A Pretentious and Presumptuous Man

A friend of mine at work and I were talking awhile back.  During the course of our conversation, the topic of music came up.  When I mentioned that U2 was my favorite group, she exclaimed, “I love U2!”

Of course, my next question was an easy one:  “What’s your favorite album?”  She was like, “I really don’t have one.”  Fair enough.  I asked, “What about a favorite song?” She said, “I really like their song, ‘One love.’”

STOP!  I’m sorry; I thought my friend said she was a U2 fan.  No favorite album! Really?  It took everything inside of me to refrain from saying, “One love?  Don’t you mean, “One?”  Are we talking about U2 or Bob Marley?”  While I pretended to act like I was enjoying this part of our conversation, I walked away believing, without a doubt, she was NO U2 fan.

Later that night, as I was driving home, a thought hit me.  The problem wasn’t that she saw herself as a fan.  The problem was mine.  I was exhibiting two very unhealthy traits of human behavior that, thankfully, in this case, did not led to disastrous results.  I was being pretentious about all that I knew about U2 and presumptuous about what I thought she should know about them.  After all, she said she was a fan.  Come to think of it, I didn’t have a favorite album (Achtung Baby) right away.  I couldn’t have told you the real names of The Edge or Bono (Paul Hewson & David Evans) until many years after becoming more familiar with the group.   Why then, would I expect her to possess as much knowledge or have as well-informed opinions about them when she was just learning about their music?

I made a decision that night to introduce her to some of my favorite cuts by the band.  That she never knew that’s how I felt, didn’t justify my attitude. The next time I worked with her, I gave her a CD with some of my favorite music by them.  “You need to check these songs out,” I told her excitedly.  Just a week ago, I offered her a chance to borrow my DVD from their most recent tour at the Rose Bowl.  Why?  If she has expressed interest in something that I love and have loved for a longer period of time, then I want to invite her on the same journey I’ve been on, with hopes that she might love them like I do.

Thankfully, something as simple as liking U2 has minimal, (if that), consequences.  However, I think many can fall into the same trap when engaging with culture about things that really matter.  I love studying apologetics, theology and philosophy.  It excites me to learn.  I see the beauty, worth and value in studying these things.  But, what happens when I start talking to others, even with those who may express a similar commitment to Jesus, in the same pretentious manner I displayed earlier?  I end up missing the mark and those I talk to may throw the baby (the message) out with the bath water (the messenger). 

The Christian commitment is expressed by loving God and my neighbors.  My love for God and others has grown as I’ve studied, learned, prayed and been challenged by those who both agree and disagree with me.  I am going to resist the urge use what I’ve studied as a weapon, but rather, as tools to invite others to join this journey.  Sort of like giving a friend a CD who has an idea of U2, but has yet to be introduced to some of their “deeper” material. To seek and find truth, experience grace, participate in God’s Kingdom and know what it is to live in this vibrant, love-filled relationship, is an irresistible offer.

The challenge for me is to avoid the pretentiousness and presumptions that I can often make when talking to someone.  People’s objections can be valid.  They (the objections) can often serve as masks for something else. What if someone has an attraction to Jesus, but doesn’t see how He makes sense in their life or even in the larger picture?  (Like Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”)? My hope is that I will always be willing to equip others with the resources and provide for them the relationship to help them see why it all makes sense.  A winsome attitude and approach can engage others in more meaningful and life-changing ways.  My hope is that I always remember this.   

And yes, my friend is a U2 fan.   My favorite song?  Depends on the day.  Why would I expect her to have one?  I know, totally not right.


  1. Very nice thoughts. Seems like a great first step. In practical living, your message gives great counsel that we should all be more aware and sensitive in the way we interact with others.

    But, on a philosophical level, doesn't your second to last paragraph make additional presumptions that may make you seem pretentious (no offense)?

    I suppose one difference between U2 and Jesus, is that there are more Jesus "fans." Unlike your friend in the U2 example, many may have "followed" Jesus for as long or longer than you have. But your set of "resources" may contradict their understanding of Jesus given their own history with Him.

