A decorative pillow in the hotel lobby brought a quick pause, an easy smile and the iPhone snapshot posted here.
It read, “I’d agree with you but then we’d both be wrong.”
Its wittiness speaks to how sure we often are about some matters — and our eagerness to win any debate.
This creative saying may also serve in a backhanded way to remind us that no one has the corner on truth. Different opinions are to be sought and valued.
Yet, there is a sticking point in which honest dialogues of disagreement so often fail. And it is more than inflexibility or contrasting ideas.
The criteria for my serious consideration of someone’s conflicting conclusion over a matter is not whether that person’s opinion is different from mine. I want to know if that person is interested in determining the truth.
That may seem odd. One might think that everyone is pursuing truth, but that is not the case.
Coming out of an introductory college class in biblical studies, a handful of fellow students and I were marveling at a lesson we’d just learned.
While not recalling the precise point, the trusted professor revealed how something most of us had learned about the Bible was the result of a translation error or a misunderstanding of the ancient culture in which scriptures arose. Such lessons are plentiful for those with ears to hear.
But one student said: “I like the way I was taught better, so that’s how I’m going to believe it.”
The comment was not a challenge to the veracity of what we’d learned. It was an admission that truth is not of prime interest if it causes a certain kind of rethinking.
More recently, a friend since childhood posted on Facebook a brazen and harmful statement proclaiming that gay and lesbian persons cannot be Christians.
I resist a lot of social media engagement, but not ones like this. The ugly and ignorant charge needed to be countered — not for the sake of winning an argument but to advocate for my friends who keep getting ostracized and abused in the false name of Christianity.
My response, therefore, was for them. There was no expectation of convincing the poster of his errant thinking and likely unthinking about the results.
My expectations were squarely met, as he responded: “But you and I were both taught that…”
Whatever was said after that phrase is unrecalled because it doesn’t matter.
While grateful for the good and nurturing influences on my early life, not everything that was taught at home, school and church was truthful.
It is an odd notion to defend something as truth solely because it was learned long ago.
Often those lessons were saturated in a never-ceasing Lost Cause ideology, racist pushback to civil rights gains and theological ignorance that often casted God’s favoritism in our direction and away from others.
Again, no one has the corner on truth. We all see through the glass dimly.
Honest pursuits of truth are hard enough. Discernment over whether truth is being pursued adds to the challenge.
The exasperating question — “How could anyone believe that?” — benefits from the follow-up question of “Why does one choose to believe that?”
The answer may well be a reason other than that they honestly and seriously believe it to be true.
For many, truth is not a primary concern. Therefore, even the clearest of evidence is unpersuasive.
This reality has become easier to detect now — by asking about the sources of someone’s regurgitated so-called truth to see if it comes from a place that intentionally misleads for some financial or power gain.
Listening for diversions from facts is revealing too — like when false equivalencies are raised to suggest that everyone is equally wrong or bad.
Oddly, however, it seems that one’s spiritual knowledge and experience often lags behind other aspects of their lives when it comes to the pursuit of truth.
Perhaps this is the result of giving thinking people pablum in Sunday School classes and sermons.
Longtime friend and former campus ministry colleague Tim Willis of Clemson, South Carolina, reminded me recently of an important insight from Brian McLaren in Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned.
“We don’t let the assumptions of our ancestors about anatomy, psychology, medicine, or physics dominate our thinking and work in these fields today,” writes McLaren. “Why should we be required to let their theological assumptions dominate…?”
Brian asks an important yet rhetorical question. But it has a real answer.
Because truth scares some people. They would rather hang on to the old ways of thinking even if they are wrong — but feel good.
And left behind like a throw pillow in a hotel lobby is a bunch of unpursued truth.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.