Editor’s Note: It may not be often that a person in a position of power admits error to someone of lower rank, but when it happened to the Clergy Project writer below, it made a big impression. He remembered it and really learned from it. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By Scott Stahlecker
Trick question: Would you rather be proven right or proven wrong?
Back in 1987, I was standing at attention with the rest of my army company at McNair Kaserne near Frankfurt, Germany. It was a crisp autumn morning and by 10:45 AM the sun had crept over the three-story wall of the WWII barracks, and its rays were reflecting off the patent leather shoes of all the soldiers present. I’d been prepping for the full-dress inspection for days. My olive drab suit had been smartly dry-cleaned, and its creases stood like mountain peaks. My brass belt buckle sparkled. The rainbow-colored awards across my left chest were all lined up, and my marksmanship badge dangled beneath them. According to the ruler I used the night before, every badge and insignia was perfectly positioned per regulation.
Approaching me out of the corner of my right eye was my company commander. He halted before me, snapped a quarter-step to his left, and we both stood at attention facing each other. He gave me a quick look-over, but his eyes landed on my circular US identifier on the points of my collars.
“Sergeant Stahlecker, your US insignia is too high.”
“No, Sir,” I answered.
He thought for a moment, looked me in the eye and said,
“I stand corrected.”
To this day his integrity impresses me. Despite outranking me, he owned up to his mistake.
From Christians to atheists, to car mechanics, hamburger grillers, computer programmers, farmers, scientists, and retail clerks, what does everyone have in common? They all know a lot about their professions and areas of interest. But if they died and were cryopreserved, 500 years from now most of the knowledge they had acquired would be useless.
Do you know how to drive a car? Great, but if cars are still around in 500 years you won’t know what the knobs on the dashboard do. Have great computer skills? Decades from now these same skills won’t help. Know your way around a ‘69 Chevy Nova? (My dream hotrod) Well, years from now your Craftsman toolbox will be in the Smithsonian. Have advanced degrees? With the utmost respect, I humbly suggest, your degrees will be outdated in the future. What does all this mean? Well, in the not so distant future whatever skills and education we have will no longer be applicable. Sure, we’ll still be able to eat and dress ourselves, but we’d be dumb as a doorknob, and perhaps even test with significantly lower IQs than the average thirteen year old.
Speaking of IQs, a recent study reported by the BBC indicates that on average, intelligence has risen 20 IQ points since 1950.
“If Americans today took the tests from a century ago…they would have an extraordinarily high average IQ of 130. And if the Americans of 100 years ago took today’s tests, they would have an average IQ of 70….”
Thinking about the future of religion, it’s particularly hard to imagine what it will look like five centuries from now. Roughly 3.8 billion people today follow one of the Abrahamic religions. The Jewish people are still waiting for the dawn of the messianic age, and Muslims and Christians are still waiting for the return of their messiah. Assuming that these religions are still around in the year 2520 CE, they will have all changed dramatically. Five hundred years hence, it’s hard to know how these religions will have changed.
Accepting that most of what we currently think about is just information, which will be outdated in the future; and if we can think that many tenets of the Abrahamic religions will be modified to appeal to future generations, then it makes me wonder:
What kind of information or traits are innate to humanity that were relevant 50,000 years ago, are still relevant today, and will be relevant 50,000 years from now?
This is an important question to answer when focusing on the qualities of life that edify us personally and enrich humanity.
Let’s think about the universal human need for love.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 NASB.
The Muslim sacred texts also express the ethics of reciprocity.
“None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.” Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 72.
We know, of course, that love is just one of the emotions that bind humanity together. Compassion and empathy are others. And there are other ideas and concepts that we experience that are not emotions. They’re attitudes that compliment our personalities, for example, tolerance, patience, willpower and civility. Also, other higher-level concepts, such as equality and justice, grow in the laboratory of our minds. And we can expand our mental capabilities to become more creative and artistic, to embrace free and rational thought, and to philosophize and be poetic.
In practical terms:
Much of what we think about is really only pertinent to our place in time. This finite base of knowledge also applies to many of our religious beliefs or political views. Unfortunately, we humans often think our beliefs are worth dying for. (In the right place and time—perhaps.) But hardened beliefs can easily erode with the passage of time and people can change their political affiliations quickly. Even those who rely on science must recognize that how they interpret facts can change when new data presents itself. Consider our human origins: Until recently, human evolution could be depicted with a cartoon characterized by a chimp evolving into a Neanderthal then finally into a clean-shaven yuppie.
Now, newer science suggests there were many different species of hominids—all of which became extinct except Homo sapiens—and some of which may not have originated in Africa.
It’s been a long time since I heard my commander say, “I stand corrected” —- but I take these words to heart often. I’m proud of what I’ve learned since then, but I’m acutely aware that 75% or more of my thoughts involve “stuff” that’s only important within my circle of influence and at a particular moment in history. Like most people, I enjoy being right, but I’m also happy to “stand corrected” when presented with information proving me wrong. (Either way, I learn.) What’s far more important is to focus on emotions, ideas and concepts that help me become a better person, and hopefully, to contribute to making a better world.
**Editor’s Questions** 1. How do you think the Abrahamic religions will have changed in 500 years, assuming they still exist? 2. Would you rather be proven right or proven wrong?
Bio: Scott Stahlecker was raised a Lutheran but converted to Seventh-Day Adventism in 1980. After serving the church in both lay and professional capacities, he left the church in 1990. He identified as an agnostic until 2004 and has been an outspoken atheist ever since. Throughout his life he and his wife have owned many businesses to include hospice agencies in Texas and music stores in Alaska. He is the author of the novel Blind Guides and Picking Wings Off Butterflies, a memoir about raising a child with a traumatic brain injury. He continues to write extensively about the benefits of living life as a freethinking individual. Learn more about him at www.scottstahlecker.com
>>>>>>photo credits: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8867830 ; “Christ The Consolator” by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) – Private Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg#/media/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg