Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Perhaps We Need to Scrub Our Assumptions

Science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov once wrote, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”  

It’s a valid appeal.

I grew up assuming a lot of things that turned out to be wrong. For years, I failed to scrub those assumptions so I could see more light.

Born into a conservative Christian home where church was everything, I was taught a simplistic viewpoint of the world. People were sinners but they could be saved from their sins if they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. All it took was a simple prayer of faith and miraculously Jesus would come into your heart and you would be a new person.

No one told me that even if you did this you would still have to work at being good. I assumed, believing what I was taught, that you just automatically started doing the right things, since Jesus was in you and he was basically running the show. Somehow, though, I kept bumping into myself.

The faith I learned was mostly about restrictions, not freedom, not even about responsibility. There were just endless Don’ts. Drinking, smoking, sexual activities, sexual thoughts, just sex altogether was forbidden. No one talked about the beauty of it, how deeply it could unite you to someone, how powerful the feelings were that came with it. Just stay away from sex and you’ll be a good Christian. Until of course you got married. Then it was okay. Except knowing nothing about sex created a whole lot of other problems, especially if you or your spouse had sexual experiences the other one hadn’t.

No one did drugs back then except convicts so that wasn’t a big temptation. Dancing, movies, cards—all banned. I was told Christians don’t do those things. Even though most of the kids in the church I grew up in did them. And most of their parents did all those other forbidden things like have a beer or smoke cigarettes. Even the deacons in our church went out back between Sunday school and the worship service to have a smoke. Somehow that didn’t quite make sense to me as a boy but I never dared to question it. More naïve assumptions that it must be okay since they were after all deacons. I figured if I ever got to be a deacon, then I could smoke, too. Craziness.

It was a terribly simplistic world view. I knew nothing about other religions. Except that they were all pagan, and false, and some of them evil. More foolish assumptions.

Hollywood was of the devil. So if you went to a movie, even a G rated movie, even an old Western, you were still supporting the devil and his minions. This is what I was taught. And this is what I was expected to believe.

And for a lot of years I tried very hard to believe it. Until I grew up. Until I became a minister myself trying to manage a congregation of very human people, some of them not very much like Jesus at all.

Books, all kinds of books, but mostly novels and biographies, and the seminary, saved me. In books and the seminary, I found my assumptions challenged, often assaulted, and sometimes destroyed. Thankfully.

Growing up I wasn’t really taught to think for myself. My parents were sweet and loving people, deeply religious and devout. But they lived by, what was then, a well-accepted but inadequately small, collection of ideas and beliefs and faulty assumptions.

They did not prepare me for the real world. As a young minister, I quickly learned that humanity is made up of a mass of individuals with all sorts of hurts, failures, longings, urges, needs, absurdities, recklessness, pride, arrogance, mental disorders, spiritual conflicts, and hates, as well as a capacity for goodness, kindness, grace, generosity, self-discipline, remorse, and compassion. And I learned, that I likewise, had these things within myself.

As I age, I still want to believe that most people are good and emotionally healthy and want to do what is decent and honorable. And that evil, wickedness, cruel arrogance, and mean behavior is the result of some horrible inner wound, or some life event that went terribly wrong and left people vulnerable to their worst fears, to frightening insecurity, and to the rage of their own damaged self.

I still carry around false assumptions about people, God, life, and the world. But I am learning to scrub them more often. I realize now I often need a broader, clearer vision.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

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