Challenging Opinions

I think it’s safe to assume we all have opinions. 
They show up in a variety of phrases during our conversations:

“I think…”
“I feel…”
“I believe…”
“This is how I see it…”
“For me…”
“My favorite…”
“From my perspective…”
“Speaking for myself…”
“My church teaches…”
“Personally…”
“As far as I’m concerned…”
“It’s my conviction…”
“Here’s my two cents”
“I prefer…”

Usually what comes after the phrase is…opinion!

We hear opinions daily, spoken as if they were eternal truths. 
They come to us in religious platitudes (“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” “Your sickness is God’s way of getting your attention.” “God helps those who help themselves.”), trite axioms (“The sun will come up tomorrow.”), sweeping generalizations (“All Muslims…”) or parroted, clichéd talking points  (“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”).

It’s probably also safe to say we all don’t agree on every opinion.
And that’s fine!
It’s part of being a unique individual.

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We can learn about one another by discussing opinions on a variety of topics.

Do you have a favorite book?
Are ghosts real?
Did you like that movie?
What do you believe about God/god?
What is your strongest personality trait?
Should the government provide healthcare?
How do you feel about Welfare?
Who was the best Darrin on "Bewitched?"
Is the death penalty a just punishment?
Will a Muslim go to heaven?
Can a woman be pastor of a church?
What’s your least favorite kind of music?

We shouldn’t deny we have opinions, or refuse to express them.
Instead, we meticulously examine and evaluate our opinions:

Why do I think (feel) this way?
Where did this belief originate?
Who taught me this? Why?
How do I feel when this opinion is challenged?
What if others hold a different opinion?
Does this opinion negatively affect how I see myself? Others?
Can this opinion be changed? Abandoned?

Trust me, this is not an easy process.
Some of our opinions are deeply ingrained, based on a multitude of factors, such as religious training, education, social status, parents, gender (or gender identity) or race. Our opinions could be intrinsic in how we see ourselves (Self-image is largely an opinion!), or at the core of our faith. (Few like to think of our beliefs as opinions.) Patriotism stems from opinions, and perhaps ignites the passion of our politics.

I’m not condemning opinion; I have many (MANY!) of my own.
I’m merely suggesting rather than blindly accept them...and blithely speak them...we challenge ourselves to confront them.

  • Some may be rational and logical, but a few could be based on superstition, archaic perspectives or outdated information.
  • There might be one or two (More?) that are merely traditional norms, status quo, societal pressures, perfunctory habits or cultural  prejudices.
  • Some are helpful, but a few could be harmful.
  • There will be reasonable, logical opinions, but others might be baseless and wrong.
  • And some…let’s be honest…are just plain stupid!

I try not to dismiss anyone based on their opinions, though during discussions, I might disagree with what they think, believe or feel about the subject matter. I’m okay walking away at the end of a conversation acknowledging neither of us changed our opinions. But sadly, some folks are so co-mingled with their opinions, they take my disagreement personally, and feel (Yep, an opinion!) I’m rejecting them as a person.

As a general rule, I operate under the axiom “Everyone has a right to their own opinion.”
I might not agree, but I affirm their freedom to have that opinion.
I will discuss divergent opinions, listen to the opinions of others and consider opposing opinions.
But I rarely argue opinions.

However, I will challenge an opinion... 

1. When facts are subjugated to opinion.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "You are entitled to your opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts."

Facts are observable, verifiable, provable.
Opinions, though possibly based on facts, are subjective—expressions of individual/personal feelings, beliefs, experiences, tastes, ideas, viewpoints.

Fact: Ronald Reagan served as President for 8 years.
Opinion: Ronald Reagan was the best (or worst) President in history.

Fact: Ice Cream comes in a variety of flavors.
Opinion: Peppermint Chocolate Chip is my favorite.

Fact: I was robbed by a dark-skinned man.
Opinion: People with dark skin are dangerous.

Fact: We are all going to die.
Opinion: After death, we will spend eternity in heaven or hell.

Fact: Assault-style guns are used to kill people.
Opinion 1: The problem is not the gun.
Opinion 2: The problem is the gun.

Fact: Same-sex marriage is legal.
Opinion 1: Same-sex marriage is a sin.
Opinion 2: Gay people should not be allowed to marry.

It’s easy for me to see my opinion as…more.
This is, my opinion is not just true, it’s The Truth, and everyone should concur.

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I define this phenomenon as the Exaltation of Opinion: elevating opinion to the role of arbiter in a discussion. It assigns opinion the same weight as facts. Or worse, opinion trumps contrary evidence.

