I worked in a bookshop for many years and generally when a customer had bought a book I offered them a paper bag to put it in. Quite a number used to decline the offer with a comment such as ‘No thanks – let’s save the rainforest.’
Now I have a background in the paper industry and I was involved in buying and selling woodpulp for several years. I also worked for a time in a paper mill, which manufactured paper both from virgin pulp and recycled materials. Although I rarely did so, I could have explained to a customer in some detail that the chances of their paper bag having come from wood originating in a rain forest was essentially nil. (Not to mention the fact that the book they were buying probably contained a couple of hundred times as much woodpulp as their bag did.)
By far the majority of paper made in the UK uses raw material from sustainable, managed forests where the trees are harvested in a cycle, in much the same way that we would plant, grow and harvest wheat or barley. The only real difference is that the cycle takes place over a longer period.
What I have learned though, is that many people are much more comfortable holding onto something false but which feels good – we are saving the rainforest by not using a paper bag – than they are taking time to find out the actual facts of a matter.
I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but this happens in church life as well. For instance it is very common today for people to refer to singing and playing musical instruments as ‘worship’ in spite of the fact that there is only one place in the whole of the bible where music and worship are even mentioned in the same verse. Even a cursory bible study on worship will quickly show that its primary meaning relates to sacrificial service to and honour of God – not to singing about it. When I have mentioned something along these lines, the response rarely includes a willingness to consider facts, but nearly always centres on the need for me to accept popular thinking (even if it is inaccurate) and not to upset anyone by saying something controversial.
It is understandable that the world increasingly embraces truth on the basis of what an individual determines it to be, rather than on any external evidence. This is the inevitable outcome of existentialism which has been increasingly filtering down into our corporate consciousness, especially over the last ninety years or so. However, the church should be actively resisting conformity to the world. We have a responsibility to understand truth as it is presented in the bible and not to re-define it on the basis of what seems popular or appropriate to us.
When Jesus was on earth, he cut right across many of the accepted teachings of the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Perhaps we should consider which of our church teachings he would cut across if he were with us today.