The other day, I heard an interview on CBC’s The Current with the philosopher James Garvey. He was talking about his work on the impact of marketing techniques used in the context of public political and ethical debates. Instead of attempting to persuade people through reasoned argument and debate, we are being persuaded to form opinions on matters of great significance through the same means as we are persuaded to choose Coke over Pepsi.
One of the things he said stuck with me. We are more inclined to agree with something or believe something if it rhymes. This isn’t just because rhyming is inherently pleasing to our pattern seeking minds. It’s because rhyming makes things easy to think about and we are more likely to believe something is true if it is easy to think about.
We are more likely to believe something is true if it is easy to think about.
This is a huge challenge for the church. So little that we hold to be true is easy to think about. Our truth is complicated-full of paradox and mystery and questions and history and hope. And our truth is often uncomfortable-calling us to face the reality of sin, to take up our cross and follow our Saviour through death and resurrection.
The complexity and the discomfort didn’t matter so much, once upon a time, because popular opinion was with us, and agreeing with the crowd makes things easier to think about-or perhaps makes thinking about it unnecessary. Everything in our society worked together to tell the same story, to reinforce the same truth.
That advantage is gone.
So what are we to do? We can’t make the Trinity or the incarnation or the problem of evil or the nature of the Eucharist easy to understand. We can’t ignore the Gospel call to repentance and transformation for each one of us and for our world. We can’t make our faith simple or comfortable or the default position-and nor should we want to. So how can we get people to actually think about the Christian faith long enough and deeply enough to consider the life it offers?
By getting the order right.
Christian faith is not primarily an intellectual proposition or ethical position. It is a life-indeed, it is Life. The teachings, be they theological or personal, explain and enrich the experience of following Christ. Consider the biblical record. The Sermon on the Mount was delivered to the crowds who had been drawn to Jesus by his ministry of healing. Parables are offered to people who come either threatened by or desirous of what Jesus has. Peter’s Pentecost sermon was in response to the questions of those who witnessed the disciples in the grip of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letters are written on the strength of his personal commitment to Christ and to the recipients, communities already seeking to live the new life of faith.
People will think about the Christian faith if they see Christian life as something worth having, something worth experiencing. We need to live with so much love and hope and courage in the face of injustice and suffering that some people are threatened and some people come looking for an explanation. Because I think it is easier to think about something we have actually experienced for ourselves-and if something is easier to think about, we are more likely to believe it is true.