Critical Judgment and the Allure of the Internet

Critical Judgment and the Allure of the Internet May 23, 2014

Virtual reality is an interesting thing. With the help of technology it is now possible to make unreal things look entirely real— and scary. The above is a picture of Herod’s hand built seaport. It’s clearly a painting and not a picture of course, but with CG it would be possible to create such a scene that is convincing to the naked eye. See for example the scene at the beginning of the movie Alexander where the harbor and the lighthouse are shown in the background while Anthony Hopkins, as large as life, rattles on.

What is my point? Human beings have an infinite capacity to convince themselves they are seeing or experiencing or learning something, when in fact they are fooling themselves. My point in this particular post has to do with virtual knowledge, the kind you often find for free on the internet. The kind that can get you in a heap of trouble and make you a bad witness to what the Bible actually says and teaches.

Virtual knowledge about the Bible and Bible times is all over the internet like kudzu covering trees in the old South. At every turn, you can Google some word, subject, idea, and come up with faux insight, faux analysis, even faux facts that ‘appear’ convincing to the unsuspecting searcher. And this creates another problem. Real scholars often find themselves having to spend far too much time deconstructing whole notions, ideas, interpretations people find on the internet.

Take for instance the email I got from a pastor in Houston about ‘blood moons’ and the future of Israel. One of his lay people had gotten all excited about all the scientific data about blood moons and their frequency and an article with all this ‘scientific data’ supposedly neatly dovetailed with Biblical prophecy to prove in this case ‘coming troubles for Israel’ or perhaps ‘the hour is nigh when the bridegroom will return’ or at least ‘the rapture’ will happen.

The article looked convincingly done– nice graphics, nice data tables, nice pictures of blood moons etc. To the naked eye, this looks pretty good. What is entirely lacking in this discussion is critical judgment, not to mention actual Biblical knowledge. There is nothing in the Bible that would encourage us to think that we can predict some such events on the basis of Biblical prophecy. Why not? Because the modern secular Zionistic democratic state of Israel is not the Biblical Israel that is referred to in the Scriptures. Go ask the ultra orthodox praying at the Wailing Wall— they want Messiah to come so Biblical Israel, not whatever they’ve got now, could show up. And they are right.

The modern state of Israel, formed after WWII in part as reparations for a world that stood by and didn’t stop the Holocaust, was not and is not Biblical Israel. It is not, and was not what the prophets in the OT envisioned or prophesied about. Go read the history— read about David ben Gurion, Golda Meir etc. These were mostly secular Jews who liked various of the ideas of communism and communalism (hence kibbutzim all over the land) but also were Zionistic enough to want their people to once more have a chunk of land to call their own. Israel, according to the Bible is supposed to be a divine monarchy or even a theocracy. It is currently no such thing, and its current laws often are at odds with Biblical laws in the OT in various ways. These are the actual facts on the ground. For example, did you know it was against the law to proselytize Jews in Israel, share Christ with them with a view to their conversion?

Sooo…. attempts to equate current Middle East politics, economics etc. with Biblical prophecies just don’t work. The Biblical prophecies themselves don’t talk specifically enough about things in the future to make this possible, they are generic in character. Never mind that they don’t mention clear particulars that could be said to be extant in the 21rst century alone. But such ‘predictions’ sure do stir up excitement in the minds and hearts of true believers in such things. What is needed is less gullibility and more critical judgment to go along with more actual Biblical understanding.

On the one hand, it is a good thing that the internet has provided a lot of free older materials, now out of copyright, that one can access very readily. What it has not provided is the training to know how to properly analyze the data, nor does it provide the critical judgment to do so. I am all the time getting crazy questions about blood moons, Jesus’ wife, and on and on and on. Sometimes I feel like throwing up my hands and saying ‘don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out!!’

Being a person of faith is not the same as being a person who is gullible, susceptible to persuasion about all kinds of things. Faith and critical judgment actually go together if your religion is an historical religion. You’re all time having to sift theory from fact, evidence from conjecture and so on. And for the most part, you cannot learn these skills by just surfing the Net. You actually need to study with people who are experts in history, the Bible, Biblical interpretation and so on. No, it’s not enough to rely on your own wits or what you take to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit (sometimes wrongly misinterpreting that guidance) to help you understand. You need to give the Holy Spirit more to work with!! And this brings me to my main point.

In an age of declining good education and growing Biblical illiteracy, (by good education I mean real education involving real teachers in real places, where real mentoring and modeling and discipling and developing of critical understanding happen), Christians are going to have to do better than surf the net. They really need to do better even than taking courses online. Can you imagine if the internet had existed in Jesus’ day, someone saying “well I can access his webcast from Hebron, I don’t really need to go to Galilee and meet Jesus and be healed in person, I can just pray and that’s enough contact for me”. Seriously?

At the end of the day virtual contact with virtual knowledge on the internet, often offered by untrained, un-degreed persons who cannot read the Bible in the original languages and do not know Biblical history, do not know how to read Biblical prophecy, do not do contextual study of God’s Word, and wouldn’t even know what hermeneutics is, IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

If it is true that the Bible is God’s Word, then it deserves to be study intensely, in person, with the best well-educated, well-trained teachers one can find. It involves personal sacrifices like moving to where such teachers are, and digging deeply into one’s field of study. It involves sacrifices of time and money. It involves giving one’s undivided attention to the task, or at least it should. After all the salvation of the world is at stage. This is not a casual matter, and it requires more than a casual approach to learning the Bible. Enough said.

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