On the Difficulty of Objectivity

Pure objectivity belongs to God alone, for only God is capable of viewing a matter perfectly, and void of emotion, bias, or preference. This does not mean that we cannot, at times, view an issue from several aspects contributing to facts or evidence; but that we cannot accomplish this at all times because of our finite reality, our personal biases, and our respective preferences and agendas. Too often, though, we do not give ourselves time to reflect upon a matter of significance for ourselves and others. At other times, however, we can reflect on a matter too much. Daniel Taylor argues that the very nature of reflection is
to resist limitation. The more one tries to restrict it, the more power one gives it; for reflection is suspicious of nothing so much as attempts to quell it. It may lie low for a time, but will blaze back all the fiercer for having been suppressed. The ceaselessness of reflection works both for good and for ill, but in either case it is often exhausting. Everyone needs relief from the potentially endless cycle of assertion, analysis, counterassertion, qualification, redefinition, exceptions, extenuations, complications, hidden presuppositions [and here allow me to add: hidden agendas], emotional colorings, summations. . . .1
Taylor's point here is that we must not allow ourselves to become reflective without action. We cannot merely theorize our way through life. We must live -- think, feel, act -- in the now. Reflection and action must corroborate: "They [reflective Christians] cannot do [important tasks] if mired in endless cycles of reflection without action. They also cannot do them, however, if they forfeit the life of the mind for mindless parroting of simplistic, culturally determined socio-religious agendas."2 I fear, though, that most Christians are stuck in this very quagmire.

From my perspective, which is by no means objective or tested (nationally), most Christians want the happy-clappy "worship" service on a Sunday morning and an encouraging and rapturous sermon to help them endure the bleak everyday-ness of their week. They do not reflect on the Gospel; they reject persecution in any form; they seem to care little about living out Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; they, like pigs at a trough, care only about their own felt needs; social justice, for them, refers to religious freedom and rights; they adore bumper-sticker quotes and a "pie-in-the-sky" hopefulness; but they, with unmatched dogmatism and certainty, know that their pastor boldly and objectively "preaches the Word of God," and that they are right, their opponents being wrong.

Does that summation upset you? What if I am right? But what if we are all guilty of deceitfully imagining ourselves objective while actually ignorantly promoting opinions we try to mask as facts? Take, for instance, John MacArthur certainly and dogmatically insisting that no one is gay. (link) People, so we must conclude, rebelliously choose to become same-gendered attracted. But upon what basis does MacArthur render such a worldview? Is the statement true because he insists as much?

So, perhaps MacArthur (and company) maintains such a belief based upon readings from Scripture. Should we be concerned that no author of Scripture actually draws such a conclusion? Well, no, since MacArthur could be alluding to inferences he has made regarding God and creation and the Fall. Yet this here is also a problem. Taylor notes:
The pluralist [methodologically] expects to find many different perspectives in the world and does so, thereby confirming his or her outlook [i.e., bias]. He or she is likely to feel offended, even threatened, however, by the person who claims there is only a single correct explanation of reality or a single right answer to a social problem.3
But conservative evangelicals can be equally guilty of propagating presuppositions and then "finding evidence" in Scripture, even by supposed inference, to support those presuppositions. The pluralist and the conservative can both perpetuate any degree of dogmatism regarding their beliefs, the evangelical insisting that he is "merely preaching the Word of God," and influence countless people. But Taylor suggests that, whatever worldview one espouses, those views must address opposition.4

We, then, are not permitted to stand on our proverbial soap boxes without considering as tenable -- within  a contextual majority of mutually agreed upon reason, of course -- opposing views. If we are to attempt any semblance of objectivity then we must expose ourselves to views that challenge or even contradict our own. This may make us uncomfortable; we may feel threatened, and our insecurities may rise, tempting us to withdraw to our respective corners and defend our positions; but we must strive to a) reject defending our own "fragile sense of security and self-respect"; and b) acknowledge "how subtly intertwined are our beliefs with our instinct for self-preservation."5 We all -- whether socially or politically or theologically -- still have much work to do in these areas.


1 Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 19.

2 Ibid., 20.

3 Ibid., 24.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 25.


My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.