Question everything. Believe nothing, least of all the stories you tell yourself. Your certainty scorches the thin layer of ice under your feet…your only protection from the boiling cauldron of misjudgment beneath you.

~ John Swinburn ~

Roughly three and one half years ago, with those words, I proclaimed the dangers of certainty.  Yet even in light of that proclamation, too often I stand on the icy edge of an active volcano’s caldera, behaving as if the risk of being swept into the bubbling magma is worth the thrill of invincible faith. Like both fire and ice, certainty is dangerous. Certainty forms an impenetrable seal around the mind, preventing doubt from entering. In the absence of doubt, one ignores challenges to his perspectives. He dismisses possibilities that threaten to undermine his convictions—convictions woven from threads so delicate a sideways glance could shatter them into a million pieces. Infallible knowledge—which constitutes the way in which we view certainty—is far more dangerous than doubt. Doubt, in fact, tethers us to multiple, often conflicting, possibilities. Possibilities that can keep us from falling headlong into the abyss. I am wary of certainty in other people; even more wary when it takes hold in myself.


The problem with arguments against certainty, of course, is that nothing is assured. Absent certainty, we cannot trust anyone else. But it goes even deeper…we cannot trust ourselves. Without certainty, we must question everything—we cannot be sure of others’ motives, nor can we be sure of our own emotions, no matter how intense. Doubt can serve as armor against all sorts of ordnance, but it also can serve as an almost impervious wall.  A continuum between certainty and doubt must exist; we must move back and forth along its contradictory length, choosing the proper perspectives for every set of circumstances. Bouncing between certainty and doubt can drive a person mad, but failing to do so cements the insanity in perpetuity.


I do not hate vegans, nor vegetarians, nor flexitarians nor pescatarians. But some of them hate me—perhaps not me, personally, but people who behave as I do—because I live outside the tiny sphere of behaviors they find acceptable. I find it odd that we tend to choose limited characteristics or attributes or behaviors as the triggers for our loathing. Nutrition (or food preferences). Religion. Political philosophy. A person can find dozens, maybe hundreds, of other reasons to hate or, at least, dislike people who do not share our worldview. Or, if not our entire worldview, the view from a tiny window. Oddly enough, some of these detesters express great appreciation for diversity—but only when that diversity coincides with their own worldview. I wonder whether a cattle rancher who loathes vegans would be as adamant if the vegans he loathes were not so condemnatory of the way he earns his living?


As usual, the morning has zipped by with astonishing speed. It’s now about 7:30 and I need to rush to shower, shave, and get dressed for an Insight service at church. Though I would rather stay home and loll about in my casual morning clothes, I suspect I will be glad I made the effort to go to church, once I have done the deed. At least I hope so.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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