Garbage In, Garbage Out


When I was in my early twenties, I had not yet discovered the magic of coffee. My wife was visiting family out of state and since we didn't have children yet, I decided to visit some friends from college who loved about an hour away. After a night of craziness (read: playing Dungeons And Dragons), I started the drive home around 4AM. I was stone cold sober, but soon I started to get tired. I started to doze off, just for half a second. I swore that I saw a deer in the middle of the highway, and slammed on the brakes.

I wound up stopped on I-95, in the high speed lane, facing the wrong direction. Oops. Luckily, it was 4AM. I was the only car on the road, and the subsequent adrenalin rush got me home without further incident.

I was acting on something I thought was true. Had it actually been true, it would have been a legitimate reaction. But, since I was getting bad data from my eyeholes, I reacted in the wrong way and could have easily gotten killed.

We have a phrase in the software engineering industry: Garbage In, Garbage Out. It simply means that if you give a computer the wrong data, you will always get the wrong result. The human brain works in a similar way. It needs good input to function properly, or it can't be trusted to make good decisions.

This doesn't only apply to emergency situations. Good input is a must in every situation, from driving to business to personal relationships. It's also true in the realm of religion. And that's what makes religion so hard.  Everyone thinks they have the correct information, when in reality no one knows for certain (though many are not willing to admit this).

John Piper thinks he has accurate information about who God is. He believes that God allows things like hurricanes to happen - that God could stop them but chooses not to. So when some hurricanes hit recently, he tweeted a verse from Job. About Job's house falling down and killing everyone inside. Because he thought it would be comforting.

Based on the information he has, that's a well thought out, rational response. It just so happens that most people don't agree with that. This is what happens in the realm of Evangelical Christianity (not just that realm, but that's the one I'm talking about here because I have the most experience with). There are people who do terrible things because of the information they have about God. Information they can't even verify.

The brain is, of course, much more than a computer. 
A computer just blindly accepts everything it’s given. It will do exactly what you tell it to do - nothing more, nothing less. Whereas the brain
can analyze the information coming in, judge it to be inaccurate, and then search for better information, or fill in gaps.


But in the Evangelical world, this is discouraged. People may be told “not to touch the Lord’s annointed” if they start questioning a pastor or similar figure. They’re told not to “not lean on their own understanding, but lean on the Lord’s understanding.” I had a pastor at my previous church tell me I shouldn’t trust my emotions because “you’re emotions are the first thing to lie to you”.

Well if I can’t trust my emotions, and I can’t trust my thoughts, and I shouldn’t question my pastor...where does that leave me? Well, it leaves me in an environment ripe for spiritual abuse.

A typical Evangelical response to this might be "well, by their fruit you will know them." This refers to Matthew 7:16. In other words, if people have inaccurate information about God, they will do bad things, and you will know that their information is inaccurate.

The problem with this is that no one can seem to agree on what these "fruit" look like. Let's take homosexuality. Judging the "sin" of homosexuality is considered a good fruit by many evangelicals, because after all, if you love someone, you'll call out the sin in their life. Which might be true, but we can't even agree if homosexuality is a sin.

Their's a list of "fruit" in the Bible, but they're pretty vague. For instance, self control. I'm sure Mark Driscoll thinks he has great self control. Most of his critics would probably disagree with that statement.

If you're reading this and you're an Evangelical, you're probably thinking "What about the Bible? That's the standard by which we can judge our information!" Well that's all well and good, except you can use the Bible to justify just about anything. It's all about what parts of the Bible you emphasize and which you ignore.

I know, I know. "I'm an Evangelical! I would NEVER ignore part of the Bible!" Calm down, hypothetical Evangelical person. I'm sure you would never knowingly ignore part of the Bible, but have you considered that this book you base your life on is freaking long and you don't actually know everything contained within it? There are verses that make it quite clear that God does indeed cause hurricanes and we should shut the fuck up and be grateful that there aren't more, thank you very much. There are also other verses that talk about God's mercy.

EVERYBODY creates the God they want. For some reason, Piper wants his God to be wrathful, dropping bridges on people and whipping up hurricanes and tornadoes. I don't know the man, but I would bet money that he had issues with his father.

Information that you create based on what you need is not good information for making decisions. I don't care what it is. Some might say that if your religion gives you comfort and causes you to do good, who cares? I've always felt it's better to have the truth...which is probably why I can't stick with any particular religion very long.

Progressives do this too. When Mark Driscoll talks about what a tough guy Jesus is, and how he's coming back with a tattoo on his thigh and a sword to fuck shit up, progressives might say something like, "Jesus isn't like that. Not my Jesus."

Evangelicals like to sneer at talk like this. Never mind that they have "their" Jesus as well. Or that there is no "my Jesus" or "your Jesus" any more then there's "my George Washington" or "your Martin Luther King". There's just Jesus, the person we're pretty sure lived 2,000 years ago and got nailed to a cross. In the intervening time he was an itinerant Rabbi for a few years and some claim he performed miracles and was the Son of God.

Or, maybe the opposite is more accurate. Maybe "my Jesus" or "your Martin Luther King" is all we have. Some focus on King's heroic efforts to promote equality. Others focus on his adultery and alleged Communist ties. Some view George Washington as a defender of freedom and the father of our country. To others, he was a slave owner who established a system that perpetuated the dominance of white males.

Lately, I've felt as though my faith is starting to regenerate in some tiny, quantum way. The question is, faith in what? God? If so, what God? Jesus? If so, what Jesus?

I think, that for the first time in my life, I can answer "I don't know, and I'm OK with that."

Because lack of data is better than bad data.

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