The pride of a humble opinion

Southern Cross: People Matter

People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Originally Published:
Jensen, P 'The pride of a humble opinion'. Southern Cross, September 2000.

Tagged: pride relativism tolerance

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David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan. “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” 2 Samuel 12:5

It has happened so often there must be a name for it. A better name than ‘foot in mouth disease’.

We need a more precise name for it. Preferably a name that will point to the cause of the problem. The underlying blindness of the speaker who, in the most exquisite form of the phenomenon, accuses the other person of their own problem.

The name could describe that awful struggle that the victim endures—“Do I tell him or will I let him go on?”—“Do I say something or will he change the subject?”

The name should capture the moment of discovery when finally the victim is forced into confession. Forced by their own embarrassment, not able to endure the struggle any longer. Or forced by the perpetrator’s stupidity when he asks, “So what do you do?” “So what’s your name?” “So where do you come from?”

I heard of a classic example the other day: two men who hardly knew each other leaving a conference and travelling together for an hour or so. The gentleman of the two asked a polite question about the other’s work. He was then regaled about how the industry was being ruined by the aggressive, unprincipled behaviour of a particular large firm. This company’s failure to even listen to others working in the same industry was bringing difficulty on everybody. On and on he went warming to his subject of unfeeling rudeness—to the general manager of the firm he was so vigourously attacking for its aggression.

But the phenomenon happens so often. There was the university student attacking the ignorant arrogance of a woman who was reported in the public media giving a Christian opinion. How was that poor student to know that the Christian woman’s son would be in the same tutorial?

Part of the problem is people believing a stereotype and therefore not recognising reality when it appears before them. Part of the problem is our own blindness to our own folly and faults. It is so much easier to see the speck in another’s eye than to see the log in our own.

Recently I heard a woman express the view that all religions are like different roads up the same mountain. “The trouble is that each religion can only see their own way so do not accept the validity of everybody else’s route,” she said. She spoke so confidently about her ‘inclusive view’—the conclusion of people of true humility, who ‘recognised other people’s integrity in holding different views.’

Unfortunately, she did not give the Christian she was talking to the right to hold their view. The Christian view did not include everybody and so was not one of integrity. It could not be included in her inclusive view.

I watched as the Christian patiently explained to her that the only person who could be sure that all roads do in fact lead up to the top of the mountain was the person who had made it all the way up the mountain, who was at the top or could see everything. Hers was not a position of humbly accepting our lack of knowledge but arrogantly claiming total knowledge.

But I saw no signs that she understood the point or even that in her humble, loving, respectful, all inclusive viewpoint of religion she had rudely excluded the very person she was talking to.