Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Prejudice vs. Discernment

So this post is going to be a little less refined; more thinking and typing without the aid of reason, editing, or even fully developed linear thoughts. So hang in there if you chose to keep reading and respond with your own thoughts, questions, or feel free to push back on things you don't agree with.

At what point in our lives have we formed our core opinions, decisions, or values that will then inherently drive the rest of our lives? This must occur at some point, that we make a choice or arrive at core conviction on something or many things and this affects how we view things we encounter. This can be as small as a dislike for cooked carrots or as large as your religious faith. Either way, there is a moment or many individual moments that direct your future understanding, opinions, and decisions.

Now here's another question, is this good or bad, or can it be both. Can my personal dislike for cooked carrots be valid or prejudice? See, as a child I was forced to eat them and I hated the consistency the . That mushy gushy feeling in my mouth makes me want to vomit. And from that one incident I now have a dislike for all things mushy and gushy, which also leads to my assuming something is mushy and gushy and deciding that I will not like it. I reach this absolute decision without trying the food in question to confirm that I'd would not like it.

Or, take for instance an author, speaker, etc. If I have read an author or heard a speaker before and agreed with or liked what they had to say, I assume that I'll also agree with or like their other works and will seek them out again. Yet, the opposite is true. Also, if there are certain ideas or truths that I've accepted and taken as my own core beliefs I will weigh and evaluate other people's opinions, thoughts, or written works through the prejudice of those beliefs.

Another example from my own life. I read the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac in college and hated it. I was disturbed by the main character's utter disinterest in any type of responsibility or authority, his selfishness and self involvement, and just the path of people he left in his wake as he searched for the meaning of life or his next high. To this day, I have feelings of disgust and dislike toward the book and the work. And yet on a trip to the New York Public Library I saw an exhibit about Jack Kerouac, with the original scroll on which he wrote On the Road, and his life and while I still had those feelings of dislike for his written works and even his own life choices, I was interested in a celebrated, by some, writer and the story of his life.

So is all prejudice bad?

Of course that word brings with it considerable baggage, as it probably should. And yet, I'm prejudice against cooked carrots and Jack Kerouac. I won't eat the carrots and I won't read any other works of Kerouac. Is that wrong? Or have I formed an opinion on my own experiences.

Now, this isn't to say that my opinions are always formed on truth. Because while I might have the option to dislike cooked carrots because I have tried them, can I then judge any other cooked vegetable based on that one experience? A silly example I realize, so let's look at Jack Kerouac. Since I've read and determined my opinion for On the Road can I form an opinion on the rest of the works of Kerouac, or for that matter other Beat movement authors? Can I, or more should I be prejudice toward another author because of my already informed opinion about one in the same movement?

How about a different spin on this idea. Can I read a book, any book, with a truly open mind? Or do I come to things with an already formed opinion about them, in some small form at least, based on my personally held convictions, opinions, and values? And if I do try to read something with an open mind, will I bristle at the things that peak my negative opinions and embrace without much thought those things that I already hold at true?

Can we view things with discernment and yet without prejudice? Are those two things the same or different or are they somehow connected and yet separate?

Working at a church, being in the Christian culture, and having lots of conversations with college kids I've often head the words "I was challenged by this or that". Part of me now wonders if we are really challenged or are we just continually justified in our already held beliefs. For something to truly challenge you, shouldn't it rock something deep within you, or spur you on to change a deep-seeded behavior or belief, shouldn't it shock your preconceived notion about whatever it is that the challenge rises from? Or do we use the word "challenged" because it's what we think we're supposed to say?

I'm not saying that we should question every single value or conviction we hold. Those are huge pillars in our life that form who we are, what we think, and how we live. But is discernment looking at everything we encounter (the things we like, dislike, embrace, and reject) and holding them to a standard that is above our own preconceived opinions and testing them to something that is solid and true. What is truth then? Is it my own version of what I believe, or does it rest outside of me and I'm broken upon it time and again until those values, opinions, and beliefs become something that is less "me" and more "truth"?

Ok, I need to think about this more. Sorry if you're lost or left hanging. I'd love to hear your thoughts. As I said, this is "in process" and much more rough than refined.


Blogger kj said...

I wrote a long comment that went on a tangent... the most relevant part was this:

The mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

And that's where discernment comes in... a prejudiced mind would refuse to entertain the thought at all. To discern you have to be informed.

4/08/2009 2:57 PM  
Blogger kj said...

oh and that quote is from Aristotle... I don't want to steal from such a great philosopher...

4/08/2009 2:57 PM  
Blogger Eric Holst said...

