Bill Nye called it heartbreaking. Neil deGrasse Tyson called it dumb. And Shaq called it true. There’s one thing, however, that few people have been willing to call Cleveland Cavaliers all-star point guard Kyrie Irving’s belief that the Earth is flat: wrong. And that seems telling.
You see, when Irving first stated his belief that the Earth is flat on a podcast with teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, most assumed he was just joking or trying to be provocative. So when he recently went back on the same podcast to reiterate that belief, it left many of his supporters and friends a bit dumbfounded. Teammate LeBron James simply said that he’s “an interesting guy.”
However, some were quick to offer support. Shaquille O’Neal, who earned a doctorate in education back in 2012, responded “It’s true. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. Yeah, it is. Yes, it is.” He would go on to argue that satellite images and other such evidence can’t be trusted but that his belief was correct because “I drive from coast to coast, and that [stuff] is flat to me. I’m just saying. I drive from Florida to California all the time, and it’s flat to me.”
While a flat-Earth theory is of relatively little importance in the grand scheme of things, it’s interesting that so many are willing to let Irving, Shaq, and others continue in that misguided belief simply because that’s what their experience tells them is correct. DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who has made a career out of explaining and defending science, spoke for many when he responded that if Irving “wants to think the Earth is flat, go right ahead—as long as he continues to play basketball and not become head of any space agencies.”
The basic idea is that so long as your beliefs don’t harm me, you’re free to hold them no matter how wrong they might be. While that approach is understandable—after all, as the great Ron White so eloquently put it, “You can’t fix stupid”—it shows that the line between what makes a belief acceptable and unacceptable has shifted in an important way. If the litmus test for an acceptable belief is no longer right and wrong but whether or not I feel like that belief challenges me in a way that I don’t like, then the truth can and will eventually lose out to a more palatable lie.
Paul warned that this would happen, however, and it’s really nothing new. He told Timothy that a time would come when “people would not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4). His advice to us is as useful today as it was in the first century: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
As Christians, our job is not to correct every little misconception held by the people around us. However, we must always guard against the temptation to draw that line too far outside of right belief. We live in a world where, in many cases, people’s need for the truth of the gospel is only surpassed by their desire to ignore it. In such circumstances, the temptation will be to leave them to their own devices and give up on trying to speak the truth into their lives. We may wish to act as deGrasse Tyson does and think that, as long as their mistake isn’t hurting anyone that it’s not worth correcting. Yet, there is no more harmful lie than the one that says we’re fine without a savior.
God has made us to be a city on a hill and a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:13–16). It’s simply who we are, and there’s no avoiding it. Our primary purpose in this life is to expand his kingdom by helping to share his good news of salvation with a dying world that desperately needs to hear it. Many, if not most, won’t want to hear that message and we will likely face rejection, derision, or worse in the process of trying to help those around us. But, so long as we speak the truth in love rather than judgment, remembering that absent Christ’s presence in our lives we would likely act just as they do, then we can endure that suffering knowing that we’re simply following in our savior’s footsteps (John 15:20). That’s an enormous responsibility, but an even greater privilege. Are you doing your part today?