My dad thinks I'm being influenced by the liberal slant of the college courses I've been imbibing over the past couple years. Of course everything we encounter affects us in SOME way. Here is what I do to avoid being unduly influenced by any new idea, argument, or world-view… I remind myself that no matter how good this new thing sounds, there are equally intelligent people making equally compelling cases for a competing thing. In other words, I don't listen to a course on Voltaire or Nietzsche and say, "Goly, I've never heard that argument before, and it sounds perfect, therefore it must be True!". I think this is the reason kids in college end up going through all sorts of phases and are usually turned into raging liberals. The new ideas they hear are so powerful because they don't have a lot of exposure to the broader world of ideas, or the life experience of being disillusioned by those who follow those new ideas. But I really don't suffer under those illusions. My intellectual exploration is not a series of points where I think 'I've arrived', or figured it out. I'm not going: "Yeah, THIS guy has Truth… no wait… THIS guy has Truth… no wait… THIS guy…" My approach is more like this: "That's interesting… Sounds compelling, let's see what their biggest critic has to say about the subject."

That's exactly how I got into studying liberal theology. It's not because I stumbled across some writer or teacher and found what they had to say perfectly compelling in every way. (Then rejected everything about my past beliefs.) I've been checking out what they have to say specifically because I have never been exposed to REAL liberal theological arguments. I only knew them as interpreted and challenged in the conservative theological works of Chesterton, Lewis, Schaeffer and the like. But this is like hearing about an ex-wife you've never met from an acquaintance. He can go on and on about how horrible she was, but until you actually meet the person you really can't make a solid, informed judgment about her. Even if you trust this guy immensely, you know he will have certain biases based on his experiences and interpretations. I like this analogy because it demonstrates that one can be skeptical of a trusted source without throwing out the source as wholly unreliable. Nor does one have to take a perfect 50/50 split when interpreting what source is closer to Truth. Your acquaintance may be 90% correct about his ex-wife and she may be 10%. Or maybe she is more correct about certain aspects of the relationship than he is, but his emphasis was on other elements so while he could be totally right about what he is saying, his lack of attention to those elements paints an inaccurate picture.

This is why I don't find the worlds of liberal and conservative argument to be a black and white issue. There are different emphases and a lot of talking past each other. Each side can be more than 50% right at the same time. It's just that the issue, like a marriage relationship, is incredibly complex and nuanced and it's so dreadfully easy to overlook or underemphasize vital facets. So a scale with Truth being heavy and Falsehood being light can never balance two opposing thought-worlds. Because they can both be right and wrong in different ways. I can say that C.S. Lewis has a more tenable philosophy than Nietzsche, but I can't weigh them out and find one to True, and the other False. Neither would I attempt to say they are both kinda right and kinda wrong, so let's call it even. That would look as ridiculous as the illustration I made for it:

So yeah, when it comes to moderating how much you are influenced by anyone's biases, it seems to me it's a simple process of reminding yourself that they ARE biased, (as are all humans) and that there are always solid counter-arguments out there. Anyone who is intellectually honest will go seek those arguments out before determining how good the case that has been made really is. And because I'm really attempting to be intellectually honest, and since it takes a long time to investigate all these things, and since I'm a conservative person; THAT is why I'm so up-in-the-air about so many things. That is why I'm agnostic. From my current perspective, life is so complicated, and the ideas I'm exploring are so huge, that I don't see any point at which I can say I've arrived… I've surveyed all the pertinent data and concluded that X system or idea is correct. I do believe that an ultimate Truth exists and gives order to everything, I just don't trust that any of the professors or holy men that I've encountered have a complete grasp of it. I don't think a human CAN, therefore I'm not going to succumb to any siren songs calling me towards the rocks. I don't trust anyone that much. Including myself. Not that an agnostic-never-settled position can't itself be a siren song. I just can't conceive of a better position for seeking Truth. (But perhaps my conceiver is broken.)


Anonymous said…
Hi, I've been reading your post, and this post makes me wish the churches I have gone to(and left) have embraced the same position of balance or uncertainty.
To many Christians I have met, however, belief equates with absolute certainty void with doubt(which is considered a threat to one's faith). A lot of time the preacher claims only through believing this single position of interpretation of conventional Christian beliefs(or his own) shall one be saved. In fact I've never heard the preacher say to the people, "well, what do YOU think, folks?" And to the most people's desire; they want the preacher to give them a fact that they can tightly grip, not a open-ended question. To many I've met, that's what belief is all about.

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