Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Random Quotability

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think" (John Stuart Mill, 1806-73).
This is an interesting statement. Translated into today's English, it means the mistakes of those who earnestly seek knowledge do more to advance the cause of truth than the correct beliefs of those who merely think what they are told to think. Or, it is wiser to be misled by your personal quest for truth than to conform to someone else's dogma.

I think there is both truth and falsehood in Mill's dictum. Consider, for example, what Paul says about the matter: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Again, "If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

And again, "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

And finally: "In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:1-7).

So submission to a pattern of received doctrine is not altogether foolish, according to St. Paul. Nevertheless, I would agree with Mill that a constant inquiry into the basis of what we believe is essential for engaging the faithful and defending the faith. The Beroean Christians are therefore commended for "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). And certainly the content of our common faith should rest on a surer foundation than a mere parliamentary record of what the church, as a human institution, has voted to call its "official position." The official position must always be subject to inquiry... and that inquiry, to the "standard of sound words" that exists prior to our church body.

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