But on the day before I was to be shipped home my favorite nun, Sister Patrice, pulled a chair up to my bed.
“Andy, I have a story to tell you. Do you know how natives catch monkeys out in the forest?”
My face lit up at the thought of a monkey story.
“No. Tell me.”
“Well, you see, the natives know that a monkey will never let go of something he wants even if it means losing his freedom. So here’s what they do. They take a coconut and make a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey’s paw to slip through. Then they drop a pebble into the hole and wait in the bushes with a net. “Sooner or later a curious old fellow will come along. He’ll pick up that coconut shell and rattle it. He’ll peer inside. And then at last he’ll slip his paw into the hole and feel around until he gets hold of that pebble. But when he tries to bring it out, he finds that he cannot get the paw through the hole without letting go. And, Andy, that monkey will never let go of what he thinks is a prize. It’s the easiest thing in the world to catch a fellow who acts like that.”
Sister Patrice got up and put the chair back by the table. She paused for a moment and looked me straight in the eye.
“Are you holding on to something, Andrew? Something that’s keeping you from your freedom?”
And then she was gone.
Andrew, Brother; John Sherrill; Elizabeth Sherrill (2001-10-01). God's Smuggler (pp. 34-35). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
A common trend lately, whether in debates on politics or moral concerns, are people who are so convinced they are right, that questioning their premises is “proof" of either bad will, by supporting what they define as the opposite position, or ignorance on a subject because you’re “too deluded” to see the truth. The only way to disprove these charges of your being a foe is accepting what they claim as true. They won’t accept the concept that they’re in the wrong.
This seems to be the case with the reaction to Pope Francis. Certain people believe he intends to overturn Church teaching in favor of a more liberal-friendly version. Some of them want it. Others dread it. Either way, they cling to this belief that they’ll find vindication for rejecting authority, refusing to consider the possibility they had it wrong all along. If it happened once or twice, we could understand this kind of mistake. But when it happens every time, and every time it turns out the Pope has no intention of changing Church teaching, then we know the problem is not with the Pope.
Rather than accept that fact, they make all sorts of other explanations justifying their misinterpretations. Defenders of the Pope “explain away” his words. The Pope “speaks unclearly.” “Ambiguous documents” mean people will be able to do what they want. These arguments all depend on them proving their clung-to belief is true, but instead, they insist we just accept their claim as proven. They might even go so far as demanding to be disproven and, after refusing to consider your challenges, claim that nobody could refute them.
But, they’re not the last man standing. They simply refused to show up for the bout.
Another example is slander/libel against Christians for rejecting the ideology of gender and sexuality sweeping America today. People cling to the belief that opposition to morally bad actions is a hatred of people who do those actions. It doesn’t matter how reasoned the argument. They simply will not hear any refutation to the “moral opposition = bigotry” claim. The only way to avoid the charge of bigotry is to agree with them. But they will not prove the allegation that they have to prove—that moral opposition is bigotry.
In both the case of the charges against Pope Francis and the accusation that our opposition to arbitrarily changing morality is bigotry are a case of clinging to a belief that they can’t let go without admitting they were wrong. So they offer elaborate arguments why they’re in the right and their opponents must be malicious or deluded. Then, refusing to consider whether they might be wrong, they construct elaborate views of things that ignore inconvenient facts and treat those who disagree as enemies. In refusing to let go of this idea, they’re trapped into holding increasingly obvious falsehoods that prevents them from finding the truth.
I believe that the common denominator between my examples and other examples in the world is this: The false idea we cling to is “I cannot be wrong!” Until we realize we can err about something, we trap ourselves like the monkey in the story and will wind up captured by error. It’s only when each individual asks the question “Am I wrong?” that we can begin determining the truth and follow it.
In saying this, I say each of us must start by looking at ourselves. Not at others holding beliefs we dislike. If we skip that first step, if we assume we can’t be wrong, then we cling to the pebble like the monkey until we cannot escape. Perhaps we should start by looking at that area where we think “everybody else is an idiot!” Are we factually wrong about the issue? Are we wrong about the mindset of the people we think are idiots? Are we wrong about what they really think?
If we find we are wrong in one of those areas, then we need to let go of the error and seek the truth.