Society Magazine

"We Are Wired to Think We Are Right"

Posted on the 18 February 2015 by Brutallyhonest @Ricksteroni

A great way to start Lent is to start by admitting we're wrong.

Take it away, Fr. Longenecker:

Ash Wednesday is the day when we wear our error on our brow. The ashes declare to the world, “I’m wrong. It was me.”

With the ashes, we put our hands in the air and admit that it’s our fault. You ask, “What’s wrong with NotWrongthe world?” With the ashes we say, “I am. It’s me. Look no further. I take the blame.”

Have you ever stopped to think that Christianity is the only religion in which the first step is to say, “I’m wrong?” The first message that comes from Jesus at the front end of the Gospel is: “Repent!”

Before you can do anything else in the Christian life, you have to say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It can’t just be routine. It can’t be just words from a liturgy out of a book. It has to be from the heart. 

This first stepping stone of the spiritual life is vitally important. This is because self-righteousness is the constant threat for the religious person. We are wired to think we are right. We are wired to seek the right answer, the correct solution and the best behavior.

As soon as we think we are right, self-righteousness starts to creep in, and when self-righteousness creeps in, we begin drifting away from God and from others into our own sweet cocoon of righteousness. For followers of Jesus Christ, as soon as we think we’re right, we’re wrong, and it is only as we admit that we’re wrong that we’re right.

The poet E.E. Cummings has a delightful line that expresses this paradox. In the poem “May my heart always be open to little birds,” he writes:  

may my mind stroll about hungry

and fearless and thirsty and supple;

and even if it’s sunday, may i be wrong,

for whenever men are right, they are not young.

That he should not care about being right “even on a Sunday” pictures a heart of joyful repentance.

Of course, this is not to say that doctrine and dogma do not matter. It is simply saying that an open soul that is aware of its own human frailty and failure is better than the soul that is closed in its own righteousness and superiority.

There's more... you'd be wrong not to read the rest... and be right in context!

I'll confess to having battled self-righteousness or more particularly, the need to be right, in the past.  I'll even confess that I'm likely to battle it again. Fr. Longenecker's cautionary words for the religious person battling this problem ring true.  

The struggle for me personally is how to defend dogma and doctrine absent what will be perceived to be self-righteousness.   Can you do the former without leading to the latter?  

Question, for me, of the age.

Maybe one of you readers can weigh in with an answer.  The answer may simply be no.

By the way, Fr. Longenecker doesn't answer my question (it'd be great if he would in the future) but, more importantly, he does provide a way out for the self-righteous.

Thanks be to God.


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