It should come as no surprise that the events in Charleston last week are still a big topic here in Carolina. As our vacation has largely removed me from the world beyond sun and sand (as by design), I’m not sure if that’s the case elsewhere. I hope it is. Whenever something like this happens—which we can all agree has become far too often of late—the first thing I often hear is something along the lines of, “This country needs to have a honest discussion about race.” While I agree wholeheartedly, I’ve often wondered what an honest discussion would mean. And I guess I’m not the only one, because that conversation has yet to begin.
What’s getting the most attention around here isn’t the act itself, the murders, nor the racism that sparked that act, nor even the now national push to have the Confederate flag removed from all state government buildings and grounds. No, people here seem focused upon the ones who deserve the focus: the victims. Namely, how those victims treated the young man who became the instrument of their deaths. How this young man told the police after his capture that he almost didn’t go through with his plan because of the kindness shown to him by those in the church.
That would be amazing if it were not so sad.
He had an idea in his head, you see. A belief that blacks were less, that blacks were a danger, that blacks were responsible for so much of the evil in the world that they must be erased in order that the rest of us could be saved. That belief had been ingrained over the years by a variety of sources, strengthened and ingrained to the point where it became, to him, fact. And yet reality proved something different. Once he sat down with them, listened to them, heard them pray and speak, once this young man knew their hearts, some part of him understood that what he had come to belief was false. These were not monsters, these were people. People like him.
And yet even that knowledge wasn’t enough to keep him from drawing a weapon and killing nine of them. Belief proved stronger than reality in this case, just as it does in most cases. That’s what people here are grappling with most, and what I’m grappling with as well.
These first few days at the beach have given me an opportunity to do what life in general often denies—the chance to simply sit and think. What I’ve been thinking about lately is this simple question: Have I changed my opinion on anything in the last five years?
I’m not talking about little things, like the brand of coffee I drink or what my favorite television show is or where I shop for groceries. I mean the big things, like how I think about life or God or my place in either, and how I see other people.
Have I changed my beliefs in any way toward any of those things? Have I altered my thinking, or even tried? Have I even bothered to take a fresh look? Or has every idea and notion I’ve sought out only cemented what I already knew and believed to be true? Those are important questions, because they lead to another, larger question that none of us really want to ask:
“Have I ever been wrong about anything?”
Have we ever been wrong about who God is? Wrong about politics or social stances or what happens when we shed these mortal coils? Because you know what? I’m inclined to think we have.
None of us are as impartial and logical as we lead ourselves to believe. Often, what we hold as true isn’t arrived at by careful thought and deep pondering, but partisanship and whatever system of ideals we were taught by parents or preachers or professors. That creates a deep unwillingness to refine what positions we hold, and that unwillingness can lead to laziness at least and horrible tragedies at worst.
Whether we hold to the Divine or not, we all worship gods. Chief among them are often our beliefs themselves, graven images built not of wood or stone but of theories and concepts. We follow these with blind obedience, seeing a desire to look at and study them as tantamount to doubt or, worse, an attempt to prove them the paper idols they are. Yet truth—real truth—would never fear questioning, and would indeed always welcome it. That’s why we owe it to ourselves to test our opinions. We are built to seek the truth, wherever it may lead.