I’ve seen this meme float around the internet, but I’ve never commented on it. However, I got to thinking about it the other day, and I felt like some commentary may be helpful.
Postmodernism and Objective Reality
First, we’ve been having a lot of discussions recently among the leadership at our church about postmodernism and how millennials may perceive the world and, of course, how this may impact church growth. One of the things that we kept coming back to was the subject of objective reality since one of the sources we were considering said that the postmodern mind typically denies the existence of objective reality. This didn’t sit well with me, and I think this meme shows why.
Some Reactions to the Meme
So, let’s break it down.
There are a couple of reactions to this meme, if you can even call it a meme, but that’s another subject altogether. One reaction is to go, “Ho ho! Look what we have here! Obviously the original artist knew this was a 6 or 9 when they drew it on the paper. One of these guys is wrong!” Another reaction could be, “Wow… that’s so true. Just the other day my friends and I were, like, arguing over what color that dress was… you know… the one that is black and blue?”
Now, the first reaction is technically correct, right? But how helpful is it? It doesn’t provide an adequate solution to the dilemma, and it seems to lack empathy. The second response reveals something interesting as well. It is more about how the subject can relate to the idea of the meme than the factuality of the statement at the bottom.
Objective Versus Subjective
And I think this is where the difference lies between how older generations may approach the subject of truth compared to someone from a younger generation, but I don’t even like those generalities since those categories aren’t as neat as we might think.
For some, it’s preposterous that both characters could come to different conclusions after observing something as obvious and elementary as a single digit number. For others, it’s not that they believe that the number is simultaneously a 6 and a 9; instead, it’s that they can empathize with the feeling of reaching different conclusions despite being confronted with the same evidence.
That is, while objective realities exist, our ability to perceive those realities may differ due to different perspectives. These variances in perspective may come from lack of context, lack of information, personality differences, or any number of factors. There may be several biases that play into someone “missing” that “obvious” truth.
These different understandings, then, can affect the way we live.
Let’s say that this number is a mile marker. If the man on the left sees it, he may exert more energy since he believes he has less of a distance to travel. The man on the right, however, may consider slowing his pace and conserving energy if he believes he has nine miles left.
So, while their conclusions may not be objectively true, they are subjectively true, and that subjective truth has a very real affect on how they live regardless of its objective truthfulness.
People read the same passages, can sit through the same sermon, or read the same article and walk away with different conclusions. These different conclusions may not be objectively true, but in that moment they may be more “real” than objective truths because of how they immediately affect their lives.
Imagine you believe that God reaps where he does not sow, as the one-talent man thought in Matthew 25. You may be crippled by fear and refuse to even take a risk with your one talent. Is this a proper description of the generous, graceful, loving God we know? No, but has a very real impact on that person and the world around them.
Saying something like, “You dummy! Isn’t it obvious? I mean, you can read the Bible, can’t you?” doesn’t help anyone. Asking questions, genuinely listening, and trying to understand why they see things the way they do, however, can go far.
This isn’t a denial of objective reality but a sensitivity to, and perhaps emphasis of, subjective reality.
So, how might this affect church leadership?
Claims of having absolute truth, claims of being the “one true church,” and similar claims to objectivity are immediate turn offs for many. But this doesn’t just mean omitting these claims from one’s teaching, thinking, and language (“member of the church”); it also means affirming the possibility and probability of one’s ignorance as well as being willing to embrace other perspectives.
This doesn’t mean keeping quiet about your beliefs, but it does mean giving other people space to voice their disagreements, and it especially means taking the time to understand each other and hear each other out.
After that, everyone should objectively be able to reach the right conclusion!
After that, some minds may change here and there (maybe even yours!), but the important thing is that we learn how to communicate and extend to others the same attention and kindness that we expect from them.
When we understand that salvation is a gift, the idea that we need to have all of the right interpretations and doctrines doesn’t make much sense anyways. Instead, I think a much better may to approach differing believes is not by only focusing on who is right and who is wrong, but by focusing on what kind of fruit those beliefs are producing in the lives of that person and the people around them.
This shifts the focus from “what do those guys believe” to “what kind of impact are they having on the world in the name of Jesus?” And, to me, if one believes all the right things but isn’t doing much good, then I’d rather hang out with someone I disagree with in theory but can agree with in action.