Sermon Text: Don't Confuse Me With The Facts!
So there was this guy, and he thought he was dead. His wife told him he wasn't dead. His kids told him he wasn't dead. His friends told him he wasn't dead. But he still insisted that he was dead.
So finally, his family got him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist thought the best strategy for curing him was to convince him of just one fact: dead men do not bleed. So over the next six months, the psychiatrist got the man to study medical textbooks and charts of the human body.
And then he had this man observe autopsies, and observe medical students working with human cadavers. The psychiatrist even had this man work as an assistant at a funeral home. Finally, the man was exasperated, and he said, "Okay, doc, enough already! I get it....dead men do not bleed."
The psychiatrist smiled. And he took the man's hand and pricked the end of his finger with a needle. A little drop of blood oozed out. The man looked at his finger and said, "Well, whaddaya know! Dead men DO bleed!"
The moral of this little fictional story is simple: logic does not always win out. People often ignore facts, or even twist them, if they don't support their views. Studies show that people believe what they want to believe.
Our first reading today was from the Book of Proverbs. This passage, like the rest of the book, is about wisdom. And it's about how most people are not wise. It seems crazy that someone would cling to a belief in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, but it's very common.
It's common enough to have a name: the backfire effect. Attempting to correct people's misconceptions often backfires and causes them to cling even more strongly to their mistaken beliefs. How weird is that? Well, I guess we human beings are weird.
Here's a study I read about. People were given two newspaper articles. The first supported their beliefs with incorrect information. The second article corrected the misinformation. But most of the people in the study did not change their views. Instead, they decided the second article was incorrect. Some even decided there was a conspiracy behind the correction.
MRI brain scans have confirmed these results. People in an MRI scan were shown information that confirmed what they already thought about a particular topic. Areas of the brain associated with learning lit up. But when the same people were shown information that contradicted their beliefs, sections of the brain associated with thought suppression lit up.
And all this means that it is very, very difficult for us to change our minds once they are made up. It's not about logic...it's about biology. We stick to our gut feelings even in the face of contradictory evidence.
This is true in the religious world...I bet you've seen that.
This is true in the social world of relationships...I bet you've seen that.
And this is true in the world of politics...I bet you've seen that, too.
So it's very hard to be as wise as the Book of Proverbs calls us to be. It's very difficult to change our minds even when there is good reason to do so.
But is it impossible? No.
For example, if I am asked why I believe something, I am likely to become more adamant about my belief. But if I am asked how my idea works in the real world, I might realize how little I know about a subject. And I might modify my belief. That's wisdom, and that's what the Book of Proverbs recommends.
Now, listen to this huge qualifier here: I, Mark Giroux, am not very good at this. Like most people, I have a hard time changing my mind. Like most people, I stick to my gut feelings. Like most people, I think I have a bead on things.
For example, if I hear a news story with an opposite political view to my own, I almost always tune it out. Seems to me I'm not alone in this country at this time. I have to work hard at listening to opposing views, sifting evidence, and possibly changing my mind about an idea. Wisdom is hard work.
Let me tell you about someone who is good at this, someone I know and love, someone I've never before mentioned in a sermon. My daughter-in-law, Christi.
She certainly has definite views and opinions, as we all do. She is thoughtful and kind and smart. But she has one talent that goes way off the charts. She is a deep listener. My wife and I have both seen this ability in her. We have seen her engage with someone she truly disagrees with, someone who is completely on the other side on something or other, and she will ask and talk and listen to that person until she understands.
She may not agree, and she may not change her view. But she will ask and listen and think until she understands. She is far, far more patient than I would be. She is a much better deep listener than I am. And I admire her for it.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were up at the Syracuse Zoo with Christi and the grandkids. Near the end of our visit, the children were in the playground. There was a big sandbox area. My wife and Christi were watching, and I was off getting food.
My wife told me later what happened. A dispute broke out between my grandchildren, who were playing with a particular toy, and some other children, who wanted it. Looked like a fight might start.
Suddenly my five-year old grandson shouts out, "Let's make this a win-win!" And then, Christi got over there and negotiated a way for all the kids to have a turn and be happy.
"Let's make this a win-win!" I'll tell you this: that is not what I would have said at the age of five! My five-year-old grandson didn't make that up...he learned it from his mom. And his mom is a wise woman, like the Wise Woman of the Book of Proverbs.
The Wise Woman knows how to listen deeply.
The Wise Woman knows how to think slowly through an idea.
And the Wise Woman knows how to change her mind if necessary.
If that's not wisdom, then I don't know what wisdom is.
May God continue to teach us...to wise up.