The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Time to Drop the Mask of Cocksure Confidence

Today we have an ability to communicate across all boundaries, both natural and human made, as never before through an amazing array of technologies. Yet, in so many cases, what should be communication is reduced to cocksure pontification. The dictionary definition of cocksure is: Feeling perfect assurance sometimes on inadequate grounds or  marked by overconfidence or presumptuousness: COCKY. The adverb is cocksurely and the noun cocksureness, just in case you want to deploy cocksurely them in your communication ... or on a Scrabble board if you get the chance. 

This leads to some tremendously dull behavior and has increasingly weird results. All those cocky posturing is leading us into entrenched battle lines, forming camps and alliances with one posturing position or another, usually to our mutual deficit. 

Recently, I read an article stating that only 11 percent of the religious groups in the United States actually are opposed to either the Big Bang theory or evolution on religious grounds. And yet, given the noisy, cocksure posturing of these organizations, we have bent our educational system as a whole below the college level to favor their cocksure stance. The lamentable result has been that 41 percent of the faithful now take a stance against these rather significant scientific advancements largely based on a lack of knowledge about what they mean and a definite lack of understanding about the position of their own faith communities. In the end, those who don't believe now far outnumber the organizations who take a cocksure opposing stance. I believe the same could be true in the environmental arena and other areas where our masks of undue, cocksure confidence might actually lead to our own extinction ... or at least tremendous misery for our children and theirs for many long centuries in the future. 

In N.T. Wright's book The Last Word, he speaks about our taking definitive stances based not on what is so, but what we think is so, in this case about the leaders of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and what they stood for (over which some of us argue endlessly and cocksurely), much to the detriment of what we'd like to accomplish in the world today. I turn the lectern over to the author: 

What we miss today, as we read the Reformers, is something which is vital within scripture itself but which, in their attention to the details, they were not concerned to stress: the great narrative of God, Israel, Jesus, and the world, coming forward into our own day and looking ahead to the eventual renewal of all things. ... the Reformer's insistence on the authority of scripture made several important points, but left many other matters open for further discussion. Of one thing we may be absolutely sure. If the Reformers could return and address us today, they would not say, "We got it all right; you must follow our exegesis and theology and implement it precisely as it stands." What they would say is, "You must follow our method: read and study scripture for all it's worth, and let it do its work in the world, in and through you and your churches." They would not be surprised if, as a result, we came up at some points with different, or differently nuanced, theological and practical proposals. They would encourage us to go where scripture led, using all the tools available to us, and being prepared to challenge all human traditions, including the "Reformation" traditions themselves, insofar as scripture itself encourages us to do so. 
To go further, on scholarship as it relates to the Bible, always a noisy bone of contention in many quarters, N.T. Wright adds ...

To affirm "the authority of scripture" is precisely not to say, "We know what scripture means and don't need to raise any more questions." It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions. 

Author Donald J. Brash in The Indispensable Guide to God's Word states: 
I believe God's intention for the Bible is to testify to and to anchor the continuing dialogue between God our Creator and humanity. Just as God shepherded the Bible's formation, the Holy Spirit stirs our interpretation of it, as we seek God's guidance in faith.  
In our cocksure posturing, we've painted ourselves into mental corners in many ways. One would be the "postmodern" proposition that divining the meaning of any text is impossible as no one can understand the author's intent. Therefore, the authority of any text is entirely based on the "... attitude of individuals and communities toward it; the local community determines valid interpretation." (Brash 2010, 95) I'll avoid my own cocksure, masked response to that one ... although it would be negative. I myself am a writer and if I truly felt that I could not communication to others across time and space with the use of language and all its related functions and tools, I would have set aside the keyboard long ago. (Oops, there I go.)

These are just a few very small examples of the mountain of research against this ridiculous stance, this preening, over-proud positioning, and these sweeping declarations against all evidence to the contrary. I know we have lots of models given to us through our myriad communication tools to follow in cocksure confidence, whether deserved or not. Why not be countercultural today, set aside the mask, and rather than falling back on the foolish retort, "Well, that's your opinion. We all have a right to our own opinions." actually do some humbling, fascinating research with the very same tools we have, and the one we seem to be avoiding in our posturing, our brains. Doing that together, in a community that respects each other and listens to the discoveries we all make, we might just be able to find some way out of the morass of wild, angry shouting accomplishing nothing and get some truly creative, worthwhile work done together. 

Who knows where that could lead???


If I can't convince you, perhaps this episode of Radio Lab, "Are You Sure," will help, especially the last story. However, DO NOT listen to that final story with small children or especially sensitive people in the room. Please refrain from listening to that final story if you have been physically assaulted and cannot bear hearing of a woman in a similar situation. That said:

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