The People Problem

Photo: Pablo Punk

Lately I find myself at odds with people.

I’ve said to my husband more than a few times lately, “I hate people,” or “This is why, for their own peace of mind, I need to stay away from people.” I’m being facetious…sort of.

You see I like to think of myself as a rational thinker who accepts that we live in a fallen world, a world that will remain fallen until Christ returns.  There is no possibility that we can create a global Utopia. Sorry…but I believe I’m correct when I state this.

However, I also believe that despite this, we ought to endeavor to live our lives in alignment with Kingdom principles, working to maintain a willing and cognizant mind of surrender to God as He guides us by His Spirit and presence within. It’s called intention. There is no doubt about this and this is essential for transformation into the image of Christ. But it’s our individual lives we are living, and our individual images that are being transformed, not everyone else’s.

As soon as we start to raise ourselves up as judge and jury over the thoughts, beliefs, and opinions of another person, we’ve lost focus. We’ve become self-righteous, leading to becoming presumptuous, then judgmental, then condemning, then dangerous to anyone who does not agree with our views. People who “dissent” from our “right thinking” become projects; people to be fixed, and if not fixed, marginalized. Despite our pursuit of Utopia, this unhealthy progression does not ease the difficulties of living in our fallen world. No, this approach makes things worse.

Here’s the divide I see.

During the past year, there has been a groundswell of conscience driven politics and ideologies, fomenting to the point of violence as evidenced by the recent incidents on college campuses where protestors committed destructive acts in order to silence those of differing opinions, some doing so in the name of “tolerance.” Isn’t it ironic?

These protestors may be acting out of conscience, meaning they are doing what their conscience is impressing upon their will to do: what he or she thinks is right or good. This manifestation of conscience is not to be argued with. To do so leaves he or she feeling guilty. I get it.

However, despite what may seem like an acceptable justification for their actions (since everyone admires the underdog who defies the establishments authority to follow their conscience), there remains an important question to be raised.

What is “right?”

People are mistaken about right and wrong all the time to some degree or another. These young college protestors of strong conscience may be enthusiastically mistaken. Possibly only partially mistaken, but mistaken nonetheless. And what if their partial mistakenly held belief causes undeserved pain to another person? Might that bother their tender conscience as well? I would think so, but not if they’ve reframed that human as evil and deserving of their wrath.

Here’s the important question: How does one get to the bottom of the question of “right or good” and “wrong or evil?” I mean, if we were going to insist on our collective view to the point of violence, possibly maiming another human being in the name of “tolerance,” we would want to be sure we are right! Right?

So how do we know if we’re right? We need to have a tool that reduces the mistakes we will certainly make when our actions are driven solely by conscience. Reason serves this purpose. Reason does not spend its energies on judging between “good and evil” or “right and wrong.” Rather, reason seeks to judge between truth and falsehood. And to do that we need 1) facts to reason about, 2) we need to accept that there is such a thing as self-evident truth (i.e., 2 + 2 = 4), and 3) we need the skill to arrange the facts together to prove the truth or falsehood of the proposition we are considering. Sounds like science to me.

Ah…but we object to the second requirement (self-evident truth) in this day when the world allows a white woman to identify as African-American and operate as an imposter in the NAACP without consequence, and even supports her for exercising her “choice.” I would like to self-identify as a wealthy director of an opera house in Vienna, but that doesn’t make it so.

So we are right to object to the second requirement. As long as we are unwilling or unable to see any one of the self-evident steps out of which a proof is built, we have nothing. As C.S. Lewis writes in Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis):

[1]Proof rests upon the unprovable which has to be just “seen.” Hence faulty intuition is incorrigible. It does not follow that it cannot be trained by practice in attention and in the mortification of disturbing passions, or corrupted by the opposite habits. But it is not amenable to correction by argument.

As far as I can tell, too many now consider self-evident truths to be optional, leaving us with nothing around which to conduct a civil discussion of the issues we face in this fallen world.

Even though I tell my husband “I hate people,” it’s not true. I care deeply about people: deeply in a heart-crushing way. But things are weird right now. I think it best to avoid those who seek to police my thoughts and make me their project or victim depending upon how enthusiastically tolerant they may be feeling that day.

[1] Lewis, C. S. (2009-06-03). Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 67). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.