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Doctrines like “judge not lest you be judged,” “take the log out of your own eye” and forgiveness practices and so on only work on sincere humans—

Yes, ideas are fungible

I admit that every belief I hold will profit someone else, and more than they profit me. But this is only part of the story. The proverbs in question come from a man who lacked an influential, powerful and wealthy sponsor.[1] It doesn’t matter how his words are used, they aren’t covering a hidden agenda. [2]

This message isn’t aimed at society, but individuals. In others words, I am absolved of responsibility for the injustices committed by others. I am, however, responsible for my own behavior. And the invocation is not, “never judge” but “do not be quick to condemn when you are just as guilty.” It isn’t a statement about tolerance but hypocrisy.

In other words, you are responsible for your values and actions. Not society, not your leaders, not your teachers. You are responsible for the judgments you make.

Will others lie to you, try to manipulate you, and take advantage of you? Absolutely, and, in other places Jesus warns his followers to be on their guard.

So, yes, we should always consider the source, but we can’t always track every recommendation back to its source. Furthermore, even if we know the source of the information, political orientation, methods and agenda of the source shouldn’t be considered perjorative ipso facto. Everyone speaks from a point of bias, but that doesn’t necessarily bias the information they share.

We should ask:

  • Does this source have a record of deliberately distorting information to support their conclusion?[3]
  • Does this source routinely sponsor studies or research with the specific intent of producing the outcome (think the tobacco companies) or do they report the conclusions of independent research?
  • Do more objective sources corroborate their claims?
  • Am I dismissing this information simply because I don’t like the results.

Nor should we forget that just because a malign source disseminates information doesn’t mean that they aren’t twisting a message from a more reliable source to serve their ends.

Civic responsibility goes beyond awareness of a statement’s source but the willingness to ask what it means, what is its intent, and whether it has merit regardless of the source. Most importantly it requires an awareness of context.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that hurls so many messages at our citizens with so little explanation, so little time to digest and so little awareness of context, that it’s hard to blame others for not developing or exercising critical thinking skills. Perhaps policy should be focused on creating a critical, autonomous citizenry. Perhaps we should expand our literacy efforts.[4] Perhaps we should issue every book, social media post, magazine, news broadcast and sloganized coffee mug with the warning legit cave (reader beware).

I vote for the first two. Until then, however, we should accept the responsibility of citizenship. We should become reliable sources of information.

So much for dashing off a quick reply.

Got to go. It’s MillerFacebookTwitterYouTubeIdeserveabreaktoday Time.

[1]: Unless you count his dad, of course, but that’s not really the question here since he claimed his dad gave him the message.

[2]: Okay, I recognize that some might claim his words were filtered through the guardians of an institution that wanted to protect their interests against charges of treason against Rome. But the few source documents we have (and can conjecture they developed from) suggest these proverbs are consistent with his message. It is doubtful that the followers of a radical revolutionary executed for his resistance to Rome would have turned around and promoted a pacifist movement when they could have rallied around his martyrdom.

[3]: As opposed to: someone with the opposite agenda simply accuses them of being biased because of their orientation and agenda. (This accusations led us to the widespread claim of “Fake News,” remember. A claim often made as a substitute for addressing the issues raised.)

[4]: I could cite the alarming facts about the decline in literacy and emphasis in literacy, but the information comes from liberal groups like the Brookings Institution or pro-literacy groups with a pro-literacy agenda.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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