Answers we should not seek

IMG_0878Remarking on the reason for writing the book, Diarmaid Macculloch provides the following comment in the Introduction to Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. 

“It (the book) tries to avoid giving too many answers since this habit has been one of the great vices of organized religion.”

Often false certainty is easier, more appealing, than thoughtful consideration of what we know for certain and what we do not know. The crowds flock to confident, assured personalities where platitudes are mixed with humor and occasionally inflammatory statements delivered with all the arrogance of a UFC fighter talking about the upcoming fight. Few are the people who will patiently ponder the intricacies of the true nature of reality in all that is known and all that has yet to be discovered. It is far more popular to offer confident assurances and sweeping generalizations than it is to think deeply and independently.

But if confident assurances are beloved by so many people, what harm could it be?

Far from a negligible harm, it can be seen that the art of drawing crowds and followers with impassioned, overconfident speeches has been the cause of nearly every global debacle in the past centuries. Religious and irreligious alike have been drawn in droves to these leaders resulting in some of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the human species. It would not be an overexaggeration to say that if everyone patiently pondered their place in the world, the goals for their lives, and their hopes for the future, in the absence of a demagogue offering confident assurances and inciting mantras, these conflicts could have been largely avoided. The majority of Germans were not in favor of genocide and would have openly fought the notion prior to the inciting nationalism of Hitler and the Nazi party. The Japanese, an honor culture, was in many ways duped into believing a similar form of ethnic superiority sold by leaders who were certain in their convictions.

Perhaps if we were drawn by good questions instead of confident answers, thoughtful dialogue instead of fiery speeches, and quiet contemplation instead of broad overconfident assertions, we would see a more peaceful global climate.

 

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