Friday, February 19, 2010

My Own Opinions

One of my faults is that I am very fond of my own opinions. I can imagine a few people being shocked by that statement. Not because I have admitted to such a terrible fault. But because I would call it a fault.

In the western world at least, we place a high value on the ability to think for ourselves and form our own opinions. We teach it to kids at school and ram it down their throats at university. What we think seems to matter less than whether we came by those opinions through our own reasoning. And one way to lose a person’s respect is to say that you believe something just because (fill in the blank) says so.

Although many different people with very different beliefs may be criticised for not being able to think for themselves, it is a criticism often directed towards Christians. Which makes sense. Christians do - or at least should - form some of their opinions based on what the bible says. If not, why bother having the bible? Why not simply lock it in a drawer and form our own opinions about how we think God should do things. And then teach those opinions as coming from God.

Also, Christians must simply accept some things. I am not going to get any further to the truth by doing some critical thinking about the Trinity. In fact, as my thinking may be wrong, if I do think about it and form my own opinions, I am far more likely to be led away from the truth than towards it.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with forming our own opinions. Sometimes it is not just an advantage to be able to think for ourselves, but almost necessary. Say there is a government election. What is better? To vote a certain way because that’s how someone told you to vote? Or to form your own opinion about the best party to vote for? Most people would agree the latter is preferable. Or take the messages we receive from society, culture, the media and advertising. I strongly believe that most people could do with a lot more critically thinking when it comes to those things.

So the problem is not being able (or being taught) to think for ourselves. The problem comes when we attach far too much importance on our own opinions. Or when we decide that an opinion is only valid if it relies on individual reasoning.

To get back to me. (After all, it’s my blog.) I said that one of my faults was that I was very fond of my own opinions. What this means is that I have to tendency to think that my opinion on something is more important that what anything else has to say about it. If my opinion contradicts something in the bible, well then maybe the bible is wrong or that centuries of interpretation have been wrong. If my opinion contradicts what the Church says, then I’m going to tell the Church exactly why it should listen to me instead.

And this isn’t simply a matter of wanting everything to match up to my own opinions. It extends to wanting to have my own opinion about everything. It’s the attitude that nothing must simply be accepted. But that all my beliefs must be based on my own reasoning. And that my reasoning is more important than anyone else’s reasoning.

I was thinking recently about the conversations I used to have with my Christian friends. But after a while, I realised that it wasn’t simply the discussions about faith that I missed. It was the disagreements about faith. I used to love challenging people and being challenged. The conversations where everyone agreed weren’t nearly as interesting.

Now I think being challenged is a good thing. I love it when someone says something that makes me either rethink something or realise that I fall far short of what God wants from me. And I believe the Christian life should be a challenging one. What the bible says does challenge us. What Jesus Christ said does challenge us. God doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear. And sometimes what he says seems to contradict our firmly held convictions and beliefs. If the bible doesn’t challenge you in some way, I suggest you’re not giving it enough thought.

We live in a world of critical thinkers, where people love to form their own opinions and voice them to whoever will listen. Nothing must be accepted. Everything must be challenged.

But maybe we’re so busy challenging the world that we won’t allow ourselves to be challenged. And maybe our ability (and desire) to form opinions on anything and everything sometimes prevents us from simply accepting the truth.


  1. Hi Liz,

    I started writing a comment on this post, but it's blown out beyond the word limit, so I'll write a post based upon what this post made me think about.

    It's such an interesting topic. That's what I started out writing. Two pages later ...

    I wish there was no character-limit on responses. It's frustrating. Someone who is not lazy should write to management and get this problem fixed. That rules me out.

    David ...

  2. Hi David,

    I didn't think there was a character limit on responses.

    Just post your two pages. Do it in two parts if you have to. I want to read it.


  3. Okay, well I'll post what I've written (probably in 3 parts, or 4. However many it takes.

    As it was a post, I'll include the title.

    Informed or Uninformed Conscience? How Our Minds Are Formed.

    I often think about how each individual's mind has been formed. It started when I heard the terms, 'informed conscience' and 'uninformed conscience' early on in religious life. (the subject of another post, which I won't go into here).

    I began to wonder about what was responsible for forming this or that person's mind, in order for this or that person to think and speak and act like they did.

    I used to browse through people's private libraries, or book collections in their houses (with their permission). Private book collections tend to reveal a lot about what or whom each person is allowing to form their opinions.

