“You cannot be a person of faith unless you know how to doubt. You cannot believe in God unless you are capable of questioning the authority of prejudice, even though that prejudice may seem to be religious. Faith is not blind conformity to a prejudice—a ‘pre-judgment.’ It is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of truth that cannot be proven. It is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else.”—Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 105.
“Take my word for it.”
“That’s how we’ve always done it.”
“My family has done it like this forever.”
“I saw a headline that said it must be this way.”
How many different ways can we say: “I don’t really want to think about this; I just want to blindly accept whatever the people I tend to like more have already said.”
Whether we are discussing disclaimers placed on Tom and Jerry cartoons or repeated calls for the Washington NFL team to change their mascot or Emma Watson receiving threats because she is calling for the equal treatment of men and women or Adrian Peterson’s right to spank his four year old with a switch we hear the same argument:
This is the way things have been for generations, so why can’t everybody just be happy?
To be honest, there is some validity to this. Time tested traditions should not be mindlessly discarded in order to appear more modern or “with it.” However, time tested traditions should not be held onto mindlessly in the face of changing social awareness.
Growing up, I played Cowboys and Indians. There was no negative intent behind it. It was just a game. There were several Western-themed TV shows and movies on at the time so it was just a way for young children, especially boys, to play.
My children never played that game growing up. Social and cultural awareness had grown in several ways. I learned more about the plight and mistreatment of Native Americans in our country. I knew more about their higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide. I was more aware of how the simple, seemingly innocent game played into a larger narrative of prejudice and disrespect.
Growing up, I thought boys wore blue and played with trucks while girls wore pink and played with dolls. That’s a rather simplistic over-statement, but it sums up my childhood beliefs fairly well. I was certain that each gender was supposed to act a certain way.
Raising my own children has challenged the generally accepted gender norms in many ways. I have become more aware of the over-sexualization of girls, seemingly from infancy. I have learned how detrimental it can be to have few, if any, role models of substance to look up to. I have been able to witness how sometimes boys like “girl” things and girls like “boy” things and it’s absolutely okay! I have been made more aware of the underlying, subtle messages that are expressed to our young girls.
These are just two examples of how my thinking needed to change. Does this mean I was a bad person? Or that I was raised by bad people? Or that we are hateful and hurtful?
No. It means I have been presented with new information and I have to decide what I am going to do with it.
Merton suggests that in order to have faith, one must be able to doubt, question authority, and then deliberately make a decision. To blindly accept what previous generations have done is not faith. (By the same token, to blindly reject what previous generations have done is not enlightenment.) Why is this important?
We know more now than we have ever known before. Education continues to grow exponentially. Research and education can be so much more focused and specific now. We have learned more about different cultures and cultural beliefs, expectations, and values. We know how people are affected and impacted by words and actions. Information on physical and mental health issues continues to expand. As we continue to learn, we must continue to adapt to what the information teaches us.
We have the ability to listen more now than ever before. Social and human services fields continue to grow. Helping professions continue to hire at faster than average rates (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). People are listening. And as they are listening, they are learning. As they learn, they disseminate what they find. It is important for us to listen to people that previously have not had a voice.
We are a more global community now than we have ever been before. This means we know more about cultural customs, beliefs, and behaviors. We should be more culturally sensitive as that knowledge—and that community—continues to grow.
Acknowledging that we have done things wrong in the past is not an admission that we were bad people. It is an admission that we have learned something new and have decided to change our attitudes and behavior appropriately.
So we confess, we repent, we live in community. We come to a place of faith that is our own—not one that is simply handed down from one generation to the next.