Tag Archives: conservatives versus liberals

On contentions and being content in what you know

purple_hills_by_beth25491white-d3c42a6In college our dorm room was on the 7th floor of a tower overlooking the Oneota Valley in Decorah, Iowa. Our windows faced west and winter sunsets over the valley were often quite dramatic. When the sun went down and twilight was complete, the hills lining the Upper Iowa River a mile away turned purple in the evening light.

Or so it appeared one late afternoon to the eyes of all those sitting together in our dorm room as the sun went down. “Look how purple the hills are…” I pointed out the window.

“No they’re not. They’re black,” one person responded. We all looked at him.

“Are you color blind?” someone asked.

“No. I can see colors,” he insisted. “But those hills are black.”

The hills clearly appeared purple. But everything this fellow knew about the world was telling him the hills looked black.

We all argued the point for a few minutes and then someone changed the subject. We were getting nowhere in our efforts to help him understand the principles of shadow, light and the color spectrum.

Other than reality

His contention that the hills could not be anything but black once the sun went down were based on something other than a reality perceived by everyone else in the room. Perhaps he truly could not see the color purple and did not know that he was color blind in that way. None of us had any way of proving that to him at the moment. So from his perspective, he won the argument.

That tendency to argue something cannot be a fact unless you can immediately prove a contention wrong is quite common in this world. It helps explain why so many people have trouble grasping basic scientific principles as part of their worldview. Over time, people tend to build up a brand of pride in affirming their own worldview, no matter how wrong or shortsighted it may be. If they find enough people that share their narrow perspective, it becomes even more powerful a way to think.

Content in what they think they know

vfiles24241In other words, people tend to be content in what they feel they already know. Many feel like they’ve worked hard to assemble their worldview. They don’t really want to hear contentions to the contrary. They grow proud of their ability to defend this worldview to the death. One thinks of well-known creationist Ken Ham, whose arguments about biblical truth through literalism are popular with all who find solace and contentment in a simplified view of the world where God created the universe and nothing has changed or evolved since the beginning of time.

That’s very much like contending that the hills are black rather than purple at sunset. Or that they were green during the day, so how could they be purple at night? Nor could they be orange at dawn. Perceptions confined to simple rules quite easily rule out so many possibilities on grounds that cannot be argued away. They are matters of faith in how something is meant to be perceived. It’s a confining way to think, but some people like it that way. They’re proud of their surety, firm in their convictions, and nothing can make them change.

Not even the purple hills of sunset 

Yet we also know from the Bible that not even God is depicted as changeless. The deity that appears in a cloud in one book and a burning bush in another takes apparent pride in shifting and playing with the perceptions of all those who would fix the Creator in one place, one form or one time.

God transcends all of that. So does nature. It is very clear that our perceptions of both are organically intertwined. It is also acceptance of one does not automatically cancel out the other.

New understandings

PaversWe all proceed at times with theories that ultimately get proven wrong. It happens in faith as well as science. Among Christians the old religion gave way to a new understanding with the advent of Christ. Then Martin Luther came along to shake up the Catholic order and traditions. Now there’s a new wave of Progressive Christians tugging at the sleeves of believers to reform around an organic view of the Bible that allows scholarship into the mix to determine a better understanding of what scripture really means, and what it doesn’t.

The trick to a establishing a better understanding in life is to never be content in what you know. That’s what’s taking place every day in science. Some people point to that fact as the source of an idea that science cannot be trusted. But that’s a mistake in perception too. We depend on science for all kinds of trustworthy activities. From medicine to industry, biology to economics, our sciences deliver dependable if not changeless information about how we view and interact in this world. Without this source of humanistic culture, we are in essence reduced to tribal beings caught in a blind play in which we have no control at all over our destiny. And shockingly, some people still think God wants that for us too.

We need our moral traditions to be equally open to change. One could say that God expects that of us. The right kind of pride is having the humility to be awakened to new ways of thinking. God has never liked stiff-necked believers.

Proverbs 21: 9–– “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy.”

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The takeaway on feeling good about yourself

IMG_0446It’s been an interesting process becoming the runner I am versus the runner and athlete I once was. Just last week while working out on a treadmill at the fitness club (not my favorite thing to do) I glanced over to see myself in a giant mirror (itself a confirmation of social vanity) and realized how common and ordinary I actually appear in my shorts and tee shirt.

The shirt I was wearing read IRONMAN on the front. But I only got that shirt by volunteering at a water station. That was one of many places where I have had keen opportunity to observe other people in action.

Having won a few races over the years it is a compelling thing to study those with absolutely no chance of winning. Sure, they may earn an age group award. I’ve gotten a few of those too. For some reason it makes you feel good to know that you beat other people in the same age category as you. Just a step ahead?

Yet we must consider what it means to be “better” than someone else our own age. A few years back a nurse from an insurance company came to my house to conduct health tests in order to qualify for a new life insurance policy. There were blood checks and an EKG. She pronounced that I ranked in the top 2% of all males in the country in terms of general overall health. Well, all that working out must be worth something. At least that’s what I told myself.

Yet despite all the advertising telling you the importance of physical health and owning good life insurance, my high ranking did not produce much of a discounted rate. On the actuarial tables of life, there really are only a few facts and figures that really matter. Most of us do not know these algorithms. We proceed on best guesses and a gut instinct about how we feel.

That’s a big part of what matters out there in the real world: how we feel. We take pride in our physical and mental health to feel better about ourselves. Some people even treat the human body as a temple to God, striving to avoid influences that might undermine dedication to good values and respect for the gift of grace.

Those are high standards indeed. Like so many people I tend to fall somewhere in between the devout soul and letting it all hang out. We figure the balance keeps us safe and might just get us into heaven, or wherever.

IMG_0438What we’re really talking about here is self-discipline. That’s the takeaway on feeling good about yourself. It takes focus and some humility to apply discipline in your life. That’s why Jesus counseled the wealthy man that it would be so hard for him to get into heaven. When wealth gives you too many roads, you can wind up trying to take them all. That’s also why the bible tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” It’s not money itself that is evil, but the fact that self identity can be consumed as well as earned. It is well known that sooner or later the love of wealth can consume the soul. That’s what Jesus was talking about.

On the other hand having money can make us feel secure and even charitable. Those are both good things to have. There is certainly nothing wrong with either one of those attributes. It helps to have a dose of gratitude as well.

Notice there is no mention of who deserves more kudos in this process, conservatives or liberals. Both are wholesome worldviews when applied with some level of jurisdiction over greed and what constitutes acceptable expressions of freedom, and social justice.

Feeling good about yourself is an act of discipline just as feeling good about another person is an act of love. Sometimes it is hard to achieve that balance. If you cease to forgive your own flaws then feeling good about yourself can be difficult. There are so many ways for that challenge to manifest; from physical self image to emotional trust.

Then when it comes to loving and trusting strangers, there is so much confusing information in the world. But there’s a formula that is time-tested and true. Sometimes the best way to feel good about yourself is to put the needs of others first, and let that teach you what you really need in yourself.

And that’s a race that never ends.