Remembering to Get Back on Track

Sometimes we stumble across something that’s “invisibly obvious,” something we’ve overlooked even though it’s sitting right in front of us. Then we have one of those Duh-OH! moments – “Why did I never realize this before?”

I had one of those Duh-OHs recently, thinking about the way people tend toward self-perpetuation instead of self-correction. In particular, people perpetuate their own beliefs about politics and religion. Even if they have only a rudimentary understanding of these topics, they may block out anything that challenges their opinions. (See, for example, “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions,”

Like many religious and psychological professionals, I have studied and taught various strategies for shifting from self-perpetuation to self-improvement. But I wish I had emphasized what now seems like an obvious idea: Establish the expectation that all of us will learn and practice specific strategies for self-correction.

Many cultural expectations are widely shared. With few exceptions, most people expect to graduate from high school or college, find gainful employment, live on their own, establish a stable love relationship, plan for retirement, and take care of their health. But we could also try to establish the cultural expectation that virtually everyone will practice self-correction techniques. This blog entry is a tiny step toward this goal.

In a recent workshop on values, participants were asked to make a new list of Ten Commandments for Twenty-First Century Living. This was one of mine:

Seek a path that brings you fulfillment and makes the world a better place. Know that you will often wander away from this path. Learn the habit of sensing when and where you are off track and putting yourself back on course.

If you do not have specific ways of noticing when you are off course, and specific ways of getting back on track, and if you do not practice these strategies regularly, you are killing the person you might otherwise become.

So how does this apply to you? What are the most important clues that warn you when you’ve lost your way? And what are your most effective strategies for self-correction?

I’ll develop this theme further in my next entry.

Roger Christan Schriner

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One More Hot Potato: A Comment about Gay Marriage

Today I’ll go off-topic and talk about another divisive issue – whether people of the same gender should be allowed to marry. Some of my recent workshops on Bridging the God Gap took place in North Carolina, a few days after voters in that state approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage. Most participants in these workshops were Unitarian Universalists, who typically support gay marriage. So I asked them to try the following communication exercise:

In this exercise assume that you strongly support freedom to marry, and one of your neighbors tells you the following: “I voted for the ban on gay marriage, but I feel torn. Some of my family members are gay, and I do not think they should be executed for that, even though that is what the Bible says. But my pastor says that God has ordained marriage as being between one man and one woman, and that sounds right to me.” Write down a constructive response to your neighbor’s comment.

I invite you to try this yourself, writing a constructive response rather than just thinking about it. In my next entry I’ll discuss this exercise, along with similar exercises I have suggested in previous posts that relate to theism versus atheism.

Roger Christan Schriner

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Eight Points about Politics

1. People like simple ideas.

2. Many political issues are complicated and confusing.

3. Most people are too busy with everyday life to research these issues in depth.

4. Therefore most people’s political opinions are 5% fact and 95% fantasy.

5. This is true all along the political spectrum.

6. It’s true of most of the people you know.

7. Fortunately, it’s not true of you.

8. Is it?

If this seems like a useful sequence of ideas, consider forwarding it to some friends.

But this is a blog about theism and atheism, so let’s move on to religious implications. Try substituting “theological” in points 2, 4, and 5. For example, #5 would become, “This is true all along the theological spectrum.”

Regarding God’s existence, many people believe God exists, or does not exist, based on a mixture of fact and fantasy. As I wrote in Bridging the God Gap, our opinions about ultimate reality “are spiritual wagers, ‘leaps of faith’ into belief or ‘leaps of doubt’ into unbelief.”

If I realize that I’m a theological gambler, I’m less likely to look down on those who bet on red instead of black.

We’re doing the best that we know how, with the little pile of chips that we’ve got right now.

Roger Christan Schriner

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