Too stubborn for God
I’ve been thinking…
If there is a loving God who created us (as I believe there is), then that Creator endowed us with dignity. What is dignity? Dignity is an ineradicable value. It is a stamp upon the soul of each human being that we are indescribably special. This mark has not been placed because of what we do (though what we do can reflect our understanding of the duty to live a life worthy of our inherent dignity). Rather, we are dignified because of who we are – namely, children of God.
One of the supreme gifts granted to a dignified child of God is free will. What is free will? Free will means that we are free to choose whether we will follow God or whether we will walk away from him. Notice that I did not say we are free to choose what Truth is. Truth, despite our shrill protestations, is fixed and eternal. It is something we apprehend, not something we create. Truth is not defined by a warm feeling about what we have chosen to do; it is simply that which we ought to do. We are free to follow the Truth or not to follow it, but our choice will bring us eternal consequences.
If our faith is the True Faith, then it must be willing to withstand scrutiny and criticism, analysis and cross-examination. It must field questions, clarify misunderstandings, own mysteries and embrace wonder. It must run into the arms of its challengers with an exuberant sense of charitably modeled and clearly described Truth. Our faith must draw people freely into an embrace. It must never compel. If our faith is the True Faith, then it must be persuasive.
Which means that, if we are serious about finding Truth, we must not be too stubborn for God. We must be open to persuasion.
But how do we do this?
First, we must be humble.
Recently, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) gave a floor speech on the need for comity between political antagonists and open-mindedness between intellectual rivals. In particular, he discussed a high profile debate that bubbled up between Anglican thinker C.S. Lewis and Catholic moral theologian Elizabeth Anscombe. The point of contention was a theological argument about causality as written by Lewis in his book Miracles. Anscombe offered an incisive critique of Lewis’ reasoning at a meeting of the Oxford Socratic Club where Lewis served as president. Recognizing that he had been bested in the argument, Lewis not only altered his reasoning in the book, but two years later, he humbly nominated Anscombe as an esteemed speaker for the Club. When asked about this, Lewis puckishly observed, “Having obliterated me as an apologist, ought she not to succeed me?” Anscombe, in response to Lewis’ book corrections, noted, “The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter…shows his honesty and seriousness.” In having the humility to admit that he was wrong and a desire for Truth that transcends pride, C.S. Lewis proved that he was not stubborn, but was open to persuasion.
Next,we must be honest.
Recently, Bishop Robert Barron offered insights at Facebook headquarters on How to Have a Religious Argument. One of the five points he made was to avoid engaging in voluntarism. Voluntarism is the tendency to exert one’s will over intellect. Voluntarism insists that regardless of facts or reason or common sense, my emotions, my gut, my overwhelming need to be right compels me to stand my ground. In no way, does voluntarism respect the duty intrinsic to free will. It is will devoid of freedom. In its doggedness, voluntarism is neither honest nor open to persuasion. It is simply intent on overwhelming any opposing view point with naked power. In being honest, we are resolving not to be too stubborn for God. We are letting go of entrenched interests and opening ourselves to the glorious journey to Truth.
Finally, we must be genuine.
In reading Ed Whelan and Christopher Scalia’s book, Scalia Speaks, I came across an excerpt by an aging, thoughtful Benjamin Franklin as he prepared to sign the Constitution. At the end of interminable, tiring days of debate and discussion, the founding document gave Franklin quite a few misgivings. But he had to approach this consequential signing with a genuine heart.
I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others…
I doubt too whether any other [Constitutional] Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an Assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies…Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.
When the enticement to be proud could have overwhelmed one of the premier minds behind our Republic and Constitution, Benjamin Franklin instead chose to genuinely acknowledge his own shortcomings before the shortcomings of the document on which he would vote.
If we are to be sincere in our search for Truth and respectful of the gift of free will, we must not be too stubborn for God. We must be humble, honest and genuine. We must be open to persuasion.
Let’s get started.
The Truth is waiting.
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