Cautionary Tales, a New Equation, and Signs of Hope
For me, there was one pressing issue which surfaced in our reading this week. This was the discovery of our resistance to clearly identify (and deal with) our delusions due to our fear of losing community. It was concerning, but also articulated something I have sensed to be true, and this gave it language. In Chapter 4, Duffy uncovers this truth playing out in relationship to immigration and religion:
“Our misperceptions about immigration and religion are archetypes of our system of delusion, in this case largely driven by our own deep-seated tribal identities interacting with a media and politics that too often look to exploit this division.”
I almost did not have to look at the copyright page to see that this book was written on the wave of the 2016 election. That time in our history seems to have turned a page for our society in how we respond to ideological division. As with so many of the books that we are reading, it can become overwhelming and perhaps fatalistic to discover all the ways we seem to be programed for wrong-thinking. In this case, it has to do with our identity and sense of belonging. While Duffy plays this out in the realm of religion and immigration, it is not hard to find other instances.
A Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed His Mind
A while ago I heard a podcast that was discussing a group of conspiracy theorists that went on a reality show. (Does this sound like the beginning of a joke?) This particular group of conspiracy theorists, Truthers, believe that the attacks on September 11, 2001 were a hoax. In the course of the show, this group was taken around to talk to all sorts of experts in all components of what happened that day. Architects who could explain why the building collapsed the way it did, and scientists who could debunk their alternative theories for how the buildings collapsed. Finally, they had them meet the families of the victims. The idea was that, surely, being bombarded by overwhelming evidence, these Truthers would have their minds changed.
Overwhelmingly, participants in this program did not change their minds. The compelling observation was that the conspiracy and beliefs are irrelevant to the members of the group, but the community that comes from this identification with a shared belief is what compels individuals to not consider alternative views.
“We dislike having our views challenged not only because we hold them deeply, but because we worry about how changing our minds will affect our reputations with people who think like us. Evolution has taught us the value of being part of groups that can defend us against hostile outsiders. We worry that adopting new opinions will leave us beyond the group’s protective embrace.”
Despite the difficulties of detaching from such strong tribal ties, Charlie Veech, a leader in the Truther movement, had his own “threshold moment”. For him, the point of division from his tribe came when he saw the repugnant ways of how his group referenced the families. And, interestingly, Charlie and his whole family endured horrible attacks as reprisal for going public on his change of mind.
Equating the Importance of Truth with Love
As I think about my research project, this theme of tribalism reinforcing misinformation and in turn more division, will be a one that I that I know I will return to. Probably the most important take away for me here is the idea that “…both story and facts should be recognized as important to the beliefs that people hold.” In my topic expertise essay, I discovered a helpful idea from one of the commentaries I was referencing. Larry Richards uses 1 Corinthians 8-10, to inform a checklist for responding to differing beliefs in a congregation:
- “Begin with a Commitment to Love
- Maintain a Concern for Truth
- Be Sensitive to the Relational Implications of Truth
- Do Not Treat One Truth as the Whole Truth”
There is a lot in that list to talk about; too much to get into here, but it creates a mental framework for moving toward a refreshing balance of how to preserve the importance of the core truths of my faith, with an openness to learning. I especially like that it elevates love to be on the same level as truth, and that it creates an openness for dialogue. Such a stance could help us approach our own presuppositions with humility and grace. Finding ways to strike that balance (I think) is where my studies will focus.
Signs of Hope
This week, the current issue of CT showed up in our mail. In it, Russell Moore struggles with his own disputable matter: Complementarianism. He shares a comment from a female minister “I can’t go to the conferences I want to attend- with people who I agree with on 99 percent of everything- because they think I’m ‘liberal,’ while some of the people who would celebrate that I am ordained are horrified that I will never give up the essential biblical language of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I appreciate how this quote is highlights the loss of a tribe that this believer has. And I really appreciate Moore’s opinion piece because he restrains from telling us where he stands on the specific issue; his key point is the importance of unity in the body of believers, DESPITE our different interpretations of particular issues.
As learners, with God’s grace, we will be passing through our own threshold concepts… learning where we were wrong and moving in humility towards the new thresholds we have not even conceptualized. How, in this process, will we exercise Richard’s 4 principles for maintaining unity in our spiritual families?
