Imagine you’re at the local shopping mall and walking past you is a seriously tatted up individual. You can’t help but look, given every inch of their exposed person is covered in skin art. What do you think? Some of us might immediately think the individual is a messed up ne’er-do-well who is rebelling against the mores of society that hold us all together. Some of us will think that this individual is in full control of her person and doesn’t need the affirmation of society. Some of us won’t think about it much at all, but will instead assess the aesthetic beauty, or lack thereof, of the tattoos represented.
But we’ll all bring to that brief moment a set of beliefs, assumptions, and acculturations that will result in our response. This is called a hermenuetic lens, a window of the world that is shaped by our upbringing, education level, socioeconomic stratum, belief system, peer group, and so on. We are shaped by so many forces and to step outside those forces to view the world more objectively is a herculean task achieved by few.
The Reformers ran into this in the sixteenth century in Europe. The Roman Catholic church was beset by a host of traditions, teachings, rituals, beliefs, politics, and power structures that created a certain worldview. The Reformers railed against that worldview, and in doing so, they yawped one of the Reformation’s key battle cries: “Ad fontes!” “Back to the original sources”. They tried to excise everything in religion that wasn’t straight from the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, and consequently they severely constrained the Roman worldview in Europe–while creating a completely different worldview, or even set of worldviews.
And the bigger the issue, the harder it is to step outside, or even dismantle, a worldview’s approach to something. This is nowhere truer than the age-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. For many Christians, a theology called dispensationalism impassions them to support Israel because they think Israel will be at the epicenter of Christ’s Second Coming. For other Christians, a theology called liberation theology requires them to support the Palestinians, as every fight against a superior force is a battle blessed by God for the sake of the underdog. For many Muslims, Israel is an assumed enemy, and the land Israel now inhabits is destined by Allah to belong to the Palestinian Muslims. For some Muslims, Mohammed’s original productive relationship with the Jews means a cohabitation is possible and preferable. Religion is deeply ingrained in the issue, which is one significant reason so many are willing to die over it.
Preacher, theologian, and writer John Piper has a superb treatment of this issue from the Christian point of view. Piper peels away the religious assumptions that guide our interpretation of this combustible issue, and he drives at what should be governing our approach to all parties in the conflict: Justice, mercy, and equality under the law. His treatment is a tad long, and packed with biblical references, but it is a fantastic example of stripping away some presumptions of a tricky issue in a way that may be more helpful in getting to some sort of solution.