Recently I had to deal with a person who’s very sure of their own opinions and seems to have little respect for those of others. This encounter left me thinking, “As far as this person is concerned, I’m not entitled to my own opinion.” And then I realized that the same is true of much of society. It’s become common for people to be treated as if they’re not entitled to their opinions – at least, if they hold ones that don’t line up with popular conventional wisdom.
I saw a good example of this in an article I read some time ago. The author took issue with the phrase ‘everyone’s entitled to their opinion’ because it implies that all opinions are equally valid, which they clearly are not. To make his point he named a few specific, common viewpoints and blasted them as being “illogical, uninformed and downright retarded.” (I’m paraphrasing; the actual language was rather less polite.) Unfortunately he chose examples of opinions that are not at all illogical, uninformed or “retarded.” Rather, they were merely unpopular ones that he personally rejected, but which are recognized by many people as being very much fact-based.
His unfortunate choice of examples aside, though, he did manage to brush against a valid point. It’s one thing to have opinions about things like how good a song or a movie is; it’s another thing entirely to have opinions about things that are not just a matter of opinion.
The challenge, of course, is in knowing which things are not a matter of opinion, and what are the correct viewpoints regarding them. That is knowledge which everyone should seek, but which too many don’t. Too many people only look for confirmation of their own preferred opinions, whether correct or not.
I like to say that if one looks at evidence thoroughly and honestly, one will see that it often supports unpopular conclusions and doesn’t support the popular ones. The problem is that evidence doesn’t speak for itself. Depending on how it’s presented it can appear to constitute proof of all manner of claims, including completely opposing ones.
I recently saw a TV documentary about Jesus Christ, which was obviously made by people who were not coming from a Christian viewpoint (though they seemed to be trying to appear as if they were). What I found remarkable about it was that the evidence it presented was almost entirely factual, yet was directed toward supporting a blatantly false conclusion. This was done very subtly, by way of giving equal weight to sources of highly unequal reliability, and by strategically disregarding certain information.
Our world is full of this kind of thing. It’s no wonder that people can find it hard to know what to believe and who to listen to.
Over the years, I’ve learned some ways that I can recognize who to listen to and who not to listen to. I won’t listen to someone who works to silence disagreement; who depends heavily on mockery and shallow talking points; who, in different situations, uses arguments that contradict each other; who talks a lot about what’s said by “science” or “reputable experts” but not so much about actual evidence; who spends more time attacking the credibility of those who hold opposing positions than explaining their own position; who avoids addressing, or even acknowledging, the tough questions that counter their viewpoint; whose efforts are ultimately directed toward getting their own way, regardless of the cost to others.
I will listen to someone who is willing to admit what they don’t know and when they’ve been wrong; who doesn’t have to resort to name-calling or distraction techniques; who isn’t afraid to tackle difficult questions; who recognizes that their own feelings don’t determine what is right or wrong; who has faced and denounced their own sins before concerning themselves with what those of others might be; who has been willing to be changed significantly, even radically, by what they’ve found.
Above all, I will listen to the words of the Creator. The more we imperfect humans follow the way he’s given us, the better things work. The more we disregard his words or try to make them say things they don’t, the bigger of a mess we make. When we fail to follow him, we are left with nothing higher to guide us than popular opinion and our own blind, self-serving preferences. We deceive ourselves when we pretend that those are enough.
Each of us has to choose what we will base our opinions on. We can base them on what we prefer to believe, or on what’s currently fashionable to think. Or, we can base them on what our Creator has revealed to us.
This matters because ideas, and the actions they lead to, have consequences; and we will be held responsible for these.
And that’s not just my opinion.