These thoughts were inspired by this post, which I saw because it got “liked” by over 100 people on Google Reader and therefore showed up under “Recommended items.” In the course of describing a good sort of church, the author wrote, “It’s a place where sheep are shepherded.”
What is it with Christians and wanting to be sheep who get shepherded? This does not sound like a good thing to me. My primary understanding of the term “sheep” used to describe a person is, as Wikipedia aptly puts it, as “a pejorative term to describe those that will blindly follow others regardless of the consequences.” Definitely not a good thing.
But this blogger, Chris Anderson, and his many commenters don’t seem to take any issue with the term. It is one you do hear often if you hear a lot of Christianese. The word “pastor,” which I’ve heard more and more over the years in place of “minister” or “reverend” or “priest,” comes from the Latin word for shepherd. You know, like “pastoral.” A good pastor knows how to shepherd their flock, and so on. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story of judgment in which the people are separated “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,” and you are supposed to want to be one of the sheep. (I guess if goats are the alternative, okay.) Anderson later says in the comments that his advice to families who have recently moved and are choosing a new church is, “Take your family where it will be shepherded well.”
If you have ever had to interact with sheep directly, you’ll know they are not the most brilliant of animals. Sure, they may not be as dumb as we assume, but I’ve seen them perfectly content to just stand there in the road, right in front of your car as you honk at it, staring at you blankly until you get out and push it out of the way. (And good luck if there’s a whole herd standing there.)
My point is, I’m not sure what’s so great about being a sheep. Given that they have a pretty universally negative connotation, at least in many English-speaking countries, I’m surprised that any (English-speaking) group would promote and embrace the idea of being like the animal. It’s almost as though they are already aware of and agree with the complaints that religion suppresses independent rational thought, but see that fact in a positive light. As though they are deliberately glorifying the idea of “people who tend to accept and follow everything at face value,” who do whatever they’re told “without processing it or doing adequate research to be sure that it is an accurate representation of the real world around them.”
But that couldn’t be true … could it?