I have recently finished reading the New Testament and I am collecting my thoughts about what I read in this series of posts. Today I am writing about what the New Testament says about Binary Thinking. Other entries in this series:
This is a topic that has bothered me since I started reading the bible, but I never really know how to categorize it. I have called it binary thinking here, alternative ideas for labeling are "black and white" and "all or nothing". Unfortunately, since I have trouble categorizing it, and my reasons for keeping track of verses was not well formed until fairly recently, I'm pretty sure I have missed quite a number of verses that would fit quite nicely into this post. But don't worry, I have enough material to make my point, I just am pretty sure there are many more verses out there that support this argument.
A perfect example of this type of thinking is the idea that people are either good or bad. In reality people are complicated, everyone does some good things and some bad things. But this is not the picture we get from the bible, it likes to break people up into nice, neat groups. People are either good or bad, righteous or evil. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus tells us that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. The message being that good people have a good heart and bad people a bad heart. There is no room here for a complicated person, just a caricature that we might find in a poor work of fiction. Another example is in 1 Timothy 1:9, where Paul says that the law is laid down for the lawless, but not for good people. Again, we are dividing people into 2 groups, those who need the law because they are so evil, and those who are good to the point that they will know how to behave with no instruction.
Another example of this type of binary thinking is with the idea that all crimes are equally bad. This is put simply in James 2:10 where it says that anyone who breaks any one portion of the law is held accountable for all of it. The obvious implication here is that a little white lie is just as bad as murder or rape. Although this is the most extreme example that comes right to mind for me, there is an even more egregious version of this in the bible itself. What is a more mild crime than a little white lie? A thought-crime! 1 John 3:15 makes the bold statement that hate is equally bad as murder. Apparently in the eyes of God, thinking bad thoughts of someone is equal to taking their life. Matthew 5:21-22 says this as well, although in addition to murder and hate, it includes calling someone a fool in it's list of crimes which all result in the same punishment of an eternity in hell.
The final example of this type of thinking I want to discuss is the idea that if you are not a follower of God you are evil, and if you are then you are blameless. Usually this is simply expressed as anyone not in our religion is bad. Ephesians 4:17-19, Philippians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Timothy 4:1, 1 Timothy 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:3-4, and Titus 1:12-13 put it simply and say that anyone who isn't a Christian is evil. 1 Peter 4:3 makes a similar statement by saying that all gentiles engage in sex and drinking, which are bad things. Titus 1:10, 14, 16 and Titus 1:11 get a little more specific by targeting Jews, but it is the same message, non-Christians are bad people. 1 John 5:18 takes the opposite side of the ridiculous argument and says that Christians do not sin. But this binary way of thinking is perfectly exemplified in Colossians 1:21-22 where it is talking about the same people on both sides of it. When referring to people who used to be non-Christians but eventually joined the flock, it says that they used to be evil, but now they are holy. Of course this is the only conclusion we can draw given the pieces we have in front of us, but it is funny to see it spelled out in front of us like this. Are we really supposed to think they changed that much here? They are the same people, but they went from evil to good in one shot? No, as with most things in life, we all live on a spectrum. There may be some people out there who are cartoonishly good or evil, but most of us live somewhere in between.