Lately, I have been thinking and pondering on how we, as individuals, typically discuss, view, and think about different, new, or opposing views. Are we generally receptive to the thought’s of others? Do we tend to lash out against an opposing view or thought? Do we tend to take one stance more than the other? And how do I personally deal with these things?
Generally, or at least at a surface level, I have seen a large majority of conversations begin or end with one or all parties lashing out at one another. Frequently this is accompanied by hateful words or the use of words to diminish the views and opinions of another individual. And this tendency is not just restricted to Facebook conversations about politics or religion (although they are quite rampant in this area). These type of conversations and discussions are taking place within families and classrooms and between friends. Its disheartening and honestly discourages any conversation about anything that might involve any sort of controversy or uncomfortability.
I have dealt with this firsthand. The surprising thing though, is that most of the instances where I have either experienced or witnessed someone slinging insults or putting down the views of others is with fellow Christians. Honestly, I think I have held a stigma against many atheists. I thought that, almost by nature, they would be the ones who would assault my thoughts or views. I have had conversations with atheists that result in such an ending, yes. But more and more, I am butting heads with those who profess the same faith that I do. Whether it was about Biblical studies, science, doctrine, etc., I experienced individuals flat out laughing at the views of others. This behavior increased when there were several individuals who held the same view. I would liken it to a middle school, playground bully and his lackeys picking on some other kid. Here’s another realization I also had to come to: I was taking part in these actions too.
I absolutely hate when my own views aren’t given the time of day and are mocked. I can’t stand it. But what about the times when I do the same thing to others? These thoughts made me analyze how I viewed others and the idea that they might have an opposing view. One of my classes this semester, Enlightenment Theology, was instrumental in helping me shape my thoughts on this. The class is designed to explore the theology and ideas of the most prominent Enlightenment thinkers and movements. Many of the early thinkers were pondering the question of how to go about talking about differing ideas, especially religion and science. The Enlightenment began in the middle of the 17th century, right after the Protestant Reformation. Belief and worldviews were becoming more individualistic and the freedom of thought was unleashed. Where the Roman Catholic Church had endeavored to dogmatically restrict opposing or new views on tradition and doctrine, the Enlightenment encouraged such exploration and thinking.
I would argue that the Enlightenment began with good intentions and was healthy. People were thinking for themselves and reading the thoughts of others, largely for the first time. However, it quickly delved into a pattern of thinking that is all too familiar with that of today. Many thinkers were scathing of religion in their writing. Again, some of it I would argue was good for the church and for society. Many things needed to be said. But, I think it continued into a mistrust and even apprehension towards religion, specifically Christianity. Although I disagree with the stances of many of the Enlightenment thinkers who spoke on such things, such as Voltaire, I think it is justified. These individuals were tired of the Roman Catholic Church telling what they could or couldn’t read or think. They were tired of the many wars that were being raged between differing Protestant nations and groups.
How Do We Seek Truth?
It is very easy to see the Enlightenment as a movement that is counter to Christianity or many of its doctrines. I believe that many thinkers were indeed focused on such things, but I would rather focus on something else. At the beginning of the Enlightenment, French philosopher Pierre Bayle wrote on the topic of toleration. In the midst of my own thinking and personal struggles with this, I found truth in Bayle’s words. To paraphrase, he taught that you should not hold a view or belief so strongly that it causes you to put down the thoughts or views of another because, at least in some capacity, you could be wrong and they could be right. Thinking this way makes you put value in another individual’s thoughts and views because you might just learn something! Thinking this way also requires you to take the stance of humility, acknowledging that you can and will be wrong.
Another idea that pervades the early Enlightenment period is the idea of discovering truth by doubt. The idea is that you cannot know if something is actually correct unless you doubt it. This doesn’t mean that you completely discount something, but that you are willing and do subject the thought or belief to scrutiny. Indeed, if we think we are absolutely correct on a matter, how can we know we are wrong if we do not ask the simple question “Am I wrong?” and are willing to say “yes” if we need to. This is what I call “Investigative Doubt.” It is a willingness to doubt our own views, to subject them to scrutiny in the hopes of furthering our knowledge.
I think that these two ideas, viewing the thoughts of others as just as valuable as your own and taking your own thoughts off of a pedestal, are the key to the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and truth. These core ideals encourage healthy, friendly discussion with the desire to learn and grow and hopefully bestow some knowledge as well. Individuals who take these ideas seriously listen, research, and found new views or build up existing ones. This does not mean that you must throw away all of your views or that you must always agree with others. Rather, by viewing the views of others as valuable for obtaining knowledge and researching them, you can discover what is correct (This could be by reading, watching videos, or even listening to podcasts). Insults and belittlement, which destroy such conversation, have no place with these ideas in play.
Seeking Truth as a Christian.
