I suspect that many of us have been part of accusing someone else of drawing conclusions simply because they are followers of or members of [fill in the blank]. There are times when it is legitimate to say such. But, if we are honest, most of the time this is not true, at least not in the sense in which we mean it. What we often mean when we accuse someone of drawing conclusions because they are members of [fill in the blank] is that they have intentionally altered data, or intentionally refused to consider data, in order to deliberately propose a solution that they know to be wrong. In other words, we are not simply arguing that they are mistaken; we are accusing them of a deliberate unethical (immoral) intellectual dishonesty.
This is an important distinction to keep in mind, the difference between being mistaken and being dishonest. Arguments about being mistaken have abounded since the beginning. One of the earliest is found in the Book of Genesis where the serpent argues that Eve is mistaken in her understanding of what God has told her. Being mistaken is not necessarily even a sin, in and of itself. Not being convinced by someone else’s arguments that you are mistaken is also not a sin. Being periodically mistaken about matters is part and parcel of what it means to be finite creatures in this world at this time. Having genuine honest disagreements about issues is part and parcel of what it means to be finite creatures in this world at this time. Criminologists long ago realized that witness statements are not reliable. They realized it so long ago that you can read about the High Priest’s frustration during the trial of Jesus because the three witnesses did not line up well enough to merit giving Jesus a death sentence.
But, being dishonest is a different matter altogether. If being mistaken is part and parcel of our finiteness in this fallen world, being dishonest is evil, part and parcel of the sin that indwells us, and an imitation of the serpent’s sin when it lied to Eve. To accuse someone of being dishonest (versus being mistaken) is to go from telling someone that their limitations are showing to telling someone that they are evil, cooperating with Satan rather than God. Therefore, to accuse someone of being dishonest is something we should not do lightly, because we are implying not only that they need to repent but that they are actively participating in evil. And, yet, we are frequently making that type of accusation these days.
There are many days when I have little trouble making the accusation of dishonesty against some of the political pronouncements. More than one neutral organization exists to fact-check pronouncements by politicians. But, I have serious issues with organizations whose entire argument against a particular scientific, historical, ethical, or political position is that the people who propound that view are being dishonest and either hiding data or deliberately altering data so as to support their false viewpoint. Worse are those Christian organizations who propound an argument of that sort based on nothing more than that the other viewpoint disagrees with them.
All of us need to be cautious about whom we declare to be dishonest. I have little trouble arguing that someone is mistaken. But, to argue that they are dishonest requires me to believe that they have deliberately distorted the truth. I am convinced that various of my fellow Christians are deeply mistaken in some of their theological and political views. I am convinced that they are selling our heritage for a “mess of pottage” as one bible translation would put it. But, I hold them to be my fellow Christians because I see them as mistaken, not as dishonest.
One of the most dangerous fables that went around last general election was the one that warned that one could not be a true Christian and vote for a certain party. It was a backhanded accusation of dishonesty. Why do I say that? Because if one is claiming to be a Christian, but voting for the wrong party, then it was pretty clear that one’s Christianity was doubtful, as was one’s honesty. Last general election the meme was even making the rounds that if one were a true bishop one would either excommunicate or withhold communion from any politician who refused to vote against abortion. In the last general election, under that type of reasoning, almost every one of the Roman Catholic bishops in the USA was not a true (nor honest) bishop. Sadly, I see that same type of reasoning making the rounds again nowadays.
p align=”justify”>We can claim that someone is mistaken. But, we need to stop making claims that say that someone is dishonest.