In Defense Of Slippery Slopes

Here’s another piece of conservative Christian logic I’d like to debunk: the myth of slippery slopes.

You’ve heard the reasoning: one drink could lead to too many drinks, so it’s best not to drink at all. Dancing could lead to lust, so don’t dance. Reading the New York Times could lead to voting Democratic so burn the newsprint!  

Such logic is appealing in its simplicity. It’s much easier follow rules than to follow Jesus. Binary is always simpler than spectrum. Black and white makes it easier to determine what is right, what is wrong, who is in, and who is out. Color confuses things.  

It's not only the religious who succumb to this trap. Politicians do their best to convince us that all Muslims are dangerous because some terrorists are Muslims. Or all corporations are evil because some corporations misbehave.  

But, from a Christian perspective, slippery slope arguments have two big problems.  

First, the Bible makes it clear that sin is a heart issue. The problem with drunkenness is that it expresses a deeper idolatry. We take our fears, questions, disappointment or identity to the bottle rather than to God. And from that perspective, every created thing is a slippery slope. I know people who misuse eating, shopping, Facebook, TV watching, and careers. Misuse of any part of God’s creation – not just alcohol — is sin. If we are using any thing or activity to give us the self-worth that should only come from God, then we are taking an amoral thing and using it for immoral purposes.  

Secondly, 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.  

But notice this too: Jesus was not afraid of asking people to leave behind the idols they may have slipped into. In fact, he did this all the time. He tested people’s faith by asking them to demonstrate their detachment.  

So he asks the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor. Notice that Jesus didn’t just say “Be careful that you don’t get too attached to your possessions. That’s a slippery slope.” Instead, he gave the man a test. He asked him to put action to his faith. He asked him to sell his stuff.  

Could it be that this is what Jesus was doing with Martha: “Renounce the self-worth you get from being a good hostess, the architect of a well-appointed dinner party. Burn your Restoration Hardware gift cards and sit at my feet.” 

Or with Zaccheus: “Abandon your position of privilege and system of graft and take the risky step of living an honest life. Open yourself to being swindled for the sake of your integrity.” 

Jesus does not say we must always abstain from any good thing that might someday be used for evil. But he also doesn’t hesitate to test our detachment from those things by calling us away from them. 

If staying close to Jesus only meant staying away from slippery slopes, discipleship would be an easy task indeed. Instead, our calling is much higher, and much more colorful, than that.