What if you’re wrong?

Anna Grummitt reflects on The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, and the importance of humility when it comes to our deeply-held beliefs.

What if you’re wrong?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering since I finished listening to The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.

Hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, this new podcast delves into the backlash Rowling has received over the years, first from the religious right over Harry Potter, and more recently from those who are profoundly angered by her views on gender. Phelps-Roper interviews Rowling at length (plus some of her critics), and then, in the final episode, asks: What if you’re wrong?

It’s a deeply personal question for Phelps-Roper, having grown up in the notorious Westboro Baptist Church and sincerely believing its teachings until conversations on Twitter led her to leave in 2012. After this complete 180, she now regularly interrogates her tightly held beliefs by asking: Are you capable of entertaining doubt about your views? Can you articulate your opponents’ perspective in a way they recognise, or are you ‘strawmanning’? Are you attacking ideas, or the people who hold them?

In our increasingly polarised world, it seems wise to ask ourselves these questions, especially before wading into online debate. And as a Christian, I want to make a particular effort here: both because Christians aren’t known for doing this well (even if we’re not picketing funerals or burning Harry Potter books), and because humility was one of Jesus’ most espoused virtues.

Asking yourself “what if you’re wrong?” can be uncomfortable. But, as American sociologist Craig Calhoun says, a healthy public sphere isn’t a place filled with “people shouting from different positions of dogmatic certainty” but instead one of nuanced discussion marked by humility and doubt.

Phelps-Roper models this well in Witch Trials, and shows us that with just a bit of self-examination, productive conversations on complex topics are still possible.