You did OK, Tom

Most people are familiar with the Biblical story about “Doubting Thomas.” He’s the apostle who wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he saw Him and touched His wounds. It’s tempting to say: “Shame on you, Tom! How dare you doubt the miracle upon which our faith is founded??!!” But the point of the story isn’t to disparage Tom. The point is that Tom went right to the source. He took his doubts right to the person about whom he had doubts. He faced the doubts, worked through them. He got to the facts of the matter, the truth, and he believed.

In a recent column I mis-identified the source of the quote: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” My friend, former boss, mentor, and welcome critic, Denny Bonavita, correctly re-attributed the quote from William Buckley to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Buckley founded the National Review and other conservative platforms. Moynihan was a U.S. Senator, a Democrat, from New York, who worked with both Republican and Democrat administrations.

Buckley DID say: “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.” Moynihan said: “The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it’s so rare.” Ouch and ouch.

This brings me to a recent column by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald. He writes great, though-provoking columns. He was trying to fathom why people with a certain belief or opinion will cling to it in the face of “corrective fact.” He noted that he isn’t surprised by ignorance, but is surprised that it can be impervious to truth.

An axiom I learned from an artist I photographed and interviewed many years ago was that there is no shame in ignorance; the shame is in not wanting to learn.

So, Mr. Pitts, with all due respect, I’ll share my opinion. You can dismiss it as only that, an opinion, or maybe you can learn something from it.

Mr. Pitts does use the word “doubt” in his column and therein lies the crux of our dilemma. We are all doubters because the politicians lie to us incessantly. And it’s not only politicians. Companies make false claims about their products all the time. “Spin doctors” can craft a study with data that will support any position they need supported. Did I mention that politicians lie a lot?

So, who are we to believe? Who has the facts? Who knows….

So, what Mt. Pitts construes as ingrained, intransigent ignorance (channeling Moynihan and Buckley again) may just be our miserable existence in a world of doubt.

If we hear something we like, “confirmation bias” sets in. That means we tend to believe the sources that match our opinions. We seek out more and more affirmation and we can always find it. Seems to me we’re attached to our opinions, right or wrong, because we’re more comfortable with them than with the “facts” that are so often proven to be inaccurate.

If the fact is that we can’t believe anyone, if all we have is doubt, aren’t we stuck trusting our instincts, gut feelings, and beliefs, and our own “experts” in whatever area is being considered?

So, like Thomas, we’re doubting all the time. But what we have, Mr. Pitts, isn’t ignorance, it’s that there’s no one we can go to dispel the doubt.

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