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O Me of Little Faith

“Let’s be honest for a second.” I hate when I find myself saying that at the start of a conversation. I hate when I begin a sentence, “To be honest.”

Because saying it implies that what is about to follow is noteworthy. It is noteworthy because it is honest. As if most of what I say or write is somehow not honest.

I’ve been thinking a lot about honesty as a writer and blogger. Part of it is because of O Me of Little Faith, in which I out myself as a pretty serious religious doubter. Assuming they’ve read my book, I’m sure it has caused a number of friends and family members to look at me differently: Whoa. Jason’s not always sure he believes in God.

As I wrote that book, I fought the urge to gloss over some of my more serious doubts. In the end, I spilled the beans, because I got tired of pretending these doubts didn’t exist. But I’m still not an open book. As a blogger, rather than saying what I think about an issue, I’m more likely to ask a question and let you, my commenters, give your opinions. One reason I do this is because I love conversation and I don’t want to influence it one way or another by priming the pump, so to speak. But another reason, to be honest (wink), is that I’m not always comfortable just displaying my opinion right here for everyone to see. In terms of personality, I’m pretty guarded.

More than a month ago, we talked about the difficulties of clergy who found themselves in the position of no longer believing the religious ideas they taught. It led to a pretty vibrant discussion. I’ve been thinking since then of a statement made by a commenter named Rational Agent:

The problem with honesty is that is usually ethically and intellectually satisfying whilst simultaneously being politically and socially unrewarding. This is the problem not limited to religion.

That’s so true. Honesty is great for one’s conscience. But it’s horrible for one’s social life. A friend of mine, the writer/blogger Matthew Paul Turner, brought up this issue earlier this week in a post called “Nothing but the truth, so help me blog.”

He wrote:

Being honest doesn’t help you get speaking engagements.

It doesn’t help you make friends.

It doesn’t help you keep blog readers.

Oh, there’s a lot of good that happens from being honest. And I’ve
experienced it… the thank you notes, the tears of people who relate, the
DMs, the “you took my thoughts and put them down on paper” facial
expression…

But you get labeled. You lose endorsements. You get refused by
Christian bookstore chains. You get tagged. You get called a heretic or
“emergent” or “liberal.” (And many times, one person’s label affects the
opinions and thoughts of many…)

So do we really want honesty when it comes to belief?

Of course, we do. Right? We want preachers and politicians and executives to say what they believe, all the time. We say we want honesty.

But at the same time, we want safety. We want to be comfortable. We don’t want to be shaken up. We don’t want to be challenged.

But honesty does those things.

So when we ask how we look in a certain outfit, we want to be affirmed. We want to be told that we look great. We do not want to be told that it’s a bad color on us, or it makes us look fat. We say we want honesty, but do we really? Because that kind of honesty hurts.

When we listen to a sermon, we want to be told what or how to think about a spiritual matter. We want to know what a passage means. We want our beliefs to be confirmed, not challenged. We would be bothered if a pastor told us he didn’t understand what the Scripture was saying…or if he said he didn’t really want to believe a particularly challenging passage. I feel that way about a lot of the Bible. But a pastor who spoke this honestly on a regular basis would lose his position, because we want certainty from the pulpit.

We want politicians to make decisions based on what’s right or “the will of the people.” A politician who told us he voted for a bill or spoke out against an issue simply because he felt he needed to in order to get re-elected…well, we’d be horrified at this kind of honesty. We’d despise him. (Cynic alert: Personally I tend to think most political decisions owe more to getting re-elected than anything else. I think politics is one of the least honest arenas in the public square…and it’s full of Christians.)

On a lighter note, we want our actors to take movie roles because they feel the parts are challenging or they want to make a difference or whatever noble reason they can think of. We don’t want them to say they took a role because of the paycheck. But how often does this happen? I’m no Hollywood expert, but I bet it happens a whole freaking lot. If I were a movie star, I have no doubts I’d appear in just about anything if they paid me $10 million. But if celebrities were more honest about how much money and fame fuels their choices — rather than artistry or integrity — we’d hate them.

In our churches and neighborhoods and politics, we uphold honesty as an ideal. Authenticity is key. Integrity is preached. As Christians, we’re supposed to aspire to these things. How many of the Proverbs are about integrity and just scales? How often do believers speak of “the Truth” and against deceit? Not lying to your neighbor is right there in the Ten Commandments.

But sometimes I wonder what society would look like if all of us were brutally honest all the time. We might have clear consciences and satisfied intellects. But would we have any friends? Would we live in chaos?

I don’t know. I aspire to personal transparency just like anyone else. But I wonder if we could really handle heavy doses of it.

Is dishonesty the glue that holds society together? If so, how does this match up with the Christian ideal of truth?

Honestly, I’m not sure what I think about this. But I definitely want to know what you think. 🙂

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