I used to have a language problem. I’m not referring to swear words. That took care of itself when I stopped playing hockey.
My language problem had more to do with a particular word I often tossed around: “dangerous.”
I used to think works of fiction about sorcerers and magic were dangerous. Don’t get me started on what I used to think about evolution.
I’ve since repented of my desire to label beliefs, books, or science as dangerous. In fact, I’ve tried to stop using the word “dangerous” when I’m describing otherwise harmless people, beliefs, or practices that I simply don’t agree with.
There are much better things to label as dangerous, especially when you’ve got anxiety issues like me. Using a chop saw? Dangerous! Do you want to know how many times I’ve imagined myself slicing through the power chord while hacking away at a chunk of wood?
Unfortunately, the “dangerous” labeling habit is hard to drop.
I mean, we live in a world where even one book reviewer suggested that Ann Voskamp’s book 1,000 Gifts is “dangerous.” A dangerous Ann Voskamp is about as likely as reading a headline, “Killer Bunny Attacks Town with Giant Carrot!” Seriously, if Ann Voskamp is dangerous, then I’m a nuclear weapon.
That particular reviewer backed off from some of his comments about Ann, but the fact that such an error could be made in the first place suggests our problem—not danger….
In this particular case, someone read a book by a Christian who simply has some different beliefs and practices from himself. Perhaps he imagined the worst case scenario of mystical prayer or the romance of God with his people, and he saw something dangerous. And then someone like me reads a review like that and thinks to himself, book reviewers like that are dangerous!
It’s easy to mistake a disagreement for danger.
I still catch myself thinking that some people in the church are “dangerous,” though I can usually stop myself from actually saying it… I hope. And then again, most of the times we use the word “dangerous” to describe a fellow Christian, we should probably just say that we’re different, we don’t understand each other, or that we all need a time out.
Those who disagree with us may lead others to do or believe things that we don’t like, but that hardly warrants the word “dangerous.” Such a misuse of the word draws our attention away from the real instances of abuse and manipulation that truly are dangerous.
There’s also a troubling (not dangerous) implication behind the word “dangerous” when it’s misused to try to shut down interest in those from a different perspective. The implication is that the one who does the labeling, who can call something dangerous, is the trusted authority that the sheep should follow. Sometimes it’s based on good intentions to protect, sometimes it’s a matter of pride (that’s been my domain for sure), and sometimes it’s a power grab.
Once something has been branded as dangerous or taboo, you can’t interact with it intelligently. Remember, it’s dangerous. It’s volatile. It could explode when you’re not expecting it.
Think of how to win a debate about politics. If you’re conservative, and you want to win a debate, just label your opponent’s ideas as communism. If you’re a liberal and you want to win a debate, just label your opponent’s ideas as fascism. It’s the same strategy. Both rely on correlating a complex person or complex ideas with something that is viewed by many as dangerous.
There are many dangers and trials we will pass through because of the Gospel. The dangers among our fellow Christians are far less harmful than we would suspect. While we must keep our guard up against things such as spiritual abuse, manipulation, or guilt, our Christian communities are generally not dangerous places. The variety of Christian theology is hardly dangerous.
And even if an idea is outside the bounds of historic Christian belief, we don’t necessarily need someone to surround it with caution tape and never let us draw near to it. In fact, if Christianity is true and powerful, it should be able to withstand any challenge or danger from within or without, no matter how dangerous it may seem.