The facts really don’t matter.
When it comes to divisive political and religious issues — whether its gun control, climate change, or biblical inerrancy, no one really cares about the facts, the solid statistics, and the historical narrative.
We don’t see the facts in those situations, according to a study by Yale law school professor Dan Kahan. Instead we see what we want to see. In fact, when presented with concrete information that disproves our beliefs, we tend to cling to our beliefs more ardently.
And that goes for conservatives and progressives alike.
Anyone who has ever engaged in an Internet debate or Twitter fight knows exactly what Dr. Kahan is talking about, too.
The study’s results are distressing. It makes me question whether the Christian blogosphere or even the local parish can be effective in terms of advocating and being a part of systemic social change. This is especially true for those of us who are progressive but find ourselves in more conservative contexts. And let’s be honest, for a huge portion of the country, regardless of the denomination — evangelical or mainline — the church is a more conservative context.
The question becomes how do we continue to be a part of the systemic changes for social justice about which we are passionate without alienating or ignoring the personal pastoral connections we want to maintain?
I’m not sure I have a good answer for that question.
Taking an honest look at the study, it would seem that debating and arguing and preaching in direct opposition to the culture in which we find ourselves might well wind up being counterproductive to the change we often seek.
Still, it explains why people still believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, why people think climate change is a farce in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence supporting it, why people think giving people more and more guns will mean less and less people get shot, why people think LGBTQ+ persons are sinning in their sexuality.
It explains every single political ad in recent memory.
And if all this is true, is there any hope aside from a mealy mouth middle of the road consensus that doesn’t make any difference and only serves to keep the powerful comfortable?*
Actually, there is. There is a small sliver of counterintuitive hope buried in the Salon report study:
People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs. They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same. Many, looking straight at the graph, said down. But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy. If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.
Did you catch that? The only way people could see through their own bias and dogged misinformation was by remembering the good things about themselves.
Facts didn’t change their minds.
Argumentation didn’t change their minds.
A simple reminder that they were good did.
Perhaps we really are so desperate in our cynical, divisive, and isolated world that only a few sentences affirming our worth and belovedness — or remembering, deep down, that we are good — can completely change the way we see the world.
So often, we want to lead with the facts when we should be instead leading with our love for the other person. Because, in individual contexts, what’s important isn’t our rightness but our relationships.
Jesus knew this. He invites us to see the world differently. To love our neighbors, even those who are our ethnic and mortal enemies. To embrace the outcast, the lonely, and the oppressed. To give up what is most important to us.
But he doesn’t ask us to live sacrificially as a way to punish ourselves or deprive ourselves.
In our belovedness.
In our love for ourselves.
He asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is often passed by and overlooked, a line used as a slogan to ask Christians to be more accepting of others, more loving of and more giving to others.
But, in reality, it is asking us to love ourselves and to love others out of our own capacity to love ourselves.
It recognizes we cannot love anyone or see the world through the eyes of God’s love when we cannot see our own worth.
When we cannot remember our belovedness.
Spend a few minutes remembering that belovedness. Remember those things in which you flourish and find your whole self, that give you life, or even that save your life. Seek out and experience those small things that remind you all is not lost, that joy comes in the morning, that make your feet dance.
And as we love ourselves, so shall we be able to love our neighbors.
So, the next time we come face-to-face with someone who disagrees with us or even condemns us, maybe we should remember this.
What changes people aren’t facts or the right answers.
What changes people is when they remember they are loved.
That is our primary job as Christians:
To proclaim to all that they are loved, unconditionally and universally.
Because, in the end, the facts really don’t matter — at least not initially.
And they most certainly don’t transform us.
Only love does that.