Saturday, June 5, 2010

Candor w/o Cruelty . . . is it Possible?

As typical for me, there was a chain of events that brought this issue to my thoughts once again. I know the issues, which surround honestly and candor, are complex. I also realize I’ve written about this many times before . . . but here it is once more . . . if anyone is listening.

If you have stumbled onto this blog as a novice observer I must give a brief background.

I think I was someone who was drawn to the concept of “honest truth” or “true truth” from childhood. While an Evangelical I was always aware that what we said and reality had a strange disjointedness. I wasn’t the only one who lived dishonestly, but I observed it among my fellow Christians. But we all lived the myth. I saw my fellow Navigator trainees and roommates spend four hours in Bible study during the week and then report at the meeting that that they had spent eight. We lied about miracles and did everything we could to cover up our moral frailty and to potentiate the pretense of our godliness. We were always happy and nice . . . on the exterior.

But when I became disillusioned with Evangelicalism I faced tremendous pressure to start lying again. If I had lied, life would have been so much easier. But I was determined to try the Christian faith without the lies . . . like trying pizza without the cheese (which I've had once).

The last piece of this puzzle was watching my own five kids grow up and start to question the Christian paradigm. As my son Quentin voiced, “Not only is the Church a farce but the sad thing is that they don’t realize it is a farce.”

So this is why I’m committed to trying to speak and live honestly. It is for the sake of our youth if for no other reason. But there are other reasons.

My major philosophical view is that if God is there, then He must be a God of truth. Okay, maybe He doesn’t have to be . . . but the Christian God certainly proclaims to be truth. Then this should be truth in everything . . . including emotional truth. That is the hardest. Additionally Christianity teaches very clearly that lying is sin.

I’ve used the illustration many times (and I’m sorry for redundancy if anyone is here who has read this before) of a building. The basement is total honesty, meaning psychological and moral honestly as well as factual honestly. In my view, the building is about 100 stories tall, like that of the Sears (I think AKA “Willis”) Tower.

In the penthouse are those who have lost all grips of reality. This includes the mentally ill with psychosis (usually due to no fault of their own). As I’ve said, the problem with schizophrenics isn’t their sense of reason. They seem to reason clearly. But they have tremendous failure in their ability to perceive the real world around them.

Only a dozen or so floors below those who are insane, are the TV Evangelists with the big hair, Botox, stages of plastic flowers and plastic lives. Near them are many people in public life, like politicians, who live a life of what people need to believe about them in order to vote for them. Who knows what really lurks in their souls.

But not far below them are some of the professionals, and I will explain.

About ten years ago I wrote a (somewhat funny but honest) autobiography about my professional experiences. While many related and liked the book, I had some professionals slam me for “looking like a fool” and “being a bad representation of our medical profession.” So there is a professional myth where you are not human but a perfect, confident robot and are never caught making a mistake. I think of the Donald Trump, Inc. here. He and his children look to me as if they are made of fiberglass . . . maybe they are.

So I think most of Evangelicalism is lived out between the 30th and 50th floors.

Now my question this time around (and I will have to make a series about this) is can you really live honestly and can you do it without cruelty? I don’t think so anymore. I have lost my aspirations of living completely honest in this world. I do expect that in the new and improved world God will bring that there will be absolute candor and that world will be able to live within that paradigm, which it can not now.

The chain of events, which brought this to the forefront of my mind again, started with a conversation with my wife a few weeks ago. I made the statement, “I really want to live honestly!”

To which she replied, “But you don’t have to be cruel to people!”

I’m not sure what we were talking about but I’m sure it had something to do with church.

Now understand I have never advocated the type of cruel honestly as portrayed in the movie, The Invention of Lying. In that movie people would walk up to a stranger and tell them that they are fat and ugly.

But what do you do if you have absolutely no desire to go to a church meeting to watch a movie about the myths of global warming. Someone asks me,"Are you coming to the movie at church tonight?”

I say, “No.”

They then say, “Oh, do you have plans?”

I will say, “No. I just have no desire to watch the movie because I really do believe the science behind global warming.”

The people inviting me become very offended by my response. This is where my wife says I am cruel. My goal wasn't to be cruel . . . but to be honest.

So what do you do? You are left with two options. Smiling big and saying, “Oh, I would love to come.” Then you go and keep your mouth shut. Life is played out much easier this way. Or you say, “I’m sorry but I can’t come because we are expecting guests,” which is a bold-face lie.

But that is only scratching the surface. I've talked a lot about motives behind what we say and do. How honest can we be about it? I’m not sure. I don’t think I can speak with complete candor in my life time . . . without risking total alienation and becoming more of an object of hate.

I will close this beginning thought on my next event, which brought honestly to mind once again.

I’m presently reading Samuel Butler’s book, The Way of All Flesh. I read about him before I started this book. Apparently he was an un-celebrated writer during his lifetime. He started this, his most famous work, about eleven years before his death. He says in the book itself that his honestly will cause all people to hate him. The reason? He was living and writing in Victorian England. The thesis of his story (and I didn’t intentionally chose the book because of this subject matter) is revealing the hypocrisy of the Victorian, Christian society. I’m only a forth of the way through and already he draws a very distinct contrast between the real motives for decisions of a pastor and his family and their surface motives (like God called me to do this or that). By the time he completed the book he was too scared to even publish it and asked his sister to publish it after he was dead. He knew that his candor would go over like a lead balloon in the Christian society.

