I’ve written about this before- I am a person who spots discrepancies, anachronisms, and small continuity details in movie scenes. When I point them out, often just as one may point out a passing bird, or a decoration you do or do not care for, most people respond, “Why do you go hunting for that stuff? Why not just enjoy the book/movie/show/etc.” What I find interesting and worth commenting on (logical inconsistencies and contradictions, a bracelet on a character’s left arm which inexplicably is on her other arm in the next screen shot, a period book or film expressing very nonperiod POV)- other people find annoying, and imagine that since they don’t notice these things, I must be working hard to find them.
However, for some of us, it’s impossible not to notice these things. It’s like asking a highly visual person not to notice a crooked picture. We don’t go looking to find things – we have to work hard NOT to see them, or to ignore what we see as glaring issues, issues we notice without even trying.
More often than not I’m clubbed between the eyes with a two by four by something others don’t even notice, and they will resent if it’s pointed out to them.
Once up on a time I was on an email list where one particular person kept sending those forwards about how deodorant causes cancer, and this company is being populated by witches, and that company is promoting demon worship, and this company is growing headless chickens for food- and every time somebody would explain to her that it was a hoax and kindly explain where she could go to find out which forwards were hoaxes she would say, “I guess I’m just too trusting. I’ll have to stop sending them….” and then she would send another one the very next week. She wasn’t trusting, she was gullible and lacking in logic or discernment, but somehow had turned gullibility into a virtue and discernment into something for cranks.
You know how people forward those twenty year old emails about a missing child who was found ten minutes after the first email was sent ( if it’s even real) and is now a mother herself? It just baffles me when somebody points out that they’ve wasted everybody’s time and emotional energy by sending out a hoax and they respond indignantly, “But I just care about children.”
It baffles me because hitting the forward button to everybody without taking five minutes to google that email first is hardly an exercise in compassion or care. It’s more like lazy, self-complacent, self-indulgence. It makes the sender feel good, but it doesn’t do anybody else any good, and it does have a real down-side- it makes people like me start to delete your emails unread, and while that may not be that much of a bad thing, it also starts to desensitize people and make them jaded and suspicious of genuine needs passed on through email. It’s not a bad thing to be wise as serpents or merely momentarily responsible enough to verify facts before spreading what well may be untruth. I will never understand why the person who sends this junk responds with anger and resentment when confronted with the truth, and usually uses the example of her gullibility as an opportunity for self-praise.
Now, pointing out a continuity error in a film may be trivial, but the same skill that allows some of us to effortlessly spot continuity errors allows us to see other kinds of errors in stark relief as well.
I see this happen when self appointed religious leaders stray, or get caught in horrific sex scandals and/or cover-ups. It was a mistake, we all make them, don’t be so critical, there but for the grace of God, judge not (which is not a right dividing of the word of God). I make self-disparaging jokes about being cynical and pessimistic, but it’s protective coloring, really, or armour. Too many people who claim allegiance to Christ would be uncomfortable with his assessment of the religious leaders of His own day and would be asking Him, ‘Why can’t we all just be nice and get along. Why do we need to be so critical?’
While it’s true that we do need to guard against a critical spirit and not let discernment stray over into snap judgments, we don’t need to guard against critical thinking. We need, in fact, to practice it more. Yes, practice. While I agree that discernment can be a spiritual gift, I also believe it’s informed by study, and it’s something we can all improve through practice.
Think about it the next time one of your friends (you know, the one you think is negative and overly critical), says something that makes you want to respond with, “Oh, why do you always have to look for something wrong!? Can’t you just enjoy and appreciate (fill in the blank)???” Instead of being critical, even judgmental (you did realize that’s what your response was, didn’t you?), try being discerning. Look at whatever the issue is a little more carefully and try to see what they’re seeing. Compare what is with what ought to be (which means we need to really study ‘what ought to be’), and maybe you’ll find it’s not the ‘critical spirit’ of somebody else at fault, it’s your own weak skills at critical thinking- or a need to alter our own standards.
If we do that enough times, maybe this scripture will some day apply to us, too:
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
‘by reason of use’ is another way of saying ‘practice.’
14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Think about that verse the next time you hear somebody (maybe even yourself) saying, “Well, we can’t judge….” No? What is judgment if not distinguishing between good and evil? And that’s exactly what we are called to do.