Friday, July 25, 2014

Ramblings on Reading Different Perspectives

When I was a teenager, I would mostly read one side of an issue.  On the rare occasions that I did venture forth to read another side, my mind would be in defensive mode: I would try to refute what I was reading.

Why was I like this?  One reason was that I liked the perspective that I held, and I did not want to change.  Another reason may have been my Asperger’s, which I did not know about at the time, but which still played a significant role in who I was.  I one time heard that people with Asperger’s like for things to be monochromatic: for example, they prefer a room that is mostly one color, or plain, or simple, rather than one that is complex.  When I was in college, a student saw my room and remarked that it looked “plain.”  His room had all these posters and pictures and bumper stickers and what not, whereas my room did not have those things; mostly, it was a white wall.  I guess that I was similar when it came to my worldview, back when I was an adolescent, that is: I wanted it to be simple.  I wanted to know what I believed.  And maybe that wasn’t so bad a thing back then, when I was a teenager.  My beliefs gave me an identity.  They were a place of refuge for me.  Maybe I did not need a lot of uncertainty in my life back then.

In college, I got rather bored with my certainties, and so I branched elsewhere.  Complexity can be interesting.  It can be more entertaining than thinking that one already has all the answers.  In college, I needed more of an intellectual adventure than I had in high school.  This specifically played out in my religious studies, as I sought out other ways to read the Bible, ways that differed from my fundamentalist Christian mentality.

I was thinking of something a couple of days ago.  I was reading the Book of Ezekiel for my daily quiet time.  Ezekiel says a couple of times that, when the Israelites return to their land, they will loathe themselves on account of their sinful deeds (Ezekiel 20:43; 36:31).  I thought of a book that I read as a teenager: John MacArthur’s Vanishing Conscience.  MacArthur is a Christian pastor, and in that book he was arguing against Christians who preach self-esteem—-preachers like Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller.  MacArthur referred to those Ezekiel passages.  As a teenager, I loved to read John MacArthur.  I liked his writing style and his glib arguments against those with whom he disagreed.  One of his books, Anxiety Attacked, helped me whenever it was time for finals, and I was anxious about taking the tests.  But I wondered: suppose that I, as a teenager, had branched a bit beyond reading MacArthur?  Suppose that I had actually read Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale?  Maybe I would have had a more balanced view of God and the Christian life—-one that was not so negative.

“But why ask ‘What if?’, James,” some may ask.  “You can read Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller now!”  Indeed, I can.  Some of their books are actually on my bookshelf.  The thing is, where I am right now, I crave deeper books.  And I want to make the most of my reading time.  I may still read Peale and Schuller someday, though.  Something about me: I have a whole lot of head knowledge, but there is not a whole lot of wisdom, specifically knowledge about how exactly I should see myself, life, and other people, in a manner that is helpful and productive, that is.  Maybe some fluffy Christian living or positive thinking books are an answer!

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