Occasionally when my four year old doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth of a certain situation, he will cover his ears while loudly proclaiming his “rightness”. Its a solid tactic. Even a successful one on some occasions. Though it “protects” him from disagreeable ideas, it also delays his development. His bias toward his own viewpoint ends up limiting his growth. That is why when I watched the debate this week I was so disappointed to see each campaign had adopted a modified version of my four year old’s strategy. The best minds on both sides of the aisle agreed that the strategy for the evening would be five simple words.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
The loudest pundits in America would have us believe that this is the strategy that will unite us. Baloney. We all know that we are biased toward our own opinions. What is wrong with admitting it?
Yesterday I had two intense and polarizing conversations regarding the upcoming presidential election that illustrate this idea. What follows is a quick synopsis of each conversation with a little “food for thought” thrown in at the end.
At lunch yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with a gentleman who has been involved in Middle-Eastern and Muslim affairs for over 20 years. You also need to know that this person is widely recognized theologically as an Evangelical Christian. During his time connected with the State Department he has been present during several White House sanctioned prayer breakfasts. He explained that these breakfasts were very ecumenical; with Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians all present. They would not appear particularly “evangelical” in any overt way. Yet the organizers behind the events were primarily evangelical Christians.
At these events this person has heard Bush Sr., W., and Obama each speak regarding their personal faith. What continues to be interesting to him is that neither Bush Sr. nor W. ever mentioned the name of Jesus in relation to their personal faith experiences, while Obama has been (from this person’s perspective) open and forthright about Jesus residing at the center of his faith. My friend wasn’t sharing this as a way of possibly manipulating my vote. He shared it as an example of “personal bias”. Based on his personal experience–what pundits now label “bias”–he gives the edge to Obama on the issue of a personal Christian faith.
A family friend of ours came charging into my house, and without saying, “Hi” or “How is everyone?”, shoves a DVD in my face and proclaims, “You have to watch this!” “Obama is a Muslim! They caught him on tape saying it!” To which I tried calmly to reply, “What are you talking about?” “Who caught him?” “Where did you get this?” My questions seemed to physically unsettle this individual. With a scrunched up face they replied, “I got it in the mail.” “Did you order it?”, I asked. “No, it just came in my mailbox.” To which I responded, “So, you don’t know who sent it, why they sent it, or what their reputation may be, but you are ready to believe what they told you?” As my seventh grade teach would have said, “That went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter.” This dear family friend of mine looked at me with a pained expression, shook their head and said, “Well, whatever. They still caught him saying it.”, then they walked back out of my house without saying another word.
You and I form our beliefs and opinions from personal bias. We can not help it. We are all subjective creatures. My experience with a person, place or thing could be (and most likely is) entirely different from yours. And yet the differing conclusions we make are not inherently right or wrong. What is important is that we recognize and acknowledge our biases from the beginning. Then we have a chance at true dialogue. Let’s be honest with ourselves and others. Only then can any of us finally get on the path toward objective truth.
To be clear, putting our fingers in our ears while shouting, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!!” doesn’t make us right. It makes us ridiculous.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3