Last week I talked about getting into the habit of practicing specific strategies for self-correction. Self-correction is a much broader topic than the theme of this blog (Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground). But becoming more open-minded about religion is a key to respecting and communicating with those who disagree with us about theology. So I’ll say a little more about self-correction.
To foster the expectation that all of us will practice self-correction, we need simple ways of expressing this idea. Perhaps we could talk about having a compass and a toolkit.
A compass tells us which way we’re going, so we can see if we’re off course. But correcting our direction is not as simple as turning a steering wheel. We need a toolkit of tactics for changing the way we think, feel, and/or behave.
Every religion suggests ways of correcting our course, and in recent years psychotherapists have added helpful new approaches. What’s missing is the shared realization that:
* We are self-perpetuating systems, but we can learn to self-correct.
* Each of us needs a compass and a toolkit, so we can detect and correct our direction.
* If we don’t regularly use our compass and our toolkit, we are diminishing the person that we could become.
I get so tired of the way religious leaders keep repeating, in sermon after sermon, statements that boil down to, “You should become a better person” — without specifying how we can do this. How many times, for instance, have you heard a preacher pound the table on how important it is to love one another? This sort of vague exhortation seldom improves the listener for more than mere minutes. What we need is ideas about HOW to become more loving. If we do not practice reliable ways of strengthening the active power of love within us, mouthing pious love-rhetoric is worse than useless.
I don’t mean that we should be striving to improve ourselves every minute. Many of us would find that quite oppressive. But fairly often (once a week at minimum?) we should check an inner compass to see which way we’re headed, and do what we can to get back on our chosen path.
So how does this relate to finding common ground with those who disagree with us about religion?
If we assess ourselves honestly, we will often find that:
* We shut out ideas merely because they challenge our preconceptions.
* We overestimate our own knowledge and goodness.
* In talking with others about theology, we play the ancient dominance game that our genes learned from primate ancestors.
* Because we are social animals, we often fail to question the values and morality of our “tribe.” Every group has important blind spots, and most group members are oblivious to these lacunae.
Dialogue with those who disagree with us about religion is one of the best ways to check and correct our personal course.
So — what inner compass helps you detect your direction? And what’s in your toolkit? If you have specific, well-practiced ways of checking and correcting your course, I’d love to hear about them.
Roger Christan Schriner
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