I really don’t care to watch a football game when I already know who won. How many times have you been somewhere with your TV set to record a game, and someone ruins it for you by mentioning the final score…ugh! So, what is that about? I guess we like the drama, the mystery, the suspense… Or before you can stop them, someone blurts out: “can you believe she got killed?!”…movie ruined.
That may be true of movies and football games, but not so much in life. We want to know how the story ends; even as it is unfolding. We want certainty. We want to know we are right. Years ago, when I was an uncertain, insecure young person, I was introduced to evangelical Christianity. As I look back on that time from the perspective of many years and many experiences, I can see why it became immediately attractive to me. It offered something that was missing in my life at the time. It offered answers.
I had questions. The Bible had answers. Cool. Where do I sign? It also offered a social network that was absent from my life. It offered community. Fellowship. Belonging. A tight-knit community built upon the foundation of absolute truth and topped off with an everlasting reward…that’s an intoxicating combination. A group of people who all think alike and talk alike and live alike…what could be better? Just figure out what is required for membership in this elite club, learn the language, and get onboard. Once you learn how things operate, you don’t even have to think for yourself. Just do what everyone else is doing. Do as you’re told…by the Bible, the pastor…both…either. It’s easy. I’m not saying that people in these communities are disingenuous, they’re not. It’s a genuine life commitment for most of them.
I have lived my whole adult life within that kind of community.
Certainty sells. We long to know that we are right. Certainty also divides. If I am right, and you disagree…then…well, um…you are wrong. Too bad. Being certain of what you believe; how you think, it’s great. You don’t have to wonder. It’s settled; all questions answered. And that is truly a great feeling. Problems arise, however, when someone comes along who thinks differently. And maybe he has as many valid reasons for his viewpoint as you do. But you’re already invested in your mindset. You’ve committed. You’re all in. Maybe your whole life is invested in your certainty.
So what do you do, then, with this alternate view? This differing opinion. You reject it. You offer your substantive reasons why it must be wrong. The two views cannot both be right. One must be wrong. And if you are both convinced of your respective positions, you will of course inevitably be divided. And you may even become enemies. And one may even try to kill the other one. Your holy book may tell you that you will be rewarded with 17 virgins in paradise; or 21; or however many virgins one needs…and that may be all the motivation you need to fly an airplane into a building…
Certainty sells. Certainty divides. Certainty kills.
That may seem like a harsh observation. It is. It’s difficult to consider. But those guys were as certain as anyone on the planet that their particular view on life and god and religion…was the correct one. All the other ideas, viewpoints, dogmas, etc…are wrong. I’m right. You’re wrong. Divisive language. None of us want our position challenged. We want to know we are right. We have to.
Or do we? Is it really that hard to say, “I don’t know”? I may think I am right about my view, but I could be wrong. I may be mistaken. Many years ago…people- the religious leaders of the day…said, with certainty: The earth is flat; and the sun revolves around the earth; and physical and mental illnesses are caused by demons. Not too many years ago the Bible was used to justify burning “witches” and human slavery and the repression of women (uh, that’s still happening in some church circles). We’ve learned that’s not right.
There have been many people throughout history who were very very certain about many things, only to have science or societal mores or simple common sense…offer a more compelling idea. Certainty can be challenged. I think it must be. And oftentimes it’s more noble- and maybe even wiser, to change your mind, or to say you might be wrong, than to cling stubbornly to your position. Even if you have invested a great deal. Even if you have invested your life.
The truth is, the more fragile a position, the less it can be challenged. And the more I defend my position, the less confident I am in it.
If I am comfortable with who I am, what I believe, how I live, what I think…why can’t I allow you the same freedom? Why do I need for you to agree with me?
Why do we have to be certain? Why do we have to be right? Why can’t we tolerate another opinion, another way of life, another religion, another lifestyle, another belief? What are we doing to one another?
I don’t know…