Difference between Fact and Opinion

When it comes to life there are some things that are a matter of opinion and others that are a matter of fact. In order for something to be fact, it does not necessarily require that it is testable, but rather that it is something that could potentially be qualified as true or untrue. For example, I could say "I like the color orange." Now if I like something or don't like something is a matter of my opinion, but the statement "I like the color orange" could be either a true or an untrue statement. In this case, it is not a true statement, I do not like the color orange, thus it is a false fact. My opinion is if I like something, the fact is whether my statement is true or not.

When we begin to discuss matters of faith, we have the potential of confusing fact and opinion. This potential is heightened when we are trying to show respect or understanding in regard to the beliefs of others. Take for example the question of God's existence. Now, some would like to say that the existence of God is a matter of opinion. I would like to disagree. God's existence isn't based upon my belief or my opinion on the matter, rather God's existence is either true or false. It is a true fact or a false fact. Now, one might argue that we can't prove or disprove the existence of God. If God exists and we can't prove that God exists, this doesn't make God disappear. In a similar fashion if God doesn't exist and we can't disprove that he doesn't exist, this doesn't make God come into existence. The statement "God exists" is either true or false, which makes it a statement of fact (even if questionable fact) rather than a statement of opinion.

Now this separation of fact from belief and opinion becomes messy in religious circles when people from various theological backgrounds come together to discuss specific aspects of their shared faith. For example, in the Christian faith, discussions about baptism, communion/Eucharist, salvation, creation/evolution, and other topics can often lead to heated debate. The debates often become louder and stronger the more the participants believe that their beliefs are true. Now, an easy way to handle these differences is to say that it is all a matter of opinion. I may think that the bread and wine are only symbolic of Jesus' body and blood, whereas someone else may think that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus. Now, the bread can't be only symbolic and actually the body of Jesus at the same time. Yes, the bread could both be the actual body of Jesus and a representative symbol, but it couldn't be only a representative symbol and the actual body. Thus, this isn't just a matter of opinion, but there must be some underlying truth or fact. The bread either is or isn't only a representation. The bread either is or isn't the actual flesh of Jesus.

When we decide to recognize that these opinions we are expressing are whether we think something is a true fact or a false fact, we then realize that some opinions are right and some are wrong. This is where the potential for division in a religious community becomes a legitimate concern. It is here that it is important that we pick up an ecumenical spirit, which begins with humility. In order to show respect for other's opinions and beliefs and to honestly take the time to hear them out, one must first realize that he or she may be wrong. The realization that our human capacities are limited and very few people if any are able to completely grasp all of reality and all of what defines faith and God, this brings us to a place where we can recognize that we might be wrong, and the other person may have something to teach us. It is in this place of humility that true ecumenical discussion begins.


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