Everyone has opinions. And, as the joke goes, they are like armpits: Everyone has a couple and no one thinks theirs stink.
Everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinions, for we live in a free country. So, go ahead and fell free to express yours and be right . . . or wrong. But here’s the thing: having an opinion on an issue is not the same as having an informed opinion, and even having an informed opinion is not the same thing as being an authority on the topic. Furthermore, being an authority on the topic is not the same as being correct.
Unfortunately, too many of us get stuck on the first level – simply having an opinion. Without a doubt, social media, short attention spans, the “closing of the American mind” (look it up), and a culture that has absolutized relativism (think about that one) means that anyone can broadcast a thoughtless opinion on anything at any time and have it heard by someone. That is not, in of itself, a bad thing. The problem is when we all expect our meagre opinions to carry inordinate weight and are offended when someone disagrees (those haters!).
Some of us, however, try to offer informed opinions. That is, we are not simply spouting off what we simply “feel” or intuitively “think.” We take the time to learn something about the issue and examine our own assumptions, beliefs, and worldview. I realize most of us think we are already plenty informed. Well, not always. At least, not about everything. The easiest test for this is to ask someone, “Upon what do you base that opinion?” If the answer is “It’s my opinion and I have a right to have it,” well, yes, you do. However . . . never mind. And, yelling one’s opinion louder and angrier does not make it any more informed.
We can all work at having informed opinions on many topics. Few of us can really speak as authorities on very many topics or issues. I am not saying a person should be an authority before he or she speaks. We do need to learn to recognize when a person is offering a simple, intuitive opinion, an informed opinion, or when that person is an authority (and, yes, there may be some debate on the nature of “authority”). Culturally, we fail at this most miserably when we assume that a rich and famous person, particularly a celebrity, knows what they are talking about. We tend to grant them unearned authority simply because they are well known. Certainly, they are free to have opinions and sometimes those are interesting. Sometimes they actually are an authority. But just because someone is an athlete, a movie star, has a TV reality show, or is filthy rich, that does not make them an authority on foreign policy, education, theology, the military, you name it. And by the way, I am not an authority on everything I may have an opinion about, either!
When a person is an authority on a particular issue, then we ought to give them a bit more of our attention. If they have the training and the experience, then they have informed and even authoritative opinions. But, does that mean they are always right? Of course not. We must remember that even if a person is an authority on such and such topic, he or she is still driven by presuppositions, assumptions, prejudices, and a worldview. That individual may be correct or incorrect on certain facts. He may have interpreted the facts correctly or incorrectly. She may be letting a particular ideology or worldview color her interpretation. This is why so many authorities in science, education, economics, foreign and domestic policy, art, theology, etc, etc, come to differing conclusions and varying applications.
So, where does all of this leave us? Two major points to remember:
One, in a free country with free speech, we all have the right to opinions (even “intolerant” ones). We should, however, work a bit harder to be informed. And, we should not get so bent out of shape when others differ. That is OK! They are not necessarily “haters.”
Two, we have to remember worldview. Let me break that down a bit more: We all have a worldview; that is, we all have “lenses” through which we see and interpret the world. These are shaped and formed by family, culture, experience, and the choices we make as a result of family, culture, and experience. Worldviews are complex and profound, and we all have them. Furthermore, they are constantly being tweaked and adjusted based on new information and new experiences.
Having a worldview means that we all come to the opinion table loaded with presuppositions, assumptions, biases, and prejudices. We have experiences, belief systems, convictions, and ideologies which drive us. None of us are objective! We all see, interpret, and speak from particular perspectives.
Does this mean there is no objective or absolute truth and that we must succumb to the quicksand of relativistic opinions? Absolutely not! Let me reveal some of my worldview and its presuppositions:
There is absolute and objective truth (which includes morality and ethics)
For truth to be absolute and objective it must come from outside of the human experience; that is, it originates and is grounded in something greater than us.
Although that truth is absolute and originates outside of humanity, it can still be apprehended accurately and correctly, although not completely or comprehensively.
We cannot apprehend absolute truth comprehensively because we are fallen human beings and full of subjectivity.
Because we are subjective, we are full of presuppositions, biases, and prejudices.
That’s OK. The key is to recognize our condition, be open to examination, and measure ourselves against some standard.
The best standard for measurement is that one which reveals absolute truth – the Bible.
Therefore, in the Bible God reveals absolute truth (and we see it perfectly revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, whom we know through the Scriptures). We do read it subjectively and from a particular worldview but yet hold that same perspective up to the judgment of Scripture. We then arrive both humbly and confidently at conclusions about ultimate issues. We can hold these conclusions with conviction, yet we are open to correction because we believe in and accept absolute truth but we admit we cannot know it absolutely. Truth is absolute; I am not.
So what does this have to do with opinions and armpits? Simply this:
In a world where we play fast and loose with facts, where those seeking top political office will lie at the drop of a hat, where he who yells the loudest on TV or she who is the ugliest on social media wins, where the freedom to have an opinion is confused with protection from a contrary opinion, where a famous opinion is confused with authoritative opinion we would all do ourselves a favor if we recognized our own subjective perspectives, sought to be more informed, and humbly measured our thoughts, ideas, opinions, and actions against an absolute standard.
And that’s my opinion.