I will be back and deal with the issue honestly as it relates to flirting and deep personal insecurities . . . and how hard it is for any of us Christians to acknowledge either.


(P.S. I will come back and look for typos tomorrow)


Johan said...

Interesting subject.
I'll be following this series with interest, as I also have a desire to be honest. As I think that's important to freedom.
But as you say, living in a broken world, being a broken human being, is my ideal possible?
I hope so. I believe it can be possible to be honest without being cruel.
I mean: saying you do not believe that global warming is a myth is NOT cruel. It would be cruel if you would condemn the other for holding on to the view that it is a myth, but you're not doing that. Stating what you believe cannot be construed as being cruel.


MJ said...

I honestly don't believe it is cruel either. However, it is construed as cruelty or rudeness. I think my wife, who is normal and on the same page as those at church, see me as being rude if I say I don't want to something that someone ask me to do, when I really don't want too. It is the same with my extended family.

If my mother was asked to do something, she would do it even if she hated doing it but smile and tell everyone how much she like doing it. For example, she is 88 years old and her church is asking her to cook huge meals for functions on a regular basis. She hates doing it. She can't afford it (as they pay for nothing) but she can't say no because, in her eyes, it would be rude and unchristian.

etain said...

Answering candor with candor is fine. Answering pretense with candor is the problem. I'm guessing that relatively few people feel strongly enough about global warming being a myth that they really prefer watching a movie about this to anything else they could be doing that night. But it's a community event, expressing community solidarity. Part of the attraction is the experience of being surrounded by people with whom you agree politically, defining boundaries against a perceived hostile or ignorant political enemy. So your friend is likely going to the event primarily in order to stand in solidarity with his community. That's why you're provided an out: "Ah, you must have plans." When you answer, "No, I just I think the movie is wrong about global warming," it sounds like, "No, I just don't value being a part of this community when it comes to global warming." Your friend (again, probably) isn't going to the event because the falsity of global warming is so important to him. He's going because global warming, true or false, is very unimportant to him -- community is what he cares about, and what it feels like you are rejecting.

Does this sound likely or off track?

MJ said...

No, it sounds right on track.

etain said...

I guess that would leave me wondering whether I WAS in fact rejecting the community. I remember in college noticing that conversations among American students took general agreement for granted. Expressing disagreement was antisocial, hostile, and not okay. Light conversation was best. Sitting down at a table of foreign exchange students was much more like dinner among European immigrants in my hometown: somebody claims X, another person counters with Y, and the discussion goes on from there. I don't know what it is about American culture -- maybe we didn't always have much in common besides our ideals, maybe we still think like Puritans, maybe we're generally segregationist in spirit, but we definitely seem a lot less comfortable with diversity of opinion in our families, churches, and the social groups we move within on a daily basis. I do think it has something to do with Protestantism -- from very early on, every Protestant was a card carrying subscriber to a set of defined doctrines (and now we have plenty of denominations to specify exactly what is to be agreed upon). Catholics are just Catholics -- since sacraments are the main event, there is a lot more room for people to disagree with each other -- though American Catholics, to the degree that they've adopted American culture, tend to segregate over disagreements as well.

Johan said...

It's an important subject as it has to do with boundaries.
Something that I'm struggling with, which is why I'm feeling strongly on this subject. I have the tendency to want to agree with others - I feel 'less' than the other when I disagree. As an example: years ago I had a discussion with a friend who is still a YEC (I'm not). He wanted to discuss, but I immediately felt condemned for holding this view and tempted to 'fold' under the pressure, just to be acceptable to the other.
I don't want to do this; I want to be free inside to disagree!


shallowfrozenwater said...

i'm right with you on this one. i was always bothered by the masks that everyone seems to wear in church circles, particularly evangelical church circles. struggle means sin? really? stuggle means that you're actually living and you're willing to say to whoever is listening that you're struggling with a certain issue.
i'm to the point that if i'm asked if i want to do a particular thing amongst the extracurriculars in my life and if i don't want to do it then i just say no. i get tired of the expectation placed on me that i have to keep holding up the good little man mask.
i too want very much to live honestly but i also don't want to be cruel. i don't believe that i am a cruel person however so to be frank and say what i think and feel comes off as cruel sometimes but hopefully it comes off as honest most of the time.

MJ said...

All good comments. I don't think I can add anything to them so I'll be quiet :>)

Anonymous said...

This is an issue that helped drive me from evangelicalism. Your son has good insight when he talks about the church being a farce. Evangelicals create their own problems and then raise the bar by demanding perfection as well. As part of the facade these are some of the situations I have had to deal with:

1. An accountablity partner for 7 years who lived a double life, and was involved in sexual immorality. As a guy I ocnfessed my own struggles with lust out of sincere faith and I got hammered. My accountability partner lied and served in the church holding up the facade becuase it's what Baptists do.

2. I knew another guy who was battling depression yet was told that he could solve it through "Christ" and was criticized by seeking help. I had arguments with him in which he wanted to stop his medication because taking medicine showed he lacked faith. It was a sad situation, and far from healthy.

3. I spoke with another guy who was involved in Christian leadership a while back. He's a closet atheist today and became one after dealing with deep, deep doubts. When he visits home and sees freinds, and others he knew, he plays along, speaks "Christianese" and acts out his faith so that his family and freinds won't cut him off.

I'm sure if I think about it there are others I could add. I'm so sick of the manipulation. Agnostiscism is far healthier.

MJ said...

Anonymous, I have to laugh while it isn't funny. If there is any humor in it, it is in the similarity of stories that many of us share.