When you walk into an empty room, you can hear everything. Your footsteps are frightfully loud, your breathing sounds heavy in your ears, so you sit, and while you rest, you think. Some of your ideas sound good, so you say them out loud. You listen to your own voice encircling you with your own ideas, and the more you hear it, the better it sounds. You invite others of similar minds to come to your empty room to listen. They love your ideas, and they begin to share their own. They’re brilliant! They have all the same thoughts and reasoning as you, so you all sit there and enjoy listening yourselves talk. Then, one fateful day, a stranger comes into your midst, listens to your ideas, and dares to point out the glaring flaws. Even worse, they dare to share their own ideas, which are vastly different than yours. Enraged, you chase the intruder out, screaming to keep from hearing their arguments. The abomination safely banished from your room, you go back to sharing your identical ideas, ignoring that flaw the stranger pointed out. You have to ignore it, because if you look too long at it, you’ll be unable to deny that your entire argument is wrong.
So many people live in echo chambers like this because the very idea of being wrong is abhorrent to the average human. Yet every human being is wrong about something, whether it be the age of the Earth, or the surface temperature of the sun. And rather than face their glaring errors, the majority of people would rather shame, mock, and decry whomever had the gall to say they were wrong. And abusing anyone like that is incredibly wrong. You don’t have to like being wrong, but when you are wrong, you need to accept it.
I grew up in an echo chamber church. The pastor would tell the assembly to think for themselves, but if anyone disagreed with him, they were wrong, and he would call them out and mock them. I remember the pastor pulling young men up to the platform, teasing their dress and mannerisms. When he found one brace enough to serve in the church leading music, he would frequently stop the singing and make the young man “do it right.” It would take ten to fifteen minutes for the pastor to be satisfied with the young man’s behavior, and the congregation would continue their worship. When a visitor dared to stand and speak out against this behavior, the pastor quoted a perversion of I Timothy 2:12 and ridiculed her and her friend right out of the church. I don’t remember anyone condemning how the pastor treated that woman, but I do remember several members shaking their heads at the audacity of a woman questioning the pastor. I hadn’t liked how the pastor had been publicly humiliating that man, but all of my peers and elders were condemning the woman, so I stayed quiet.
Silence was my specialty. It’s how I stayed under the radar and avoided the men and women who wanted to turn you into a member of their personal echo chamber. The only time I can remember dissenting is when it came to the pastor’s beliefs about the movie theaters.
My pastor was of that generation that equated movie theaters with pool halls, and both were evil. If someone saw you, a “good Christian,” going into a theater, they would have no clue what kind of wicked movie you would be seeing. And the vile, “pornographic” posters lining the wall were the worst! I thought this thinking was ridiculous. Most worldly people didn’t think twice about the “wickedness” of the movie theater, and even if they cared, anyone that knew you could figure out which movie you were going to. As for the posters, they were pretty tame when compared to the Victoria Secret posters hanging out in the mall for all to see. If you were going to outlaw movie theaters, it only made sense to outlaw the entire mall, and good luck with that! Since no one ever spoke up, I thought my family were the only ones who had the sense to see the ridiculousness of that belief. I finally broke my silence when one of my friends bragged that his family got pirated copies of the movies still in theaters. This way, they could still see the movies with everyone else, and not commit the horrible sin of going to the movies. It galled me to learn that a fellow Christian would break the law—commit and participate in a felony rather than just go to the movies. The theater is evil? Fine. Then wait for the movies to be released. Don’t break the law! We got into a heated argument that only ended when my sister pulled me away and told me not to bother.
Though I didn’t subscribe to the entire echo chamber of my childhood church, there was one area that had me completely brainwashed. Deuteronomy 22:5 says that a woman shouldn’t wear men’s clothes, and I was raised to believe that pants are men’s clothes. For others in my church, this was the part where they rebelled, and though no woman dared to wear pants on church grounds, everyone knew who wore pants in “secular” company.
I grew up wearing skirts and dresses. They didn’t inhibit me at all, and I felt quite comfortable in them. However, if the occasion absolutely called for it, I would wear culottes, a weird style of capris that were never comfortable but were, for some reason unknown to me, considered modest. I knew that wearing pants wasn’t a mortal sin, but I believed that wearing skirts was a mark of holiness. I had many girl friends, in church and out, who wore pants. If they weren’t members of my church, I dismissed their “immodesty” as the ignorance of the unsaved. If they were members of my church, I silently judged them. I wasn’t verbal about my self-righteousness until college.
Like a good little fundamental Baptist, I went to a Christian college that had strict dress codes. Everyone dressed like me all the time—only, they didn’t. I soon found out that all of these other “good Christian girls” wore pants when they were at home! I not only judged, I got preachy, and then I got a chance to get on my soapbox. One of my writing classes had an argumentative essay assignment, where I got to pick a controversial subject and persuade people to side with me. When I announced my topic, my teacher warned me that I would be facing a lot of opposition, so I had better make sure that I had a solid argument. Honestly, I was so convinced that I was right that I didn’t put much work into that paper. When I presented my argument to the class, my peers tore my argument to shreds. To add insult to injury, I received the lowest grade I had ever gotten on a paper: D+. Humbled and confused, I sat back down to figure out where I went wrong.
Through the rest of my college years, I listened to my friends’ opinions on the pants versus skirts debate. I met two boys who believed that women should wear skirts, but the other men I talked to about it didn’t really care either way. It was always the women that cared. A lot of girls I talked to seemed offended if I suggested wearing skirts, and most didn’t have anything more than personal preference to back up their opinions. Then there were those who had solid reasons for wearing pants, such as doing yard work, going for runs, and keeping their legs warm in the winter. Though personally I had no problem doing any of that in a skirt, I could at least understand that some people would have an easier time maneuvering in pants. It wasn’t until after college that I started gaining more intellectual insight. This came from my sister, who had been discussing the subject with her husband. She pointed out how clothing styles vary from country to country, such as kilts, kimonos, and hijabs. She also pointed out how clothing styles vary from decade to decade, and I compared what I considered to be modest to what would be considered modest back in the days of Jesus, and even further back, Moses. Then I actually looked at my friends who wore pants. There were true Christians among them, who walked closer with the LORD than I could claim. I had been imposing my American culture on the Bible, and that is very, very wrong. I was very, very wrong.
With this new understanding, you’d think I’d be wearing pants now. I don’t. I still wear skirts, but not out of any “I’m holier than thou” attitude, but because I like them. I love the feel of yards of fabric swirling around my ankles, and I love how a full skirt looks on me. I also love how skirts allow for bigger pockets. (The skirts I wear are homemade, and I make sure to put in pockets large enough to hold my 24 oz. water bottle.) It’s nothing spiritual, just preference, and I smile with relief whenever my friends tell me that they don’t feel judged by me.
Echo chambers are incredibly dangerous. Listening to only one side of the story will only stunt your growth and make you ignorant. If you surround yourself only with people who echo your own beliefs, not only will you brainwash yourself, you will also be unprepared to defend your beliefs when someone finally comes along to challenge you. You need to know why you believe what you believe, and why your opponent believes what they believe. Do you believe in evolution? Learn about creation, not to criticize, but to understand. If you want stricter gun laws, study the laws already in place, and try to figure out how new laws will change life. If you’re pro-choice, study the reasonings of the pro-lifer. But whatever you do, don’t look at the people who believe in either side. People will always give you a reason to rebel. Look at the argument alone and, no matter what side you’re on, try to understand.
Get out of the echo chamber.