Like many people, I suppose that my own views are right. All people think this, I suspect, otherwise they’d change their point of view. Unless they’ve been brainwashed, of course. Religion has a way of convincing people that they alone are right. (And perhaps also those who believe just like them.) I have plenty of experience with this. Seemingly normal, friendly people suddenly turn on you when you’re not there to defend yourself. All in the name of religion. The place, unfortunately, that it’s most found is in “conservative” religions. With preachers braying about righteousness and being washed in the blood of the lamb the human element is often sacrificed. Anyone who dares to think differently is going to Hell, and, in most of these traditions, you wish them godspeed. Then there are those who wish for true dialogue.
Dialogue means, however, that you have to admit you may be wrong. That’s one of the features the self-convinced fear most. Ironically, even those who think they’re right can admit that they could be wrong. Otherwise what’s the point of discussing anything at all? As Tom Nichols points out in The Death of Expertise, many are offended that someone has greater knowledge of any area than they. Like it or not, some of us have studied religion, the Bible, and spirituality for our entire lives. You might not agree with everything such a person says—we often disagree among ourselves—but at least one might admit that a mere Ph.D. counts for something. Even if on the stock market it simply won’t trade.
Ironically, as a young man I too was self-convinced. For some reason that I can’t fathom, I decided that if my beliefs were solid they would stand up to the challenge of higher education. As an undergrad I majored in religion at a conservative college and graduated summa cum laude. I chose a liberal seminary to challenge further what I believed and came away magna cum laude. Then the doctorate. (Edinburgh didn’t offer such trifles as honors; if you made it through the program you should be so thankful.) Tolerance became a massive part of my outlook, even as I ended up on the faculty of a very conservative seminary. I was willing to listen, but the same could not be said for those who saw things differently. Many of whom were far less educated, I say with all due self-abasement, than yours truly, in such things. As time goes on I can’t help but reflect on this. Even as I do I know others are completely convinced I’m wrong.