The eternal value of being wrong 

Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.
Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

Science flourishes on the premise of systematic wrongness. It is, in its entirety, an endeavor to test all the hypotheses.  It’s a barrage of negative results and strategic failures until the minuscule minority of correct guesses emerges. 

Science is built on two fundamental truths: 

  1. The truth is out there.
  2. Our understanding of it is grossly inadequate.

Now, scientists include among their ranks some of the most arrogant people in the universe, but as a group they are grounded and driven by a commonly held awareness of their ignorance (and pride in the vast mountains of truth uncovered in their trek through that ignorance).

Faith, by contrast. . . . Wait. No. 

Faith, by comparison, operates in much the same way.
Look at the Bible. Adam and Eve lived with God and got it wrong. Cain killed Abel for getting it right. Then everybody except Noah got it wrong, and God killed them all. Then everybody but Abraham got it wrong, and God gave him a plan for getting it right. And then he got it wrong, and then mostly right. Then his kids got it wrong and his grandkids got it wrong, but one of his great grandkids seemed to get it right. Then the whole family got really huge and wound up in slavery. Then Moses freed them all, and they wandered around for 40 years because they got it so wrong. Then Joshua led them on an assault in which they wiped out multiple nations, but they didn’t do that right either. They were then ruled by a series of judges, every single one of whom got it wrong with various levels of wrongness. Then came the kings, who were like a who’s who in the all-time Hall of Wrong. 

Then came the prophets, and they were a little different.

See, the prophets were sent by God to tell everyone they were doing it absolutely wrong and to stop it. They had it right, basically, but no one ever fully listened. 

Then came a long period in which, only priests and religious teachers, apparently, claimed to speak for God, with the understanding that they had at their disposal the full and complete inspired word of God. They were, as a group, convinced they were right about everything.

Then Jesus came along, proved them all wrong, and everyone confident in their rightness killed him for getting it right. 

Plenty of people followed him, but while he was on earth, they never really got it right either. They were pretty much a mess, but they were aware enough of their wrongness and firm enough in their belief in his rightness, that they could at least plot a course to trek through the wrongness and compile mountains of truth along the way.

According to the Bible, they continued to get it wrong. A lot. Paul had it absolutely wrong and then saw the light and proceeded to continually remind Christians of how they were getting it wrong in their need to pursue the truth and to pursue the one they had put their faith in, the truth personified.

The refrain, You’re getting it wrong—do better—understand better, but it’s worth striving to keep getting closer to right, repeated over and over.

And then, people of the Christian faith resorted back to an extended period of priests and religious teachers believing that they had the full, sufficient, inspired word of God, most of them convinced they finally had it right, continually challenging other people, sects, denominations, and entire religions that they’re wrong. Completely different from scientists? Nah. Just people being people. But I can’t help but admire the ones who believe the truth is there for the taking and that our understanding of it is woefully inadequate. 

Faith, like its cousin science, is not believing that you are right. Faith is, I believe, trusting that God will show you the truth and being desperately committed to accepting what is revealed to you, knowing that what could be true far exceeds what you think you understand already.

Why must that lead to so much conflict?

Evangelically correct

It was just another day at the office. Salesmen sat around the table, exchanging stories of past negotiating conquests and embellishing the oddities of customers we’d encountered over the years. One seasoned salesman recalled riding along with a particularly strange colleague with a habit of asking uncomfortable questions. The worst of them?

“He turns to me in the car and says, ‘What would you say if I asked if I could suck your dick?’ I just stared at him. ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ And he says, ‘I’m not going to do it, I’m just curious. What would you say?’ And I just told him, ‘Look, you can’t go around saying things like that. You’re making me uncomfortable. People are going to think you’re weird.’ Weirdest fucking guy. He’d just say stuff like that. He never would’ve done anything, but he’d say the strangest shit.”

I listen to this and wonder: how many men like this one would ever reflect on that experience and think, Is that how I make women feel? Is that how it feels to be hit on or leered at or asked wildly inappropriate sexual questions disguised as casual conversation? Probably not many, I guess. I actually started to pose the question out loud (amid the cacophony of reactions from around the table) when the whole scene was interrupted, as if on cue, by a woman in her early twenties walking down the hall off this conference room, prompting the same salesman to remark, “Oh yeah, I’d get with that for sure. Damn.”

Yeah. I’m sure he had spent considerable time musing over the impact of unwelcome sexual conversation. 

It’s hilariously sad. He never thought about the uncomfortable, threatening climate he creates for women, even when he experiences a watered down version of that treatment from another man. Why not? He doesn’t have to. He is part of the powerful controlling class. Men. Hetero men. Hetero white men. Hetero white evangelical men. 

Wait, no way. He’s not an evangelical. Oh come on. Of course he is. He’s at least more welcomed by that sect than an empathetic, considerate, kind homosexual man would be, and much more likely to share the same fears about homosexuality and tolerance for blatant sexism. 

I bring evangelicals into the mix not because sexism reflects their core beliefs or the majority of their flock (though both may very well be true). I do so because they’re in power and have been for a long, long time. As much as hardcore evangelicals claim to be persecuted, they have no clue what persecution is. What they perceive as marginalization and mistreatment is simply a loss of power in the overall fight for America. They have slowly lost their dominance, but with the election of Trump, whose true evil core is far more representative of evangelicalism than most would like to admit, they’ve wrestled quite a bit of that power back. 

The fight in America takes place on three battlefields: what we see on TV,  who controls the White House and Capitol Hill, and what we’re allowed to say at work. Forget foreign-policy, healthcare, education, and taxes. All that is along for the ride aboard the pop culture train. Most people, I contend, don’t care nearly as much about reality as we do about how reality is portrayed. Television, workplace conversation (fueled largely by TV), and the balance of power in Washington collectively make up our thermometer of cultural norms. 

