Commentary: What's Your Source?
David C. Grabbe
Given 10-Jul-21; 12 minutes
The story of Babel and its infamous tower contains an irony in that God caused the very disaster the people were trying to forestall. They wanted to build a tower to keep from being scattered. And yet, when God confused their unifying language, the people were then scattered according to the language each could understand.
Something similar is playing out right now. Today, the scattering is not geographical, nor is language as much of a barrier. However, we are undergoing a dispersion based on worldview. Even among those speaking the same language, contradictory beliefs result in neighbors being unable to understand each other, and creating distance, even hostility.
This phenomenon comes from what we might call belief dialects, where differing thought patterns develop and are reinforced based on how one is educated to think. These belief dialects can become so divergent that there is no meeting of the minds. People recognize the words, but the concepts are foreign. In such cases, each person becomes fully convicted the other is speaking gibberish.
While there have always been disagreements, much of the serious separation in worldviews has come through higher education, and particularly the introduction of secularism and humanism, which lowered the beam on those with a biblical worldview. As John described in his commentary series entitled “Conspiracy Theory,” Satan, the arch-conspirator, has been working invisibly to prepare for the end time through philosophers and their corrosive ideas that undermine God and His Word.
But the advances in communication technology have accelerated the process of divergence, and moved it far beyond the division between the secular and the religious. Our information systems have constructed a new Babel. They were designed to facilitate better and faster communication, yet all but the most naïve recognize that the very systems intended to bring people together are also causing a fracturing.
Rather than the relatively few sources of information in days gone by, today there are countless sources along a spectrum of quality. The free flow of information, to which only oppressive regimes could possibly object, has created—and indeed, fueled—conflicting worldviews as people find it harder to understand each other’s perspective. People are scattering and regrouping according to the worldviews with which they identify.
I cannot help but think of Mark Twain’s quip that “if you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed. But if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” However, our “newspapers” must be thought of differently than in Twain’s day. There is no longer one newspaper by which to be informed, but rather we have an unlimited number of sources by which we each customize our own virtual newspapers on a continuous basis—because the information flow never stops. Our personal newspapers consist not only of the headlines that are pushed at us, but also all the emails we receive—the newsletters, the forwards, the advertisements. Each contributes in some way to our belief dialect. On top of that, if you read the latest best-seller, or watch the latest original from your streaming service, there will be a slight separation from those who are not in tune with that part of the zeitgeist.
Then there are the social media feeds, and the channels to which we subscribe, and the influencers we follow. Each of these also informs our understanding in some way, adding information that others are missing, sometimes to the point of division.
We cannot forget the artificial intelligence working behind the scenes to determine what is shown and what is not. These algorithms are designed for the profit of the platforms, not for the true benefit of the users. These algorithms promote content based on what will keep people engaged and reacting. And thus, we see things like a resurgence in the flat earth theory and other fringe topics because that sort of content has been promoted by AI. The AI figures out which content keeps people coming back, even if it is sketchy. And even when there is human intervention, it is according to a humanist worldview, not a biblical one.
Yet we cannot forget Twain’s point: No matter how finely-tuned we think our baloney detector is, our personal newspapers are leaving us misinformed in some way. If we believe that does not or cannot happen to us, that may be an area for personal reflection.
Advertisers bet obscene amounts of money that if they get their message in front of people, they can shape decisions. The repeated exposure of any message begins to change one’s worldview—it is a sure bet. To quote again, this time from John F. Kennedy, “No matter how big the lie, repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.” Let’s consider how that might play out. As we scan the feeds, or glance over recommended content, or binge on videos, we receive impressions that inform our worldview. But it is impossible to search out every matter, and thus correct an impression that may lead us off the path.
Consider this illustration: If you are an insatiable fan of the X Files genre, or you frequent certain tabloid sites with daily stories of UFOs in the sidebar, the question of extraterrestrial life is continually put before you. In time, it seems possible, and then even likely, that there are aliens. This will not be based on your own investigation or discovery of hard, irrefutable evidence, but on impressions you receive. Over time, they work on you, slowly turning your worldview through repeated exposure to a message. This scenario may seem dire or farfetched, but just last month, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll of over 10,000 adults, and found that 65% believe there is intelligent alien life on other planets. Among adults under the age of 30, that number rises to 76%. Let that sink in. They don’t have proof—they have impressions from their daily personal newspapers. But they believe. In what other areas are fluid impressions crystalizing into beliefs?
We can bring this matter of sources and belief dialects closer to home. The Worldwide Church of God was scattered in large part through the introduction of a new dialect. The source was not the Bible, but rather theological seminaries. That belief dialect changed the way the Word of God was understood. Some of the old timers recognized this dialect because they had heard it before, and they knew where it was headed. But the many found the new dialect reasonable, even superior, because it was not as difficult or narrow. So, there was a Babel-style scattering, and a regrouping, according to belief dialects.
Many more sources have sprung up since that time that are shaping lesser beliefs among brethren. Within the greater church of God, there are those on either extreme of the political spectrum, from QAnon true believers to those who think the hard-left socialists have some good ideas. I am not picking on anyone, merely observing that widely divergent and often-contradictory sources have seeped into the church, and the resulting belief dialects make it difficult for brethren to understand one another, just like at Babel. This effect is not limited to politics or aliens, but can show up in any area.
In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Christ’s sheep are the ones drawn by the Father. Those not drawn are not able to understand His speech. If our speech reflects Christ’s words, the uncalled will not be able to understand us, either.
But it is the final identifier I want to focus on: Christ’s sheep follow Him. Their ears have been tuned to understand His words, and they respond by following those words. This is not limited to His words in the four gospels, or His words through Paul, which would create a deficient belief dialect, but rather the whole counsel of God. Jesus intends for us to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth, going all the way back to the beginning. Following Christ means living by His words. That experience will purify our belief dialect, and filter the sources to which we pay attention because of their limited usefulness. Only His words are the words of life. We will have a unique belief dialect until our change, but as we work on tuning our ears to Christ’s words, our thoughts will become more like His. And as we zealously pursue living by His every word, we will also grow to understand, and to be understood by, the others who are doing the same.