No, you do not have a right to your own opinion

Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ λέγητε πάντες καὶ μὴ ᾖ ἐν ὑμῖν σχίσματα, ἦτε δὲ κατηρτισμένοι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νοῒ καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ γνώμῃ.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose.


So λέγητε and ἦτε are subjunctives, not imperatives after ἵνα; but Παρακαλῶ plus a ἵνα clause amounts to “I urge you to . . .”—in effect, imperative. But what are we to make of the Apostle’s urging the brothers/sisters to agree? We don’t think of agreeing as a thing you decide to do, as a decision. You don’t urge people to do what they cannot decide to do. We agree, or we disagree, almost as though we are hapless slaves of our opinions.

And yet we often say “of course you have a right to your opinion,” “I have a right to my opinion,” “everyone has a right to their own opinion.” Do I own my opinion, then? Do you own yours? If so, can we not command them? Dismiss them? If so—if we can command them or dismiss them—then we are subject to the apostle’s urging. We can, and therefore must, as the Apostle urges, “all say the same thing” (τὸ αὐτὸ λέγητε πάντες, translated “agree” by the CEB).

What is the alternative? If we do not own our opinions, do our opinions own us? Do opinions lurk and skulk about capturing people? And once they have captured us, do we belong to them? Then we are in their thrall. Saying the same thing is not a possibility. We simply disagree! And in fact this seems to be the case. Witness: each does not disagree with everyone else on every point; our differences follow patterns. These sovereign opinions sort us into groups, commanding us to follow themselves, and we do.

This is the contemporary American situation. Opinionated people think that their opinions are expressions of their own freedom, but they manifestly are not. They are not original. Those who hold them did not themselves devise them. Rather, they were possessed by those opinions when they jumped from another host. Being possessed, they are not free, they cannot decide to change their minds, which is why you so rarely see any of us change our minds these days. We cannot. Our minds are not our own. We have given them up to, or they have been possessed by, an alien power, a strange god, the god who is Opinion and whose deceits include calling itself Your (My) Personal Opinion, whose pretenses include presenting itself as unquestionable and sovereign. Division into rival groups (σχίσματα, the products of the rending asunder of the one body) is inevitable and incurable. You cannot argue with another person’s opinion, because de gustibus non est disputandum, it is not licit to answer a taste—a “personal” preference—with an argument, and every judgment regarding fact or value is a matter of personal taste.

But the Apostle straightforwardly urges: All of you, don’t say different things (disagree)! Say the same thing (agree)! The Apostle will not allow “I agree” or “I disagree” to pose as a passive empirical observation regarding the valence of an opinion that possesses me. Rather, the Apostle insists that “I agree” is an act of my will, a deliberate subordination of myself, and of my opinions, to a higher will. Mind (νους) and purpose (γνώμη) are not individual properties, personal rights. To be a member of the one body is to participate in a common, higher mind. The question is: What mind? The mind of Christ? Or another mind?

The Apostle puts each one of us on notice with this admonition: You do not have a right to your own opinion. If you think you do, you are mistaken; an alien opinion has captured you. You can, you must, renounce it. You can restore (καταρτίζω) your mind, your central aim, or let it be restored, just as fishers can repair (καταρτίζω) their torn nets (Matthew 4:21). If you are a disciple, your Teacher can train (καταρτίζω) your mind (Luke 6:40), and spiritual leaders and mentors—more advanced disciples of the same Teacher—can correct (καταρτίζω) you (Galatians 6:1). If your mind—your aims and your opinions—cannot be prepared, rigged out, trained, repaired, corrected—then you are not a disciple. Arguments can be used to persuade. But abilities vary. Not everyone can understand every argument. All that remains, when persuasion and understanding fail—and at times they will fail every one of us—is obedience. Those who insist on their right to their own opinion, failing to understand and refusing to submit, even to the extent of dividing the body of Christ, have abandoned discipleship.

This is not an easy teaching, and it raises further questions. But to say otherwise is to reduce the Apostle’s words to nonsense.

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