The curse of the filter

When I first embarked seriously on photography, my father (a brilliant photographer) insisted that one of my first purchases should be a polarizing filter. He explained that the filter would deepen the hues of everything seen through the camera’s lens, and he was right. As far as I understand it, the filter restricts certain wavelengths from passing through it into the camera, as outlined in the diagram below:

Last night I attended a Bible study with a church group. It was warm, honest, interactive and personal. However, I couldn’t help the feeling that the person who had written the study notes had read the initial text through just such a filter as the one below. The passage under consideration (Acts 16) contains some troubling political and social elements. In it, Paul and Silas are arrested for undermining commerce in the city of Phillipi, but their accusers turn this into a charge of political sedition. The next morning, when the authorities decide to release their prisoners, Paul refuses to go quietly. In one of the most politically provocative moments in his journey through Acts, he insists on his rights as a Roman citizen, and humiliates the city authorities by insisting that they come to release him in person. Far from ‘turning the other cheek’ he makes a public protest about the abuse of power by the civic authorities. With all this going on in the passage, and memories of the St Paul’s debacle fresh in our minds, what did the Bible Study focus on?  Jumping off from the story of the Philippian jailer it asked about the internal prisons of fear and shyness in which some are kept. Whilst that is certainly a topic worth discussing, it seemed to be linked by only the most tenuous of threads to the passage itself.

If we allow a pietistic polarizing filter into our study of the Bible, doesn’t it reduce our ability to think theologically about politics?

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