Hook, Line, And Sinker: A Dog Barking For Gullibility

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

Sage advice from my father. No doubt he inherited it, either from his father or from some other Supinger family patriarch. I say “patriarch” because it feels like a masculine sentiment, or at least I’ve experienced it as a criteria bound up with the ideal of masculinity that I learned growing up, namely that gullibility is weakness.

My dad never tired of trying to trick my brother and I into believing things that were not true. He was forever whistling between his teeth while driving to make us look around for an ambulance. When we fell for it, he would laugh and announce that we had swallowed the joke, “Hook, line, and sinker.” He would proceed then with an offer to sell us beachfront property in Arizona. I was a teenager before I got that joke.

If this was his program for inoculating his sons against trust, it worked terribly on my brother. Recklessly embracing the most outrageous assertions of the shadiest of people became his modus operandi at a young age. Rebellion takes many forms.

But it worked pretty well on me. Not that I’m an un-trusting person. I am very trusting of people in general. But I regard claims with suspicion, almost as a rule. I’ve developed what I think is a pretty nuanced mechanism for honoring a person’s motives and character, accounting charitably for the limits of a single perspective or less charitably for cognitive shortcomings, while still holding the claim they’re making at arm’s length.

Working on a sermon for Sunday,  I hear Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have come to believe.”

There’s a philosophical flag to plant about the inevitability of believing things we can’t see and the implausibility of logical positivism. But there’s also a dog barking for gullibility here. One commentator makes the case that Thomas’ failing in John 20 is not so much that he doubted a claim he couldn’t square with his sense experience and worldview, but more that, by stubbornly refusing to believe the testimony of his fellow disciples, he broke communion with them.

I recognize the fear of gullibility I’ve lived with almost my entire life and the many careful machinations I’ve developed to avoid believing something false. Now, though, on this April Fool’s Day, I’m starting to feel an odd stirring of–what, exactly?–curiosity (regret even?) about what that posture has done to relationships.

I think I’m ready to see some beachfront property in Arizona.


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