Let’s Talk About When I Was Wrong

I want to dedicate the shortest month of the year to times I was wrong.

Of course I’m not often wrong, but when I am, it’s certainly no fun. If I’m wrong about something publicly, then I get embarrassed; if I’m wrong about something in private, something in my mind, I still have to admit it—and even admitting it to myself is brutal.

In my quarter century, I’ve been wrong a few times, and faced with that, I’ve had to change my mind. I think of my brief bout as a vegetarian, a blight on my otherwise untarnished record of selfish eating. It’s not that I ever changed my mind on the ethics of eating animals—as they were already ambiguous—but after my brief stint, I concluded that I had neither the discipline nor the resolve to continue (and thus was forced to admit this to everyone I had just told about my dietary change).

I also think of when I’ve been wrong on this blog, Religion & Story, and there’s even a handful of posts to demonstrate the phenomenon: In October of 2017, I wrote that the state of nature is morally fallen, while in July of 2015 I wrote that it was perhaps something to be sought for. In December of 2017, I wrote that Christian ethics are ambiguous, while just a few months earlier in March, I had written that Christianity was “the complete opposite of moral ambiguity.” Also, if you check out my video project from last year (or don’t), the final video is all about my internal debate over non-violence, an idea I’ve struggled with for several years.

And yet, there’s still more when I look back at my writings that I disagree with and sometimes can’t even fathom why I ever thought it at all.

JMW Turner - Ulysses

In June of 2017, I did a short post on this tension that appears in the Bible between the call for distinctive Christian living and the need to live in a worldly culture. I noted that Peter is aware of this tension in his epistle but neglects to address it, instead opting to direct his readers’ attention toward Christ and the power of the cross, and how the Bible often does this—forgoing a logical or practical solution in favor of a solution of beauty. And I said, this is good.

More than a year before that in May of 2016, I wrote a different post about the ethics of Marvel’s Civil War—a comic event in which Iron Man has all the reason and Captain America just has his gut. It’s a similar situation in which reason can only take you so far—but sometimes (according to my post) you have to abandon your logical faculties in favor of a beautiful and blissful ignorance.

I want to go ahead and say: both of those posts are trash.

Sure, there may be helpful suggestion in there, but the idea that logic should be tabled in pursuance of something resembling beauty is nonsensical and ridiculous. As a species, we can only thrive in as much as we rely on our ability to reason and come to ever better conclusions. I’m not suggesting that Enlightenment certainly is within our grasp, rather that logic is our most basic and important tool.

I was reminded of this recently when reading the Marburg Colloquy, the debate between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli on the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The discourse is almost painful to read as Luther repeatedly dismisses Zwingli’s attempts at conversation by stating that his mind is made up and by faith he must accept that Christ is present in the communion. There could be no doubt for any reader, then or now, who won the debate.

Still, the need for logic is not just for winning debates. It is only by reason that we can make sense of the cosmos, that we can order our perception and our reality. Without it, we are lost without any real truth. Ignore what I said eight months ago—we can approach something resembling a reasonable answer to the hard questions we face in the Bible and in ethics, as well as in politics and in life.

I apologize for the times my blog has mislead you, but hopefully this series will make it up to you.

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