In 2009, the Sydney Opera and the Ethics Centre co-founded an annual event, “The Festival of Dangerous Ideas,” which would continue on until 2016. The goal was to bring people together to discuss and debate important issues. Below is a listing of some of the ideas that were “presented” over the years.
Religion poisons everything.
Without God we are nothing.
Ecstacy is no more dangerous than horse-riding.
All women are sluts.
Israel is an Apartheid state.
The devil is real.
A fetus is not a person.
Some people are more equal than others.
A killer can be a good neighbor.
The rise of women has turned men into boys.
There is no war on drugs.
Did any of those ideas strike you as dangerous? I thought so. I’m guessing that some of those ideas got you fired up a bit. Ideas will do that, because ideas matter. Figuring out which of them are dangerous is challenging but important.
I recently saw a website article labeling Professor and Minister Tony Campolo as a “dangerous” man. Why was he considered dangerous? His dangerous ideas. He embraces and teaches and publishes wrong ideas. The writer was emphatic: That man and his ideas are a danger to people everywhere. I have seen similar warnings issued about Evangelist Billy Graham and Host Oprah Winfrey and Pastor Rick Warren and President Donald Trump. There are websites and organizations whose basic mission is identifying dangerous people and warning everyone else.
Identifying dangerous ideas is important.
Identifying dangerous people is dangerous.
When Jesus walked the earth, there were similar groups. The Pharisees and Chief Priests championed this role. Trolling public venues and synagogue meetings and private conversations, they listened carefully for dangerous people with dangerous ideas. Jesus soon got their attention. It was not just one idea or one claim or one teaching. He was a factory of wrong ideas. They began regularly to challenge his claims in public, but to no avail. People were taking his ideas quite seriously. Lots of people. And this made him especially dangerous. People were embracing his ideas. He was swaying public opinion. They came to see him as the most dangerous person in their country. How do I know? Well, listen in on a conversation they had about him:
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:48, NIV)
What are they saying? If people continue to believe his teachings, then our nation will cease to exist. Uh…that’s pretty serious. You can’t get much more dangerous than that. And so it is no surprise what they concluded at the end of their meeting.
So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (John 11:53, NIV)
They essentially labeled him public enemy number one—the most dangerous man in Israel. He was so dangerous that he needed to be taken out.
Identifying dangerous people is dangerous.
It appears that they never considered the possibility that they themselves might be dangerous. Jesus had suggested this very thing. On one occasion, he called them “blind leaders of the blind.” Blind people guiding blind people is dangerous. The problem of course is that they were blind to their own danger. They could not envision that they might be wrong.
Here is where they were right. Wrong ideas can be very serious. When we encounter a dangerously wrong idea, we should urge a change in thinking. My meteorologist son and his colleagues do this all the time. It is NOT safe to take shelter under a tree during a lightning storm. Do NOT attempt to drive your car through a flooded street. It is healthy to challenge dangerous ideas.
The prophets and apostles in the Bible called out false ideas. The Pharisees should have been on the lookout for dangerous ideas. I don’t believe that the Pharisees and Chief Priests were sinister, power-grabbing hateful people. I think many genuinely wanted to stand for right and guard the truth. They did not seem to seriously consider, however, that their ideas might be dangerous. They dismissed the possibility that they may be blind.
Are we really any different today? I have never read anyone who identified himself or herself as the “most dangerous person in America.” I can’t think of anyone who “outed” himself as a heretic. I am trying to think of anyone I’ve read or listened to who ever identified his own ideas as dangerous. It is always someone else.
Because here is the truth: Every single one of us is dangerous. By that I mean we have flawed, mistaken ideas that we are passing on to others. Of course Campolo and Graham and Warren and Winfrey and Trump are dangerous; we all are, because we all have flawed ideas.
So I have a concern when we move from labeling dangerous ideas to labeling dangerous people. It subtly reinforces a belief that I am not dangerous. But I am, and so are you. All of us need help from others to identify our own wrong, dangerous ideas. When we have stamped “dangerous” on someone’s forehead, we will close ourselves off to anything else they have to say. That’s exactly what happened with the Pharisees and Jesus. Jesus was the dangerous one, so they ignored his words and warned everyone else to reject Him. In the process, they became the most dangerous people in Israel, calling their people to ignore God Himself.
Here is a word from Jesus they should have paid close attention to:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, NIV)
Jesus does not discourage helping others with their dangerous ideas. He does, however, raise the uncomfortable possibility that we may have an even more dangerous idea. After all, a plank in your eye is more dangerous than a speck of sawdust. More dangerous still is the failure or refusal to see your own plank.
If you don’t believe that you could be dangerous, you are.
[Feature photo by fxxu at Pixabay.com]
For each weekday of the month of July (and Aug. 1-3), I am blogging a chapter from my book, Partly Wrong, to be published this fall. This blog is chapter 11. I welcome any feedback that will help to make it a better chapter.