What if You Are Wrong?

Commander Locke: Damnit, Morpheus, not everyone believes what you believe.
Morpheus: My beliefs don’t require them to.
The Matrix Reloaded


Here’s something to consider as we slip through last few days of 2010:

What if you are wrong?

What if your most strongly held beliefs or codes – religious, political, philosophical, ethical, moral – are false?

This is a question to which I return from time to time not because I seriously doubt my own beliefs but because there is always the possibility that I could be mistaken. In the past I have been known to switch opinions on a variety of topics after thoughtfully considering new ideas. It isn’t something I expect to happen again but I also never thought it would occur in the first place.

Everything that I’ve experienced so far has led to my current beliefs but I’m not omniscient. Religiously speaking, for example, there could be something that I’ve missed that obviously points to the:

  • Muslims
  • Christians
  • Neopagans
  • Atheists
  • Buddhists
  • Hindus
  • Jews
  • Taoists
  • Sikhs

having the corner on the truth.

Ultimately it is as important to know what one believes and why we believe it as it is to hold those convictions with a gentle reminder that I, you, we could be wrong.

My Rule of Thumb:

If someone cannot admit that there’s a possibility, as slim as it may be, that they don’t have the unadulterated truth I will take everything they say from that moment on with a few teaspoons of salt. One blind spot has already been uncovered. Of how many others are they also unaware?

There is a deep, quiet strength in ambiguity-flecked beliefs, in following hunches, assumptions or even convictions without the zeal of absolutism. Grey is not always a cobbled road between the black and white villages of truth and fairy stories; sometimes it is its own destination.


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0 Responses to What if You Are Wrong?

  1. The arrogance needed to deny doubt is simply amazing!

    I’ll echo your father.

    ‘”Grey is not always a cobbled road between the black and white villages of truth and fairy stories; sometimes it is its own destination.” … love that sentence … ‘
    ~
    ”If someone cannot admit that there’s a possibility, as slim as it may be, that they don’t have the unadulterated truth I will take everything they say from that moment on with a few teaspoons of salt. One blind spot has already been uncovered. Of how many others are they also unaware?”

    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    Fact is, this is clearly a sign of fundamentalism. (And the arrogant position some Atheists hold that naturally default their own positions to be truth, while ‘tolerating’ the fantasies and ignorance of other beliefs is still just another flavour of arrogance and fundamentalism).

    ~

    I can remember about 9-10 years ago at a local Baptist church a younger man of their congregation had expressed his thoughts/opinions on an issue similar to this. He had said that if you have a Belief, it is therefore your Belief, and if you believe it, then you must also believe your Belief is right. Otherwise it wouldn’t be your Belief.

    It has stuck with me every since. I realized it was a movement towards a position of exclusivity and fundamentalism, but to a certain degree, it made sense. How could you believe otherwise?
    However, there is something to be said about choosing between allowing a Faithful Doubt and having a Doubtful Faith. Personally, not only do I allow Doubt within my “Faith”; I believe Doubt is a necessary part of my Faith. Whereas in that young man from the local Baptist Church is concerned, Doubt on any level isn’t acceptable. (Which, I personally would consider a questionable or doubtful faith). Funny how there seems to be a connection between those who believe Doubt is synonymous with Faithlessness (or even Sin!) and Conservatives and Fundamentalists?

    What my ‘faith’ encompassed 24 years ago (I seriously was considering being a Roman Catholic Priest), and what my ‘faith’ encompassed even 4 years ago are no longer the same (and in some cases even similar) to what my ‘faith’ today encompasses. I feel very safe to say that in 10 years from now my ‘faith’ will be quite different than it is today. (And I can’t help but wonder if this remains true even to die-hard fundamentalists as well – they just don’t realize it or won’t admit it).

    …but a spiritual evolution is my ‘faith’… and to answer the question you pose, ‘what if I’m wrong?’… I would most definitely fit what many Conservative Christians would call (severely) back-sliden…. or condemned.
    ~
    There is something to be said about that gray-zone betwixt the absolutism of Black and White.
    Arrogance and Ignorance go hand-in-hand, they say.
    Most fundamentalists will acknowledge that certain things, certain aspects, cannot be known. God must be alien, to some extent. The Divine Mysteries. God as sole judge. etc.
    These are all gray areas. These are all unknowns and unknowables.

    The arrogance needed to claim otherwise…
    The arrogance needed to deny doubt is simply amazing!

    • You are full of fantastic ideas recently, Seph!

      I never knew that you once considered becoming a RC priest. What changed your mind?

      I definitely agree that Atheists or non-theists/skeptics in general can be just as fundamentalist as people with various religious beliefs. I don’t see them attempting to influence public policy as often, though although maybe they would if their numbers were large enough to swing elections?

      (By influencing public policy I mean that I have not yet heard non-theist proclaim that all schoolchildren should be taught to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, that teaching them anything else is brainwashing, that their “religious” beliefs should be the moral and legal foundation of our laws or that people who disagree with them are, by definition, morally degenerate and unpatriotic.It’s entirely possible that I’ve only run across sane and reasonable non-theists so far, though. 😉 )

      • “I never knew that you once considered becoming a RC priest. What changed your mind?”
        Yikes!
        No simple short answer.

        The abrupt death (and unmarked grave for nearly 20 years) of my mother shattered my faith.
        It threw me into nearly a decade of darkness in which (and I know this sounds silly) I waged war against God.
        …it wasn’t a pretty time.

  2. Great post! And personally I don’t believe that there is one absolute unadulterated truth. I only hold to what works for me but would never try to say that my answers or what works for me is the end-all, be-all! And I am open to finding new ideas, sifting through them, keeping the wheat (or what is wheat for me) and discarding the chaff, fully aware that my wheat may be someone else’s chaff! I agree that if you don’t know why you believe what you believe that it would be wise to take another look.

    • Great stuff, Daphne!

      “fully aware that my wheat may be someone else’s chaff!”

      I have to admit that I struggle with this on certain issues. They just seem so clear-cut to me that I honestly cannot fathom how any reasonable person could ever disagree even thought there are those with wildly different views on those topics than my own.

      How have you learned to embrace this?

      • Well, I suppose my years of searching have something to do with it, and I truly do not believe that there is only one right answer. Also, since I am definitely not part of the bell curve, I’ve learned that differences are not bad, but actually the spice of life. And my therapist is on my case about not seeing the world in black and white. So I guess all of this has helped. I hold firmly to what works for me, but I’d never try to push that onto someone else. If they ask my opinion, I will give it, but then it is up to the other person as to whether they find value in that opinion or not, whether it speaks to their heart on not. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but I’m so sick of wars fought over political and religious differences (although in reality I think those are the excuses and the wars are really fought over oil, etc.) that I think it is high time to let everyone just be! That’s my two cents anyway.

        • “Also, since I am definitely not part of the bell curve, I’ve learned that differences are not bad, but actually the spice of life.”

          Excellent point.

          I think it’s a bit easier for people outside of majority groups to realize this.

          And I completely understand your fatigue over political and religious fights. They’re among a (small) number of topics that I generally don’t talk about with people until we’ve known one another for a long time and I’ve figured out how argumentative they may be if or when we disagree.

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