    How do you know your understanding is correct? What if someone (perhaps even Jesus himself) wanted to change your own view? Would you be open to that, or are you so much of an expert already that you have nothing to learn from others on the topic of Jesus (or, I guess, U2)(unless, of course, it comports and is consistent with your existing view)?

    It seems to me that true wisdom and humility come when we recognize how little we truly understand. When we recognize that our own bottle is brand new (or empty or not made "old" and full by all of the knowledge we think we have obtained) and ready to be filled, that is when it may be filled with His wine.

    These are just some thoughts. What your example does not acknowledge is that the way in which your friend chose to enjoy U2 may be superior to your way. It may even be the correct way. My point is not made well with the U2 example, but it applies to what I think you were trying to say.

  2. Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comments. Some great points, really. Writing is tough, because there are many different angles at which to approach a topic. I guess in writing my own thoughts, I run the risk of leaving some things open for interpretation and/or critique, which is totally cool with me. I'm not quite sure which questions to answer first, but let me try with a couple of the one's that stuck out to me.

    First, I hope I didn't come across as suggesting that I still think that I am superior in any way. I've always given myself the right to be wrong, so if my view needs changing, then I will change it. Even if it's not immediate or easy. I want think more rightly about reality and the world around me. I wasn't hoping to suggest that I was an "expert" in the sense that I know all there is to know. But rather, I'd be willing to offer what I have experienced and learned to others to add to their view. (This means that I get to learn from them, which is maybe a point I should have made in the previous post).

    I'm not sure how you mean the second to last paragraph may still suggest to some that I am still pretentious, except that people are always free to draw their own conclusions, despite my best efforts. I'm not saying you are doing this, but we can often project our own tone when reading someone else's thoughts. This may be one reason why Socrates hated writing! But, yes, the pretentiousness isn't a matter of what we've learned or not learned, but rather, it's avoided by a humility that suggests that there is much to still learn about the world. However, having confidence of one's beliefs doesn't always mean one is presumptuous. But I do understand why some may feel that way.

    In relationship to my friend enjoying U2 the correct way, I guess that's what I was hoping to suggest. In fact, hearing her talk about them reminded me of own introduction to them. I would say that your subtle suggestion is noted, we can lose a sense of wonder and excitement that is evident when we first come into contact with something or someone we love. Which is why any relationship worthwhile should be cultivated. It was my attitude that was wrong. So, in me sharing in her experience by offering my own, I was hoping introduce her to more of their material that I was sure she hadn't heard yet. (More on the analogy later...)

    And yes, many have followed Jesus, both longer and less time than me, who have taught me something. I never intended my use of the word "resources" to imply that uniformity was what I'm after. As if I have it all together. In my opinion, it's always good to be able to answer a question or add to someone's understanding about things that they have expressed interest in. For me, it's more like how I've heard it said by someone I respect very much. "Every truth can be plumbed deeper, applied more greatly and be seen in coherent relationships with other truths." I know I'm not the point-of-reference here.

    The story here was just an analogy used to demonstrate how I can be more ugly about things than humble. Every analogy falls apart at some point, as you have graciously pointed out. Hope this helps to clarify and thanks for reading. P.S. please feel free to sign your name, if others are unfair, I'll make sure those comments aren't left on the comment board.

    Appreciate your feedback.

  3. I enjoyed reading your (original) post. This is my favorite part:
    "The problem was mine. I was exhibiting two very unhealthy traits of human behavior that, thankfully, in this case, did not led to disastrous results. I was being pretentious about all that I knew about U2 and presumptuous about what I thought she should know about them."

    I am sad to say that I do this all the time. Just substitute U2 for any other topic or issue and that is unfortunately the majority of what goes on in my head. I need to be not only more open to other's perspectives but also be more understanding.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Emmy, You are very welcome. I appreciate your honesty too!

  5. As a former Christian, I'm writing to just say that I really enjoyed your post and the comments of others. It's wonderful to see religious people engage in critical thinking and to reflect upon those thoughts. Thank you for sharing your insights and for enriching my learning. David

  6. David,

    I hope you get this. I have been out of the loop for more than a little while and have thought about getting this going again. Thanks for your comment, it meant and means more than you'll ever know. I am positive that the others who engage in this area are encouraged that this is serving you well in some way.

    Sincerely. Mario