The Tyranny of Being Right

One of the earliest “distinction drawings” I learned after becoming conscious was that the world was divided into two categories—“saved” and “unsaved.”  And from that font of binary thinking I learned there were Baptists and then there were other religious denominations who did not understand the Bible “right.”  And even worse, there were the “Mary-worshipping” Catholics and also the Jews who weren’t even Christian!  And even within Baptist ranks, there were my particular brand of Baptist (Landmark Missionary Baptists) and then those “liberal” Southern Baptists from which we Landmarkers had split off from in the late 19th century.  And even within Landmark churches there would often arise doctrinal squabbles which would lead to a split and the start of another church.  Note that the phenomena of needing to draw distinctions was a fundamental premise.  And in my denomination, there was even the phenomena of the Bride of Christ which was an honorary place in heaven for Christians who had belonged to the church which most closely adhered to the gospel and could trace their historical roots back to Christ.  Yes, I was honored to learn that this was my church.  Yes, even in heaven there would be distinctions drawn.  Gawd it was comforting to know that I was so special.

And please note that this “distinction drawing” was not the exclusive domain of Christianity or even fundamentalist Christianity.  It is merely part of being human and is toxic only when we never mature enough to make the need of drawing distinctions less important than finding common ground.  It has always been present in human history and will always be present as it is inherent in cognition itself.  BUT, it is possible…I am finding…to be a thinking human being and realize that some of the distinctions I have drawn with such rigidity in my life are not quite as black and white as I had been taught.  But for those who are stuck in what Richard Rohr calls “binary thinking” cannot help but obsessively seek for distinctions which leave them separate from others and thus “right.”

One result of this emphasis on my early life was the need to be right.  I quickly learned that there was “right” and “wrong” and learned that “right” consisted of basically adhering to the rules that constituted “right.”  I now realize that existentially, in the bowels of my young heart, I had perceived myself to be intrinsically bad but that I could be “good” and be “right” if I followed the rules, if I would be a “good little boy.”  This put me on the path of being a very good hypocrite, for the word hypocrite merely means “to act.”  I am not denigrating myself in the least with this point.  I was only a child and had learned how to find validation and that was in “acting” right and I did so with utmost sincerity.  Richard Rohr has pointed out that most of us spend the first half of our life as an actor in all respects and only then begin to wrestle with the under-lying dimension of life which always involves opening Pandora’s box in some way.  But it is hard to impossible for a guilt-ridden Christian to admit they have been “acting” for doing so would be to acknowledge and embrace the feelings of “wrongness” which have always tyrannized them into outward compliance with rules.  They would have to realize they have been living in bondage to “the law” albeit a “Christian” version of bondage.  They have been socialized or enculturated into their faith…which is a necessary stage of faith…but at some point it is important to acknowledge the “act” they have been putting on and allow the “Spirit of the Law” to begin to flow.  James Alison, who will share the stage with Richard Rohr in a couple of weeks, has written a book entitled “The Joy of Being Wrong,” describing the release he found when he no longer had to be constantly trying to be “right.”  And of course, in the need to “be right” I constructed various constructs in life in which I could be “right” and “they” would be wrong.  Oh, how comforting it was.  And how hypocritical.


4 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Being Right

  1. Bonnie Roberts

    The joy of being wrong …..a whole new concept..I like the idea..would like to read more.





  2. Monte Zerger

    This is very good and written in such an engaging and colorful manner. I thought it was so good that I read the whole thing to Susan. Her comment was “That’s very good.” Susan hands out compliments sparingly.

    Your post caused me to think of distinction drawing on a personal level, as well as a collective level. I see how in my life I have sought to separate myself from the crowd, to be “special” in some way. Susan, with her acute vision, spotted that very early in our relationship. That quest to be special brought me accolades but did nothing to authentically elevate my sense of self-worth. That has to come from a much deeper level and had little to do with accomplishment.



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