Perceptions – Do They Matter?

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“But there’s nothing in the Bible against doing it.” If parents had a nickel every time their children sang that song, I’m sure they’d be rich. It’s been used to defend everything from tattoos to twerking. If a parent tries to explain the importance of perceptions, he may in turn receive a lecture on its alter ego, stereotyping. But is there anything in the Bible that addresses perceptions and whether or not they should be part of the Christian lifestyle? The answer is definitely yes. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, perception is “the way you think about or understand someone or something.” It’s everything unsaid. And stereotype adds a negative dimension with its definition being “to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.” Unfortunately, the English language has no accurate substitute for “stereotype” and the word is notoriously misused. The key word in its definition is “unfairly.” Unfair to who? Here’s a classic example of subjective definition. Unfair to Mr. Webster? Wouldn’t your perception of fairness depend on your personal values? And wouldn’t that be different for everybody. What’s fair to you may seem like a crime punishable by death to me. If Mr. Webster took out “unfairly,” there would be no difference between the words “perception” and “stereotype.” But people continue to misuse both words. The truth is that stereotyping is not always unfair or evil. As a matter of fact, most of the English language is based on associations and stereotypes. The English language also includes that found in the Bible. I’m sure terms like fornication and adultery would be attacked out on the street as being unfair, narrow minded, judgmental, and stereotypical. But they are biblical terms, just as real and God inspired as any other in the Bible. There’s a big difference between stereotypes and facts.

But the Christian community has bought in to this belief that all stereotypes are unfair, thus forming the basis for political correctness. By taking biblical terminology out of the English language for the sake of comfort, we have allowed it to be used against us. For instance, consider the woman caught in adultery in John 8. She is never identified as a prostitute or as Mary Magdalene. Screenwriters today even have her pegged as Jesus’ wife or lover. Biblical terminology disappeared and world terminology took its place. Where is the Christian outcry?

Even Jesus himself demonstrated the importance of perceptions in the story about the woman caught in adultery. “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not (John 6:6).” He did not doodle, draw animals or stick figures. He wrote words he could not speak, although he doesn’t tell us what they were. Whatever he wrote, it apparently saved her from stoning.

Perceptions are also found in the Bible story about the woman luring a young man to her bed: “And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart.” How did the author of Proverbs know what the attire of an harlot was? Because he had seen it enough times before to make the common sense association or, in today’s terminology, stereotype. This detail is included in the story because it’s the first mistake the young man made, the red flag that he ignored. Her attire might not have been a tight black cocktail dress, high heel shoes, painted up and decked out with sparkling jewelry. Whether she’s a harlot in the Bible or prostitute today, identifying characteristics (i.e., stereotypes) about her appearance and behavior are just as important for young men to understand today as any other virtue in the Bible.

An identifying characteristic can be anything under the sun, as innocent as grandma’s apple pie. For instance, I think there is still a strong association between tattoos and the street drug culture. Gangs use them to identify themselves. This identifying characteristic is one a Christian would not want to be associated with. On the surface, tattoos seem harmless, nothing in the Bible against them. But they have been associated and stereotyped with something non-Christian. That’s reason enough for parents to prevent their children from wearing them. Next year, smiley faces may be all the rage with the homosexual community. I would say no to them as well. It’s not the item per se that is evil. It’s the association linked to it.

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