Questioning Popular Truisms


When I began this project, I called it, “Inspirational Falsehoods,” but soon changed my mind. In my next three posts, I’ll consider three popular inspirational sayings that may be helpful at some times to some people but can also be misleading and oppressive. What I realized quickly was that dismissing these sayings as utter falsehoods was itself false to people’s experiences of them as well as presumptuous. Because these sayings have helped people through difficulties, I’ll take care to recognize what strengthens, encourages, and uplifts but also examine what stifles, misleads, discourages, and may even crush people under the weight of a presumed truth that is not true for them at all.

Pointing out falsehood from a faith perpective requires care because the theologically false often holds a grain of truth and may, with that grain, genuinely have sustained some people’s faith, hope, and life through periods of pain and grief. Historically, the church would have done better to listen to its heretics (teachers of falsehood) than sweepingly condemn their teachings as though the errors arising from human need and experience had no truth in them. Especially where objection to current orthodoxy arises out of the unanswered cries of suffering, exclusion, or resentment, that objection needs to be heard and understood. If the disagreements were purely academic, they could be worked out academically, but the existentially painful needs to be heard even if its theology strays from accepted norms.

The popular inspirational truisms I’ll question in the next three days are:

1. Everything happens for a reason.
2. It’s not your circumstances that matter but what you do with them.
3. You can be anything you want to be.

This blog is called, “Faith Thinking Aloud,” and so I’ll look at each saying in terms of its reasoning and our life experiences but also in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m concerned with the saying’s effect upon people. What do people hear, and how are they helped or afflicted by what they are being told? In each case, I wish to oppose fatalism, resignation, escapism, discouragement, indifference, cruelty, and the suppression of the human spirit while supporting hope, courage, justice, compassion, trust, healing, and a sense of human community.