First of all, my fiancee and wife-to-be in approximately one week has suggested that I write about her! So here it is: she’s pretty darn cute. And awesome. And smart and funny and sometimes a little ridiculous.
Anyhow, today’s topic is what you should not do to your wife: criticize her. But I am actually talking about criticism in general and how it is a good thing. But you shouldn’t do it to your wife (unless it’s done in a super-loving way!).
One of the reasons I was excited to start a back-and-forth dialog with an atheist just a few weeks ago is that it is fundamentally important that we have critics who have no vested interest in telling us that we’re right. Generally speaking, though, atheists are likely to support a lot of my ideas, such as supporting gay marriage or generally opposing religious influence (esp. religious favoritism) in public policy. In this regard, I would count it healthy for me — and many of the others invested in this debate — to invite criticism.
It is not merely that we need other people examining our ideas, but these people need to be free to criticize weaknesses in our ideas, if for nothing else but to show us what is not essential to our understanding of God or Christianity or humankind or anything else. This is one of the fundamental principles behind the peer review process in science: any idea put forward must undergo evaluation by people who do not have a reason to support the idea. This is something which could serve the religious world very well, and if we saw such critique as helpful and not just an us vs. them battle, it might lead to greater peace between varieties of Christians. The more broad application of this principle might even strengthen relationships between different religions and the secular world.
We can see the effects of absence of critique in a number of instances across Christianity. First is the tendency of individual rock star pastors or other celebrities to dominate the cultures of their churches and/or movements. Everyone seems to have his/her own take on how things really are and how we should deal with them. I can’t tell you how many times I have read blog posts talking about what’s really wrong with the church. The answer is that there are probably a lot of things wrong with the church, but that’s okay; let’s learn from each other instead of pretending that we are the chosen ones of God sent to remedy all the problems Christians have ever had since Jesus founded America at the dawn of time.
Another major issue is the tendency of Christians to split off into denominations with ever-more-specific views on doctrine. “I know we thought we had things right the last time we split, but this time, we’ve really got things together.” It is a strange tendency for religious people in particular to split into groups based on mutually-exclusive views. Of course, this is not specific to religious people but to people of any ideological system. We should “love our enemies,” so to speak, in that we don’t need to drive a wedge between ourselves and everyone who disagrees with us; even better, let us not consider them our enemies. We are striving together to find a means of cooperating for the sake of pursuing what is true and good.
On the other hand, we don’t need to be open to all critique. If our critics are not open to critique themselves, then they are of no use. I frequently receive threats of hellfire and damnation from people whose own views are not open to change, their ideas having been “revealed” in some way that makes them now infallible and of course in direct opposition to all other views, no matter how well-informed and well-reasoned. No one needs that sort of critique; in fact, engaging it lends it credibility as a part of this ongoing process of critique. In truth, such people are making nonsensical claims to authority, and that is the extent of their contribution to a conversation.
Now I want to reflect on what this might mean for the newly-formed group, The Despised Ones. I’ve mentioned them in my previous posts, and their logo is on my sidebar (go like our Facebook page! And mine. And follow my blog.). If we go about creating this group so that all the ideas presented share some sort of family resemblance, the only critique we will receive will be in an us vs. them sort of manner when other bloggers may decry the things we espouse from within their own blogging sites and groups. It turns into WWI-style trench warfare, where everyone digs in and lobs artillery shells from afar.
That’s not what we want. We want a healthy dialog, even as we stand for something firm. The dialog will keep us honest and prevent us from going to far afield from reality. Let’s face it: we all think we’re right, or we wouldn’t espouse the views that we do; we’d espouse something else which we think is right. Everyone does this. With this in mind, let us not consider ourselves the enlightened ones of God and instead subject ourselves to healthy criticism.
Otherwise, we’re just one more voice shouting at all the other shouting voices.