Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

I've been thinking about the assumptions we make lately about other people.  Several things prompted this train of thought, but one involved a conversation I had with someone who was of a more fundamentalist theological perspective.  I said something about people who were more progressive in their beliefs and she responded by saying, "Oh, you mean wishy-washy Christians?"  I was dumbfounded.  Do fundamentalist Christians really think that those of us who believe differently than they do are simply wishy-washy in our beliefs?  What an outrageous idea! The Christians I know and hang around with are people who pour their all into their faith, who live it out with every breath they take, who are out serving the homeless, and caring for the disenfranchised, who are actively working to be more loving and compassionate and who truly "pray without ceasing".  They are not wishy-washy just because they believe that their way into the mystery is not the only way into the mystery, or because they believe at their core that God loves everyone, or because they believe that we have no right to judge others.  They are not wishy-washy because they value other traditions, or because they feel that living out their faith in service is as important as what you say you believe. They are not wishy-washy because they aren't beating others up with their beliefs or hammering scripture at others. They aren't wishy-washy because they don't take every story in the Bible as literal or historical but instead look into it for the truths that underlie every story, for the meanings found deep within, for the human as well as the Divine inspiration behind the writings. If anything, it means they are more committed to study and seeking understanding, rather than just easily taking each story as a historic event without deeper meaning or value.

As I thought about this, I thought about the fact that there are two (more, but we will simplify it into two for now) different religions that both use the name "Christian" and that this confuses people who are not part of the church.  I thought about the fact that I don't believe we worship the same God or same image of God or same understanding of what the Divine or Mystery is at all.  This isn't a denominational difference, this is a core difference about how we understand God, scripture, life, etc. It has bothered me for some time that we use the same name to identify belief systems that are so different from each other that at times I believe they share not one thing in common except the name "Christian".

But then again, our faith is not the only place where this divergence seems to be more and more clear and strong.  In politics as well, there are hugely divergent understandings of what makes a country good, what makes a country strong, what we should stand for, what we should allow or encourage our government to do with its money, what our role should be in the government.  We don't speak the same language, we don't see the world in the same way.  We believe different news sources, we also believe different versions of "history", and there are many versions and stories and histories out there from which to choose.

We have different understandings of people, what makes them act the way they do, what makes some make the choices and errors they make, and what will "help" or "fix" the problems of human errors, mistakes, and choices.

It almost seems at times that there are two different species of humans, who just think and see and understand the world so vastly, vastly differently that that bridge is almost impossible to cross or reconcile.  It certainly seems far beyond healing or understanding.  And even farther beyond compassion...

And it was with that thought that I was brought up short.  Yes, I was amazed at the assumptions that my fundamentalist sister assumed about my faith.  The assumption that I was therefore "wishy-washy" was outrageous.  But what assumptions, I had to ask myself, do I make about her and her faith? My dissertation was on fundamentalism.  I studied it long and hard. And yet, I studied it from the perspective of someone who is not and has never been a fundamentalist.  As just a piece of that studying, I interview some who identify with that tradition, I interviewed more who had left it.  But I still came to the conversation as an outsider.  I try to understand "the other" but do I really go deep enough?  How about with those with differing political beliefs, criminal justice beliefs, beliefs about why others do what they do, different parenting beliefs, etc?

I think sometimes we make assumptions and assign motivations to people who differ from us that justify our own beliefs and opinions. If this person believes this way because they are a "mess", then we know we must be right because we are not a mess.  If this person believes that way because they are fearful, or confused, or "wishy-washy", then I don't have to actually look at what they think or believe because I can just discount what they think as being fear-based, insane, or, again, wishy-washy.

I saw a quote recently on Facebook, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - (supposedly by Aristotle).  But perhaps I would take this a step further.  "It is a mark of a person who truly wants to grow to be able to put aside our assumptions, really hear another point of view, consider it deeply and fully, and evaluate it based on nothing but itself, putting aside any assumptions we might like to make about why the other believes the way they do."

We should ask, not assume.  We should ask, rather than assign motivations to others.  And when we cannot ask, perhaps we should simply listen, and consider.  Don't we owe each other at least the courtesy of hearing?

As with most of what I write, I write this for myself especially.  I need to listen better.  And consider more.  And ask more questions without becoming defensive.  And, perhaps, I also need to be willing to take the time to correct the erroneous assumptions I hear others saying as well, especially about my own motivations.  We owe that to one another.  Listening, and believing that maybe, just maybe, the other is open to hearing and growing as well.