Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Fallacy of Assumptions

The fantasy novel Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson, is interesting on several levels. One of the most fascinating themes concerns the development of the character Hrathen, a religious functionary who has jurisdiction over the priests of the community. He has been sent there by the emperor to convert the surrounding nations to the worship of their God Jaddeth. The emperor’s message to him is clear and simple: They will either convert and become worshippers of Jaddeth or they will perish. In his previous assignment Hrathen was responsible for undermining the government, resulting in that country’s complete destruction. In his new assignment, he has the mandate of converting the people in one month before the emperor’s army descends upon the nation. At the beginning of the book he is a very dislikable figure – cold, calculating and manipulative. With the results of his last mission in his head, he takes on his new assignment with zeal, hoping to avoid another catastrophe, but willing to accept it if they don’t convert. He connives to overthrow the king and the princess who has recently married the king’s son. But as things don’t go quite as planned, he finds himself questioning many of his long held assumptions. At the end of the book he rescues the princess, even though it costs him his own life. He comes to realize that things were not always what they seemed. His total change indicated a conversion of sorts.

As we go through life we find ourselves very much like Hrathen. We constantly experience things that shake up our assumptions. Are we open or closed to change or new ideas? Hopefully open. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, my only contact with blacks was viewing them out of the car window when visiting relatives in Milwaukee. My first contact with a black person was in my freshman year in college. An older student who was mentoring me in my faith had a black roommate whom I got to know. I discovered he was really no different than I was. During my formative years I attended a church that was decidedly anti Catholic, considering Catholics to be pagan and the Pope to be the Antichrist. Several years later I met several people who were solid Christians. They had a sincere faith, grounded in daily reading of scripture, meditation and prayer. They seriously sought to follow Christ in living out their daily lives. As I got to know them, I found out they were Catholics. Likewise, my first introduction to Charismatics was very negative. While attending seminary, I came to highly respect one of my fellow students. In our third year of studies together I discovered he was charismatic. These experiences shook up my previously held assumptions that Catholics were pagans, Charismatics were weird and Blacks were different. Fortunately I was willing to abandon my previously held assumptions, resulting in developing many rich relationships with fellow Christians, both black and white, over the years.

We find ourselves dealing with assumptions every day. They may be based on a person’s race, ethnicity, cultural or economic status. They may have religious or political overtones. They may be based on a person’s job status or educational level. Will we discount others before even having a chance to get to know them based upon our preconceived notions? Are we willing to abandon stereotyping others based on externals before even taking the time to develop a relationship with them? Perhaps a paraphrase is in order: “Make assumptions about others as you would have them make assumptions about you.”

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