October 28, 2004

by Joe Sobran

     I just got a message from a friend who nearly always 
disagrees with me. His disagreement usually takes the 
form of an irritable accusation: to wit, that I can't 
really mean what I say.

     I know how he feels. It's irrational, but we all 
tend to get angry when others disagree with us. That's 
because we are so right that nobody in his right mind 
could honestly deny it, isn't it?

     Accepting disagreement as sincere is one of the 
severe tests of maturity. I always think of George 
Orwell, one of my literary heroes, who recognized in 
himself "a rare capacity for facing unpleasant facts." 
One of these facts is that other people are as sure of 
their convictions as you are of yours, and they are as 
sure of your dishonesty as you are of theirs.

     It took me a long time to face this. It was so 
tempting to believe that deep down, my opponents agreed 
with me but perversely refused to admit it. Finally it 
sank in: They meant what they said just as much as I did. 
I had to face the test of truth just as much as I wanted 
them to. If I was right, I must be prepared to 
demonstrate it to unbiased people (if I could find any).

     A silly old adage has it that you should never argue 
about politics and religion. But as G.K. Chesterton 
retorted, politics and religion are the only subjects 
=worth= arguing about. If only we could all do it as 
cheerfully and as charitably as Chesterton does!

     I certainly can't. But I've trained myself, at long 
last, to suppress my annoyance at disagreement, and even 
to take a friendly interest in it. The other fellow must 
have some reason for thinking as he does. As William 
Blake says, "Everything that is possible to be believed 
is an image of truth."

     When it comes to the hot topics of religion and 
politics, it's true, most people believe what they want 
to believe. Their "beliefs" really flow from wishful 
thinking, not reason. And in a way they admit this when 
they assume that my beliefs must also flow from mere 
wishes. They assume that all of us believe what we want 
to believe, just as they do.

     I can say that this isn't true in my case, because, 
like Orwell, I've steeled myself to face those unpleasant 
facts. I now believe many things I'd much rather not 
believe. I've also had to give up beliefs I once 
cherished, at some cost in comfort, recognition, and dear 
friendships. Not to mention money.

     For example, I was sitting pretty when I was a 
mainstream conservative. I miss those days. But there's 
no going back. Finally, it's a matter of self-respect: I 
just couldn't keep saying things I could no longer say 
with conviction. I have to endure a certain amount of 
isolation and even ostracism. But as John Kerry's dying 
mother so memorably said, "Remember -- integrity, 
integrity, integrity!"

     On a slightly less lofty matter, I'm sometimes 
accused of "snobbery" for arguing that "Shakespeare" was 
really the 17th Earl of Oxford -- which implies, again, 
that my wish was father to the thought. But I'm about as 
snobbish as a mongrel pup, and I was happy to believe 
that Shakespeare was an ordinary young man; it took an 
effort to realize that he was really a bisexual lord. 
This was far from what I wished to discover.

     The truth, I think, is the reverse: Believers in the 
Stratford man =want= to believe he was the great poet, in 
spite of the evidence. They like the dear Horatio Alger 
story of the country boy "warbling his native woodnotes 
wild," and a charming story it is. But I can't believe 
it. I have to force myself to realize that many people 
still do.

     Another kind of wishful thinking is the desire to 
think the worst of our enemies in every possible way. 
This is common in politics, as when Republicans, not 
content with savaging John Kerry, also savage his wife 
for pretty harmless remarks. I don't mind that they are 
ungallant, but that they are so desperately petty about 

     If you want to know how wise and honest a man is, 
observe how much he is willing to credit to his 


Read this column on-line at 

Copyright (c) 2004 by the Griffin Internet 
Syndicate, www.griffnews.com. This column may not 
be published in print or Internet publications 
without express permission of Griffin Internet 
Syndicate. You may forward it to interested 
individuals if you use this entire page, 
including the following disclaimer:

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's columns are available 
by subscription. For details and samples, see 
http://www.sobran.com/e-mail.shtml, write 
PR@griffnews.com, or call 800-513-5053."