One of the key precepts of many religions is that of the humility required to learn that which is not normally part of the human experience. That elusive topic is, of course, spirit.
The spiritual realm is not like anything in the physical realm. There is no space. There is no time as we know it—no persistence. There is no energy or mass.
Too many of today’s religious, however, are not humble to Truth and to God. What remains particularly sad is that too many are unwilling to explore new territory in the spiritual realm and new ideas about it. They are comfortable sitting just inside the entrance of religion, a long way from spirituality—a long way from heaven.
This type of malady is not confined to religion, though. It is a common human condition found in science, culture, ethnicity, politics and more.
Take the “climate change” debate, for instance. I offer online a course at Udemy.com called the Critical Thinking Academy. Initially, it had two main modules—an introduction and a critical analysis of the “climate change” topic.
In recent weeks, I have been finalizing the course’s module on logical fallacies. While uploading the materials for this module, I noticed that one of my former students was extremely dissatisfied with the course. But what he said provided me with not only a perfect example of logical fallacies in action, but also a lack of humility on the part of that former student. The following has been added to the course description without naming names, but to help prospective students understand how the course can benefit them:
EXAMPLE OF CRITICAL THINKING:
One of the reviews for this course [Critical Thinking Academy at Udemy.com] provides us with a perfect example of logical fallacies in use to argue against taking the course. Let’s examine this student’s comments to see how they stack up when put under the examination of critical thinking.
The student remarked, “It is a pretense to position critical thinking fundamentals to deliver conspiracy theories and climate change denial. I would suggest people google the instructor prior to taking the course.”
Pretense? No, there is no “false show,” here. This course and the discussions in it truly do analyze the arguments on the topics of climate change to achieve a more reasoned critical thinking. The second module (“Logical Fallacies”) adds to this by providing an in-depth look at how critical thinking can become derailed by fallacies like the ones used in the comment. Sadly, some use such attack fallacies to get people not to look at opposing facts. Critical Thinking is all about examining all sides of an issue, rather than ignoring them. Critical Thinking demands that we question everything, including our own beliefs.
The former student said, “…deliver conspiracy theories…” But what is a conspiracy? One of your free books provides evidence from numerous reputable sources that prove that conspiracies are, as the title says, “Dirt Ordinary.” This is no fantasy, or kooky topic. In fact, there are at least 489 new conspiracies starting every second, on average, every day, all year long and every year. Theories are called by scientists, “hypotheses,” and are used to explore the possible causes of observed, factual phenomena. A conspiracy is defined merely as a conversation between 2 or more people for the purpose of doing something unethical or illegal. Criminal selfishness is to the individual what conspiracy is to the group.
The use of the term, “denial,” is a pejorative, ad hominem attack, one of the logical fallacies about which you will learn more in the course.
The former student recommended that, “…people google the instructor prior to taking the course.” Knowledge is always a good thing, and I strongly concur with the former student’s recommendation, but with one very potent caveat: Don’t let anything you find out about any instructor dissuade you from investigating a topic more deeply. Facts are facts, no matter who says them. Judge the facts, not the personalities. Those who put on blinders will miss unique opportunities for discovery. Every viewpoint has value—even yours.
Derailing Spiritual Studies
Eighteenth century Christian apologist, William Paley (1743–1805) feared that his peers would fall all too frequently into the trap of “contempt prior to investigation.” I discuss this attitude of unsupported dismissiveness in my book, The Bible’s Hidden Wisdom: God’s Reason for Noah’s Flood. To the biblical literalist, they already “know” truth, but don’t realize the error of their ways. Their “truth” is their interpretation of the Bible—not the Bible itself. There are thousands (perhaps even millions) of biblical interpretations. Most of them are wrong in one fashion or another—most of them, or all of them.
The following excerpt from my book drives home this point:
“The old saying about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks comes from this phenomenon. The older people get, the more likely they are to develop the idea that they’ve learned all they need in life. They frequently feel that no one can teach them, because they’ve experienced things that younger people would not understand.
“But not all older people are this way. Some develop a lifetime attitude open to learning. They are constantly emptying their cup so that it may be filled again.
“The first rule in a search for answers is to maintain the openness to receive the answers once found. The art of interpretation requires that your cup must first be empty” (The Bible’s Hidden Wisdom, chapter 6, p.108).
I use the Eastern metaphor of “empty cup,” of course, to symbolize the required humility before learning or discovering anything.
The Know-it-All Attitude
Many of today’s church leaders are so confident of their own knowledge and interpretation, they think they know all they need in order to teach others their religion. Confidence is a good thing. But confidence without humility descends into arrogance. But aren’t these two concepts in opposition—confidence and humility?
The answer to this important question involves some discussion. We need to understand the definitions of our words and to refine those definitions and how the attitudes they describe are used.
Confidence in self and self’s knowledge is counterproductive. So is humility to the interpretations of man. Instead, we need to be confident in God’s ability to help us reach greater knowledge and humble to the fact that we may never know it all. See the difference? The former is misguided confidence and humility; the latter puts self, last, and God’s perfect knowledge, first.
When I first published The Bible’s Hidden Wisdom, I attempted to discuss it in several groups on LinkedIn—a popular, business-related website. I joined one group of biblical literalists and was promptly ejected. The leader of that group sent me a gruff email, letting me know in no uncertain terms that I had it all wrong and that there is no such thing as wisdom hidden in the Bible. He let me know that the Bible was written to be understood easily.
So, I was left to wonder about his notion of following Christ, who said that we should love others—even our enemies. I wanted to join his group to share what I had learned and perhaps to learn from their viewpoints. Was it a loving move to block all discussion? Somehow, I don’t think so. His actions seemed to tell me that he felt he already knew he was right and that he could not teach me anything. His action seemed to have no love, generosity or humility.
Today, Christians who evangelize seem compelled to tell anyone with whom they disagree that they are wrong, even if we believe in Christ and God, but have different views about those entities. Ego is thick with them. They reek with the stench of self and self-righteousness. I’m all too familiar with that attitude. I’ve been there and all too frequently revisit that dark territory.
But sometimes I will push the buttons of others to provoke their own egos, getting them to become more critically aware of the monster hiding inside.
Science, scientists, logic and the erudite Age of Reason have corrupted the spiritual efforts of man with a new breed of evil—this modern brand of self-righteousness. It is an attitude that is as old as humanity, but it has taken on a new cloak—a more pleasing shroud of darkness.
Part of good critical thinking includes the humility to consider that everything we know about a topic is entirely wrong. At first glance, such an idea seems entirely painful. Giving up our precious knowledge seems impossible. But when we get past the initial discomfort, the idea of being free of all past knowledge is quite liberating. We can always put back simple things that still seem to work, like “2+2 = 4,” “God is Love,” and similar. The humility to view the world with fresh eyes allows us to see things we would otherwise easily miss.
Everyone has their current place on the road to Truth. Some have stopped for awhile, perhaps even thinking that they have arrived. Perhaps something will help knock them from their complacency and their lack of humility. I continue to pray for more humility and wisdom so that I can continue to learn.