If you are a white evangelical, you want no gay kissing or sex of any kind or swearing on the TV, a Republican president who does not get criticized by the lying media, and you want to be able to tell female coworkers, “You look cute in that skirt, sweetie,” without getting written up for sexual-harassment. Right? That is the gist of Donald Trump’s evangelical America. 

I don’t want to use the term other side, because there are a lot of different perspectives in this country, but there are a whole lot of people who can agree that all of those things are horseshit. 

And this is where evangelical correctness comes in: the rules of language and presentation. Chief among the fallout of America’s worst political mistake (the entire 2016 presidential campaign, start to finish) was the verdict that many Americans are sick of political correctness and the general attitude that we the (evangelical white male) people can be told by anyone what we’re allowed to say, do, or believe. This is, of course, a stance reserved for people who think homosexuality is a sin, transgenderism is a joke, Islam is a violent hoax of a religion, racism is dead, sexism is a nonissue, climate change is a myth meant to undermine the true promise of rainbows, evolution is one part theory and 99 parts assault on the Bible, abortion is murder when done by doctors but God’s will when doctors are unable to prevent its natural occurrence, and healthcare is a privilege not a right (and certainly not a responsibility). The cultural mandate that ensures the opposite of those views dominate television programming and acceptable work (and social media) conversation has marked a significant blow to the former power stranglehold on the culture, and evangelicals hate it. 

Political correctness demands showing consideration to women, minorities, all sexual and gender orientations, ethnicities, classes, scientific realities, and religious beliefs without preference to the prevailing cultural religion. 

But my religion says your lifestyle is sinful. Your religion also says you aren’t in control, you are not to long to be in power, you are to give away all your wealth, and you should mind your business and seek to be at peace with everyone. 

Evangelical correctness says, vote republican. It says no homosexuality in public. No talk of sex (the occasional lewd hetero reference is okay but frowned upon). No breastfeeding in public. Merry Christmas is essential. Happy Ramadan is blasphemy. Happy holidays is offensive. Don’t say fuck, goddamn, asshole, or cocksucker, and don’t even teach me what cunt means. Prayer in school is ok, as long as it’s to Jesus. You can always say the pledge. You also have to. Oh, and all races and faiths are okay as long as they’re dressed like rich white Christians. And we should be allowed to use the words Oriental and retarded. You know I don’t mean it offensively. 

All of those norms revolve around the perspective and experience of the evangelical while dismissing the feelings of everyone else, everyone not in control of the norms. Evangelicals have no qualms about telling everyone else what to do, what they can say, and what they must believe. They can because they know they’re right. Everyone else, though, should shut right up. 

Over the past few decades, the power has gradually shifted to be more female- homo- trans- science-friendly, and that’s scary for people whose sense of faith and country are so intertwined. 

It’s time for all people to accept that human rights, the basic sense of universal compassion and empathy that true political correctness attempts to uphold, takes precedence over the sensibilities of the ruling religious class. Evangelicals don’t have the right to oppress anyone and should stop fighting for it. 

Stop being that guy who says, “You can’t say those gay things. They make me uncomfortable,” and then proceeds to make other people feel uncomfortable. See the other perspectives and empathize. It’s the Christian thing to do. 

Twitter, Facebook provide outlets for mental garbage

Most thoughts are garbage. 

I’m not saying most people are stupid. I’m not saying most people’s ideas are stupid. I’m not even saying certain people’s thoughts are stupider than others. I am making a universal statement about thoughts in general. 

Just to be clear: most thoughts are garbage.

That mental predilection for producing false, inflammatory, irrational nonsense isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a necessary part of being the creative, thoughtful, brilliant beings we are. Our brains can produce a seemingly infinite flood of thoughts, much of it brimming with potential to develop into truly remarkable ideas, but the vast majority of it unworthy for public consumption. 

Eliminating the good thoughts from the worthless takes a lot of work. With a lifetime of training, we can get better at producing good thoughts, but our brains’ abilities to produce terrible thoughts never really goes away. 

How often do overly self-critical thoughts creep into your thinking? How many vile, unfounded insults about other people or ourselves spring to mind? How frequently do you simply get facts wrong in your head before further review reveals that Kevin Bacon wasn’t actually in Top Gun? It happens to me all the time, but I have no way of knowing how often it happens to everyone else.

Except I have many ways of knowing, thanks to social media. The comments sections of pretty much everything overflows with manifest unscreened, unreviewed, unfiltered putrescence. Our ubiquitous smart (?) phones make it horrifically easy to publish our thoughts unabridged to all of our friends (?) and family faster than we can breathe. And Twitter? Something about the way Twitter just fosters an endless stream of consciousness makes it especially favorable soil for planting mental manure and allowing it to flourish. The more ridiculous the thought, the more likely it is to be retweeted and replied to, it seems.

I used to use Twitter a LOT, but when I revisit it now, I can’t stomach it. The proliferation of sheer nonsense and bile blossoming into lengthy discussions and troll parties cause a few kernels of unscreened brain farts to explode into hurricane-force diarrhea systems, and I don’t see too many twitterers who are immune to participating in the shitstorm. 

I won’t tell anyone (other than my kids) not to use twitter or Facebook. But I will prescribe something to everyone: think longer. Self edit. Breathe. And if someone responds without thinking very well, if the thoughts are just flowing out unfiltered . . . it’s okay not to respond. Expecting someone who clearly isn’t willing to put effort into their thought process to suddenly begin thinking critically simply because you respond to them? That isn’t thoughtful. 

So the next time someone posts something stupid on Facebook, the very smartest, most effective thing you can do is to disengage completely. Go think. 

Stupidity on display is the heat. Get out of the kitchen.