How to Avoid Being an Ass While Telling the Truth

What's the difference between sharing an uncomfortable, necessary truth and being an ass? I've noticed that in our era, it seems like the main difference between a prophet and a jerk is whether or not you agree with what they're saying. To put that on context, the same person can be a freedom fighter or gun-nut depending on who they're talking to.

Those who spoke difficult truths to the powerful in the Bible were called prophets. I've thought a lot about what makes a prophet a prophet instead of an angry troll. Prophets see and share insights that live at the intersection of truth and unrealized justice.

In other words, what a prophet proclaims must be factual and must point out the manner in which some person or people are oppressed or abused by society or its institutions.

I am not and have never been a prophet. But, there are times when I've felt the need to share truths about unrealized justice. Here's the thing: I'm sure a lot of people who say things I disagree with believe they're doing the same.

I don't want to add noise or even unnecessary conflict in life. I'm naturally averse to conflict, and have spoken up at the wrong time or in the wrong way in the past. So I developed a four question matrix to test any "prophetic truths" I may feel compelled to share.

  1. Am I communicating honestly and without hostility? My message will be best received if I take the time to process my own feelings before speaking.
  2. Am I speaking for someone or against something? It's good to work for the rights of others, but I don't want to oppose something for the sake of opposing it.
  3. What will I get out of saying this? If I stand to gain emotionally, financially, or any other way by speaking an uncomfortable truth, I may need to examine my motives carefully.
  4. Is this driven by social identity? If the truth I'm sharing is commonly held among people who identify themselves with labels I use to identify myself, there's a real chance these beliefs are driven by social identity. I may need to check my sources and reasoning before speaking up.

This list is by no means exhaustive or universal–it's just the test I apply to ideas before I tap "share." If you'd like to hear more about speaking truth to power instead of being an ass, check out Tuesday's episode of The Liturgists Podcast where Michael Gungor, Rachel Held Evans, and I tackle the topic, "Prophet or Ass."

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

For All

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men* are created equal…”

*originally denoted white, male, landowners.

The Land of the Free learned over time that “all men” was more than white, male, landowners. “all men” has grown more inclusive. But, we won’t be the land of the free until “all men” is “all people.”

Women.

People of Color.

Gays.

Lesbians.

Bisexuals.

Transgender.

The question: “But what can *I* do?”

The answer: join the struggle with tangible action.

Call your representatives and demand that gender identity and sexual orientation become protected classes. Or write a letter.

Don’t sit silent when racist or homophobic speech is shared in white or hetero spaces.

Support efforts to reform the criminal justice system and add accountability for police brutality.

You can start, today, ensuring that America behaves as if the Declaration of Independence means what is says: “…Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for ALL.

photo credit: In Congress via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Rise of the New Copernicans

I believe we are living in a truly historic moment of human development.

Some sociologists try to capture it by talking about "millennials," but that's too generational. I've also talked about the model of Spiral Dynamics, but that can be western-centric. Both these models catch a glimpse of something big, but they don't tell the whole story. Somehow, modern science, multiculturalism, the Internet, and the blurring of traditional human divisions is altering how people relate to each other.

About a year ago, I joined with friends from the Windrider Institute and the John Templeton Foundation to work on a series of short films describing how human consciousness is changing in our era. I've shared different segments over the last few months–and now I'm thrilled to share the ENTIRE, COMPLETED series with you.

The New Copernicans thesis is based on the work of Dr. John Seel. Huge thanks to my friends John Priddy, Jacob Marshall, and Josh Wiese for their amazing contributions. I hope you find this work insightful and inspiring–-I certainly do.

The New Copernicans

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Reader Mail - Atheist in Church

Subject: Atheism

Message: I consider myself an atheist- because in almost all contexts when God is described, the subject of that description is not something I consider well-enough evidenced to accept as real. Of course, in your case- that description of god is not at all what the vast majority of theists subscribe to (a good thing in my opinion.) However, I also am going to a Christian church with a strong focus on community and diversity, makes good judgments about which causes to support with our giving, provides a great springboard for community interaction, and usually isn't afraid of tough questions. I dig it. Anyway, while I admit I have barely scratched the surface of how you might describe yourself, your axioms of faith don't seem to describe anything that necessarily contradicts an atheist's view of religion. Is this non-atheism a part of your attempt to pretend as Rob Bell suggests? I guess- the main substance of this question is- what is the necessary difference between you and an atheist, and are there any tips you might have for an atheist attending a Christian church who often feels overwhelmingly isolated in thought, but for their own reasons chooses to stick around that environment? I really appreciate your taking time to give this a read.


Hey Austin,

I'm recovering from a motorcycle accident and I have a concussion. Forgive me if any of this doesn't make sense.

What I've learned from neuroscience and cognitive psychology is that labels are a big deal. The labels we apply to ourselves create a powerful bias. When we encounter evidence that undermines our chosen label research indicates we unconsciously filter it. This isn't some rational process where we evaluate information and make a decision–this is an automatic function we're not well aware of.

People love to label themselves. Doing so creates both social identity and cognitive certainty. Those are two things we crave because evolution trained us that we thrive when we live in a tribe and when we make good guesses about the future. For example, if a hunter gatherer guesses well about a rainstorm, they can avoid a flood and find more food.

Social labels create in-groups, but they also create out-groups. Certainty in our self labels mean we reject information about the world. I want the best, most truthful understanding of reality. So, I pretty much don't waste time assigning labels to myself.

Am I a Christian? An atheist? I'm not sure either of those labels describe me completely, and I think both describe me partially. Both manners of thinking and being inform my life, and both have something to teach me. I'm not looking for a place to land my ideologically airplane. Instead, I do my best to be open to new ideas and experiences, while honoring the traditions and cultures that have brought me where I am.

That means I need to honor what Billy Graham taught me, even as I honor what Richard Dawkins taught me.

I'm a skeptic, and I look for evidence to support my claims. But I'm also fascinated with Jesus, and the God he represents. I refuse to call heads or tails–I say let the coin spin all day.

Hope this helps.

Peace, love, entropy,
Science Mike

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.