Why Being Right is Wrong

There is a line in a poem by e.e.cummings which sticks with me: “Even on a Sunday may I be wrong, for whenever men are right they are not young.”

Of course I am not disputing the necessity of believing the right thing and behaving the right way. What I am wary of is the human foible of (having pursued what is right) believing that we have arrived and we are right. How much self righteousness, pride and broken relationships result in believing we are right. How much humility, humor and good relationships can be built when we honestly believe that we are wrong–or if not wrong, then not completely right.

Can you persist in an argument with anyone if you stop for a moment and question your own position? Can you persist in an argument once you’ve stopped to see it from their point of view? Don’t arguments fade away once you take the blame? What if you really are right? Stop for a moment. You may be right, but they are right too in some way or there would not be an argument. When you stop to say, “I’m wrong!” or at least, “I could be wrong!” The heart of the argument fades.

Think how often you’ve stirred things up because you think the other person is ‘just wrong!” But what if you stopped and looked at it from their perspective? What if you gave the other person the benefit of the doubt? What if you imagined for a moment in your selfish pride that you were actually wrong and they were right? What if, you couldn’t do that but you were at least able to grant that they had a point that should be considered? What if you stopped to listen really listen?

Forget about arguments, and think for a moment how much more you would learn about life if you were wrong and not right all the time. Think what new curiosity you would be given, what a young and positive and inquisitive spirit you would have if you knew your ignorance rather than knowing how much you know. Think how much you would discover if you knew what you don’t know rather than being so sure of what you know.

Think for a moment of how little humor and fun there is in being right. Have you ever met a “righteous” person who has a sense of humor? I once spoke to a Jehovah’s Witness who was ever so ‘right’ and told him the main reason I could never follow his religion is because I never saw him smile. How many righteous religious people do you know who are so grim and glum in their being right? Too many I fear. Why is that? Because all the best humor is based on a misunderstanding, a fault, a problem and a failure. We laugh when “righteousness” and false dignity are undermined. It is far funnier when the pompous mayor has a pie in the face or when the pompous prelate slips on the banana skin.

I often wonder how I ever got to be a priest since I so often feel I am not very religious–at least in that ‘I’m religious and have got all the answers kind of way.” I become irritated at the religious people therefore who use their religion as a way to re-inforce their prejudices and support their comfort zone. Too many use religion to close down enquiry and close down the adventure of faith and take refuge in ‘being right’, and the next step from that closing down of the human heart and mind is to blame others who have opened up.

The sick kind of religious mentality must construct not only a comfort zone, but eventually a fortress, for the comfort zone is never comfortable and safe enough, and once they construct the fortress they are still not safe enough inside, so they must soon find an enemy on the outside, and if there is no clear enemy they soon create one.

This is the aspect of religion which drives me wild with anger and fear. Their obsession with “being right” has made them use religion for exactly the opposite purpose of God’s intention. Religion was meant to be a trampoline. They’ve turned it into an easy chair. It was supposed to launch them into life and they’ve used it to lock themselves into a cage. It was supposed to propel them into the adventure of the abundant life and they’ve used it to narrow everything down into a life that is an ever decreasing downward spiral.

Good Lord deliver us from being right, “and even on a Sunday may I be wrong for whenever men are right they are not young.”

Here endeth the rant.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17691145638703824456 kkollwitz

    But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Boy oh boy, you make me feel proud when you preach in this way Father! And you're not even my son! Then again, maybe you are (Our Lady gives me adopted sons to pray for).All good wishes for the weekend, I will be holding you up, in prayer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    wow… now that is a promising rantnot with me at the mo, but readSt Isaiah – first bit in Vol 1, of the Faber series of PhilokaliaJob finally, in a rantkindaway, after God finally says:'these are your friends?'rantsthey are lower than the dogs.hmmm… the Maqui … loyaltyi often imagine to myself when almost 'goners' with 'anger and grief'the sometime coming 'gulag' for those who follow Jesusin the rather small cell people start to appear 'charged' for being Christian on various reasonsthe Padre and his kin are always first among this motley crew with the 'bedpans' on their heads.like at the end of my fav movie'A Bridge Too Far'a bloodied heap the soldiers starting with a deep Welsh barritone start in on the hymn:'Abide With Me'He does and will yesterday, today and forever.Some will see some won't good Padrebut yah did your bit. Dispassion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    From the cowardice that dare not face new truthFrom the laziness that is contented with half truth From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,Good Lord, deliver me.(Prayer from Kenya)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04446241126728692642 Paul Stilwell

    Yeah, all you defenders of Live Action and Lila Rose, you should take this post to heart, eh?:)LOL.(In all seriousness though Father, thanks for this wonderful post. I'll be returning to this. And I'm sure I'll get around to delving into E.E. Cummings one day, apart from the little I've read.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18047225919036250163 Robert H

    Good post father. Reminds me of the saying, or question, 'would you rather be right than happy?' Obviously it is important to know what one believes, and why, and to be ready willing and able to defend it, but also keep an open mind. I often find myself at a disadvantage when trying to have a serious discussion since most people, on any subject, particularly religion or politics, are more just trying to make a point; there is little listening and thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16693505024823229152 Jackie Parkes MJ

    Makes me glad to be back blogging reading this!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04458504641419416339 Smiley

    How can a catholic ever be right if we are sinners and all we are really capable of is evil and all the god we do comes from God. the moment we think we are right or I am right i am worse than a sinner i am a self delusional sinner and now I am violating commandment 1.May God always remind me of who I really am and give me the wisdom not to confuse nature with grace.And God has a fabulous way of taking apart comfort zones, Thank God he loves us a lot more than we love ourselves

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    Pauldid you mean Lily Marlene…?nah, e.e. is a clever charlie- kind of brainiac though usefully 'provocative' lead in for a rantin quaking shaking altar callread Matthew Arnold'Dover Beach'the poem that started Eliot down his road to writingswan song of the 19th century and perhaps the first signal flare of the great falling awaythe Padre is despite his tricky 'jesuitical' remarks about not being religious, et al a very hard working Priest- he is held in the highest of esteems by his former Anglican parish members,and of course all the long toga wearing 'Tiberians' of this day are astounded and thouroughly envious at his writing skills and that he has a wide following of people who he has helpedI often think – when in my mental 'gulag' as described that I wouldn't have ended up there if the whole church of all stripes were like the Padrework hard, be genuine, love our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ… eat at the Colonel'snot rocket sciencehere endeth the enconium[don't say i never did nuttin for you mate ED]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16642995184098509461 Palmetto Papist

    You're RIGHT! ;-)Have you seen this?http://www.ncregister.com/blog/when-someone-is-wrong-on-the-internetWhen we, who are BECOMING, think that we ARE, we have made ourselves God. Better to desire to BECOME righteous than to BE right. The former requires humility in the face of the One Who Is; the latter is the source of Original Pride.Am I RIGHT?