Note from the editor: This article has been re-edited. Click here to read the updated article: Prejudice and the Truth Paradigm.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘prejudice?’
How do you presume that it affects you?
Most people probably don’t realize that prejudices are as pervasive and inconspicuous as the air we breathe. Everyone has them, but few are able to pin them down or recognize their affects. This is risky because an unchecked prejudice is as dangerous as, if not more than, the thing discriminated against. This level of ignorance causes the one with the prejudice to be unaware of their susceptibility to be mislead by something other than truth.
Prejudice, by definition, is ‘a preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience.’ When most people hear this word they naturally think of ‘bigotry’ as it relates to racial or societal issues, but a prejudice is much more extensive and it is deeply rooted in a multiplicity of foundational concepts. To be fair, prejudice is just a gut reaction based on standards and values that were passed down by family, culture, or society. What most people fail to do is examine their positions on a particular issue by going back to the source of the prejudice. In doing so, they function more as drones and robots, wired to think a certain way and unable to think outside of their fundamental composition.
Prejudices, as defined already, develop without ‘reason or experience’ almost subconsciously. The process of how our prejudices develop can be traced by this delineation.
Authority > Principle > Value > Prejudice
Our prejudice is a result of a value that is built on a principle that comes from an authority. Our authorities could be a lot of different things: worldview, society, culture, heritage, associates, etc. These authorities will set the foundation for our principles to be studied and formulated. Based on these principles, individuals will cultivate values that will inevitably determine one’s prejudice.
For the Christian, our ultimate authority is the Word of God. All of our biblical convictions should come from this authority. Therefore, the diagram below should determine how Christians develop convictions.
Bible > Theology > Moral > Conviction
The Bible is the authority that establishes a working theology (I like the term integrated theology) which establishes a moral standard and ultimately a conviction. A conviction is a lot like a prejudice because it is built in much the same way and culminates in an immediate response. The Bible, however, does not deal directly with every area of life and a Christian needs to learn how to be discerning in these areas as well.
Christians should be aware of the process used in taking a position on cultural issues. A Christian is inevitably going to have a particular worldview, but in dealing with extra-biblical issues the following pattern should be considered.
Worldview > Ethic > Standard > Position
Christians should be able to wrestle with society and develop appropriate responses to difficult subjects such as politics, art, health, and education. Christians should not attempt to find ways to work their positions back through the same process of their convictions. Doing this always requires manipulating the texts and projecting back into the Word of God. We also should not allow our convictions, positions, and prejudices to carry the same weight simply because that’s the way we feel. A political position, for example, should not hold the same sway as a biblical conviction.
There are several ways in which our prejudices hinder us from having a healthy worldview. The way we think and feel about homosexuals, for example, is incredibly permeated by our prejudices (Check out an article I wrote entitled “Mishandled: Homosexuality” for a more exhaustive discussion on this topic). Though it’s far-fetched, this article by Tim Challies points out the absurdity that some Christians will fall into concerning health and fitness. If you’d like to witness some more of these absurd prejudices on your own, check out these videos from Steven L. Anderson, a pastor in Arizona who finds ways of fitting his preposterous positions back into the Scriptures or this video from Joel Osteen, a pastor who leads one of the largest churches in America, on how he’s able to read his eating habits back into the old testament and completely disregard half a dozen passages in the New Testament. (Be looking for more examples to come in the future, and if you have any examples of your own, I’d appreciate it if you’d share them with me.)
This blog, and this theme in particular, is designed with the purpose of getting people to be discerning, thoughtful, and proactive. Hopefully, people will be challenged to ‘work out their own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Philippians 1:12) and exercise ‘conduct that is worthy of the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:27) instead of simply perpetuating a prejudice.
“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11