I Believe in Developing My Own Beliefs
As a graduate student, much of my time is spent conducting research. My papers aim at identifying and explaining the ideas of scholars who have gone before me. Such papers overflow with footnotes, which are later scrutinized by zealous professors. While tedious, the process is also worthwhile, for I believe in the importance of history. Yet, aside from history, there is the present, and beyond that, the future. While what has been developed and believed in the past cannot be overlooked, taken by itself, it is not enough. In order to encounter solutions for the problems at hand, as well as those that will eventually arise, I believe that it is necessary to develop my own beliefs.
As part of my program of studies, I am required to take oral exams. In some cases, it is best to pin down what the professor believes, and during the exam repeat those beliefs as accurately as possible. This strategy is pragmatic in the sense that it ensures a respectable grade. However, I believe that it is also deficient, for it falls short of promoting intellectual and personal development.
A few months ago I attended a lecture in which a wise professor said that the sign of a good professor is that he asks questions that he doesn’t know the answers to. I agree. Often, questions to which there are no available answers are one’s which have recently burst onto the scene. The answers cannot be arrived at by a mere appeal to the past, rather they require one to develop one’s own beliefs in the present. Thus, people are compelled to strike out on their own and take a stand. Of course, the development of my beliefs is forever precarious. Mistakes will certainly be made, but I also believe that everyone has the right to err. Yet, if mistakes can arise, they can also be uncovered and corrected. Such is the process of development.
As I am studying to be a Catholic theologian, and therefore situated within an ancient tradition that boasts an extensive doctrinal history, the development of my own beliefs is not an easy task. While there is much to be learned from the past, I believe that history is at the service of the present. Due to a hope that, while variable, is never completely extinguished, I believe that it is a worthy challenge.