Are You Entitled to Your Opinion?
Those of us who aren’t doctors show humility in Covid discussions
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I have been told repeatedly that I should “do my own research.” Although, as a professional academic, I am no stranger to research, I find myself faced with a problem. I am not equipped to assess the myriad of information out there on Covid-19, vaccines and the political complexities of the crisis.
I have no medical training, so I am unable to fully understand the medical data pertaining to Covid. I am also aware of how complex the field of statistical analysis is. So, when people send me statistics and graphs, I recognise there are a number of ways of interpreting that information and, again, I do not feel equipped for that task. Then there is the political discussion and the question of whether the government is taking the right course of action. The problem here is that, in order to dissent, particularly in an outspoken way, I would need to be convinced that I had a better strategy for managing the country. I do not feel confident that I do have a better strategy. So, in all these cases it would be a big mistake for me to “do my own research” and form my own opinions. Not only would I waste a lot of time, but I would end up making judgements that I am simply not equipped to make. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is good to learn and gain some knowledge on these matters. But, in the end, I am forced to trust those whose formal responsibility it is to advise me on these matters.
Now, you may, at this point, regard me as something of a simpleton. Perhaps I am, but at least I know what I don’t know. As a Christian, moreover, I believe humility to be one of the most important virtues. So, I feel compelled to hold my opinions, particularly those on matters about which I lack expertise, with due humility. Certainly, if I was going to act against the advice of my doctor or disobey the government, I would need to be extra-confident that I had the capacity to know better. This goes to another level if I were to take it upon myself to accuse those in government of certain conspiratorial motives. These are real people doing their job the best they know-how. Like you and me, they are imperfect, but it is not for us to judge their motives. Even if you are right in your opinion, you do not have a right to judge people.
We are told in the New Testament to obey those in authority (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-25). We would need an extra-ordinary level of assurance that a government action was grossly unjust and blatantly against our faith, to advocate for civil disobedience. This has sometimes been the case in history, but, if we cannot justifiably be sure that this is the case, then we must defer back to civil obedience. I am not, by the way, arguing that the government is necessarily right in everything they are doing. My argument is that, unless you can be validly confident that you know better, you should do what the Bible otherwise tells you to do.
In the current situation, many people are advocating their opinions with a level of conviction that far exceeds what is possible for them in terms of their capacity in such matters.
People often claim that they are “entitled to their opinion.” This may be true in a legal sense, but it is not always true in a Christian-ethical sense. We do not, as I have said, have a right to judge people. We must of course discern between biblical and non-biblical teaching, but we cannot judge intentions. I am also not entitled to propagate ideas that I am ill-equipped to make judgements on. Scripture exhorts us to adopt an attitude of modesty in our convictions that matches both our capacity and responsibility. As Paul says in Romans 12:2: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”
In the current situation, many people are advocating their opinions with a level of conviction that far exceeds what is possible for them in terms of their capacity in such matters. In the same cases, it is invariably also not their role to do this. Notice I am not commenting on whether they are right or wrong in their opinion. My issue is the confidence such people have in their own ability to adjudicate on matters of this complexity and the corresponding prerogative they claim to promote that viewpoint.
Sharing a video or article might seem innocent enough. But if it causes a person to go against the advice of their doctor, you are, ethically speaking, playing a role that is not yours to play. Does the recipient of that video or article have the capacity to judge the argument being presented? Data never speaks for itself. It takes a lot of research training in the relevant field to assess what we might see as bare facts. The only thing that will come from this torrent of unentitled counsel is confusion, fear, discord and possibly great harm.
There is, however, a particularly important reason why we, as Christians, should show humility in our personal opinions. It is because we are called to be heralds of the good news about Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I don’t simply hold an opinion about Jesus. I am a first-hand witness to the presence and power of Christ who indwells me by his Spirit. I have a more immediate connection with God therefore than I do with anything in the world. This is what separates our Christian gospel ‘witness’ from our opinions. I don’t just have an opinion about Christ, I have a first-hand testimony. It is this testimony to Christ that we are called to represent openly and boldly. If, however, we are outspoken on matters about which we are relatively ignorant, we will not only lose our credibility but our witness to Christ will get lost in a tangle of controversy. So, be humble and guarded with your opinions but bold and open with your testimony.
Matthew Jacoby is the senior pastor of OneHope Baptist church in Geelong Victoria. He is also lecturer in philosophy at the Melbourne School of Theology.