Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15, NIV).
Pure: from katharos, “free from the contaminating influences of sin.”
Corrupted: from miainó, “properly, to stain (with paint or dye); (figuratively) to stain (defile) the soul, i.e. like when sin taints by its polluting effects (‘moral, spiritual stains’).”
Nice idealistic sentiment, there, about remaining pure…
However, because who always–or even frequently–thinks “uncontaminated thoughts” on any given topic thus avoiding “polluted effects” no matter how one defines the concepts, the sentiment is very hard to believe let alone enact.
In a (human) race continually baited this way and that by mixed messages of good and evil, just and unjust, right and wrong–propaganda, polemics, sophistry, and verbal gaslighting (see previous post)–how is it possible to know, let alone, act upon what is “pure” and not “corrupted”!
Not to mention that we emerge as blank slates on which so many write our cultural and moral codes: parents, teachers, and others, let alone those who would exploit us for money and power such as those who roam the corridors of kings and the halls of who would be masters of the universe, locally, nationally, or globally. Not to mention cult con artists.
But even in a world seemingly flooded, just now, with more division than unity, more darkness than light, more chaos than calm, there is a way to discern what is pure and what is corrupt–despite what evils churn about. Or, to discern it as closely as is possible.
And we need to know how to do this, as the power of emotion threatens to overtake reason, logic, and common sense, let alone critical thinking.
It is possible to still see the bigger picture, the eternal one, and in that, to still have hope.
But it depends upon what lens we don, what premise we employ.
Choose Your Lens Carefully–Some Background from the Literature Classroom
From my perch as a literature instructor, first lessons focus on how any given novel, play, poem, or essay usually comes with a pre-determined influence, that is, the writer presents his or her view through a specific “lens,” also known as a “school” of literary criticism.
Literary criticism, or analyses, includes determining where the writer is “coming from,” i.e., his or her theory, what philosophy, ideology, or belief system he or she infuses in the work. A short list of such influences includes writing from the following views: historical, , gender, sociological, psychological, and political (see here and here for more).
I emphasize to my students that where there are always certain truths incorporated into literature, it is important to remember what kind of truth it is, lest an assumption is made that it is necessarily the student’s own truth (or should be, if the work is a persuasive essay), or a universal truth.
Those are a few of the issues and controversies of literary theory and criticism that are constantly discussed in that world.
But sufficient for a student to know is that the lens through which an author or poet or playwright views the world is generally the school of literary criticism he or she writes from and promotes, and may not, perhaps should not, apply to all readers or writers, all causes, relationships, or institutions–or all literature.
Specifically, and to my focus in this post, are the political views promulgated in both fiction and non-fiction writing, whether it’s propaganda disguised as news reporting or any other genre of writing espousing a particular form of, say, politics or gender, or race.
And the political lens of lit crit is very popular these days.
On Political Lenses
Narrowing my topic further, and for anyone who has ever wondered why it is that in the past fifty years or so, college students in particular seem to have been so influenced away from how to think about history, sociology, math, science, politics, and so on, to what to think*, I believe one of the major influences in college education, particularly an abiding ideology in university education coursework since the 1960s, is a specific educational theory called Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire, a leading proponent of Marxist class analysis. He is one of many such academic proponents of this view, however.
Whereas the view through Freire’s political lens does reflect some truth in that, as he noted, “education could not be divorced from politics; the act of teaching and learning are political acts in themselves,” by politicizing the content of education as the goal to “help the oppressed liberate themselves” as opposed to teaching the information as objectively as possible as the goal, the door is left wide open, it can be argued, for class warfare, anarchy, and totalitarianism.
When I was an undergraduate beginning my college coursework in teaching back then, Friere’s book was very popular, and through the years I’ve seen coursework gradually reflect his and his apologists’ views.
For example, a math story problem might now feature a situation where the students might have to calculate the loss of the polar bear population as it relates to fossil fuel consumption (based on the controversial political view of “global warming,” now dubbed “climate change,” any alternate analyses likely not cited in the math problem).
