I just finished a book recommended to me by my son called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Son gave it to me for two reasons: 1) He liked it; and 2) He knows I like the challenge of examining my own position on things and examining my beliefs.
I am just wondering: Am I unusual in this preference? Or are most of you out there like this?
I ask because I have friends who distinctly do not like—even avoid—having their cherished beliefs challenged. I actually relish it. And I think it sometimes makes me look like a troublemaker.
You need to know this about me:
Just because I voice a proposition does not necessarily mean I subscribe to it. If you ask me, I’ll tell you whether I am mulling over something that I’m just exploring or if I’m laying something on the table that I believe is a truth (getting rarer all the time, I’ll say, having learned in my old age that there are far fewer absolutes than I once thought).
I just forget to distinguish that sometimes. Combine that with my love of discussion, and I think I come across as a heretic or a loony bin candidate when folks don’t know this about me. When their voices start to rise in answer to me and their eyebrows knit together in consternation (and, sometimes, anger), I realize that I have failed to put out a disclaimer and I am quick to explain that I’m just wondering…
Sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes folks find the simple act of questioning offensive. And that is something that escapes me altogether. Is it fear? If one’s beliefs don’t hold up to examination, then what does that mean? For me, it’s not a good sign. Doesn’t “truth” hold up to investigation? If it doesn’t, don’t you want to know?
I go to a fairly flexible (don’t necessarily read “liberal” into this) church. And still there I get into trouble. I’ll never forget the Sunday School class where the person leading the discussion of Cain and Able referred to these as “Adam’s and Eve’s first children.” Of course, my hand shot up.
“How do you know they were the first children?” I asked, sincerely examining the passages about them. “It doesn’t say that here—am I missing it? For all we know from this passage, Adam and Eve had 54 children before Cain and Abel…”
Am I nitpicking? Probably. It wasn’t rabblerousing, I promise. I don’t really care if Cain and Abel were the first, I just did not think we know that for sure and I was curious. It was an honest “have-I-missed-something-here?” question. But the effect was somewhat the same as if I had meant to stir up trouble.
Some in the class had “always” been taught that Cain and Abel were the first and, therefore, they were discombobulated at the thought that their “always” teaching might be askew.
To me, the class members’ reaction to challenge of this detail was far and away more interesting than whether Cain and Abel were the first sons…
I love examination of ideas—yours and mine. I love it when someone disagrees with me, intelligently, and is willing to talk about it. I have learned so much this way.
And when someone shows me something that changes my mind, I have an inward-gasp-“Aha!” kind of reaction that is really akin to wonder.
So, being the kind of mental gymnast that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed Ishmael. It dovetails nicely with the Cain and Abel story I just told on myself as it considers the story of the Garden of Eden and the trouble these two sons of Adam and Eve got into, right off the bat in the story of our beginning as we are given it.
Ishmael will make you consider that story in new light. It will make you think of our society and some of our cherished beliefs about what is “good” and what is “evil” and who is wise enough to know the difference.
Most of all, it will make you think about whether you ought to be doing something different. Really, however folks land on the specific topic of Quinn’s books, I long for as many people as possible to read this book and consider the questions it raises. They are important questions that need to be considered by all responsible members of our society.
I’m not sure where I stand on all of what Quinn has to say in this book, but I surely am thinking a lot about it, and I will be moving on to the next of his books, The Story of B. I am so looking forward to it.
So, if your brain and your beliefs need a little post-Thanksgiving-laziness walkabout just for the mental exercise, consider Ishmael and let me know what you think. C