Even for the most broad-minded, it is easy to remain reading or listening to people who share similar views to ourselves.
We can fall into the rut of following only those people who conform to our own perspective.
We need to get beyond the simple critiques that can be found in the 280 characters of a tweet or the briefest analysis within in a blog.
I want to encourage everyone to listen and read more comprehensively to what people outside our comfort zone are saying.
We may find it uncomfortable to read what we do not agree with. It means going beyond our theological, social, economic and political confines to explore new areas.
And we should avoid thinking of this as a brief sortie into alien territory – as if it is to simply arm ourselves and fire at those views that we might disagree with or disregard.
Rather, could we go beyond our comfort zones with the intention of understanding a different perspective better?
I come from a middle-class, socially-minded evangelical Christian perspective. But I have found reading Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers enormously illuminating and stimulating. Reading theologians like Rowan Williams and Mark Galli has brought both challenge and enrichment.
A recent article by an evangelical Christian who teaches philosophy explained what he had learnt from reading the atheist philosopher Peter Singer’s seminal book Practical Ethics. He did so in order to better understand the impact of Professor Singer’s teaching in so many of the issues that we face today. I found reading the work of Fredrich Nietzsche similarly helpful in trying to comprehend why people think as they do.
As well as matters of philosophy and faith, it is relevant in fiction. Many Christians laud the likes of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R Tolkien, but perhaps we need to grapple with the nihilism that is portrayed in Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro, or in the futility expressed by Ernest Hemingway?
This is not just an intellectual exercise, but a practical and missional one. It can help us interact with others and understanding their position. It can help us avoid relying on misconceptions or caricatures and help avoid debates which produce heat than light.
It is wise for Christians to bear 1 Peter 3:15–17 in mind:
‘Always to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.’
It does not mean that we have to agree with all that we hear or read. As Jesus reminds us, we are to be ‘as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ as we find ourselves in situations where we are like sheep among wolves (Matthew 10: 16).
We need to be discerning and use the Bible as the measure by which we react to everything we read or hear. This then can influence how we act when we are back within our own echo chambers. Perhaps we might also find moral courage to confront misconceptions and offer a balancing opinion?
Engaging more broadly with culture, faith and politics can mean finding enrichment from unexpected places. I have found it to be like finding an oasis in an arid desert. It could mean that we are challenged into a change of thinking or that we are confirmed in our current doctrine and thoughts.
This Christmas, could you commit to intentionally venture beyond your echo chamber? It may be through reading a particular book, listening to a new podcast or watching a different TV programme. Either way, could you commit to engage with thinking distinctive to your own?
When you do break out of your own echo chamber, you may find you have a similar experience to me. I found that, as I listen better to others, I am in fact being challenged by God.
Andrew Drury lives in West Ewell, Surrey and is a writer on social issues from a Christian perspective. His latest book ‘The Shape of Things to Come? – the impact of obesity’ is published in early 2022