I am so sick of critics.
Between political opinions and religious self-appointed doctrine police, I’ve heard more negativity recently than I can remember. Our society has conjoined the concepts of criticism and credibility at the hip. We’re not legitimate until we disagree. To find nothing wrong with someone or something has become a sign of ignorance or presumption. Because of that, we just may be the most opinionated society in the history of humankind. And we’re under the delusion that our opinions are worth something. But really we’re just taking the Western cultural paradigm to the extreme. Being critical does not make us credible. It makes us obnoxious. Before you write this post off as someone being critical of critics, let me explain where our “culture of suspicion” originated.
Everyone knows about the Enlightenment and the rise of rationalism as the guiding hermeneutic (to use a theological term) for secularism. Descartes introduced a new paradigm for Western society – one where evidence must be presented for a hypothesis to stand. Leibniz and Spinoza followed behind applying Descartes’ ideas to social and political theory. Empiricists like Hume, though disagreeing with the rationalists on many points, carried their negativity to the extreme in areas of anthropology and religion. Now, Cartesian methodology is fine as a foundation for the scientific method but this Enlightenment ”method of suspicion” guides our approach to everything – from politics to religion to media to relationships. After all, where there’s smoke there’s always fire, right?
As Americans, we are constantly steered toward this critical paradigm. I like what social historian Keith Thomas said about it in regards to our understanding of the supernatural: “Most of those millions of persons who would laugh at the idea of magic and miracles would have trouble explaining why. They are victims of society’s constant pressure towards intellectual conformity” (emphasis mine). And it’s a more widespread epidemic than just the belief in miracles. At the core of this issue is our inability to trust. It’s become a human issue. Cartesian method quickly moved out of the laboratory and now influences dinner table conversations, news and political opinion, and has decimated our ability to treat people with honor and respect. We feel we need “evidence” to trust anyone. And that’s a very sad thing. That approach to life also eradicates faith – the belief in something beyond our explanation or full understanding. Rather than believing the best about another until proven wrong, we chose to expect the worst, while waiting for the slight chance that someone might actually do the right thing. We value the 10% bad and discard the 90% good about each other.
Here’s the funny thing about all of this: people who adopt this critical approach to life assume that they stand on the bedrock of human understanding. Most humanists I know feel this way. And who knows, maybe they have arrived at the pinnacle of intelligence. But really, the Western Enlightenment paradigm is only about three hundred years old. Rationalist thought didn’t fully permeate Western culture until about 250 years ago. And there were hundreds of paradigms that came before us. Presently. most other world cultures see our modernist suspicion as faddish and a sign of immaturity. After all, people saw things differently before the 1700s. And we now have the corner market on comprehension after 250 years? Is it possible we think too much of ourselves?
The Bible says we should believe the best about each other. That’s hard to do as we attempt to control others by labelling and distorting information to confirm our suspicion of others. I believe that’s called making a mountain out of a molehill. That type of criticism is only a reflection of deeper negativity inside the critic. Critics are unhappy people. Chances are good that a critic spends as much time in personal negative self-talk as they do talking about someone else. The truth is: we’re all okay. Not perfect. But most people have good intentions when not backed into a corner. We can choose not to believe that and let the “hermeneutics of suspicion” guide us. But if we do, we’ll be so busy criticizing the mistakes of others that we’ll miss thousands of chances to witness the good intentions of those around us. And that’s something I personally don’t want to miss.