MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT: I have many personal shortcomings and character defects --- and I know it. One would think that working to overcome my own deficits would take up so much of my time and energy that I wouldn't have much or any left over to criticize anyone else's, right? Right. In a perfect world, where I'm perfect and deal only with perfect people (which begs the question: In a "perfect" world, would we have all those character flaws? Let's not go there), that might be the case. But this is not a perfect world, and I'm not perfect. So I do have character defects --- and I want to deal with one of those in this post.
Probably my most intractable defect is my tendency to see anything less than full agreement with any of my positions as being an embrace of an opposing position. While that may sometimes be a legitimate assessment, it isn't always such. I think I understand why I exhibit this tendency, but it's still wrongheaded. Here's why I think I do it (yes, I understand that trying to explain this is itself yielding to that unfortunate tendency): I have been blessed (or cursed) with an almost automatic consideration of different viewpoints, and I've often considered and discarded long before certain arguments that are raised by people with whom I am now discussing a particular subject, and I am disturbed by many of those people's tendency to start their arguments with positions that I long ago considered and discarded. An example that comes readily to mind is what I would consider the Afrocentric nonsense (okay, theories --- but remember, I clearly said this was my assessment) embraced by so many black "intellectuals" these days. I happen to see absolutely no difference between the ideas that are being "discovered" and disseminated by so many black "scholars" now and what I would consider the tripe preached by so many black "intellectuals" fifty years ago --- stuff that I (1) considered, (2) briefly embraced, then (3) almost completely rejected way back then. A whole new generation of students is now "discovering" these ideas, and seem to think that they are previously-suppressed Golden Truths. And of course, they see any disagreement with any of the stuff that's pronounced by those people they revere as being a perversion of "our" true history, and that we oreos believe otherwise only because we have been brainwashed by white pseudo-scholars with a bone to pick. And, if I really knew the "truth" about "our REAL history," I'd know that there were only kings and queens in my background --- never any field workers or slaves or tribespeople in Africa; those things were introduced by the evil, evil Europeans, all of whom were pretty much as demonic as was King Leo of Belgium. Cleopatra and just about every other outstanding figure in history were all black --- as was Jesus (if we can even accept the fact that there was ever a historical Jesus). Puh-LEEZE; I don't need this kind of stuff to prove that I am important. I am important, just as I am.
All of the above has been sort of an introduction or preface to the point I really want to make; actually, the points, plural. It's a religious point, very specifically, a Christian point: I believe that, in the various traditions of Christendom, we have four basic approaches to Truth. Greatly oversimplifying them, they are:
- For Protestants, it's (each group's interpretation of) Holy Scripture, the Bible;
- For Catholics (and I'm including Roman Catholics as well as Eastern Orthodox here), it's Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition;
- For Anglicans, it's threefold: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason; and
- For many others of us, there's the very important addition of present-day and continuing Revelation.
Of course, there's serious overlapping; the edges are not sharply defined. Thus, while Protestants insist that they embrace the Bible only, that's not true. Most Protestants revere Tradition just as much --- and observe such things as Sunday as a day of worship, and the celebration of holidays such as Christmas and Easter --- which emphatically do not come from Scripture, but from Catholic Tradition. And while most Catholic scholars will readily admit that such fundamental doctrines that they embrace as The Trinity are not expressed clearly in the Bible (What? A basic, fundamental, vitally important doctrine such as that one is not found clearly outlined in Holy Scri)pture? Nope; it's not, as Catholic scholars agree), that doesn't bother them; they rely as much on Holy Tradition as they do on Holy Scripture as a source of spiritual truth, and can readily quote Church Fathers in support of ideas they embrace.
Then, there are the Anglicans. I am an Anglican, and Episcopalian, and am comfortable as such, since we also add Reason to the two Sources listed above. Again, greatly oversimplifying it, we'd say that If It Doesn't Make Sense To Us, We Don't Have To Claim To Believe It. Well, we lay Anglicans don't, that is; one of the first pledges one makes when being ordained as an Episcopal clergyperson is to uphold the discipline and doctrine of the Church, and I just can't do that, and that's the main reason I didn't go on into seminary and into the Episcopal diaconate and priesthood. Two of the fundamental, most basic, most important doctrines of the Church (the Trinity and the idea that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation, however one defines "salvation") are expressions of ideas I simply don't embrace. And here I'll have to say that I don't understand the position of the powerful Anglican Churches of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, who insist that the U.S. Episcopal Church and certain other Anglican communities should be thrown out of the Anglican Communion because we don't adhere to their judgmental, austere interpretation of Scripture; no, in my opinion, they are the ones who are un-Anglican; they're trying to impose a Protestant standard (Sola Scriptura) on certain Anglican bodies. Wrong!
And then, there are those of us who also see present-day and continuing Revelation as a Source of spiritual Truth. I don't think that there are many Christians anywhere in the world who would not regard racism as an evil. Slavery, of course, doesn't have to be tied to racism as it was here in the U.S., but few Christians would not regard slavery, also, as a monstrous evil (humans, made in the Image of God, can be owned by other humans?). Yet, those were ideas that were introduced into Christendom long after the scriptural canons were completed (yes, there are many more canons of Scripture accepted by various Christian bodies than the two most commonly-used ones). Many modern-day Christians would also see the attention to environmental concerns as a religious obligation, and one which the Holy Spirit has revealed and is revealing after the Bible was written. Whether you go that far or not, at least most of us do see the opposition to racism and enslavement as things which have been revealed by the LIVING God since the Bible was written.
But, there are many who do not agree. And, to come full circle in this discussion, I have to recognize that those who do not agree with me on any of these points are not by that one thing rejecting everything I say. Or, even if they do, they have a right to do so.
Humans are finite beings. Our intellect, our mentation is finite, imperfect. I don't think any of us can say that something is or is not such-and-such; all I suggest any of us can legitimately say is that we believe such-and-such, and we should always be willing to change our opinions if presented with adequate reason to do so.
I know that this post has been meandering and fuzzy, but I hope you've gotten my point. I also hope that you understand that I am truly seeking to overcome my own personal shortcomings and character defects. Please be patient with me.