Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Think Just Believe

Credit: ASBO Jesus
Has faith replaced thinking today? And I'm not just talking about faith in religious circles. As I watch people continue to subdivide into ideologically-defined camps, I can't help but wonder how many of them have truly critically examined their beliefs. In my experience, most people leave the thinking to others. They decide that "so and so" is credible and trustworthy so they eagerly soak in everything he or she says. But how did they decide they could trust that person? They can't explain it and it usually boils down to agreement on presuppositions. But you can't learn anything NEW if you only listen to people with whom you already agree.

I don't understand blindly trusting someone else. (I understand faith in God is blind trust. This post isn't about that.) What you learned about investing from some guy on the bus is not fact until it's been independently verified. I don't trust. I research. I try to strip away the rhetorical baggage (or "spin") and figure out where someone's coming from. My hermeneutic of suspicion is always operating, not just in biblical studies.

But let's use my discipline of biblical studies as an example. How good of a Bible scholar would I be if I only read conservative evangelical Christian scholars? Or feminist scholars? Or Catholic scholars? What if I completely ignored Jewish scholarship simply because it wasn't "Christian"? The point isn't that I need to be well-read on every possible perspective. The point is that I need input from people who think differently than I do in order to grow in my thinking. I'm not challenged to think when I only listen to the people I agree with.

I admit that having to think for yourself can be difficult. It really is easier to let someone else do the thinking for you. The funny thing is that most people who aren't thinking for themselves actually think they are. The pinnacle of success for anyone looking to persuade you to vote for them, support their cause, etc. is for their ideas to take hold of you so strongly that you've convinced yourself you thought of them on your own.

So, how can you start thinking for yourself?

First, watch where you get your information from.  Are you into politics? Do you only watch CNN or do you also check Fox News? Fired up about gay marriage? Get info directly from both sides in the debate. Are you interested in the creation/evolution debate? Did you learn everything from Answers In Genesis or do you also glean information from pro-evolution Christians? Input from both sides is essential. No matter what the issue is, you can't trust someone who is opposed to a position to give you an accurate account of the opposition. It's only natural to frame the debate in a way that makes your preference look stronger than the opposition.

Second, once you've started watching where you get your information from, add the layer of evaluating every source. Figure out the writer's agenda. The late Bible scholar Robert Carroll analyzed the biblical text by asking himself, "Why is this guy lying to me?" (anecdotal hearsay uttered by Michael V. Fox in class once). Or ask yourself, "who benefits?" If I buy in to this person's agenda, who benefits from it? Political ads want to sway your vote. Religious rhetoric wants to sway your beliefs. Marketers want to sway your buying decisions. Trust no one. Think.

HT: James McGrath

1 comment:

  1. I suppose there can be a difference between thinking for oneself, and thinking for oneself for the sake of thinking for oneself.