As I said before, I see and experience close-minded behavior amongst my fellow Christians. Now, the term “close-minded” has been given quite a negative connotation as of late and is often paired directly with “bigot” and even “Christian.” This angers me. It is not an anger that stirs me to defend my fellow Christians and to point out the ignorant non-believers. No, I am angry because it is true, even among those Christians who would consider themselves liberal in their theology and thinking. They snicker and mock the theology and beliefs of their fellow Christians. They place the views of another below their own, either verbally, internally, or both. There is no discussion. If there is, it is a battle where both sides have already decided their opponent is outright wrong. Individuals who act like this are Fools. This is not my own description, but the Bible’s.
“Do not be wise in your own eyes” – Proverbs 3:7
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” – Proverbs 12:15
“He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who ignores reproof [correction] goes astray.” – Proverbs 10:17
The book of Proverbs is filled with descriptions of fools who talk too much, think they are always right, and refuse to accept that they can be and are often wrong. In addition to this, as Christians, we are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). This includes showing love by respecting the thoughts of others, regardless of their views.
Now, this does not mean that we should not address and correct wrong teachings. Jesus repeatedly called out the religious leaders of his time of incorrect teaching. The Apostle Paul did likewise, writing entire letters to churches, urging them to heed correction and return to truthful teachings and doctrines. We are to always be ready to “make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis mine). There is a place for defending correct teaching, but it must be done with a mindset that views the other individual with the value they deserve. If you hope to correct a false teaching, how can you hope to do so by attacking or forcing the individual on the defensive? More likely, they will just be more set in their thinking because of your attack. As I said earlier, insults and belittlement have no place in these conversations, especially for an individual who professes to follow Jesus.
Let me state, I am not calling for Christians to begin calling into doubt all of their views of Jesus and the Bible. I am not calling for that at all. However, I am calling Christians to start reading the views of others as to why they might not see the Bible as you do. I am also calling Christians to start researching the views they claim to hold. The idea of Investigative Doubt should stir you to research your own beliefs and opinions as well as the thoughts of others. It should stir you to read and explore a directly opposing view to your own. This will give you some perspective of the thoughts of others as well as possibly show you were you need to adapt or correct your views. It can strengthen your own views so you can better discuss them and it will give you a more respectful view of others.
I know that many Christians might fear that “doubting” their views would be sacrilegious or even unfaithful. Let me state again, when I say “doubt,” I do not mean to be skeptical of your faith and to dismiss it or key doctrines. No, rather, I advocate for a purposeful study and research of your own views and that of others. Just because you research an opposing view doesn’t mean you are giving up your faith. It doesn’t mean that you will agree with the view you’re researching. I have researched many topics and come out stronger in my view because of it. Not more dogmatic, no, but more informed and able to discuss and defend it.
Refuse to be Ignorant.
In my opinion, ignorance of the views of others is where much contempt and mocking behavior stems from.
For example, in my theology classes, my views have been openly mocked. Whether or not the individual’s knew my stance, I do not know, but they were openly laughing and belittling Young Earth Creation. Mind you, these are Christians doing this. They were setting up straw-man arguments (arguments that incorrectly represent the views of another) and knocking them over with glee. I guarantee that no one in that room could tell me any sort of accurate model (geological, cosmological, or even Biblical) held by Young Earth Creationists. They do not know the actual stances of the individuals they criticize. They belittle those views and wonder why anyone believes them. Could it be that they have good reasons for believing them? And I know this because when I provide accurate details, they just stare dumbfounded. They were ignorant of Young Earth Creation views.
On the contrary, I can tell them what they believe and why I disagree with it, both Biblically and scientifically (Not trying to toot my own horn). I refuse to be ignorant so that I can understand why others think the way they do. This allows me to see their perspective and better explain my own views to them. In addition to this, I don’t want to be a fool. I don’t want to be embarrassed by providing a defense against something that I have no knowledge of! I have done that before. Also, if I am wrong, I would like to know. So, I research their opinions and their views. Admitting we are wrong is extremely difficult, but it must be done if we want to further our knowledge or ever hope to have good, convincing conversations.
The idea of Investigative Doubt encourages individuals to value the views of others, research their own views as well as those of others, and to humble themselves to correction if need be. It challenges everyone, myself included, to listen to everyone’s thoughts and to carefully inspect and understand them, including those views we may have an initial tendency to mock (This includes flat earthers, commonly mocked in Christian circles. I do not agree with flat earthers, but thinking of them as less because of their views is wrong). Rather, it stirs respectful conversations where I think real change and correction can happen. It stirs learning and the desire for understanding and knowledge.
This does not mean we must scrap everything we have ever thought or believed. No, rather it should stir us to research our own views, evaluate them, and adapt them if necessary. Also, this doesn’t mean we take everyone’s views as truth. But it should stir you to respect the views of others, researching them and comparing them with your own so you can decide for yourself what you believe. This is something I am actively pursuing and I hope to live out.