“Persecutors think they are doing good, the right thing;
they believe they’re working for justice + truth;
they believe they’re saving their community."
-Rene Girard. ‘I See Satan Falling’
No one is an unbiased observer of life.
Everyone looks through a 'lens.’ We each have a unique lens that is significantly shaped by our culture, language, experience, education, community + background. Our lens tells us who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, who we should celebrate and who we should denigrate, and even who we should persecute.
Many people are not aware they are looking through a lens. They imagine that their perception = reality. This, of course, completely overlooks the culturally conditioned picking + choosing + interpreting of life and the world that happens subconsciously in every human every day.
Ironically, the people who are the most unaware of their lens/bias, are the most biased of all.
Their bias to them is just ‘obvious, simple truth’ - which also necessarily means that those who do not agree are either fools or deceivers.
This lack of awareness is especially prevalent in religious circles.
It’s not uncommon for a person reading the Bible in English to insist that they are ‘just following the simple reading of the text.’ But let’s be honest– there is nothing simple about reading a 2000 - 4000-year-old collection of books written in languages that we do not speak, from cultures we were not born into, from historical epochs we were not part of.
Make no mistake, for you + I to read a ‘simple’ book such as the Bible - entire teams of linguists + archeologists+ anthropologists had to work miracles and move mountains. They did this because of the surpassing value that is clear on every page of the Bible - but that doesn’t make it simple. In other words, before we even read a single word of the Bible in English, thousands of interpretive decisions have been made for us - we call this process translation.
Many will protest and say things such as, “all you need is Scripture.” or "The Bible says it - I believe it.”
If that’s true why are there so many thick books written trying to explain what is so simple and obvious? And why do most of these thick books disagree with each other?
Simply put: even if we grant that the Bible is absolutely true and authoritative - it is not simple. It is a rich and infinitely valuable collection of books that are each quite complex with countless interpretations arising from a myriad of interpretations that are possible. On top of this complexity, we all bring our own lens to trying to sort out and understand it.
All of this should lead to humility about what I am certain about and grace for those who are certain of different perspectives. The Bible itself actually has many stories which deal with mistaken perception and wrong lenses.
For example, Saul of Tarsus:
As Saul neared Damascus on his journey to imprison the early Christians there, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…”
- Acts 9:4-5; 8
Oops… He didn’t see that one coming. If a lifelong and well trained religious expert like Saul of Tarsus can be so completely mistaken in his perspective, so can the rest of us.
Because no one is an unbiased observer of the Bible or of life.
Until we recognize our own lens, we are captive to it, but wisdom comes when we begin to acknowledge our lens and also learn to see through the lenses of others. Once we become aware that ‘our perspective’ is one of countless perspectives - we gain the ability to truly see.
Our ability to understand our own perspective and to learn to see the value of others’ point of view is absolutely essential if we ever hope to move beyond our tribal violence and wars that characterize so much of our modern world.