Posted by: dacalu | 16 February 2018

Being Wrong and Being Right

This evening marked the start of something new, a tele-compline for the Society of Ordained Scientists. We live in distant places, so it’s good to check in every once in a while.  I shared this brief reflection.

What does being wrong feel like?
Journalist Kathryn Schulz asks this question in her 2010 book.
What does being wrong feel like?
	It turns out being wrong feels exactly like being right.
	The troubling thing is not being wrong but finding out we're wrong.
	That can be immensely difficult.
	We don't like discovering our errors,
		so we develop defense mechanisms to keep them hidden.
It's not all that surprising, once you think about it.
	We avoid painful things
		and finding out we're wrong is painful.
What we really want is defense mechanisms against being wrong.
	That takes community and methodology.
	It takes people we're willing to be vulnerable with,
		arguments we allow to change our minds,
		and openness to change.

Enter science.
	Science can provide exactly this kind of environment.
	One of the things I love most about science is its ability to self-correct.
Mind you, this is not the self-congratulatory, triumphal worldview
		of popular imagination.
	As much as I like Star Trek - and I do love Star Trek -
		that is an ideology of everlasting progress through human ingenuity.
I'm not talking about science as an idea, but science as a concrete community:
	trained, focused people with a common language and purpose.
For me, that means a very real group of astrobiologists
	and a very real group of evolutionary theorists.
Real people with real strengths - and weaknesses.
People with foibles, but people I have grown to know and love,
	who hold me accountable to our common ideals of knowledge.
 
Christianity can work the same way.
It need not.
It doesn't always, but it can.
Once again, it is not the self-congratulatory, triumphal worldview
		of popular imagination.
	As much as I want to share the good news,
		as much as I like the idea of Christendom -
a truly, pervasively Christian culture -
		as much as I romanticize the marriage of Church and State
			in the best Victorian novels,
	that is an ideology of how church should work.
I'm not talking about Christianity as an idea, but church as a concrete community:
	trained, focused people with a common language and purpose.
For me, that means a very real group of Anglicans
	and a very real group of ordained scientists.
Real people with real strengths - and weaknesses.
People with foibles, but people I have grown to know and love,
	who hold me accountable to our common ideals of knowledge.

If I'm wrong,
	I'd much rather find out about it now, than later.
	Later is always more embarrassing.
So, I like to poke at my beliefs from time to time,
	argue both sides,
	and convince myself that I'm right.
I value my scientific and religious communities.


A challenge arises when we come to evangelism and proselytization.
In my experience, people do not come to the church because they are wrong.
	What does it feel like to be wrong?
	It feels just like being right.
	Even if they are wrong, this approach simply will not work.
People come to the church because something in their lives feels empty or broken.
	Some relationship in their lives doesn't work,
		either with neighbors, with God, or even with themselves.
Our job with them is exactly the same as our job with one another,
	to be there.
 
Our job is to build the relationships of trust that form real community.
Our job is to create common language and common standards,
	that allow us to correct one another and be corrected.
It's daunting.
No, truly it's terrifying to allow someone in your life who can correct you.
It is not something we should do lightly.
But, it is something we should do,
because it's worth finding out.
Truth is worth the work.

Even more important, I think we must work to be the kinds of people,
	and the kinds of communities that people trust.
That requires discipline and self-restraint.
It requires asking more questions.
	Not just "is this true?"
	but "is it useful?"
	"Will it make sense to others?"
	"Is it kind and just?"
Because being right is about more than truth,
	it is about community, about faith, hope, and love.
This Lent, I hope you will find yourselves often wrong.
I wish for you a community of trust and purpose.
And may we all discover that we are a little less wrong
	than we used to be.

 

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