    Now, many modern homes don't have a lot of books or even a bookcase. They have two or more televisions, though. And the occupants are always upgrading to the latest in wide-flat-screen technology. And, what is the centrepiece of the 'living' room (which should be called the 'death' room)? IT is the television. Even the furniture comes off second-best. It has to arranged around the television, and be television-friendly.

    But, for those people who do still have book collections, it's interesting to see if there are any spiritual books in their collections, or whether or not their shelves are lined with books written by modern people with modern minds and modern (im)morality. And whether or not they have a Bible. If they do, it's usually tucked away down in a corner, and hasn't been read or handled for years. Except during relocation. And even then, the removalists do that for them. Handle it that is. Not read it.

    ... to be continued

  4. If you lined up all the books you had read in your life, every newspaper and magazine, along with a list of every television program you had watched, and every film you had seen, along with every advert, and every website you had accessed, and could see them all at the one time, you'd get a fair idea of how your mind has been formed.

    A saint's list would look like this: Never watched TV, saw a film once but can't remember the name of it. I have read the entire Bible a few times, the Catechism, my Daily Missal is worn out, as is my copy of Thomas a Kempis' My Imitation of Christ. I have read hundreds of bigographies of saints, and thousands of articles and books written by saints or holy and venerable people about the spiritual life, every major papal encylical, etc ...

    Then, if you added to this list, every school lesson you attended, and every higher-education lesson you attended, and each and every lesson you attended where you acquired some new skill, you would be looking even more deeply into how your mind had been formed.

    And you would have to make a distinction between forced or obligatory learning (such as school), and then learning of choice. This would tell you a lot about how you have allowed your mind to be formed, as opposed to how it was formed by people in charge of you such as parents and educators and work superiors. And, it would tell you how much influence, for good or for bad, your parents had upon your formative years. How much did you have to unlearn? is the question.

    Then, take spiritual conferences (of all kinds and denominations). Which ones have you been to? What have you accepted, and what have you rejected?

  5. To me, this little exercise gives a person some idea of how God looks at our minds, and their formation. For God can see everything at once, and process it instantaneously. He lives in the eternal now.

    When we arrive at the Judgement seat of Christ, He will see our entire life. He can probe our every thought. Nothing is hidden from Him.

    I think it's a salutary exercise to imagine everything that has formed your mind. Just imagine standing all alone on some remote part of earth, with a huge picture theatre type of arrangement surrounding you, with hundreds, thousands, millions of individual screens, displaying all of the above on them. And a voice saying to you, This is what you have allowed to form your mind, or what people in charge of you have allowed to form your mind.

    While we still have time (As in, while God allows us to continue living), we should make some conscious choices, now that we are free-willed adults, as to what we will or wont be watching, reading or attending in the future.

    There are other things to include. I'm just writing the thoughts down as they come to me. Such other things as, every conversation we've had with other people, whether that be face-to-face, over the telephone, over the net, or via written correspondence. How influential have other people been in forming your mind, for better or for worse? And do you now have a mind of your own (an informed conscience) whereby you shun bad company, and avoid bad literature, bad films, bad television, etc?

    I'd like to further develop this idea, and I might, time permitting.

    The end.

  6. Hi David,

    If everything I had ever read was lined up on screens, it would contain a lot of different thoughts and ideas - often completing contradicting each other.

    I used to think that my thoughts and ideas were completely my own. But when I started to think about cultural and other influences, I realised how much what I do think and believe has been shaped by other factors.

    There was this reading for my university intro unit. And in it, someone (can't remember who and can't look up the exact quote because it was on my other computer and I didn't transfer it across) said that our worldview is like the water a goldfish is swimming in. They don't notice the water, because they're surrounded by it. And often we don't see the influences that certain things have on us, because we're immersed in it. It's become so much a part of our thinking that we don't even see that it's there.

    I have read quite a few books that do not fit in with my own beliefs. For example, books about Jesus. But I wouldn't say that they've necessarily formed my mind at all. Because I just disagree with them.

    I'm more worried about the constant messages that I don't see are there. The type of messages that are repeated in television shows and movies. When you keep seeing the same kinds of behaviours, choices and values, you start to believe that that's normal.

    And I think the more junk we watch or read, the more we talk to people whose ideas and values don't fit in with a Christian worldview, the more our idea of 'normal' changes.

