It was lunch time on a Tuesday afternoon and I was starving. As I perused the menu options I considered which would serve the purposes of both filling my painfully empty stomach and be the most pleasing for my taste buds while doing so. When I saw tacos in the hot line my heart skipped a beat. I could barely control my excitement as I gingerly carry my two overstuffed pockets of cheesy, meaty goodness to my usual table. After witnessing my first rather ravenous bite, one of my teachers inquired as to the quality of my meal. I replied through a second bite that the tacos were delicious. Despite a slightly skeptical look, my teacher quitted the table presumably to retrieve his own plate of tacos. It was not long after his return, however, that he indignantly informed me that I lied to him and the tacos were no good at all.
This anecdote serves as a platform on which to introduce a few questions on the matters of opinion, honesty, and truth: How should an opinion be formed and what use does it serve? How valuable is an “honest” opinion? Do opposing opinions invalidate each other or should we accept the opinions of others? Is even the truth simply an opinion? The irony of these questions is that one can try to answer them but even those answers are little more than an individual’s perspective. So keep in mind that what follows is only one humble but honest opinion.
According to the Oxford dictionary, an opinion is defined as, “A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.” This makes sense since anybody can have an opinion on any topic with little to no knowledge to back it up. Doctrine is similar to an opinion except that it is an interpretation based on our understanding of the word which has an internal meaning that is the Truth. A refined doctrine is based off a great deal of fact and knowledge of the Word. According to the teachings of the New Church doctrine must be formed by interpreting the Word and learning doctrine taught by others (Sacred Scripture 53). First you start with a foundational doctrine, which you need in order to understand the word because without doctrine the internal meaning of the word is impossible to comprehend (Sacred Scripture 51). Then you must go to the word on your own to discover more truths. You can then mold your personal doctrine based on your foundational doctrine and your new found truths from the Word. This process can be seen in the formation of opinion as well.
My opinion of the dining hall tacos was based on my past experience with tacos, my inexperience with the dining hall food, and my blind need for sustenance. I know tacos to be a food I enjoy. This was my first term eating food from the dining hall and I had yet to truly seen how awful it could be and as was mentioned before, I was also extremely hungry. This all means that my standards for what makes a taco “good” were much lower than my teacher’s. So while we were both partaking of the same lunch option, I enjoyed my meal, while he did not. The tacos were of course objectively not the best and yet does the objective truth invalidate my opinion? I genuinely enjoyed those tacos despite their quality and since this is the use of a taco then they were good.
That is the use of an opinion and why it is so important. An opinion shapes how we view the world and contributes to our decision making. Thanks to our rationality from the Lord we are able to formulate our own worldview and use our reason and prudence to decide what to have for lunch. An opinion is essentially our reasoning behind what we do, say or think. My opinion on tacos meant that I enjoyed my lunch. while my teacher’s opinion lead him to find it very disappointing. It was also my teacher’s opinion that I lied about the quality of the tacos, however, I retorted that I had given my honest opinion. But how valuable is that opinion?
The pop culture definition of honesty is simple sincerity. But anyone can sincerely believe anything regardless of objective truth. Even doctrine based on the word can be falsified (Sacred Scripture 60). We are human and we misinterpret the world around us all the time. Believing that it is ok to jump off a cliff and telling others to do so too is wrong and harmful no matter how sincere or “honest” it is. True honesty is an opinion that is as close to the Truth as possible. This means that one sincere opinion can be more valuable than another because it is closer to the objective truth or even Divine Truth. But what about those opinions that can’t be proven objectively correct like interpretations of the Word?
When two people disagree on doctrine based on the Word they can end up in a bit of an impasse. Both are able to direct their doctrine back to the Word and yet they often come away with different conclusions and, more often than not, call any other conclusion heresy. But on what grounds can I call another person’s interpretation heresy? How can I know that my opinion is not a heresy? This our challenge with freedom. Because we are in a world of fixity that is inhabited by people in freedom, we regularly encounter human beings who have used their own free prudence to find what they internally believe (Divine Providence 176). In some ways, most opinions and even doctrines are just shots in the dark. Just like we draw our doctrine from the Word, we draw our opinions from the honest truth. This inevitably leads to conflicts between opinions because even though the internal sense of the Word and the honest truth of the world remain the same, we can’t be sure that we know what they are. We can only guess. Some opinions are external, like taste in tacos. Others are more internally foundational, like a belief in God.
We are all trying on different beliefs, wearing them like a new outfit for a little while and deciding what we believe ourselves. We are each forming our doctrines of life in the same way we form doctrine from the Word. But the line between a harmless difference in doctrine and a hurtful difference is thin and hard to see.
Sometimes all you can do is agree to disagree. Still, when an opposing opinion is so wrong that it would be more harmful not to correct it, we should find a way to kindly point out its flaws. This is because honesty is not just based on proximity to the Truth but must also be kind. Without kindness a truth cannot be true. But some wrong opinions refuse to change and all opinions should be heard and understood. Understanding another person’s perspective can tell you a lot about that person and how they react to the world around them. Every thought a person has comes from their affections and it is their thoughts that shape their opinion (Divine Providence 193). By understanding a person’s opinion, you can better understand their thoughts, their goals, and get to know them better as a person.
We all have our own interpretations and there is no good way of knowing if they are correct or not. The best we can do is listen to those around us so that we can coalesce all the ideas into some kind of truth and hope it is near the target.
So that we can avoid metaphysics and not worry about questioning reality, let us, for the sake of argument, agree that the objectively observable world is real and that we can rationally create opinions about it. Now let us agree that there is a creator of this world that gave us the ability to reason and chose. The Lord sees all, knows all, and is everywhere at once. Only He can see a person’s true affections which leads to her thoughts from which she forms her opinions (Divine Providence 197). This means that really, the Lord’s opinion is the only one that counts (Divine Providence 191). His Truth and His doctrine are more valuable than any opinion held by a human being. That is why we should do our best to come as close to His Truth as we can, which is hard when we can only guess at what His opinion is on some matters. By forming doctrine from His word, we can get a sense of the Lord’s opinion but we must use our prudence to make specific judgments. Since it is the Lord’s goal to lead us all to Heaven, we should work together with our different opinions and doctrines to find little bits of His Truth in each other. Only by listening to all sorts of different opinions can a genuine opinion be formed. On our mutual journey toward the Lord’s Truth, we each may find various paths that lead to the same goal.
Was I wrong to tell my teacher that the tacos were amazing? Yes, because I didn’t consider the truth in that claim. Did I lie to my teacher? Yes, but not knowingly. Should he have believed me? No, because his own experience at the dining hall and my obvious hunger should have warned him that my opinion may not have been the best one to listen to. But then, of course, this is all just my opinion.