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Mark Beuving

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Mark has been serving in pastoral roles for over 15 years. After a decade in various teaching and administrative roles at Eternity Bible College, Mark now works with Ryan as an associate pastor in Sacramento, California. His books include Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music and the New York Times bestseller Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, which he co-authored with Francis Chan. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. There are costs associated with running the blog. These links help to cover overhead.

Why Can’t We Have Rational Dialogue?

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Have you ever made the mistake of trying to change someone’s opinion on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog comment? It’s a crazy trap that so many of us have fallen into. We lay out our best arguments only to be attacked, yelled down, and misunderstood. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to get sucked into responding, which only makes matters worse.

Why is this? Why is it so impossible to dialogue and persuade?

Jonathan Haidt gives a compelling piece of the answer in his book The Righteous Mind. If you have the time, this book is worth reading. Haidt is a great writer. His concepts are convincing and the studies he interacts with are fascinating.

Here’s Haidt’s overall contention: Judgment and justification are separate processes. It’s that simple. That’s a profound statement, but I know it’s confusing. Read the book, but I’ll unpack that a little bit.

We all think we make moral judgments (what’s good, what’s bad) on the basis of carefully considered arguments. In other words, we THINK that we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the exact opposite is true. What happens in reality, he says, is that we make a moral judgment almost instantly, and then we employ our reasoning skills to justify the judgment we’ve already made.

Perhaps that sounds exactly right to you. It explains the “confirmation bias” we all have trouble escaping. I find it extremely helpful in explaining my own actions and those I observe in others. But if you need more convincing or explaining, keep reading.

Haidt describes a study done by Alexander Todorov in which he flashed the images of two faces on a screen in front of subjects who were unfamiliar with those faces. The subjects were then asked which person seemed more competent. What Todorov did not tell the subjects is that the two faces were opponents in senatorial and gubernatorial races. 70% of the time, the candidate that subjects deemed more competent (a judgment they made in seconds) also went on to win the election.

“We think we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the opposite is true: We make an instant moral judgment, then we employ reason to justify the judgment we’ve already made.”

What’s going on here? The participants in this study couldn’t determine anything about the person’s positions, character, beliefs, etc. But they did what people do: they made a snap judgment that determined whether or not they thought that person was competent. And their choice was America’s choice most of the time! The implication is that as much as we believe we’re weighing a candidate’s positions and character, we’re usually just voting for the person we’re predisposed to like (a decision we make instantly).

But once we’ve made a snap judgment, we instantly begin employing our reasoning to explain why we made that choice.

Haidt refers to this process as “the intuitive dog and its irrational tale.” We decide intuitively, then our mental faculties kick in to provide that rationality (which Haidt says is so unlike “rationality” as we think of it that it’s more like irrationality). He puts it more plainly by saying, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Our reasoning is less like a philosopher that employs wisdom to decide where we should go and more like a press secretary who has to stand before the world and explain the President’s policy decisions—decisions which she had no role in developing.

Is there any hope, then? Are we all just locked into our own intuitions, completely unable to dialogue or help each other act in wisdom rather than pure intuition?

Haidst sees hope in other studies which show that when a subject is given time to reflect, their rational faculties play a larger role in shaping their judgments. Do you see the implication there?

When we allow ourselves to respond quickly, we’re basing it all on unreasoned intuition. When we slow down enough to reflect, weigh, and consider, we give our rationality a seat at the table in deciding what we should do.

Unfortunately, most of our decisions are made quickly. Our opinions of people are formed in seconds. Our consideration of candidates and character and theological positions are more knee-jerk reactions than carefully weighed conclusions. So we rarely give ourselves a chance to slow down and form a healthy opinion. We just listen to the news station our tribe has taught us to tune into.

The truth is, you’ve already written this entire blog off, or you’ve immediately accepted it. You knew what you thought about it pretty early on. And that’s okay. But it helps to understand the process. And when we recognize the (ir)rational tale being wagged by the intuitive dog, we can choose to slow down. To engage in dialogue. To do some research or ask some questions or—what’s best—get to know some real people. Maybe then we can all have some constructive dialogue about the things that matter.

What Is Jackass Theology?

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What is jackass theology? The concept may sound funny or edgy or irreverent or descriptive, depending on where you’re coming from. But we assure you, jackass theology is exceedingly common. We’ve all participated, though most of us are unaware of it. Simply put, jackass theology is what happens when we hold our theological convictions in such a way that we act like, well, jackasses. And that’s shockingly easy to do. Jackass theology happens when ideas, rules, and “being right” supplant love, joy, peace, and basic human dignity.

Theology itself is not the problem. Theology means “the study of God,” and God doesn’t make people into jackasses. The problem is the way we hold our theology. It’s the way we explain it, the way we use it to divide from others, the way we use it to beat other people up. For those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, this is inexcusable. Jesus, if you recall, said that the two greatest commandments—the two statements that summarized all of the Old Testament—were love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

How do we go from Jesus insisting that loving other people is the most important thing to using Jesus’ teaching to ostracize and exclude?

Not many of us are doing this on purpose, but we’re all doing it. Making jerk moves in the name of Jesus. Saying hurtful things on God’s behalf. We don’t get a pass just because this is the church culture we’ve been raised in. Flannery O’Connor said, “Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an ax, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed.” She was talking about people who have never put any energy into understanding how art works, and yet do not hesitate to criticize artists. The point works equally well when we co-opt the words of God to fight against other people without taking the time to understand the heart of God.

Let’s be clear: if your theology is making you less like Jesus, then something has gone catastrophically wrong.

“How do we go from Jesus insisting that loving other people is the most important thing to using Jesus’ teaching to ostracize and exclude? When our theology makes us less like Jesus, that’s a problem.”

So what are we doing calling this site Jackass Theology? We’re just a couple of pastors trying to help people get closer to the heart of Jesus. We’re using the concept of jackass theology in three ways: as a lament, as a confession, and as a way forward.

LAMENT

As we look at evangelical Christianity today, we see a ton of jackassery. It’s seriously everywhere. Stick with us and you’ll recognize it too. But don’t get too excited, once you start to notice jackass theology, you’ll see it mainly in your own past and present. We just want to help you weed it out of your future. We also want to note that it’s not just in evangelicalism. As I said, it’s seriously everywhere. Republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives, upper class people, lower class people, etc. etc. etc. Jackassery is part of the human condition, but Jesus shows us what it means to be more.

CONFESSION

This part is key. We talk about jackass theology as a means of confession. Ryan and I are bigger jackasses than most, and we will often share our own jackassery. It’s important that we do this. The moment you point a finger as someone else’s jackassery, you’re guilty of it yourself. The theme passage for all jackass theology is Luke 18:9–14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Fill in the blank however you want, as soon as you find yourself saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like _________,” you’re being a jackass. We confess our jackassery so we can turn from there and pursue the ways, works, and words of Jesus.

A WAY FORWARD

Ultimately, we’re trying to find and show a way forward. We all start as jackasses, but it doesn’t need to be like this. Jesus is the anti-jackass. Really, all we want to say is that we want to be more like Jesus. The problem is, we all assume that Jesus would do the things we tend to do, even when we’re actually being jackasses. The way forward is the way of Jesus. He invites us to join him, and that’s our heart with Jackass Theology. We want to be more like Jesus. And we’re hoping you’re interested in joining us as well.