos and emera are not so close that they’re likely to be confused.
But, even assuming it was so, what difference would it make?
My question is, why do I have to tell this person, "Um, even if you change that sentence to ‘Lord’s way’ rather than ‘Lord’s Day,’ it still says, ‘No longer keeping the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord’s way.’ What’s the difference?"
Did that person not have the extra 5 seconds it would have taken to consider whether his argument was reasonable or to wonder what I would answer in return?
Can This Argument Be Reasonably Answered?
Every now and then I’ll tell my friends or family about some discussion I was in, whether in person, by email, or on a message board. I’ll tell them an argument I gave. Most of the time, I get asked, "What do people say when you say that?"
Obviously, that question comes to a lot of people’s minds when they hear about an argument: What did the other guy say?
But just as apparently, it doesn’t come very often to the mind of a person bent on defending their tradition. If they considered for any time at all what I would say in response, they would figure out I have an easy answer and at least acknowledge it exists.
So why don’t they?
That’s why this series is called "Too Lazy To Reason."
So far I’m just talking about taking a few seconds to determine whether there’s an easy answer!
A real researcher would do far more than that. It’s simple for most people—and certainly someone who’s emailing—to do a Google search and determine whether their question is already answered.
If a person is just asking me a question, I really don’t mind researching it for them. That’s what I do. I like it. If you just want to know, and you’re too busy or lazy to research on your own, I’ll often be willing to do it for you.
But if you’re painting yourself as a researching defending a viewpoint, and you haven’t even googled your question! Good grief! That ought to embarrass you!
Well, you could consider this a rant, I guess. Those are popular on the internet, and I do that some.
However, when I talk about things like this with my kids, I’m trying to teach them not to be like that. You’re not my kid—well, unless one of them is reading this, which will happen—but this sort of "research"e is so common that I have to assume it’s acceptable to American Christian tradition to behave in this dishonesty and lazy way.
So I guess my point is to ask you not to do this yourself.