So much to say in so little space. The irony of this post is that I was reading some church history and about to fall asleep when I decided to check my email and saw your post. I have a lot of thoughts on this exact type of topic. Nikki and I saw Gran Torino this weekend and think that your musings are in the same vein as this screen play. I think that you are spot on in recognizing the baggage that is linked to prejudice. I find prejudice to be a valuable stance at times and do not think that it is always negative. Your prejudice towards cooked vegetables is far different than my unwillingness to eat something (guac) based on its appearance. You have been in the belly of the beast and know that the texture of cooked carrots is not for you. This is not some preconceived notion that you have formed based on improper facts or lack of experience. If you have not truly taken in a concept, truth, opinion, food, you cannot pass judgment on it in an appropriate way.

You are postmodern. This is simply a fact that you cannot get over. The fact that you and I are postmodern in our epistemic wiring is neither bad nor good. It simply is! We need to question, evaluate, examine, and critique the things that we are ingesting. A sponge will simply soak up anything that it is placed on and spew out its contents when placed under stress. You are not a sponge! The problem lies in the comfortable waters of stagnation that allow us to bath in the beliefs that we agree with. I believe that churches need to be focusing more on the discomfort level. Challenged? How about confused? Offended? Upset? Taken aback? Frustrated?

We need to be providing opportunities for people (students) to openly expression real questions that are festering in their inner most being at the risk of offending others. I agree with you on the appropriate regergetation of "being challenged." True change and transformation takes place in the face of radical experiences. More people need to be epistemically shaken. The world is going to shake your faith. The question is whether or not you have been in a place that has already tested your structures by introducing tremors in a "safe" environment. I believe in the Hegelian dialectic of "thesis, antithesis, synthesis." Our worldviews are always changing, shifting, evolving as a result of our experiences. Unless one is willing to exit the pool of stagnation, they are never going to grow beyond the confines of their tank.

Great thoughts.

P.S. It is funny that the word verification to post this comment is "credo." Latin for "I believe!"

4/08/2009 3:24 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Eric - I am so not post-modern. I'm pre-modern or maybe just modern. How did I become post? Sorry, had to have fun with another "trendy" word but one that is still correct. I didn't go into it in the post, because I'm stinkin long-winded as it is, but I also wonder how we synthesize data within something we already accept. If there is a book, theory, or even idea that we will inherently agree with for the most part do we even consider the small areas that we disagree with or flat our dislike? Are we holistic in our acceptance or denial of things? I guess my bigger question is, have we lost the ability to honestly and without pre-conceived opinions fully discover, interpret, and digest anything we come upon? Is there anything "new" for us to encounter?

And, on another note, why weren't we talking about these types of things back in our camp days? Man, what 10 years will do for the mind and what it is focused on.

4/08/2009 3:35 PM  
Blogger Eric Holst said...

I think that the answer is "YES!" I do not think that we can step outside of our worldviews and critically evaluate, encounter, experience something on an unbiased level. We are who we are because of the experiences we have had cognitively, physically, emotionally and there is no way to get beyond it. I think that we were not talking about these things ten years ago because of the things that we have experienced in the last ten years. I know that I have been asking some much larger questions in the last few years that would not have been in my wheelhouse in '99. I do not think that we have to holistically accept or deny anything.

These are the questions that I am all about and wish I could have more of. Maybe if I get into Baylor next year we will have an opportunity to get a little discussion group going!

4/08/2009 3:54 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Hm. I am challenged by this... Kidding. Katie truth can not be your own version of what you believe because it would be subjective and then truth would cease to exist. Truth by definition is unchangeable because... well because if the truth changed it would cease to be true. Truth rests outside of us all. It is the one constant in life... It never changes. You can believe that 4 + 5 is ten... But no matter how much you believe it doesn't make it true. So while our beliefs and predjudices change and paradigms shift, the truth is there and will always be there... Just waiting for us to discover it.

4/08/2009 7:16 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Adding to that thought... Once you have discovered truth, how do you do discern that it is truth and not an opinion based on predjudice?

4/08/2009 7:30 PM  
Anonymous chirky said...

I started to write a response, but then I had to stop because I started over-evaluating my response.

Also, the lady across the street owns five dogs. And they are REALLY BARKING VERY LOUDLY tonight. And I am kind of distracted. And I kind of wish I had tranquilizers.

4/08/2009 9:15 PM  
Blogger Eric Holst said...

Greg: Who is the one who gets to define/classify what is true? How does one mine to the core of something to discover if it is actually true? What role does language play in our defining of truth?

Just some thoughts!

