A couple years ago I had a friend who had posted (or linked to, or something) an account of a person who was a non-Christian and visited a church. This person pointed out how people would get uncomfortable when he/she would mention that they studied a lot of Eastern philosophies, how the worship leader was very formulaic and forced, and how the people in the congregation did or didn’t do this or that. It seemed that my friend was convinced that the people at this church had done something wrong–been “fake”–and that we all had a lesson to learn from it to be better Christians. I wasn’t so sure. The author of that little story came across as arrogant and judgmental to me. At first, I also thought that the people were being “fake,” as my friend did, but a closer examination of what was written raised a lot of questions. How did this person present to members of this church that they were into Eastern philosophy? Is said member a worse person or Christian for not being able to participate in such a discussion? On what was his/her observation based when he/she perceived that the worship leader was not genuine? The list goes on, but my intention is not to nit-pick all of that here. I’m more interested in the larger question this all raises. When do we put more stock in the observations of an outsider vs. the assurances of an insider?
It seems to me that the current zeitgeist is to default to the opinion of the outsider. I know I’m guilty of it all the time. I tend to assume that the people within a certain circle or a certain group are blind to their own actions, and therefore my observation, or the observation of someone who got closer to them, is very reliable. I still hold that this is certainly valid with a number of things, but then again that is based on my own point of view. The first thing to mind would be Scientology. I don’t think that a Scientologist could convince me that their “religion” is a good thing, no matter how they approached the subject. But why? Well, primarily, I’m a Christian, and my beliefs are at odds with a religion whose primary focus appears to be individual success and self-achievment. However, a fairly large section of my distaste for Scientology is fueled by short documentaries and articles (oh, and that episode of South Park). I trust those sources more than I would trust the word of a Scientologist. It seems more logical that someone who set out to observe is more objective, and therefore more reliable, than someone who is a part of what’s being observed.
Yet that can’t be the end of the discussion.
This past weekend at my church, during worship, I saw my worship leader improvise a short vocal line right before going into the climatic chorus of the song. It had me wondering–how would that person who wrote the article that my friend shared have reacted to that? I think an especially cynical individual could have viewed that as “showing off” or seeking attention. They could leave it at that and think that our worship team is about performing and show-boating, and aren’t being real about what they claim to believe. Except I know that worship leader. I’ve known him fairly well for going on seven years, now; I’ve been on the worship team under his leadership for nearly four years. I can tell you that he is someone who works very hard at keeping his heart humble with things like performance. I know this first-hand. But what happens when a third person is told my side and the cynical outsider’s side? Which one would–which one should–be trusted?
Let’s carry this on to a less touchy issue. At least in the long-term. I have a relative who hates the show Lost. What he knows is based 99% out of forums and discussions with other people who don’t like the show, for whatever reason. So when a third person inquires to him and to me if Lost is worth watching, who should they believe? (In case you don’t know, I’m someone who got completely drawn in to that show from the first episode and had two, maybe three, moments of thinking, “That could have been done better.” The rest of it was perfect to me.) Am I reliable as an opinion? Or is my relative? He could cite an objective laundry list of problems with the show, not being tainted by having seen it; I could say that I watched it all and I loved it. When you understand my larger point here, you realize this is not an easily answered question. Can we only ever trust the word of people on the inside, who know first hand? But wouldn’t someone on the inside be blinded to the rest of the world, to rationality, based off of a bias they have developed? Yet if we trust the word of an outside observer, how can we account for their own biases? It’s not always so clear.
As usual, I don’t have a solution. I just know that I stay out of and away from anti-Scientology protests.