A psychology class might feature an article focused solely on “right-wing extremism” as the only example of some category of PD (Personality Disorder), the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) discusses, left-wing extremists left out of the writer’s thesis.
Sometimes what information is missing has as powerful an effect as what information is promoted has.
It is my observation that Friere’s view of society through the dichotomous political lens of oppressor and oppressed and his philosophy of teaching through that lens has been one of the enabling influences of the rise of politics-infused readings assigned in writing, literature, sociology, psychology, education, math, and even science courses.
In my perspective, such an ideology infused in pedagogy, or the “art and science of teaching,” can eventually lead to informational lessons becoming social and political engineering workshops.
I believe his view has gained popularity and power particularly where it is paired with other modern theories such as moral relativism (good and bad depends on what is currently acceptable thought and behavior), which is to say, in effect, we can be cut loose from old-fashioned absolute truths in this new era, through this limited lens of analysis now in vogue.
Side note and case in point regarding the power of the influence of theories: if anyone has also wondered why it is that so many “educated” people are talking about a “living U.S. Constitution” these days, as opposed to our Constitution based on the standards of set law (amended as determined by due process), the above is one of the major influences, that is to say, “lens'” by which certain people now view the founding documents. The culturally-relativistic, Marxist-infused view has filtered down to the legal arena where such thinking is referred to as “reflexive law” (my contribution to this discussion–and warning–is here). This is something few are yet talking about but which is an undercurrent gathering precedent steam beneath those who would fundamentally transform the United States of America.
Back to Freire’s lens.
Outside the classroom, I can see his much expanded influence today in the mushrooming (and divisive) proliferation of victim groups demanding special rights in more of a zero sum effort as opposed to a traditionally American inclusive one.
They are often pitted against a denigrated “majority” (now called “privileged”) group. If left unchecked, the resultant genocide of the hated group is one of the most tragic of outcomes, as history reveals when the facts are at length exposed.
A modern case in point, many would argue, is what is being called the White genocide in South Africa.
Of the most famous examples in recent history is, of course, the Holocaust spawned by hatred of the Jewish race, although Stalin’s purges in Russia, Mao Zedong’s in China, and Pol Pot’s in Cambodia are of like depravity, all influenced by the Marxist worldview as well.
And, of course, the reality of what was really going on in those years of the last century was also suppressed and obfuscated by political “spin” at the time, similar to what is happening today in certain media circles and online venues.
I can see Freire’s expanded ideological influence in the sharp resurgence, in the past 10 years or so, of racial tensions such as we haven’t seen in America since before the time of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and in the increasing degradation of E pluribus unum to its opposite: “out of one, many,” a condition that can quickly and violently degrade to Balkanism, by the old “divide and conquer” method of warfare primarily via what might be termed wordfare and lawfare.
I can even see his influence in the speech-restricting, thought-controlling effects of the PC movement (see here for a very clever, fictional adaptation of how the restriction of free speech can destroy a community and it starts with just one opinion, one theory, one view that, if not taken seriously and subjected to careful thought and action, quickly expands and escalates).
Back to non-fiction today, people who once had opposing views on, say, homosexual marriage, are now not merely holding a differing opinion, they are given a “phobia” diagnosis.
People who desire to return to–and maintain–law and order are re-labeled “fascists”.
And if they claim they are merely patriots, the opposition is quick to co-opt the definition by spinning back around to a synonym, “nationalist,” which is quickly narrowed to really mean the dog-whistle term, “National Socialist,” aka Hitler’s Nazi party, leaving off the socialist part, of course, as this ideology has recently been spun around to mean a “positive” political movement by the self-labeled Democrat Socialists…
(Oh, what a tangled web of sophistry we weave when we first begin to deceive…).
