Everyday Ethics: Opinions, Knowledge and Wisdom
There are three basic ways to express your thoughts on anything: opinions, knowledge, and wisdom.
Opinions are your personal thoughts on any topic, from politics to sports. They may or may not be based on fact and may change over time, although some opinions remain stuck and do not change even when new evidence suggests they should.
I realize that sometimes there are so many conflicting opinions that it is difficult to decide which is the right one. The only way I know to do this is to look for facts or evidence supporting one of the opinions, the scientific method in other words. Opinions are meant to be updated or even deleted over time. The like-minded person in their lifetime either stumbled upon a great universal truth or failed to grow at all.
Knowledge is based not only on your thoughts but on those of others. In other words, it is usually the accumulated and reliable understanding of many others. Knowledge changes over time, but not as quickly as opinion
Wisdom is about how best to live, whether as individuals or as societies, based on the personal and collective experiences of many trusted resources. Wisdom takes a long time to develop and some basic truths, like loving your fellow man, may not change at all.
I usually write about things I think I know based on facts and interpretations of those facts, knowing that my knowledge is open to new understandings. In other words, I recognize that over time, knowledge changes. I also try to write about wisdom – the knowledge I have gained from life or from the great teachers of the world.
But when I offer opinions on any topic, I try to do so with an understanding of my own limitations. I do not know much. Indeed, in comparison with the vast reservoir of knowledge around the world, I really know very little. One of the world’s greatest scientists, Isaac Newton, said it well: “What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.”
Readers of this column have asked my opinion on various topics, and one question in particular caught my attention: is it a Christian nation? The question probably arose when U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Florida asserted that we were under the broader rubric of Christian nationalism.
Let me answer the question with my opinion, any knowledge to support my opinion, and the wisdom based on that knowledge.
One can act according to Christian beliefs and values, no matter where one works. In fact, I would say that if one takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously, acting out of love for God and one’s neighbor should be encouraged. But my opinion is that even if you can stand and act according to Christian principles, you should not demand that everyone else do the same. Therefore, we are not a homogeneous Christian nation but a nation with diverse religious views.
I base my opinion on the fact that when the founders of the Constitution shaped our nation, they clearly advocated a separation of church and state, many themselves having fled a country where state and Church were one and those who were not part of it were sometimes persecuted.
Of course, not all of the founders were mainstream Christians, some like Thomas Jefferson were deists who believed that God, like a great clockmaker, created the universe and then left it to run on its own. Ben Franklin warned against the domination of a religion over a country: “When a religion is good, I conceive that it will suffice unto itself; and when she does not support herself, and God does not care to support her so that her teachers will have to call for help from the civil power, it is a sign, I fear, that she is bad.
Pennsylvania was founded on the concept of religious tolerance, a commonwealth of religious and ethnic diversity that because of this diversity, as I wrote in one of my books, Pennsylvanians adopted a “code to go one little. give a little, live and let live.
In a nation with many religious traditions and some claiming none, wisdom teaches that tolerance of difference is crucial to national health. Imposing a religion on everyone would only lead to resistance and possible civil unrest, and that’s the main reason why some of the earliest settlers to our shores came here in the first place.
John Morgan is a columnist who writes about personal and social ethical issues. His column appears weekly on readingeagle.com