I’ve had online conversations where the other person seems under the impression that when they state what they think, how they’ve been taught, what they believe, or how they feel, I should instantly acquiesce.
Mic dropped.
Game Over!
Declare the winner.


In a recent conversation, I was told "It's not my opinion, it's in the Bible." 
I've also heard “If you disagree with my opinion, take it up with God.” 
This moves past Exaltation into the Apotheosis (Deification) of Opinion.

(Note: I provide a transcript of one of those conversations at the end of this entry.)

Interestingly, the topic might change, but it’s still too often accompanied by same abrupt ending.

“It’s right there in the Bible. End of discussion!”
“The Second Amendment is clear. End of discussion!”
“Any movie with Helen Mirren is boring. End of discussion!”
 “Islam is a religion of violence. End of discussion!”
“That’s the worst show on TV. End of discussion!”
 “There are only two genders. End of discussion!”

Sometimes, we try to bolster the weight of our opinions with vague inclusions:

“Well, that’s my opinion, and it’s backed up by the Constitution.”
“Well, that’s my opinion, and the Bible is on my side.”
“Well, that’s my opinion, and lots of others agree with me.”

Other times, we want to deflect:

 “I’m only giving my opinion.”
“Well, that’s your opinion.”
“My opinion is just as valid as yours.”
 “I have a right to my opinion.”

We should not give these kinds of assertions any credibility by remaining silent. An opinion that ignores research, evidence or verifiable facts, is not “just as valid.” If I’m offering my opinion as a statement to counter facts in an discussion, it’s not “just an opinion.”

2. When an Opinion is harmful to others

I cannot be silent when someone’s “opinion” demeans, degrades or potentially harms an individual or a group.

“I think gay people are abominations, and deserve to die.”
“Trans people are disgusting.”
“Black people are subhuman.”
“Immigrants must be put in their place.”

Such “opinions” go beyond a feeling, or a belief. They create an environment of fear, mistrust, oppression, hate and violence.  These “opinions” cause serious emotional and spiritual trauma, which can lead to physical harm. (e.g., suicide, bashing, or murder)

I will not excuse them as “just an opinion” nor will I validate the person’s right to such an opinion. A tolerant society is not required to tolerate intolerance, else the very idea of tolerance is lost. (cf: The Limits of My Tolerance)

We all have our opinions.
I pray they instill in us grace, conviction, courage, passion, acceptance, values, and ethics.
And may we let go of those that make us shallow, rigid, petty, callous, elite and intolerant.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Transcript of online conversation:

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Facebook Page Visitor: How can you call yourself a “Gay Christian?” Homosexuality is a sin.

Me: Actually, I wouldn’t use that term of myself, and if I did, I would not enclose it in “scary quotes.” I do self-identify as a Christian. I’m an unapologetic gay man, and my faith is very important to me.

Visitor: Being gay is a sin.

Me: I don’t think my sexual orientation is any more a sin that yours.

Visitor: You are being deceived. You can’t continue in sin and pretend to be a Christian.

Me: I am not pretending. Those are your words. I’m sure if we had a conversation about our personal faith, we’d be surprised at the many things we hold in agreements.

Visitor: I can’t see how we’d have anything to discuss. What fellowship does light have with darkness?

Me: So you reject someone who disagrees with your theology? How do we learn and grow, if we assume we’ve got it all figured out? Jesus called us to Love and Unity. He didn’t add an exemption clause. Only if we agree. Only those who are like us.

Visitor: Being gay is a sin. That’s a fact. There is no other way to see it.

Me: Obviously we have different opinions on this subject.

Visitor: This is not my opinion. The Bible says it’s a sin.

Me: Not that I wish to argue the matter, but the word “homosexual” never appears in the original language of Scripture, and the word “sin” doesn’t appear in any of those obscure verses people often use to condemn homosexuality.

Visitor: That’s why good interpretation is important. You are deceived, and ignoring God’s guidance.

Me: Isn’t it possible to disagree on this interpretation? You know, like how some churches believe baptism is by immersion, while others use sprinkling?

Visitor: That’s twisting The Word to justify your behavior. Your example is about a procedural matter. It’s not a sin to baptize, regardless of the method. On the other hand, homosexuality is a sin that God calls an abomination. Nothing you say will ever convince me that what you do is right in the sight of God. If you have a problem with the Truth, take it up with God. I’m just the messenger. Shalom!

 

 

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