The service station operator was waiting for my credit card transaction to be processed and so decided to make small talk.
“What do you do for work?” he asked.
“I’m a Christian minister,” I replied.
“Oh I believe in God,” he said without any prompting, and then told me that God was in everything and that everything was God.
I pointed out that if everything was God and if God was everything then CS Lewis was right – we must not only call cancer bad because it kills the patient, but we must call the surgeon bad because he kills the cancer.
At this, my service station attendant became quite uptight. Not because he disliked the cancer illustration (I’m not certain he completely understood it) but because I seemed to be disagreeing with him.
Moreover, he seemed genuinely miffed when I told him his belief was called “pantheism” for, up until that moment, I’m quite sure he believed it to be an entirely original idea.
He declared the conversation closed with a curt: “Well, I’ve got a right to my opinion.”
It struck me as an odd thing to say, since I was certainly not challenging his right to an opinion. I was merely questioning whether the opinion he had a right to hold was in fact right.
The right to an opinion is not violated by someone trying to change that opinion. In some cases – say for example if, in my opinion, it was okay to light up a cigarette whilst refueling my vehicle – it would be wrong of others not to try to change my opinion.
And so I continued, very politely I might add, to try to convince the gentleman that to believe God was everything and everything was God was both illogical and absurd.
By now he was fuming and it had nothing to do with the petroleum.
He interrupted my line of reasoning with: “Listen, I’ve just told you my opinion. I’m not saying that it’s right or that it’s wrong. I’m just saying you’ve got as much right to your opinion as I have to mine.”
And then, like the price of fuel 24 hours before a public holiday, it hit me. When a person defends an argument by trotting out the dismissive, “I have a right to my opinion”, they don’t actually care if their opinion is right. They are not defending their opinion so much as insisting upon their right to enjoy the comfort of opinion without having to endure the discomfort of thought.
And so when a person tells you, “That’s just my opinion”, what they are really saying is: “Pay for your fuel and leave. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
But, of course, that’s just my opinion.