We’ve all heard of the argument called ‘the slippery slope’. Put one foot on the slope and it slips down further, try to correct it and it slips further again, and soon there’s no way back. A similar proverb claims: ‘What the parent allows in moderation, the children will take to excess.’ Christians often apply this to moral behaviour, thinking it’s in the Bible – it’s not. But like all good proverbs, there’s some truth in it. One little cover-up lie usually leads to another. And anyone can see that the alcoholic who thinks, ‘just one little drink won’t do any harm’ is taking the first step down a dangerously slippery slope!
But the slippery slope argument is easily abused. Baptists in America notoriously banned dancing, cards, and alcohol – surely they would lead to sex, gambling and drunkenness. America even dabbled with prohibition (with rather disastrous results). Islamic face and body coverings attempt to shield men from lust. Yet rather than acting as a corrective, the prohibitions themselves become the focus. The old joke in America goes, ‘why are Baptists against sex? It might lead to dancing.’ (Surely the Pharisees come to mind).
More often the Bible emphasises self-control and moderation. ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches…’ (Prov 30:8-9). Extremes can be dangerous on both sides.
But there is often a more insidious – perhaps unconscious – motivation for the slippery slope argument: fear. Many Christians fear that giving away even an inch of doctrinal conviction will inevitably result in a downward slide cascading into an avalanche of moral permissiveness or biblical libertarianism. If we don’t hold tightly to biblical inerrancy, we’ll end up making the Bible mean anything we want it to. If we don’t hold tightly to the literal days of creation, we’ll end up believing that mindless Evolution created the world. If we allow women to lead the church, we’ll next have gay, trans, humanists and atheists demanding their turn, and who’s to say no? After all, that’s where society’s heading. And the Church will soon follow if we don’t prevent that first step down the slope.
Perhaps I exaggerate, but not much. The problem of course is that these ‘inevitable’ results are not inevitable, but fear shuts down the vital importance of discussion, debate and questioning. The conservative voice becomes an isolated, intolerant voice, and the young Christian seeking truth is left with only a choice between extremes.