Why I Don’t Believe In The Slippery Slope

I don’t believe in the slippery slope, and I think it would be good for the church if we all stopped believing in it.  Let me be clear: I am not saying that I think it’s OK to be on the slippery slope, or that the slippery slope is not that dangerous, or that I think you can get off partway down.  I am saying that I do not believe in the slope, in exactly the same way that I do not believe in unicorns, dragons, or the tooth fairy.  To explain why I say that, let me begin by pointing out a truth that is actually very obvious, but that is easy to forget after years and years of using the slippery slope idea in theological debate: the slippery slope is a metaphor.  That is all it is; that is all it ever has been.  After all, when we speak about God, we are not actually standing on the side of a hill someplace, so we must be speaking metaphorically.  The question is … is the slippery slope a helpful metaphor, or an unhelpful one?

At this point, it’s probably a good idea to review what “the slippery slope” means.  In essence, it is the idea that once you start asking questions, it is hard to stop.  You may begin by questioning something perfectly innocent, but once you get going, you may find yourself questioning fundamental things, sacred things, things that should not be questioned under any circumstances, and you will not be able to stop yourself, just as a person on a muddy hillside will find it hard to stop after they are already in motion.  Far better, the theory goes, to stay in safety at the top of the hill.  Now I would like to make an admission: this theory has a lot of logic to it.  In fact, I would even call it correct.  The reason I still don’t believe in the slippery slope is because of one simple truth that a great many sincere and well-meaning Christians seem to have overlooked.

The opposite is equally true.

Asking questions is a habit-forming behavior, all right, but so is the refusal to ask questions. And frankly, I am inclined to say that the latter is even more dangerous than the former.  Consider: have you ever seen people who held a theology that was being used to hurt, demean, or exclude people – perhaps even a theology by which they were doing emotional harm to themselves – yet who absolutely, positively refused to rethink that theology?  How often to we cling to flawed ideas simply because they are familiar?  How often do we see churches that refuse to change anything about their practice, even though it is becoming painfully obvious that they are becoming irrelevant?  I contend that there is incredible harm done by the refusal to think critically, and that is why the sippery slope is such a poor metaphor.  A slope implies that you can only slip in one direction, but in the real world, there are two equally harmful directions you can go.

The best advice I can give for theological inquiry is this: if you have a question about God, ask the question.  Don’t try to avoid the question because it makes you uncomfortable, because that won’t get you anywhere.  Instead, ask the question.  Use every resource God has given you.  Use the mind God gave you.  Think hard, and long, and deeply.  Use the heart God gave you.  Ask yourself which ideas move you to love, to peace, to life, to worship, and which ideas disturb you.  Use the community God gave you.  Ask other people.  Have long conversations.  Ponder the issues.  Read, research, and LISTEN.  Read your Bible, and pray, pray, pray.  And if, after all that, your best judgment tells you to change your mind about something, change your mind.  Don’t do it because new ideas are entertaining; do it because the evidence seems to you good or bad.  But if your best judgement tells you to go on believing what you have always believed, then go on.  Don’t do it because familiarity is comfortable; do it because the evidence seems to you good or bad.  Becasue ultimately, there is only one good reason for believing anything at all, and that is because you are genuinely convinced of it.  But let us once for all get rid of the idea of the slippery slope, because it isn’t helping.

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