Public Opinion: Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?

The title comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of John.  Jesus is selecting his disciples.  Philip has been selected and goes to recruit Nathanael.

Philip says, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”                         Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”                 Philip answered, “Come and see” (John 1:45-46).

Philip thought nothing good could come out of Nazareth so he was not really interested. Messiah’s had come and gone, and if this man was truly the Messiah, he would not come from that grubby little village! Anyone and anything from there is bound be bad.

The response of Nathanael is typical of the responses made by people today. He judges the person and not what the person is saying. In logic, this is the ad hominem fallacy.  From Latin, it means “against the man/person.”

This fallacy usually takes the form of attacking a person’s character, gender, race, and political or religious views in an attempt to discredit their argument.  Usually, or at least many times, the goal of an ad hominem attack is  to undermine the  argument of someone without actually having to engage with it.  This is why our society is so polarized; no one is listening to what the other person is saying or trying to understand what is being said.

Instead of attentive listening, we are thinking of how we can rebut this person, not on the basis of his or her argument, but based upon our putting a label on the other person as if he or she represents all people who hold that viewpoint.  We “know” what “they” believe and we are against “them” because we are right and they are wrong.

We see good examples of ad hominem attacks in presidential debates.  A candidate will make a point, and instead of dealing with the point made, the opponent will bring up extraneous elements, such as days missed in attending Congress, or voting records, or some financial situation that can be exploited and misconstrued by the audience.  The general public never gets a clear idea of the political issues and the position of various candidates on those issues.

A more subtle form of ad hominem argument is found in the media.  Writers and announcers will refer to “the liberal” organization or “the religious right” and similar descriptors that have  nothing to do with the matter being reported.  Gender or ethnic  background are used as descriptors. It is really bad if the person is a woman or an ethnic minority.  In other words, whatever viewpoints are expressed, nothing good comes out of Nazareth.

Is the validity of an idea determined by what kind of person is presenting the idea?  Are the ideas of Democrats or Republicans wrong because of their political position?  Do women think illogically?  Is the Pope wrong because he is a Catholic?  Are African Americans and Latinos less intelligent than white Americans? These are some common stereotypes that drive people to their conclusions, rather than sound thinking.

Ideas are just ideas.  In themselves, ideas are neutral.  Not all ideas are equal; some ideas are better than others because of their basis and logical organization.

We need to learn how to evaluate a point of view by its strengths and weaknesses and not by who represents a point of view.  If we “come, and see,” we might be surprised that Nazareth has some pretty smart people.


Let’s Help People Die!

Our society is afraid of death.  We seldom hear anyone say, “So-and-so has died.”  He or she has not died, they “passed.” Consequently, we find it  difficult to think about our own death or the death of those we love. Almost without exception, when I visit folk who are on their death bed, no one want to talks about the person dying.  As an evangelical Christian I have come to the conclusion that we evangelicals do not help people die.  This needs to change, and my change was almost accidental.

The first thing that happened was in a hospital room.  Mother was dying and it was apparent the end was near.  The entire family was gathered around the bed and no one was talking.  I felt the urge to pray for the mother, to ask God to help her die free of pain, and to bless the family gathered there. Instead of being upset the family appreciated my saying what  they wanted to say and couldn’t.

The second thing that happened was a phone call from a church member who was dying with terminal cancer.  She told me she had been reading the fifth chapter of the Book of James:

Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. 15 This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven. 16 So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect.

Could I come and do that with her? I needed to know what she had in mind.  Was she expecting a miraculous cure?  No, she simply needed to die knowing that her life was in order.  I talked to the senior pastor and other staff members and they agreed to go with me if I did the prayer and anointing.  So, we went.  I had a small bottle of olive oil.  We talked with the woman, made the sign of the cross on her forehead with oil, and prayed God would bless her life and her death and to receive her unto himself.

I have concluded that people want to talk about their impending death though family may not.  They have apprehension over the process of  dying, as we all do.  What does it feel like?  What do I experience?  Do I immediately go to heaven?

I have concluded that healing can take place without a cure.  People need healing of bad memories, the healing of confessed sin, the healing of restored relationships, the healing of all the brokenness in life.  It is no coincidence that the Greek word for “healing” is the same word for “salvation.”

I have concluded that families need to talk with person who is dying: to express their love and appreciation, to ask forgiveness for hurts, and to assure the person they will not die alone.

I cannot answer the questions of apprehension, for I have them, too.  I can help people to be relieved of unconfessed sin.  I can help people restore broken relationships.  I can help people make a deeper commitment to God and to accept dying as a normal process.  At the same time I am struggling with my own death.

At times, I have prayed God would take a person home so they could be relieved of suffering.  That seemed so strange, at first, because our inclination is to pray for continuing life.

My final conclusion: we need to help people die!  I am still working on it