The “We Know Better” Bubble

“I know better than you” is a mother’s claim that ends many an argument with her 5‐year old, but it becomes problematic when used among adults to obtain a position of authority absent evidence. It’s a tool that political and cultural manipulators also use to get their way, citing some unknowable form of knowledge to claim victory in a debate. It’s never all that obvious, however, for it can be hidden from the view of spectators while communicated directly to followers who’ve been led to believe that they’re in on the secret.

This is not necessarily the case with Christians and Christianity, for who doesn’t like to claim a little insight that the other guy doesn’t possess? It can be omnipresent, however, in arguments involving the church, like whether or not church attendance is a prerequisite for righteous living. In a recent essay in Christianity Today, Megan Hill adapted her work from the book Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of our Identity in Christ in a piece that cites “Four Lies That Keep Us from Church.”

Though the world would tell us that church is an option, an irrelevance, or a human invention—a group of people who thought it would be a good idea to get together since they share the same beliefs and spiritual practices—we know better. The body is established by Christ, protected and nourished by him, and governed by him.

A great many Christians live in this “we know better” bubble, which is afforded them by separation from the enemy they know as “the world.” The bubble is a truly remarkable place in that “we know better” governs absolutely, and it’s one of the key reasons we have Donald Trump as our President. Those who live in the bubble have their own rules — both written and unwritten — their own language, their own worship, the Bible to support every expression of faith, self‐restriction of the senses, and “fruit of the spirit” to validate their presence “in” Christ. But the most politically significant trait of the bubble is that “we know better” means a willingness — perhaps even a need — to deny logic and rationality in the name of claiming a higher authority.

Thomas Paine, the 18th Century philosopher and pamphleteer, whose writing bolstered the American Revolution, noted this phenomenon in his series, The American Crisis, and it’s as apropos today as it was when it was written:

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

This is why attempts to reach the occupants of the “we know better” bubble about the Trump Presidency produces such a vociferous and strident defense that includes a comparison to the ancient Babylonian king Cyrus, who though corrupt and an unbeliever, permitted the Jews in captivity to return to Jerusalem. God used him, the bubble thinking goes, to give favor to the Jews regardless of his status as a reprobate. And, in this theorem, nothing of Donald Trump’s behavior matters; it’s all about the favor he’s showing to white evangelicals. Such is the fruit of “we know better.”

But the biggest concern we all should have with the “we know better” bubble is the ease with which ulterior motives (usually of a self‐serving nature) can be used to guide and manipulate the people who fully trust the bubble. The real and artificial podiums found within speak (down) to the masses with an authority that insists it’s alright — sometimes even necessary — to deny common sense.

We used this every day at The 700 Club when I was the show’s producer in the years leading up to Pat Robertson’s run for President in 1988. The revival ushered in by the Televangelists in the early 80s was in part due to this bubble, for when we acted as though God Himself was blessing us, it was a powerful draw for new members. We’d just come out of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the failure that was Jimmy Carter. People were hungry for something meaningful, and Reagan and the Televangelists provided it. What nobody knew at the time was that this attraction was based on the self‐centered desires of the masses. It’s so easy to switch the Bible into a self‐help manual, and that’s what we did. Pat Robertson was an aristocratic politician first and a minister of the gospel second, and it was just a matter of time before the GOP altogether was shifted to the far right under his puppetry. We set and prioritized the agenda for the right. Pat always knew and expressed that “Christians” could be turned into a valuable voting block, largely through manipulating the “we know better” bubble.

And, we were really, really good at it. The greatest communications accomplishment of the Twentieth Century was to get Christians to vote against their own best interests and in favor of the rich and prosperous. We painted them as of the same ilk; told them that God wanted them blessed and prospered; taught that they could save themselves and their families by voting Republican; and showed them a path that ran right through giving to the ministry of CBN. This web of desirable outcomes was compliments of the “we know better” bubble. Just listen to us and learn God’s ways, we postured. The world may hate you for it — personally, professionally, and politically — but fret not, for God is with you. “They” think they know it all, but we know better.

In debate parlance, “we know better” is an unacceptable and weak response designed to thwart an opponent’s argument. It’s an appeal to tradition or faith in order to shut down the adversary’s narrative. It’s a response that’s really not a response, similar to a street argument that ends with the flummoxed loser’s comeback of, “Well, oh yeah?”

Of a truth, the church and the study of theology, through the process of exegesis, relies on certain conclusions within the sphere of “we know better,” so it’s not that the concept is inherently evil. When institutions of mankind run into difficult questions, they’re often met with a variant of “we know better,” so the idea is fairly mainstream in the West. But, I’m speaking of those Christians who use the bubble for selfish gain, and such a heresy can only be judged from within. This is why I’ve been saying for years that God isn’t judging the world today; He’s judging believers and the institution that represents them. And, it’s really not very pretty.

Those Christians who rely on the bubble to defend their political beliefs and their Christianity will never be convinced otherwise by an opponent from outside the bubble, for that would be a fundamental denial of the bubble’s purpose. It’s the perfect manipulator’s tool. To those on the outside: “Well, they’re of the world, so their eyes are deliberately blinded. After all, God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” To those who call themselves Christians but don’t abide by the rules of the bubble: “Well, they’re not true Christians. They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof, and we are to run from them.” These are actual responses, so the futility of arguing directly is obvious.

However, there are some within the bubble who are quietly expressing their concern, and it’s to those that we must offer our encouragement, for they are the only ones with the chops to make a difference from the inside. I can only hope that they will be emboldened by reading this and the work of others who rail against manipulation of the bubble.

It’s a heady thing to think of yourself as among “the elect,” the promise from the pulpit that fuels the “we know better” bubble. The only way to arrive at this conclusion, however, is to deny the red words of the New Testament, and that, I believe, is to also deny the very essence of the gospel.

You may think otherwise, but I know better.

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