Fight To Think For Yourself

I’m not a pulpit minister anymore, but was for a time, and boy was that a roller coaster.  Anyway, that’s what I thought I was supposed to be.  I went to school to learn the Bible, partly because of a run in with a guy named Brian K., a fine fellow who’d have given you the shirt off his back.  He said something about the book of Genesis that didn’t set well with me and I stumbled all over the place trying to defend my position – and to no avail.  But it wasn’t because I wasn’t right, or he wasn’t right or anything like that.  There was something going on that most people never see.

It’s hard to forget what it’s like to enter an arena where certain things are assumed at the core of a discussion, but have no idea what those assumptions are.  Most people enter discussions this way and it’s a free for all. It wasn’t until much later in my studies that I discovered that he was approaching the text from a presupposition entirely different than mine.  Opposite ends of the spectrum. There was no way our minds would ever meet, especially when I didn’t even know what a presupposition was.  It was hard for me.  I was a drug using construction worker who didn’t even graduate from high school.  He was a college graduate teaching a Bible class.  Who was I to question him?

Well, but I did question him and I knew that I might not be able to answer him today (back then), but there’d come a time when I could look him in the eye and hold my own.  So I started studying the Bible, and really reading it.  Read the whole thing through critically, several times.  Even went to a college that specialized in Bible Study and got my bachelor’s degree – in Biblical Studies.

In studying the Bible, especially in a school, your mentors run you through a particular path of thinking – the path that they took, mostly.  They want you not only to read the text, they want you to read commentaries that are people’s opinions on the text.  Those can be helpful for historical perspective purposes, but relying on commentaries for opinions didn’t set well with me any more than my initial conversation with Brian.  It wasn’t until I learned how to read the text in the original ancient language (a lowly construction worker, mind you) that I discovered that the translations of the original text themselves (NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV…) are commentaries.  The original text in the ancient language is often debated among scholars and then the translation is a spin on what the translator thought the original writer was trying to say.  What an awakening!  The commentaries were commentaries on the translation, which itself was a commentary!  Wow.  Such a headache.

Why did I have to rely on a commentary in the first place?  I mean, that’s what I did before I went to college didn’t I?  Why couldn’t I look at the facts and decide for myself?  Is it too much to ask that I draw my own conclusions?  Yeah.  As soon as I started doing that (I had since graduated from Bible college and was into my second year as a pulpit minister and Bible class teacher myself), the elders and the leadership of the church decided they had enough of me and didn’t want to risk me making waves with my “new way” of looking at the Bible.  They sent me packing.  And I guess I can’t blame them.  They’d worked hard to get the congregation to see the facts one way and they weren’t about to let some young kid come in and undo what they’d worked so hard to put together.  Who was I to scrutinize their conclusions?  After all, they were the ones who hired me, and having been the ones who hired me, they “knew” more than me, had more power than me – you’ve heard it all before.

Ralph Waldo Emerson. You should read his essay entitled “Self Reliance”

The Bible says what it says.  Those are the facts.  You can spin the facts this way to draw this conclusion, you can spin it that way to draw that conclusion, but in the end, those conclusions are all just a spin on the facts.  And really, if you are trying hard, how could you not spin?  How could you not come up with some type of your own conclusion, if indeed you are really putting in the work? I admire someone who comes up with opinions honestly. I can’t stand a parrot.  I’ve walked into numerous churches since and have been sent on my way, or left on my own, disappointed that I couldn’t find an original legitimate sermon.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard an original idea or thought come from the pulpit.  It’s like Emerson said, “If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.”  How can possibly say anything new?  All your facts aren’t the real facts, they’re spun in your favor, and you lean on them to prop you up.  None of your ideas are original.  You are a parrot, and paid to be one.

But then every once in a while someone comes along free from commentary.  There’s something about their conclusions that startle, bewilder, entice, empower, encourage, maybe even enrage.  They might not be my conclusions, but they came by their own honestly.  THEY aren’t a parrot.  Though we are different, the person has earned my respect, trust.  This is a person who will do the work, suffer, sweat, risk.  Any exploration that’s a true exploration is a risk.  You must leave behind what everyone else has concluded and stand on your own.  Let them hurl what stones they may at you. Your departure is a judgment against them, against their stagnant, mosquito ridden, slowly evaporating cistern.  No worry.  Soon you will be out of range.  How else could it be real?  Should their conclusions be yours?  The conclusions someone else previously worked for?  The conclusions of an institution?  Why should they be?  Are you not to stand on your own and think for yourself?  To my maker I stand or fall.  Let Him be the judge.  Do the work and I’ll know who you are.  Parrot someone and you are weak.  You wear a mask.  You are an imposter, a charlatan, a faker, poser, wannabe.  You have no scars.  All you have is makeup and packaging, having stolen the idea from someone else.  Your jeans have preripped holes and your haircut is the latest fad.  How can you be genuine?  You cannot.  Plan and simple.  You yourself do not even know who you are.  You will let someone else look at the facts and conclude on your behalf?  Let someone else determine it for you?  Stick your head in the sand, hoping for the best, willfully blind.  You get what you deserve.  You reap what you sow.  You have no strength.  You have no grit.  At the end of the day, you only do what you are told.  At the end of the day you are nothing more than a slave.

I never did get to finish the argument with Brian, but that’s ok.  I’m sure he’s out there trying to live a good and honest life.  We could pick up where we left off and have a great conversation and change the world.  But in truth I doubt he even knows I went through this.  How could he?  It was well over twenty years ago.  But he may.  Well, I remember.

Ah.  I remember what it was.  I commented in a class on Genesis that he was teaching that I was so glad God answered my prayers and delivered me from the path of destruction I was on.  It really pissed me off because Brian kept telling me that God didn’t hear my prayers blah blah blah and he’d take me to a scripture that said so.  I was like “screw you, I’ve read a bunch of scriptures myself and I happen to conclude something entirely different!”  What made his conclusions from the facts better than mine?  But who was I?  He was a “master” of the facts and I was a lowly construction worker. God spoke to him more than me.  That was a mistake, and now it’s a scar I carry with me – to doubt the voice of God speaking to me and let a person lead me astray based on some conclusion he made and then applied to me.  But it was that one event that spurred me to become a master of the facts myself (at least in that arena) and stand on my on convictions and my own two feet.  I know now that I can look at the facts myself and make my own mind about what to do with them.  I don’t have to rely on any man to tug at some leash around my neck to get me to go in one direction or the other.  If I am wrong, I alone am at fault.  If I am right, then I reap the benefit.  I don’t want to be wrong and that works to my advantage and by the grace of God, I will carry one.  To my own Master I will stand or fall, and if He wants me to stand, then that’s what I’ll do.

I’ll cover presuppositions later on in a separate post.  And facts.  How do we even begin to know what the facts are in an age like ours?  Be on the lookout for a post about that too.

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11 months ago

Thank you for this.

Bridgid P Newman-Henson
Bridgid P Newman-Henson
11 months ago

I walk with God like Enoch did, and it’s nobody else’s business. I suspect you do the same.