You don’t need me to tell you this, but the culture we live in today is undergoing one of the biggest shifts away from Christianity in history. Often times, our response as Christians to the shift in culture is to fight fire with fire. We think, “We need more apologetics and more Christians willing to debate our values in public forums.” While there certainly is a place for apologetics, I’ve come to believe that some of this response has more to do with our desire to be “right” than it does defending our faith.
A recent Harvard Business Review article by Judith Glaser talks about the fact that our brain can actually get addicted to being right. When we win an argument, our brain is flooded with adrenaline and dopamine, which makes us feel good. Over time, the article says, we can actually become addicted to this feeling and try to reproduce it every chance we get. There are many obvious problems with this, but one of the biggest ones is that integral parts of our brain do not function properly when we are operating out of this mentality. Glaser says in these situations, “Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down.” So the very things Christians should be all about, like compassion and building trustworthy relationships, instinctively go out the window when we’re in defense mode.
I’ve seen in my own life, and in the lives many others, how we can fall prey to this mentality, particularly when it comes to issues of faith. We are no longer following Christ every time we make our faith more about having the right answers rather than being in right relationship with God and others. That is because our faith is built on having a relationship with Jesus, not about passing an entrance exam to get into heaven. But it is very easy to get into the habit of defending things that are essential and, over time, become addicted to being right no matter the subject. One of the best examples of this happening in Scripture is one that not many people think of, and it’s the example of the Apostle Paul.
Let me throw out this disclaimer first: for some reason Paul is untouchable to some and is next to Jesus when it comes to a person “who can do no wrong.” We are more than comfortable analyzing King David or Peter’s flaws, but we put Paul on a spiritual pedestal. However, if we look at the sweeping narrative of Paul’s life, we can see that he had his own issues, as well. One of those issues, I believe, was Paul’s addiction to being right during a particular season of his life.
Here is a broad overview of this season I am referring to and why I believe this is something Paul struggled with:
- Acts 15:1–21: Paul (with the help of Barnabas) “wins” the biggest debate in Church history up to this point, which was the issue regarding circumcision
- Acts 15:22–35: Paul and Barnabas continue on as partners in ministry to Gentiles
- Acts 15:36–41: Paul and Barnabas get in a “sharp disagreement” and end up parting ways
- Acts 16:1–17:9: Paul continues his ministry with Silas and a new convert named Timothy who joins them
- Acts 17:10–15: Paul stirs up such a strong controversy in a city called Berea that “the brothers immediately sent Paul [away]”
- Acts 17:16–34: Paul finds himself alone in Athens in an episode many widely consider to be his most nuanced and culturally sensitive sharing of the Gospel at the famous Mars Hill
I believe Paul went through a season of his life, even after encountering Christ, where he was addicted to being right. Of course, I believe Paul was right in his interpretation of the Gospel. I believe good came from Paul holding to his convictions. I also believe this turned into a need to be right in every situation, which eventually cost him many relationships, including his partnership with Barnabas. If I read between the lines in Acts 17 and the way Paul attempts to meet the people of Athens on their terms, it’s easy to see that he adjusted his methodology as he ministered in complete isolation. Perhaps when Paul found himself alone in ministry, he finally confronted his addiction to being right (even though he obviously wouldn’t have understood it in these terms in the 1st Century). The language in Acts 17 certainly seems to point to a more sympathetic and nuanced person than the previous chapters report.
If you find yourself in a place where you are addicted to being right, the good news is that course correction is possible. As Judith Glaser goes on to say, “I’ve found that even the best fighters—the proverbial smartest guys in the room—can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin-inducing behavior instead.” Perhaps you’re in a season where adjustments need to be made in your own life. A few questions worth reflecting upon are:
- In your own life, is your faith about you being “right” or about you being in right relationships with God and others?
- Do you highly value building relationships with others as a way of sharing the Gospel?
- Have you found yourself isolated during seasons of your life because you were addicted to winning arguments and did so at the expense of your relationships?
- Are you drawing lines in the sand around issues that are non-essentials?
- Are there steps you need to take in order to “break the addiction” of being right?