I’m a fairly critical person. When I see something good or bad, I generally can see the flaws in it almost instantly. The same goes for people, systems, ideas and especially with other Christians. Having a critical attitude towards the world can be a good and proper way to interact with your surroundings. It keeps you from following the crowd, it keeps you from doing things because that’s how you’ve always been taught and it makes room for truth where many times it is nowhere to be found. Critical thought is a valid tool to seek truth and weed out what is unhealthy. Being a critical thinker tends to get you in trouble more than you’d want; you ask questions you shouldn’t ask, you tend to not have the same type of respect for power and hierarchy and you are usually the annoying guy at the party who has to point out flaws in everything.
I am finding though, that being critical ruins relationships really fast. I can be critical in an initial conversation with a friend about some theology of his, but if I continue being critical it makes it harder and harder to be in a loving relationship with that person. I can’t continually badger someone on their theology, constantly put their ideas down and then still expect to be in a good standing relationship with them. It seems as if being critical is only an entry way into a relationship or an idea, but it can’t be the end result. Being critical leaves us with only a few options. One, we can carry that criticism into our relationships wherever we go constantly correcting, stomping on and arguing everyone’s ideas. Two, we can be silent and internalize all our frustration and never really be in a positive loving relationship with that person. This is probably the skeptics worst flaw, is that they never get past their critical attitudes and are willing to sacrifice their relationships for their pursuit of truth. They usually pick one of those options and think that to stay true to themselves and to their relationships they have to sit in silence and fume about how different they are and how ignorant the other person is.
I would suggest that we should seek to transform our critical attitudes into something that transcends criticism. The third option I would like to offer would be to allow our criticism to be transformed into compassion. Jesus had a way of doing this. When the rich man came up to him and didn’t understand him and tried to impress him, he did badger him with a sermon on grace and argue him into the ground about how his understanding of salvation was lacking. He looked at him with compassion. When he saw large crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them. For some reason, I tend to get even more critical when I look at large groups of people making bad decisions. Jesus had compassion instead. Maybe compassion needs to be the next step. Instead of frustration, and the desire to argue even more I need to practice compassion. Not the kind of compassion that patronizes and perpetuates a system of oppression to those I’m being compassionate to, but rather a compassion that enables me to see their battle. Criticism for too long allows for pride and frustration to set in. To balance it, compassion needs to come right alongside of it and remind us that we are all human.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
Philo of Alexandria