The Myth of Slippery Slopes
There is a myth of conservative Christian logic that I would like to address, and hopefully put to rest for some of us.
It’s the myth of the “slippery slope.”
Essentially, if you defend A, and A comes to pass, then A will result in B, and B in C, and so on all the way down to Z. It’s a scary shift of attention away from what an individual said and towards something that is, at best, distantly related to what the individual said. Sometimes these can be comical; other times they can be hurtful.
Nobody is immune to whipping out a good ol’ fashion “slippery-slope’ comment, either:
Parents: “Well, if we allow this video game, won’t we just end up allowing all video games?”
Spouse: “If I give in one inch on the idea of going to her family’s Christmas this year, even though we went there last year, I may as well kiss my family Christmas’s goodbye.”
Teachers: “If I allow the students to redo this test, they are going to want to redo every assignment for the rest of the year.”
Anti-Gay: “If we allow gay marriage, the next thing we know, people will want to marry their dogs, or their cats, or what about their pigs?”
Gun rights activists: “If we up the age requirement to 21, or ban AR-15s altogether, then it’s just a slippery slope toward the government taking all our guns away!”
Diets: “If you break your diet and have one cookie tonight, you will just want to eat 10 cookies tomorrow, and before you know it, you will have gained back the 15 pounds you lost.”
Church: “If we allow women on the stage in our churches we are a slippery slope away from abandoning the gospel altogether.”
Surely, in some scenarios of life, we don’t want to do certain things because they might lead to terrible consequences. We can all think of a million examples. In fact, some of the hypothetical scenarios I built above are real concerns for people. That’s not my point. Yes, a drink of alcohol for one person can result with that same person later struggling with alcoholism, but not always.
The heart of the ‘‘slippery slope” mentality is just that: the heart.
We have a tendency to take our fears, insecurities, anxieties, and identity to the bottle instead of God. And from that perspective, every created thing can become a “slippery slope” if we allow it. I have seen people turn to eating, shopping, Facebook, Netflix, or their careers rather than face the heart issue.
That’s the scary thing about the “slippery slope” argument; it does the very thing that it is trying to warn against; it avoids engaging with the issue at hand, and instead shifts attention to extreme hypotheticals; to extreme “what ifs.”
But it never deals with the heart.
My point is threefold:
Not all slopes are slippery,
Sometimes slopes dip the other direction as well,
Jesus didn’t avoid slippery slopes.
1. Not all slopes are slippery.
One piece of public policy does not automatically lead to ever more of that policy all the way to the horizon. People are not first-generation computer programs who can only do the same thing over and over. Sometimes things need to be done for a stand alone reason, no strings attached. If we hold too tightly to where we are right now, we become shutoff from the world, afraid of every “what if” scenario that might creep up. If we are not careful, we slowly become a sticky slope: a place that is stagnant and dying.
2. Sometimes slopes dip the other direction as well.
In all the situations where I have heard a “slippery slope” comment be made, it has been from people who are afraid of the worst case scenarios. However, what they fail to recognize, is that the “worst case” is not limited to whatever they are fighting against. Worst care scenarios can originate from any direction, not just the slope they recognize as dangerous. Like any mountain, there are many sides to slide down.
Revisit the scenarios I built above and try to imagine, even if you are against the core of a couple of them, what a worst case scenario might be if you don’t do something.
If you don’t go to her family for Christmas this year,
If you don’t limit gun control,
If you don’t eat that cookie,
If you don’t allow women to have a voice.
If you did this, and you were honest, you can easily see how slopes can originate from any angle.
3. Jesus didn’t avoid slippery slopes.
Jesus knew that wine can lead to drunkenness, and yet he drank wine. He knew that healing on the Sabbath was flaunting the rules that were meant to honor the fourth commandment, and yet he healed on the Sabbath. What is more, he knew that he would be held up as an example for billions of followers down through the centuries and he still stepped on those slippery slopes.
Jesus did not call us to cloister ourselves away from the world and all its parts that our idolatrous hearts might latch onto. Jesus never made a slippery-slope argument. Instead, Jesus waded into the messiness of the human condition. But notice, while Jesus does not make slippery slope arguments, he was not afraid of asking people to leave behind the things they slipped on in the first place.
Jesus does not say we must abstain from all good things that might someday convert to something evil, but he also does not hesitate to test our detachment of those things. In fact, he did this all the time because Jesus cares about our heart.
Following Jesus is a colorful adventure that involves risk and irregularity. While the love of Jesus and the grace of God is unwavering, the methods by which we are bringing about the Kingdom of God have variety. It’s like the cover of a song: while the foundation of the song is still identifiable, the fluctuations and flavor of the melody differ from artist to artist. These are not “slippery slopes” destined to ruin the song, but rather a collection of renditions that add value to it.
“What could be?”
A phrase that could be used in fear, but should be used with bold curiosity.
“I don’t know, but let’s find out.”