And the power of the mind-numbing, thought-stopping, name-calling chants (very like the repetition of certain religious mantras), in an emotion-charged “protest” fire up the crowds now more often than not infiltrated by paid thugs who collect their cash later from the ideological collective out not for freedom, but power by intimidation and growing brute force.
But how does all this relate to discerning purity and corruption?
How we view something through the “lens” we choose, or are handed without explanation or reflection, is what influences our own worldview and from there, our behavior.
If we believe hatred and violence is the only way to success in a cause, we join some resistance movement trusting they are working in accord with our view (and not, where corruption clouds clarity, just to use our emotions to help someone or some group gain power).
If we believe there is a set of universal truths that promote a more peaceful society we operate through that lens and its attendant standard of conduct founded on law and order.
The big trouble is, however, in a world where corruption always battles with purity, evil with good, in both temporal and spiritual arenas, there is “always a little truth in every lie” because it sells much better.
Due to naiveté, lack of facts, or ignorance of the ploys of those who would trap and corrupt us by “going about as sheep in wolves’ clothing,” it can be pretty hard to discern.
And time is of the essence for those who would corrupt.
HOWEVER, THERE IS STILL GOOD NEWS!
Comprehending truth versus lies, good versus evil, pure versus corrupt is never easy.
History reveals that wars are often the result of the mess and confusion that accompanies the quest.
And the good guys don’t always win.
But for believers, here is some encouragement for today and henceforth from that view which is outside the limits of time, space, and frequently flawed mortal analysis, and that emanates through the lens of an eternal reality:
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6)
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17).
Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:5-6).
Here are many more encouragements and directives from the same source.
My friends, it is so important to keep our eyes on the prize and our hearts affixed to God’s wisdom and instructions, for what evil brews, enlarges–and would consume us all–might be of more (prophetic) “biblical proportions” than most realize.
We might, in fact, as many prophecy scholars warn, be closing in on the end of this Biblical Age and ramping up for a time of evil unparalleled in history: the Tribulation period that follows the Rapture of the Church. (Note: the links represent my view of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, though there are other views of the event recognized in the Church at large.)
Yet, we can still let the love of God reign in our hearts because in His love is also clarity of sight and clearest focus. And this view still has the power to heal so many old and new victim–and victimizing–groups, both genuine and politically engineered, as well as to reconcile the tragic division polarizing ideologies cause among communities, friends, and families.
I encourage all of us to stay awake, aware, and alert–in Him–and to choose our battles carefully and prayerfully through the lens of eternal ways and means toward the ultimate goal: redemption for all who will choose it; redemption through placing faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
This is the same Jesus, the pure and sacrificial Lamb of God Who paid the price for all the corruption that was, is, and will be both globally and locally, both without and within.
And have you ever wondered how Social Justice Warriors, another university-spawned collective, came about? A related movement beginning about the same time Freire’s ideology came off the presses, was “liberation theology.” It began in the churches–no better place, right? But it is arguably another Marxist-infused ideology painted up to look like a sanctuary…”sanctuary cities” are one result of this particular ideology…for example…
Thank you Phyllis for another well-reasoned post. How we process information, how we react to images and influences, is of vital importance. People judge us by our speech and actions, but more vitally God will judge us by how our words and actions betray how much we have reflected his love. Jesus says it all in Matthew 12.33-37: ‘Make a tree sound and its fruit will be sound; make a tree rotten and its fruit will be rotten. For the tree can be told by its fruit. Brood of vipers, how can your speech be good when you are evil? For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart. A good man draws good things from his store of goodness; a bad man draws bad things from his store of badness. So I tell you this, that for every unfounded word men utter they will answer on Judgement day, since it is by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words condemned.’ (Jerusalem Bible)
Thank you for the additional verse, it provides an excellent tie-in. It’s hard to narrow the citations, sometimes, and the Bible is a treasure chest full of wisdom and guidance. It’s nice when readers provide more options because each one deepens comprehension.