4/09/2009 7:37 AM  
Blogger Greg said...


Great questions. I believe that everyone has not only the right but the responsibility to classify truth... Define truth... no... but classify it yes. Ultimately, the question is where does truth come from... ourselves or from a universal constant. I believe truth is defined in God's very nature... so this is my belief... and I classify this as being the truth. That said, God is either True or He isn't. No in between and it doesn't matter how much we classify something as truth or believe that it is true... it is true or it isn't. What we believe doesn't determine truth.

How does one mine to the core of something to discover if it is actually true?

That is basically the same question... just stated a little differently. "How do you do discern that it is truth and not an opinion based on prejudice?"

I am wrestling with that. I believe that Faith is required to believe anything is true. For example: Tomorrow will come just as yesterday and today did... how do you know? I have faith... will it? We will see if it does tomorrow. Will tomorrow always come? Not sure. So if it doesn't, does that mean that truth has changed? Or has the truth always been that tomorrow will most likely come but eventually, there will be no tomorrow? So just because tomorrow has always come, I have faith that it will... but the truth is: that it may not.

Death is a truth. Every single person will experience a physical death. (Except for Elijah... always exceptions to the rule. ) ;) In this case, language does not play a role in defining truth. Can it play a role...? I would have to mull that over a bit. My initial thought is that I don't think that it plays a role in defining truth but it does play a role in defining beliefs.

Hm. Thoughts?

4/09/2009 11:57 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Oh! And Katie... I can't believe you rejected my Bookworm challenge. Are you broke? If so, just say so and I will buy the game for you and send it to you... so you can load it on your iphone. You are MISSING out! I am now a "Thesaurus Rex" with a score of 577,670...

You... well you are a "Chicken Rex"


4/09/2009 12:50 PM  
Blogger David Malouf -- said...

I'd say you're 80% post-modern, does that help?!? Partly because you're still dealing with the package of truth as if it is outside of you. And then you are looking to dissect it determine its parts - still a Modern exercise :-) But then again, trying to own a thought, value, ideal -- that's just being a good human!

I'd like to point out two more paths to chew on...

What is the value of 'truth'? Is it some elusive, white stallion that is not really to be found at all but only chased? If so, is 'chasing' really a pillar that one wants to rest their life upon?!? So as Greg's line of truth eternal and external and, at best, lunged for by his 'belief' (see the use of 'belief' & 'faith' in his 4/9 post).

So what good is truth-that-is-found? Perhaps the value of truth is not in its being held...

#2 - I had a older friend state that 'most people mistake thinking for shuffling prejudices.' I laughed, then I dread-ed! I resonate with your critique of the word 'challenge.' But is that because I like things black-and-white, super-extreme? Can I be challenged in what I do or must it be in my core-values only? Further, what about the challenge to my values that comes ONLY from my new actions (that came from the much wimpy-er 'challenge')? Perhaps this is part of what Eric is referring to as 'the last 10 years'?

Great posting Katie!!

4/09/2009 2:35 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/09/2009 4:30 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/09/2009 4:38 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

(Sorry Spelling errors on the last 2 entries.)


If you believe in something as truth... you may be right. Your belief doesn't make it true... but the fact that it is truth makes you right. I don't believe that you are lunging at something that is elusive. I think one can realize truth... I just think that you won't truly grasp it until you experience it. That's where faith comes in. What is the value? My belief is that you will realize the value when you are standing before the Lord. Do I believe I have found truth. Yep. That is where faith comes in.

4/10/2009 8:28 AM  
Blogger David Malouf -- said...

Greg (Katie is allowed in here any time!! It's your post! haha),

What I'm pointing out is that your belief that your belief is right is a bit circular. "Do I believe I have found truth. Yep. That is where faith [belief] comes in."

Experiencing faith IS certainly important to realizing 'truth'! I'm 100% with you on that. But I'm not sure I'd validate 'truth' with experience. Nor with the faith that the belief I think I'm experiencing is true because I'm experiencing it (if I'm understanding you correctly). This comes from my neurology degree wherein we can 'make' people 'experience' a lot of things that are not true, 'real', etc.

So my experience is that truth-experienced is just as susceptible to being misunderstood, mis-grasped, mis-experienced as non-truth experienced or truth non experienced.

All in all, I'm thinking that what you're espousing is that you get to decide if what you think is truth really is truth, but Jesus will tell us at the end. But that finding, having, living-out truth is important. But I can't know for sure in this lifetime. That makes me wonder if we're chasing something in such a way as to constantly keep it out-of-grasp.

What'a ya think? Katie?

4/14/2009 7:40 PM  

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