A couple of weeks ago, I found myself watching more television than I am accustomed to watching. Judge Brett Kavanaugh was going through his confirmation hearings.
On my local cable network, MSNBC and Fox News occupy adjacent channels. I stole moments throughout my day to listen to both networks. I would spend 15 minutes listening to Fox journalists and then another 15 minutes listening to MSNBC journalists.
Usually, they were reporting on the same people and events. However, their perspectives were diametrically opposed.
My original response to this phenomenon was very cynical. However, I do believe there were many sincere people on all sides of the issues that arose from the Kavanaugh hearings.
These sincere people remind me of a verse in the Bible. Proverbs 21:2 states “Everyone’s way is right in their own eyes.”
This verse rings true to me. We all tend to believe that our view, perspective or position is correct. We believe our views are based on objectivity and truth. They coincide with reality.
On the other hand, we tend to believe that the views of others are riddled with subjectivity or misinformation. When we are in a sincere disagreement, many of us come up with hundreds of reasons to justify our position and refute the position of the person who disagrees with us.
Perhaps that’s just being human.
Owen Barfield, a natural scientist, identified this phenomenon in his book “Saving the Appearance.” Barfield believed this sense of rightness can be dangerous. The scientist who is certain that he or she has the correct view will not explore or investigate other possibilities.
As we all know, each generation of scientists tends to refute or correct the well-established norms of the previous generation. Scientists who believed in an earth-centered universe (Ptolemaic System) were refuted by scientists who suggested the sun was at the center of the solar system (Capernaum or Kepler).
To prevent this process from endlessly repeating itself, Barfield suggested that scientists use subjective language, such as “it appears to me.” The word “hypothesis” implies this subjectivity.
Barfield had the audacity to suggest that facts are idols. The subtitle of his book is “a study in idolatry.” Facts are based on a presupposition that one knows all there is to know about a particular matter.
I believe we can apply Barfield to everyday life. We can assume that our certainty might be refuted in the future. When we share our perspective by using subjective language (“I believe,” “it appears to me,” “from my perspective”), we allow others to disagree with us without causing conflict.
We also save ourselves from having to remove our feet from our mouths at a later date.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “We know in part.” By accepting our limitations, finitude and fragility, we open the door for productive conversations that have the potential of edifying and educating all parties.
What a wonderful world we will have when we learn how to communicate with others who hold different views.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.