07 March, 2010

The Sacred Perspective

Last night Dana and I watched the 2007 clip of Tom Cruise browbeating Matt Lauer on the evils of antidepressants. Dana was blown away by the odd way Cruise sounded. She couldn't put her finger on it, but she really didn't think he sounded right.

Mr. Cruise was conned.

He bought into a very simple con job. He's a good guy (barring a normal dose of sin and a superstar level of narcissism) who really wants to make the world a better place. He cares deeply about things, and L Ron Hubbard's folk told him a shortcut to helping the whole world. On the subject of antidepressants, for example, they told him something like, "You could dedicate a lifetime of study to pharmaceuticals, or you can study what we've already learned about them. You can sift through hundreds of experts' opinions, and spend years trying to figure out which of these experts has sold out to big pharma, and eventually you'll work your way down to the results we've already compiled. Or you can study our results and start helping the world TODAY."

It's a shortcut, and it's an appealling one.

I've been there and done that.

Gene Edwards once told me I was the foremost expert in the world on church history. I'd very much imagine he's since rescinded that opinion (forcefully) but he appeared to say it in complete sincerity. And when he said it, I believed it might be true.

They say you can't sucker an honest man. They're right. Gene offered me a too-good-to-be-true deal, and I bought into it because of my inner dishonesty. He'd written a handful of books and gave us personal talks touting his incredible insights into a grabbag of subjects: family, church, Trinity, missions, child-rearing, psychology, emotional development. One of his core subjects was church history. I could either study hundreds of books written by hundreds of authors on the subject of church history and do the hard work of weeding out all their conflicting errors, or (for the amazing low price of a few of Gene's books!) I could have the world's most complete view of church history.

I placed my confidence in Gene the same way any mark hands his savings over to a huckster. I went all-in, as they say in poker, with a pair of deuces. (For non-poker readers, I gambled everything I owned on the weakest possible pair.)

One day, I took all my cheap brilliance to an Internet News Group dedicated to church history, and floated a couple leading questions their way. I remember asking what they thought the literacy rate was in first century Europe. Those historians answered me in ways I'd never imagined. I learned more about literacy from that one question than I'd learned in all my studies of Gene's work. Those men and women knew their history deeply and widely and verifiably. Gene's pitch was rich in promises and conclusions, but devoid of peer-reviewed data. I walked away from that news group knowing I'd been rolled, and the diploma Gene had spoken to me wasn't worth the air it had briefly disturbed. It was a sick, unsettling feeling, but I owned my loss and started the process of reevaluating my "investment."

What happened to me, and what I'm sure happened to Mr. Cruise, is that instead of learning a single subject from many perspectives, I learned every subject from Gene's sacred perspective. Instead of the humility that comes with learning to respect experts in their fields, I thought I could quickly rise above all the experts in every field because I had the magic feather of Gene's divine insight.

Beware the expert with divine insight into everything, and run in terror from the man who needs your trust. When a man needs your confidence, look closely to what he's offering. All too often that free lunch costs your life savings.