Perspective. How you see and understand what you see. What facts you allow for and what facts you conveniently ignore or disregard. Everyone has their own perspective. Everyone.
Even in a cultish situation where a charismatic leader attempts to make the thoughts of the group uniform, there still exists an essence of individuality in each member even if their actions have been homogenized.
So in any organization – work, politics, religion, family, whatever – each individual ultimately makes up their own mind regardless of what is dictated to them as the “official viewpoint”. That’s not only our individual right… it’s also our individual responsibility.
Let’s take an example from religion. Many faith communities have a printed statement of what they believe, and leaders who teach accordingly (or usually are asked to leave). Those being taught – whether or not they actually agree deep inside – tend to go along with it all for the sake of unity and harmony. But when one’s actual beliefs conflict too much with the official viewpoint, such dissenters must make difficult decisions.
One technique used to bring dissenters into conformity with the official viewpoint is threat – the threat of being outcast, excluded, shamed, and ridiculed. This is often enough to reign in dissenters. It’s manipulative.
Another technique is to appeal to a higher authority as proof that the teacher is right and the dissenter is patently wrong, ill-informed, and requires additional education, more faith, or is covering up dark secrets. Again, this is clearly a manipulative way to constrain and conform behavior.
When all else fails, the higher authority approach plays the trump card of divinity – that “God Himself said it” and any dissent is an argument with God, not with the teacher. Phrases from a sacred book are quoted as the very voice of God and the dissenter is presented with the manipulative devices of fear and more threats.
When the dissenter questions the validity of the sacred book (or at least of the teacher’s understanding of the sacred book)… that’s when all hell breaks loose. Because at that point the teacher and the techniques the teacher uses have been exposed. The teacher has lost control of the dissenter and will either desperately try to reign in the dissenter with strong threats, force, arguments filled with logical fallacies… or the teacher will strongly condemn the dissenter, often with presumptuous accusations, derogatory labels, and insults.
Everyone makes up their own mind. Everyone. Nobody in any faith community, place of employment, political party, etc. thinks exactly the same way. Everyone ultimately believes what makes sense to them, what resonates deeply within them. There is a kind of knowing that is deeper than a logical construct. Manipulative teachers hate that kind of knowing because they cannot control it. And, in truth, neither can the dissenter – this heart knowledge is something that can’t be reasoned away or reasoned into – it just is. You might call it that person’s “individual, personal truth”. It’s not created, it simply exists. Dissenters just happen to listen to it.
I know for a fact that actual human beings (and primarily if not entirely males) penned the collection of writings known as the Bible. The more I read and process it, the more I see the beautiful, messy humanity in it. The more I see the evolving perspectives of people grasping at the divine in their times and places, informed by their cultural stories. I see some paint harsh, angry pictures of a Creator, while others declare the Creator’s love, mercy, compassion, and understanding of our human frailty.
Some teachers take a passing poetic statement about the scriptures being inspired (literally “God-breathed”) and latch onto it as their power tool of divine authority. They assume that inspired means certain things that work in their favor as they attempt to control dissenters with their higher authority. They will forcefully teach that this inspiration implies a kind of divine perfection without error, and that the teacher is the one that has the correct understanding of what God meant. WOW! What a power play!
There is another time earlier in the scriptures where God is said to have breathed… into dust… and a man came alive for the first time. And this man was far from perfect… he made bad choices and tried to cover it up. Whether this story is legend or not, we can at least see that God’s breath doesn’t imply perfection… though it might imply life.
But we also have to consider that inspiration – “God breathing” – is something that Greek mythology was talking about regarding The Muse long before Paul wrote his letter to Timothy and used that term in passing as he was actually telling Timothy that reading the scriptures are profitable for many reasons (he lists four). Paul’s point wasn’t inspiration, it was that there’s a lot we can learn by reading the scriptures. And there is.. when we read them for what they actually are and not what some teacher manipulatively wants to cast them as.
Maybe this discussion resonates deeply within you. Maybe you (like me) have been emotionally abused by controlling individuals who wanted to silence your heart and overrule your mind for their purposes. Maybe you (like me) have been one of those controlling, manipulative people. Maybe you still are.
If so, I’d suggest it’s time to start listening to your heart, to that inner voice that you can’t really turn off and never really turned on in the first place. Be honest with what really resonates within you. Be honest with what aggravates or repulses you deep within. May you refuse to let controllers control you. May you refuse to let manipulators manipulate you. May you learn to own your own, unique perspective and never apologize for it.