Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The dangers of under- and over-analysing

One of the things which has been thrust upon pastors in particular by the arrival of Covid-19 has been an increased urgency in trying to read our situation.  What is going on in our culture?  How are people thinking?  Granted that the Word we need to speak never changes, how do we speak that Word into this particular 'here and now'?  It has always been part of the job to try to answer these questions, but the present moment has made it more pressing; no longer are we asking about long-term trends, but instead we are asking what is happening now, right now in these tumultuous weeks and months.

I think there are two dangers we need to avoid as we go about this task.

On the one hand, there is a danger of under-analysis.  At its worst, this is naivety - taking everything at face value and declining to look below the surface at all.  If the Government says it is doing something, that must be what it's doing.  But it needn't be that extreme.  Sometimes it is just viewing the particulars without any context.  Pursuing a cure and/or vaccine for the virus must be good.  Sure.  But if we don't look at the context, we'll miss bigger points about our society's approach to health, and the conceptualisation of death which is common amongst those around us.  Why do they talk like this?  What is revealed by the particular response to this threat to our health about our underlying habits of thought?  I think if we don't do this work we'll end up like the bull, chasing the red cloth around without ever coming within touching distance of the real target.

The danger of over-analysis, on the other hand, is at its most extreme the conspiracy theory.  Nothing is taken at face value; everything conceals a hidden pattern, which only those with the key can see.  (Paradoxically, this is often accompanied by scorn for all those who have not been enlightened and cannot see what is 'really going on').  But it needn't go that far.  Some of us naturally see patterns, naturally integrate things into a bigger whole - and there is a danger in so doing that we impose a conceptual scheme rather than perceiving the facts.  In particular, we can end up telling people that they really believe one thing even though they say they believe something else.

All of us would like to think we hit the happy medium here.  My guess is that all of us are wrong, and we all naturally lean to one side or the other.  (I am an instinctive over-analyser, for what it's worth).  I think the task at the moment is made more difficult by a cloud which hangs over the whole situation, something which I tend to analyse (!) as a spiritual attack.  But the task is vital if we're to speak the gospel into the here and now - which is to say, to the real people in the world around us.  Perhaps knowing our natural tendency might help us to correct it.  Certainly listening carefully to others will help.  Above all, prayer and being soaked in Scripture must be the key.

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