I was in my freshman year of university, sitting in an entry level sociology course. My professor was a tiny Hobbit of a man, with a mop of white hair which stuck out in every possible direction. He would stumble into class and challenge us from his first breath and it was thrilling. I went to university to be challenged and this professor successfully accomplished that.
The clearest memory and example of this, one that has stuck with me to this day is as follows.
Professor Baggins (not his real name) was addressing the class about how there tends to be a correlation between education level and political liberalism. Up until this point in my life I had considered myself a conservative and a republican. The thing is, however, I had no idea what that meant. All I knew was that my mom was conservative as were the majority of the members of my religion so I must be too, right? I had never once bothered to learn anything about politics really, nor had I formed my own educated opinions.
Professor Baggins then asked everyone who listened to NPR to raise their hands. I had been raised on NPR thanks to my father and continued to listen to it once I was on my own. It was more tradition at that point in my life than anything, remember that I hadn’t learned for myself what I believed or where I really stood on the political spectrum. I raised my hand along with a pathetically low number of others. Professor Baggins then said, “AH-HA! Now we know who the liberals in this class are!” I let out a verbal “….no??” I was shocked that he would suggest that I was a liberal. However, it also awakened in me a curiosity. Was I liberal? What did I really think? I didn’t even know!
So, I set out to find out. I began reading anything I could about politics and the parties. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wasn’t even close to a conservative. (This isn’t saying that conservatives are “wrong”, a lot of my favorite humans subscribe to conservative ideals, I just don’t.) I was a liberal and I didn’t even realize it.
Since then I have challenged what I believed politically, socially, religiously, and so on over and over again. I have learned not to blindly accept anything but to tear it apart to see what I truly believed. I refuse to accept being spoon fed.
Critical thinking is so important and yet I find it to be rare sometimes. Just a few days ago I found myself in passionate debate with two young Mormon missionaries here in Ireland. They are both American, very kind boys. I mentioned that I had just read that the Mormon church had chosen to remain affiliated with the Boy Scouts. One of them expressed disappointment. I then ask him why he wanted the Church to cut ties with BSA. He said BSA was pulling away from “God’s law”. I pressed him to clarify and it became clear he was referring to BSA allowing gay leaders.
Now, I am a fairly understanding and patient person most of the time but this struck a nerve. I asked the Elder how allowing gay leaders was against God’s law when we have numerous examples of Jesus reaching out to social outcasts, sinners, the rejected, and the unpopular. He couldn’t answer me. He had no rebuttal. I asked him if he had ever stopped to critically think about this issue. Again, no real answer. I then explained my stance. He stared back at me in silence for a moment and then said, “that makes sense.”
Now, I’m not saying this young man or anyone else for that matter must think like me. Far from it, I am firmly supportive of everyone having differing beliefs and ideals. However, these ideals must be fully thought through and not just accepted because someone else said so. As long as your beliefs don’t harm someone else or strive to lessen the humanity of another and have been clearing and independently conceived, I am for it.
I am grateful for Professor Baggins calling me out as a unintentionally closested liberal. Having him challenge my beliefs helped me discover what they really are, what I truly believe. As long as civil discourse and critical independent thinking exists, I have hope for the future of this world.