Solving Problems with New Approaches

There is a type of intellectual problem where the person tries to understand the answer to a question using only the limited set of ideas he possesses in that subject area. The correct answer to the question may require ideas beyond that set: new distinctions, unfamiliar terminology, and a new set of premises and intermediate conclusions. People have a tendency to attempt to answer questions in the simplest way possible, using only the resources at their intellectual disposal. If the correct answer requires learning new information and adopting a new approach, they usually are not willing to make the changes needed to reach that answer.

When workman is presented with a problem, he tries to solve it using the tools that he has at hand. If the problem requires a tool that he doesn’t possess, or one that he doesn’t know how to use, he has difficulty realizing that the solution is beyond his resources or ability.

When a person is given a theological problem, he tries to solve it using the understanding of religion that he already possesses. If the solution lies beyond that scope, he tends to fall into the trap of oversimplifying or distorting the problem and thereby forcing the question to fit an incorrect solution. It is difficult to convince someone that the solution lies beyond his understanding, such that he would have to learn new distinctions and approaches in order to solve it.

I see this frequently in the response to Pope Francis. He is teaching the faithful new ways of considering and solving theological problems. But they keep analyzing the problem, again and again, using the same limited set of ideas, always reaching the same conclusions. They refuse to learn and change, in order to see problems and solutions from a different point of view. They demand that he answer their questions using their own assumptions and limited understanding.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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