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Gullible

July 9, 2016

I was walking into my local bagel store early this morning and thinking that one of the benefits of moving back to New York after 30+ years is that I have a local bagel shop; such things were not common in North Carolina.  As I went inside and gave my order I overheard a discussion between three local men who were sitting sipping coffee and solving, or at least analyzing, the world’s problems.  I was interested to hear that the recent shooting of the police officers in Dallas was Hillary Clinton’s doing.

OK, they didn’t actually believe that she shot them herself but they deemed it to be a too suspicious coincidence that, immediately following the public blow-up of her e-mail habits, a massive story such as the Dallas shooting would wipe the discussion of her e-mails off the public table.  The debate seemed to be whether she actually ordered the hit on the police as a cover-up or if she simply knew it was coming and was ready to capitalize on it.  Sadly, my bagel order was ready before they reached a conclusion so I will never know the answer.

It is human nature to want to believe the worst about people we don’t like and to not want to believe something bad about our friends.  Conspiracy theories grow in such fertile imaginations.  In politics we want to believe the worst about those who disagree with us and can then be gullible enough to fall for conclusions like the Clinton one above.  There are equally eyebrow raising conclusions about the Republicans.  If you don’t believe me, google “George Bush 9 11 conspiracy.”

I’d like to think I am immune to this type of gullibility but I am not and the sad truth is that neither are you.  In the world of evangelicalism and, in particular, in theological debates the norm is to be believe the word of “trusted scholars” (Defined as those who agree with me.) and to call those who differ dangerous heretics.  I wrote a few weeks ago about a nasty struggle going on within the ranks of complementarian theologians about whether or not Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father.  Charges of heresy, or even worse being a “closet egalitarian,” are flying.  With a little effort you can find dozens of articles on this debate but this one is the only one I will link to because I like the tone and, in part, because it has a number of links within it.

The simple fact is most of us are rather gullible. We tend to believe information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and hopes.  Scholars call this confirmation bias.   And those of us who are religious tend to take a lot of things on faith and we certainly do about the Bible.  It is not that we don’t try to do serious analysis of our beliefs but that our capacity to do objective analysis is always flawed.

If the men at the bagel shop taught me anything this morning it isn’t about Hillary Clinton’s nefarious ways, it is that I need to spend time listening to untrusted scholars too and, horror of horrors, be open to letting them teach me something I need to know.

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From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Sue Jiang permalink

    Thank you, Tom, for making such connections and sharing your humbling insight with wit and conviction! Hopefully you don’t need to over indulge to continue with our “Lessons from the Local Bagel Shop!”

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