Suspicious Minds

“Those who enjoy their own emotionally bad health and who habitually fill their own minds with the rank poisons of suspicion, jealousy and hatred, as a rule take umbrage at those who refuse to do likewise, and they find a perverted relief in trying to denigrate them.”—-Johannes Brahms

“Pure love and suspicion cannot dwell together: at the door where the latter enters, the former makes its exit.” -― Alexandre Dumas

“If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always feeding Christians to the lions.”
-― Tertullian

“The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”–
Mahatma Gandhi

“Suspicion is the cancer of friendship.”–Petrarch

We live in an era when people are prone to suspicion, and susceptible to believing conspiracy theories, even in extreme forms. What often happens is there are things that people would like to be true about people or institutions or beliefs they don’t much care for, and when a conspiracy theory comes up that smears the person or belief or institution in question, they are all too ready to believe it. Sometimes this form of cynicism is confused with critical thinking. But genuine critical thinking start with an open mind and examines evidence. It does not start with a suspicion and then looks for one’s suspicions to be confirmed, selecting evidence that supports the preconceived notions. When the blinding searchlight of suspicion is turned on the subject of religion, including Christianity, all sorts of evidence is left in the dark in order to focus on this or that fact which one wishes to highlight. This does not constitute good critical thinking, much less objective analysis. It is in fact a sort of negative apologetics, or as Paul Simon once said “still a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest”. While that is a cynical view of humankind, it is sadly too often true in a cynical age. Suspicion is a corrosive acid, and it is the opposite of trust much less faith. The saddest part is it destroys the soul of the person who is pouring the acid on this or that object that one used to care about— a loved one, a cherished belief, and so on.

I have spent time and dialogued with the mythicists, people who will not even allow the likelihood that Jesus existed, never mind that he changed human history and was important. Without exception I have found these people to be trying much too hard to exorcise the ghost of Jesus from their minds, and ultimately failing to do so. Like Lady MacBeth trying to get that darned blood off her hands, they have to keep talking and talking trying to convince themselves and others that there really is no Jesus. They are not reasonable people. They really have no ability to look at the evidence dispassionately. They are like King Lear…. only what they are leering at doesn’t deserve their scorn. They are angry. They feel like people, and themselves, have been dubbed. They are profoundly cynical and bitter. It’s no way to live. It borders on being like a person who spends his life trying to prove that unicorns don’t exist. It is part of the fear-based thinking that is feeding all sorts of conspiracy theories these days.

I once went to seminary with a person like this. Right away his classmates could tell he was different. Sometimes he was funny, and drew funny cartoons, and often he asked bright questions, but they were always leading questions, questions not merely based on some honest doubts, but questions generated out of deep suspicions. Perhaps there was still some part of him that wanted to trust and believe, but in the end, that desire was abandoned. It reminded me of two Charles Williams novels—Descent into Hell and All Hallow’s Eve. It was not pretty to watch.

Of the many quotes I surveyed on suspicion, one of the most striking was how early childhood psychologists had noticed that young children don’t operate with suspicion as their default. They operate with trust and hope and joy unless given a good reason to feel otherwise. This led me to think about what Jesus said “unless you turn and become as a child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God”.

Jesus is not urging us to be childish, but in some particular way child-like. We need to be open to God’s future for us, hopeful about what it will bring, trusting that God’s plans for us are for good and not for ill, loving the one who brought us into the world, just like a child gives unconditional love and trust to their parents, unless there is strong reason not to do so. As it turns out believing leads to seeing. As it turns out suspicion leads to blindness and cynicism, and as one famous person once said “abandon hope all ye who enter here, that way leads to madness” not clarity or truth.