We make “verbal moves” all the time in order to navigate the complex and sometimes dangerous subcultures in which we live.
You have heard this before… While in some deep discussion about something about Christianity, especially when the discussion gets a little intense, one of the persons says “All I know is that Jesus loves me.” Or, “All I know is that God is love.” Or, “All I know is that it’s about Jesus.” Or, “I just like to keep it simple.”
Who can argue with that? But often it’s a kind of defense mechanism. Of course Jesus loves me, and God is love, and it is all about Jesus. (I realize many times we need to be reminded about this.) But the point of such statements is usually to shut down the discussion. One reason is because the discussion has got a little difficult and the person starts to feel a little defensive doesn’t want to get emotional, or get caught in a verbal tangle. In many ways it’s a prudential move, and sometimes very necessary.
Another reason for the defensive maneuver is to avoid dealing with ideas that one has not considered, especially when it’s clear the other person has. Unfortunately, many Christians have not thought much about their faith beyond platitudes and common phrases and basic political positions. This does not mean they don’t have authentic faith, or even deep faith, but at the level of intellectual understanding many Christians remain rather ignorant. It’s a good thing that none of us have to pass a theology exam to enter into Heaven!
In a similar way, there is another kind of verbal move often made by Christians. I call it the “Well, I think…” move. This is a very common move in our modern, pluralistic society. Declaring truth is felt to be improper, even bad manners. But opinion is fine. “Well, I think faith should just be simple.” “Well, I think it doesn’t really matter what church you go to, as long as you love Jesus.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to judge. He just forgives.” “Well, I think Jesus didn’t come to start a religion.” “Well, I think as long as one has faith that is all one needs.” “Well, I think Jesus loves me for who I am.” “Well, I think the Church shouldn’t keep anyone from communion.” “Well, I think On Eagles Wings is a wonderful song.” “Well, I think Lord of the Dance is better.” “Well, I think we should reinstall altar rails.” “What?!”
We have become a culture of opinionators. Perhaps social media has fueled this. Certainly it’s partially a result of secular pluralism. Regardless, a lot of Catholics have strong opinions about the Church and its practices, but not all, perhaps not a lot, of those opinions are actually thought through. This is because most opinions tend to arise from intuitions, and intuitions can very easily be poorly formed.
Opinions are fine, but I think we owe it to each other, both as fellow Christians and at the basic human level, to ask the follow up question: “How do you know?” And if the response is: “Well, I just know.” Then that deserves the question: “Do you actually mean you really know, or that you just feel it’s true?”
We owe it to each other to hone our understanding. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and to make others uncomfortable. And I don’t just think that’s true. It is true:
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16a)
Christians should not be people who are merely carried along by the currents of culture (like dead fish flow with the river’s current) regardless of whether that culture is secular or Catholic. If we say “Well, I think…” that expression should be based on actual thinking that reflects careful consideration. It doesn’t get us off the hook. And merely removing the “Well, I think…” portion doesn’t make one’s opinions more true. Too many Catholics have become mouthpieces for popular culture(s) while thinking they are holding truly Catholic ideas. Catholics should, instead, create actual Catholic cultures, and that’s no easy task.
Let our thinking be excellent. Then, when we say “Well, I think…” it truly means something excellent and not mere opinion reflecting and supporting a largely unconsidered culture.