Although the majority of you will not recognize the name Christopher Sholes, he has likely had a whopping impact on your life. Who was Christopher Sholes? I am glad you asked. He is the guy who invented carpal tunnel syndrome. Only slightly less well known is another of his inventions. Way back in the 1860’s Mr. Sholes and a band of accomplices designed what is generally considered to be the first practical typewriter. It was an astonishing contraption that promised a technological revolution. However, as you can imagine, knowing what you know about technological revolutions, the first few attempts were frustrating and clunky. In fact, if an operator of this new gadget got even the least bit adept at using the thing, (one level up from hunt and peck) the thing would jam and frustration would ensue. In an attempt to cure the jamming problem, Christopher and crew made the decision to move the keys that jammed most frequently to opposite sides of the keyboard, and the “QWERTY” keyboard was born. Just so you know, the keyboard your computer uses today is a “QWERTY” keyboard, named as such because the first six letters on the keyboard are “q,w,e,r,t and y”.Being a fan of all things tech, I still remember the “disturbance in the force” generated several years ago when computer engineers from several leading companies proposed we go to a different keyboard layout. The debate was on, and everyone had an opinion. Some said that a different layout would dramatically improve our quality of life. Others, with a sigh of “ho-hum” were certain that a new layout would not justify forcing everyone to unlearn and then relearn basic keyboard skills. Many years later, the debate has died down. And…here I am today controlling powerful computer equipment using a 150 year old keyboard design, born out of an inventor’s frustration with the first typewriter. Even the texting keyboard on my cellphone uses the QWERTY standard, and it doesn’t have a mechanical part one. This “standards” phenomenon is common in the technological world. You don’t have to be right, the best, or in many cases even good. Often, you just have to be first with an idea for it to become the standard.
So much of what we think and do in religious circles comes not from an intimate personal relationship with God or an honest and prayerful investigation of His revelation. Most of it has arrived on our doorstep wrapped in time-honored tinsel, handed down from the generation before us who got it from the generation before them. This package of accepted norms and standards in religion is called orthodoxy and we are trained from our earliest years not to even question it or its origin. The word “orthodoxy” comes from two Greek words. “Orthos” is the word for “straight or true.” “Doxa” is the word for “belief.” The opposite of orthodoxy is “heterodoxy” (other beliefs) from which we get our word heresy. Like I said, you don’t question this stuff because everyone knows where heretics end up. Of course, each successive generation makes a few minor modifications and improvements, but a standard is a standard and who are we to suggest otherwise? Though in some extreme cases, an individual or a group thereof take it upon themselves or are charged with the task of enforcing these accepted norms, generally “norms enforcement” is much more subtle and insidious. Most often it is actually a function of a thing called “groupthink” which we won’t delve into at the moment. However, one of the primary functions of groupthink is the sacrifice of individual creativity and independent thinking on the altar of cohesiveness. So, as our awareness of orthodoxy increases, there is an inverse decrease in creativity and independent thought. In fact, in the shadow of orthodoxy, exploration, imagination, vision, and innovation all comes to a grinding halt (like my garbage disposal did when I dropped the spatula in it). In the mill of orthodoxy, religious equivalents of the QWERTY keyboard are cranked out year after year. I find it a bewildering paradox that often, what begins as an amazing innovation eventually imposes on a great many people the abandonment of innovation.
This orthodoxy groupthink thing isn’t really new. It’s been going on for thousands of years. In general, we humans would much rather listen to the voice of the group or the group’s spokespersons than for the voice of God. Most church-going folks spend the majority of their allocation of “religion time” listening to some guy trained to sell the same tired old keyboard (so to speak). What if we spent less time listening to keyboard salesmen and more time listening for God? What if our prayer life revolved around sincerely asking God to remove the tired old baggage and preconceived ideas held over from generations past? What if under the fire of God’s revelation, all the irrelevant and extraneous were evaporated from our theology and nothing but Jesus remained? What would we look like then? What would the Church look like?
I know this is dangerous territory. Talk like this could stir up conflict or get a person labeled “heretic”. But, looking back at the history behind us, the “heretic” label has rarely had anything to do with the correctness of the idea or philosophy and most everything to do with groupthink and popular opinion. A short list of notable heretics would include Stephan, James, Paul and a Nazarene carpenter named Jesus. They all died with the “heretic” brand on their back. They all died because they refused to groupthink and instead, dashed to pieces the tablets of orthodoxy.
Oh, and regarding the fear that this kind of thinking will stir up conflict, be advised, that is the voice of groupthink you are hearing. That is groupthink’s national anthem, in fact. In reality, it is the tired old standards and groupthink orthodoxy that divides us and incites conflict not fresh new creative thinking. I know this for a fact: the closer you get to Jesus and the closer I get to Jesus — the closer we both get to each other.