    Although normal is perhaps the wrong word. Because I don't think Christians are meant to be 'normal'.

    But anyway, the point is that a lot of our values and behaviour just seeps in. We don't think about it. We're just slowly changed by what is around us.

    Thank you for posting your comment. It made me think a lot more than my original post did.


  7. Hi David,

    I obviously don't have very good reading skills. I just went back and read your comment and realised that you said you were going to write a post on what my post made you think about.

    If I had been paying better attention, I would have seen that and wouldn't have asked you to post your comments here. I would have been quite fine reading it on your blog rather than mine. And in fact, just reading my comment again made me see that I didn't exactly ask you to either. I sound quite rude, which was not what I was intending.

    Sorry about that. I'll try and pay better attention next time.


  8. Hi Liz,

    For some reason the first part of three sections didn't come up. So, maybe I will write the entire thing as a post.

    As for being rude? That's not how I read your comment.

    As to the quote you mentioned in your university unit? That was Pink Floyd. They said, "We're just two lost souls swimming in fish bowl, year after year. Going over the same old ground ..."

    The reason those lyrics are fresh in my memory is because Martin has a DVD of Pink Floyd, and last night he asked me if I wanted him to play some music. Because I always ask him. He plays a lot of classical music, and a bit of rock/pop. Anyway, last night, he asked me if I wanted to hear some music from the 40s, and I just wasn't in the mood. So I said, just play that Pink Floyd DVD again. I'd like to hear that song of theirs with the lyrics about the fish in it. He has a pet fish on the table I was using as a computer station. The fish isn't actually on the table. It's in a rectangular fishbowl. I thought the fish was black, but one day the light streamed through the window, and I discovered it was royal blue. It has all these things hanging off it like streamers.

    I call being influenced in a bad way, 'the mouldy orange theory'. As in, If you put a good orange in with a crate of mouldy ones, the good one doesn't turn the mouldy ones good.

    Someone once said, "You are what you eat." There's a lot of truth in that, but just not the complete truth. It's a cliche. Christians eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ but that doesn't make them Jesus Christ. A priest is styled an 'alter Christus' (another Christ), but he's not Christ Himself.

    I'm in a semantic mood. I'm writing this comment from the front of my Pinjarra Hills manse. Martin and his fish are down with the plebs or plebians in Bellbowrie. It's such a lower-class area. (Excuse me for amusing myself with deadpan humour on your blog, but this place is so nice, I'm beside myself tonight). I'm not actually beside myself. I'm not two people, and I can't bilocate. Yet! My soul is still trapped in my body, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

    If anyone wanted proof that God is good, they would only have to visit me tonight. They would go, You don't deserve this. I would agree with them.

    I can only put it down to this. My predominant vice is sloth. This is the reward for committing to work. I can't imagine what rewards are in store for me if I commit to diligence. Diligence is different to work. I think I explained the difference on a post once.

    If someone asked me what was the most amazing thing that happened to me recently, I would say, "I can't name just one, but one of the many amazing things is, my memory for the things of God has returned, and I can recall stuff that I thought I'd forgotten, or was lost forever. Eg. If a person wants to improve, they must discover their predominant vice and fight it with the opposite virtue. The vice of sloth, or laziness, is countered by the virtue of diligence, which is simply to do every task at the appointed time. I won't go into length about this now. This is just a comment. I'll expand in a post.

    I will watch my first dusk in the Pinjarras and listen to the birds.

    And I will give a few thoughts to St Francis of Assisi, that great lover of nature.

    David ...

  9. Hi David,

    I found the first part of your comment. I don't know what happened, but it didn't get sent to me in an email. Usually, I just publish the comments from my email. So I didn't notice there was one missing. But when I went onto the Blogger dashboard area, it was there. I've published it now and it has turned up in the right place, which is good.

    I'm glad you're happy at your new home. I have no idea what Pinjarra Hills looks like, but watching the dusk and listening to birds sounds like a very pleasant way to spend an evening.

    My son said to me this morning that he wished we lived in the country, so that we could sit on the veranda. I said we can sit on the veranda now. We don’t need to live in the country to do it.

    This afternoon, we had the Convoy for Cancer, which is basically a whole heap of trucks, driving from Canberra to Queanbeyan, beeping their horns. So this afternoon, I sat on the veranda, and listened to trucks making a lot of noise. It wasn’t exactly relaxing.




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