My first day in seminary, a guy who looked like he’d just moved to Princeton from a commune sat down next to me in the cafeteria. He was wearing the prototypical tie-dyed T-shirt, Birkenstock sandals, long scruffy beard, and a necklace full of beads and arrowheads.
After introducing himself and making small talk, he began peppering me with theological questions. I think he could tell I was one of the token evangelical students on campus and somehow felt inclined to liberate me from a narrow-minded view of Christianity. After asking what I thought happens to people of other religions when they die, he cut me off before I could answer.
“Dude,” he said. “Like, here’s the deal, man. Me and a friend of mine, we were at a Grateful Dead concert and, like, tripping on acid. In the middle of the concert, something happened that totally freaked me out, man. My friend was tripping and had this vision where God appeared to him as a man, with a moustache, blue jeans, and cowboy boots.
He told me about it and I was like, ‘Whoa, dude, no way.’ I told him that I had a vision of God too, except in my vision God appeared as a woman with long blond hair, a voluptuous figure, and wearing high heels. When I told him that, we just kind of stood there and freaked out because we both knew that God was trying to tell us it didn’t matter what religion we belonged to, as long as we believed in God. Dude, that concert changed my life.”
After a long, awkward pause, I got up and said, “Well, all righty then, dude, I’ll be seeing you later!”
I never talked to him again. I literally never had a conversation with him again. Not because of the way he dressed, or his nutty theology, or the way he challenged my belief system. I avoided him because of his aggression toward me, the way he seemed to single me out and pursue me. He may have been the greatest guy in the world, or the creepiest. All I know is that I wasn’t interested in finding out, simply because I didn’t trust him. It’s hard to trust people again after you’ve been hurt.
I think it’s important to recognize that pessimism is simply a natural result of getting our souls trampled on by somebody with skin on them. We didn’t get this way because we have deficient character or missed some important aspect of moral development in our early childhood years.
Pessimism, for most people, is something that arrives on the coattails of pain. Mistrust is a learned response. The reason we have trouble trusting people is that people have broken our trust. If we had never been hurt by anyone, we would not have a problem with trust; it’s that simple.
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