Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Danger Of Hating What You Used To Believe

Publication forthcoming.

I was raised by a mom who was very liberal, both politically and theologically. In fact, she was more distressed when I became a conservative Evangelical than she ever was when I was an atheist. As you would expect, once I outgrew liberalism, I became quite passionate about showing other people how stupid liberals were. One might well say I was on a crusade.

But was I genuinely motivated by wanting to help other people, or was I mostly intent on denying my own past errors? I realized that I was so heavily invested in hating liberalism and the people who advocated it because I hated having ever been one of them. Much like a disillusioned kid who has learned the truth about Santa Claus, I was embarrassed by having been capable of such foolishness. I finally realized that I needed to forgive myself for having been wrong in the past and embrace the fact that I had believed all those mistaken things.

Then, instead of screaming to everyone that I was right and had never been wrong, it became possible for me to calmly explain to anyone that I knew I was right precisely because I had been so wrong for so long. Once I accepted who I used to be, I also stopped hating other people for reminding me that I ever was that guy. I started being able to have conversations with them without absolutely having to win the discussion. I could even listen sincerely to their ideas because I didn’t feel threatened anymore. And a funny thing happened.

I became much more successful at persuading them to join me in my views. But I also discovered that they had many interesting and useful things to say which I would otherwise have missed out on before.

I’ve seen this pattern in many people. After leaving something they were for a long time, like Catholicism or Mormonism or atheism or even fundamentalism, they become very invested in hating the thing they used to be. Although this can be a healthy temporary phase for accomplishing separation, real health eventually comes from not feeling so threatened by the old thing that you must hate it in order to feel secure.

And there is one final, tremendous benefit from getting to that place. It allows you to minister to others who are currently in the error. It’s been very useful to me to consider that God opened my eyes so that I could help others see the light, not so that I could hate and attack them for still being blind.

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