You’d probably never guess it, but some people don’t like me. I know, I know, it’s shocking. I mean, have you met me? What’s not to like?
Actually, I don’t know for sure if it’s me that they don’t like. It might just be my views on various topics that they abhor. But, to be fair, from how they sometimes talk or write to me, you’d think they had something personal against me.
Anyhow, sometimes tense conversations and debates happen because they comment on my posts, which is totally cool. Most of the time, I actually want people to interact with me on the stuff I write. It often leads to some really great conversations. However, often this sort of thing happens when I comment on other people’s stuff. Perhaps it’s naive of me, but I guess I sort of assumed that if you’re putting something out there for the world to see, you are inviting others to weigh in on it. That’s my rationale, at least.
However, as much as I would like to give people the benefit of the doubt, it has become abundantly clear that some people really, really, really don’t want to hear from people that disagree with them. Rather, many people just want to hear their own thoughts and opinions echoed back at them. And this, I think, is unfortunate for a number of reasons:
In Greek mythology, we find the story of Narcissus, a handsome young demigod who notices his reflection and immediately falls in love with himself. Sources vary, but all of them end with him dying, either because he wastes away sitting by the pool or because he eventually kills himself. One of the beautiful things about the internet is that it allows us to “see” others. We can watch videos of people on the other side of the planet, read the blogs of people whose politics differ from our own, and listen to podcasts of stories from folks whose lives look almost nothing like ours.
One of the dangerous things about the internet is that we can easily use it as a mirror to just keep looking at ourselves. It has become as simple as a Google search to find people who agree with us on an issue, and it has become previously-unimaginably easy to publish ourselves for the world to see. I’m not knocking this. I think it can be a good thing, and I do it myself with regularity. But it is something that we should be aware of.
When people only ever read, watch, or listen to things that agree with them (and get angry when a dissenting voice comes across their path), they are engaging in a very real (although admittedly new) form of narcissism. They like certain things about themselves, and rather than pull their eyes away from their reflection long enough to see others, they would prefer to waste away gazing upon their own reflection.
There is something incredibly pompous about trying to silence the voices of those who disagree with you, because it assumes offhand that you already know everything you need to know about a subject. I happen to do a lot of theologizing on my blog here, and it is on the topic of theology that I have received the most heated opposition. Like I said, some of it is fun. I’ve met some really smart people who think I am completely wrong, and their constructive criticism has been a huge blessing as I formulate and express my own beliefs. However, I’ve also met many people who don’t care to engage my ideas, but prefer that I simply change my views sine causa, or else be silent so that nobody else begins to think like me.
And this second response betrays a deeply held presupposition that you already have the right answers. In matters of theology, this assumes that you already know everything that you need to know about God, and there is nothing to be learned by those who hold differing beliefs. Is there a more profound form of arrogance?
The Virtue of Ignorance
Ignorance is bliss, as the old saying goes. But ignorance is not a virtue. The sad thing is that time and again I have seen it upheld as though being ignorant was in some way honorable. I once heard someone say, “He’s just too educated for his own good.” Far from being unique, it has become apparent that an air of anti-intellectualism permeates much of the church. Rather than valuing education and learning, people now applaud someone sticking their fingers in their ears and refusing to listen to others.
I once had a woman tell me, “I am never sending my kids to Bible college. Clearly, it has ruined your faith.” Among other things, it is evident that she bought into the idea that there are certain things, facts even, that one simply ought not to know.
But, if all truth is God’s truth, then we should have nothing to fear by learning.
Lack of Faith
Many people will claim that they refuse to listen to, much less accept, alternative perspectives because they have a strong faith in the beliefs they already hold. The ironic thing is that closing ourselves off to other’s perspectives actually reveals how weak our faith truly is.
Think about this: if you genuinely do have an incredibly strong faith, then you would not fear considering views that differ from your own, since you would believe that your own views would be able to stand up to them. Deep down, however, it is only if you think that your faith would crumble in the face of different views that you would try to protect it by avoiding engaging in other perspectives. If you really want to demonstrate how strong your faith is, you should be willing, if not eager, to field-test it against that of others.
I know it sounds crazy, but it is actually psychologically damaging to only ever listen to people that agree with you. Consider the fact that part of your brain has the function of wrestling with new ideas. As we expand our thinking, both in what we think and how we think, our brains make new synapse connections. Physiologically, this means we get more wrinkles in our brains, because we are getting smarter (in a manner of speaking).
However, if we neglect to use certain parts of our brain, we gradually become less and less capable of using them. In this sense, the brain is a lot like a muscle. If you neglect to exercise or stay active, you eventually lose the capacity to do intense activity when you actually need to. If you’ve ever learned a second language, you might have noticed a growing inability to speak that language the longer you don’t.
Similarly, if we neglect or refuse to use the parts of our brains that engage new ideas, eventually we lose the ability to do so. And that’s a sad thing.
So there you have it. Don’t be “that guy” (or gal). You don’t have to always go looking for viewpoints that disagree with you, but it’s helpful and valuable to do so once in awhile. And, for crying out loud, if you’re going to post something online for the world to see, don’t throw a fit if someone disagrees with you. You kinda brought it on yourself.