Monday, January 12, 2009

When Opinions Are Sought

A young friend suggested I check out two Christian writers, wondering what I thought of them. At the same time a friend of my own age wanted to discuss a book he had recently read on King Philip’s War (hence the poll last week).

This is more complicated than you would think at first glance. In both cases, my friends have mostly been exposed only to the intensely evangelical versions of American history and church history. They are both quite intelligent and curious, and I have for years been on the side of the line that has raised the caution flag about the traditional versions of what they have read. There are other Christian traditions that see things differently; there is much of American history that is not glorious, or even justifiable.

But what they have picked up goes off the other edge – a historian who works overtime to blame the European settlers and exonerate the natives; Christian writers who put modern ideas in biblical language. My friends are telling me things which I would like to dispute for reasons opposite what I would have two years ago.

It is an easy enough principle to say “Just play it straight. Give your opinion without trying to slant it one way or the other.” Well of course. But is that really possible in actual conversation? Don’t our voices change subtly for every situation? We blithely claim it will all work out evenly if we just don’t interfere too much. I doubt very much that this ideal is at all true. People pick up ideas for very bad reasons and keep them a long time. We may not be able to influence another’s thinking very much, but shouldn’t we at least avoid the myth that it never works and trying to is intrusive? The whole world is full of people with ideas that other people gave them for bad reasons. Hell, my own head is full of such ideas as well. In those places where I think I have balance, shouldn’t I do the best sales job I can, even with friends?

We say that friendship is more important than such trivial things as differing opinions, and my first inclination is to agree wholeheartedly. But is that true for Minsk in 1918? For Munich in 1933? Selma in 1965?

Nothing in my current conversation is anywhere near that dramatic, of course. The consequences of a retired gentleman changing his mind about colonial history are not great. The consequences of a bright young filmmaker having a slightly negative rather than slightly positive view of one church movement are likely not great either. But whole kingdoms have sometimes turned on less than either of these.

1 comment:

Erin said...

So who were the writers?

(word verification: unidea)