 “Cautionary Conversation: The Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed His Mind – Cautionary Tales with Tim Harford,” accessed March 16, 2023, https://omny.fm/shows/cautionary-tales-with-tim-harford/the-conspiracy-theorist-who-changed-his-mind.
 “Cautionary Conversation.”
 Bobby Duffy, “Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding” (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2019), 115.
 Larry Richards, “The Teacher’s Commentary” (Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1987), 855.
 Moore, Russell. “Rethinking Evangelical Gender Wars.” Christianity today (Washington) 67.2 (2023): 38. Print.
5 responses to “Cautionary Tales, a New Equation, and Signs of Hope”
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Jen, you are a brilliant thinker and writer. Seriously.
I too had no problem quickly discerning that this book was from around the 2016 election. I proceeded to wonder what Duffy’s findings and conclusions would be post-Covid. Perhaps a revised and updated version is in the works!
Duffy, as well as Moore’s CT article, and your compelling blog post, have me pondering on how we can be better at admitting our wrongness “in shades or degrees.” Perhaps the struggle for many would be that to admit being wrong in one area potentially calls into question every other area, and that is simply too much for many people to concede. I recall conversations I would have with congregants during Covid/political upheaval/etc – if I were to poke at one aspect that I found to be “perhaps not right” it was like poking a bear – I would get the growl and the showing of teeth – all in defense of their rightness.
Then it makes me curious when and where I have exhibited similar tendencies. Well, because I too am wrong about nearly everything!
Jen, your post just sent me down a fun 40-minute rabbit trail. I found the CT article you mentioned but only after I got distracted and read 3 other articles. Another quote from Moore’s article stood out to me: “…evangelical egalitarians spend more of their time in the outside world defending the idea that there is a complementarity of male and female, just not of the patriarchal sort.” Between that and the experience of the female minister which you shared in your post, I really can’t get away from cognitive dissonance, again! I identify deeply with this woman’s experience. I am currently serving in a denomination that is generally much more conservative than I myself would identify. On the other hand, some of my close long-time friends have become much more liberal, so I get some serious ideological whiplash on a regular basis. I’ll finish with a final, hopeful quote from the same article: “A new generation of Christian men and women is coming. When it comes to teaching them how to stand together, and how to equip one another to teach and lead, I trust Beth Moore much more than 2004 Russell Moore to show them the way.”
Kim, I KNEW you would like that article! You hit on all the high points I would have called out if not for that pesky word count.
I also identified with that in-between feeling of not having an ideological “team” to belong to. I wonder if that feeling of not belonging may actually be a good sign of not buying into group think?
Great points Jen. I was thinking about the power of belonging as it relates to keeping us in beliefs or even taking us to new beliefs. When we think about parenting teens, we want them to find a good group of friends to navigate the volatile teen years with. This will help them from going of the rails. We also don’t want our kids getting caught up in ‘the wrong crowd’ because of the negative influence it will inevitably be. In both cases…the power of belonging is shaping our kids choice, but we naturally speak to the former as ‘positve community’ and the latter as ‘negative peer pressure’….but are they the same thing, simply towards different ends? Do we determine the influence to be positive or negative based on the outcome or destination? What would distinguish healthy social influence form unhealthy influence regardless of the destination/outcome? I’m sure there are studies out there that differentiate between religious communities and cults…and heathly community and controlling communities…and it’s something your post has gotten me curious about. Thanks!
Wow, this is such a well written, clear and compelling post.
“…our resistance to clearly identify (and deal with) our delusions due to our fear of losing community”
I hate to admit it but I sometimes can feel this reality creeping in on me when I’m not aware. As a person who is responsible to lead a community, I have a tension between 1. the prophetic (discovering and speaking truth) and 2. the pastoral (caring for members of the community). Because I naturally lean towards 1, I find myself overcompensating into 2 at times.
I’ve taken great comfort in John 1:14 where Jesus perfectly comes with both “Grace and Truth”, and the connection to Proverbs 3:3 that tells us to bind “mercy and truth around your neck”. We need both and neither has to supersede the other.