The Common Good

Austin's Autumn (Nonfiction) List: Pete Rollins, Part 2

InsurrectionI wrote yesterday of Peter Rollins' new book Insurrection.

Rollins posted the introduction and first chapter of the book on his blog last week, and in just those first thirty pages, one can find an inordinate amount of wisdom.

In the first chapter, he calls into question our motivation for believing the things we believe.

Not what we believe, but why we believe it.

This is a very scary question for us, if we're willing to face it square on.

Because when we're honest with ourselves, we realize how much of what we believe was originally decided for us by our parents or our family members or our closest friends. Take it from a high school teacher who sees countless papers written by young minds adamantly espousing political, religious, and social ideas about which he or she clearly knows absolutely nothing about.

It would be nice to think that this is normal and that, as we mature and become adults and grow more socially and politically conscious, we begin bending our ideas to conform to the new information to which we have been exposed, but this is, for the vast majority of people, untrue.

Instead, most people find writers and TV hosts and news pundits who provide intellectual backing to align with and bolster their own pre-existing beliefs.

At least this is what Rollins contends in his new book, and I am inclined to agree with him.

Says Rollins:

"We see this play out in the way we tend to read books and watch programs that agree with our already existing worldview. We often use the information we have just learned to pretend to others and ourselves that we have chosen our beliefs because of that information, instead of admitting that we believed beforehand and simply used the information to back it up."

This was an especially powerful thing for me to read, because it clearly articulated something I realized five years ago about myself: everything I watched and read -- which was a lot -- was all information coming from people with whom I already agreed.

Consequently, I made a pact with myself several years ago to divide my television and my news media equally. Since then, I have read the New York Times each morning and watched Fox News each night. I listen to NPR on my way to work in the mornings, and I Iisten to Sean Hannity on my way home in the afternoons. I visit both the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report each day on the web.

And here's the most important thing: I go into each of these -- at least, as best I can -- with an attitude set neither to agree nor disagree with what I'm about to consume.

Because of doing this, I have seen my beliefs and ideology slightly shift over time. I have been forced to face certain things I once held true and admit them for false beliefs. In other words, I found there were things I only thought I believed because I'd been too scared (or too lazy or both) to look at the root of the belief itself.

This all reminds me of what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his 1841 essay "Intellect":

"God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please,

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