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Open Mindedness Doesn’t Exist July 5, 2007

Posted by erichaynes in General, Spiritual Journey, Stories of MyLife.
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Having watched and participated in a discussion about the truth of the Bible on another blog, I was struck about how both sides of any issue demand that the other side be more “open minded.” And what is funny is that both sides claim that they are being open minded. What the hell is “being open minded” then?

The reality is that a blog that is going to open up a can of worms like the validity of the Bible attracts combatants like a moth to a flame. One guy writes an opinion about the circular logic of validating the Bible. A couple of people read it, let’s say, a Christian and an atheist. The Christian thinks to himself, “this poor, backwards guy is far from God, flinging out his uneducated blather into the world. I need to help set him straight before he spreads his discontent, AND I think I can help him see the light and become a Christian.” The atheist on the other hand is cheering on his “brother in arms” over his logical and unerring thinking and adds a little of his own thoughts and opinions to the comment stream. The Christian now sees that another atheist has joined the discussion and suddenly panics, feeling outnumbered and outwitted. He let’s some other Christians know that he’s got a loose cannon out in the cyber-world and could use some help. The atheist supporter then sees that the author is being bombarded by Christians infiltrators to an otherwise un-Christian blogsite, so posts the discussion on various blog-boards to let other atheists know that there is a battle brewing. Suddenly, there is all-out war and the battle cries are ringing out across the web, and the blog hits 200 comments in a few hours and is the most viewed blogsite of the day. The war is on!

But virtually none of these people come to the discussion with an open mind as defined by their opposing “enemy”.

No one is going to be converted on this day, whether to Christianity or to atheism. If anything, they become more entrenched in their own thinking, flexing their respective muscles and exercising their arguments. They may become better debaters, or they may go away wounded and resolve to never engage those “idiots” on the other side of the discussion ever again. Either way, at the end of the day, no one wins and everyone loses.

So I propose we give up this false notion that “being open minded” is even possible. Let’s recognize that each of us carries a set of values and beliefs based on our own learning, our own experiences, our own emotions, and our own ignorance. Essentially, we are a product of our life story, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Therefore, the only way to enter into these discussions is to recognize that I am a product of my life, and the other people there are a product of their lives, and that the only way the discussion has merit is when we begin to explore WHY and HOW we’ve come to believe what we believe. This is of far greater consequence than WHAT we believe. However, it is also a vulnerable and revealing place to discuss, and most people, nearly every person, is absolutely terrified to go there. They have worked too hard to push the pains, hurts, and betrayals out of their lives. It is far safer to stay in the WHAT war.

And we say the war in Iraq is purposeless…

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Comments»

1. atheistperspective - July 5, 2007

What is open-mindedness? The ability and willing to change one’s mind and accept other positions.

I think most atheists are willing to believe in God given the right circumstances. No atheist really says that God DEFINITELY does not exist, just that it’s highly unlikely. As an atheist, present me with the right evidence and I’ll change my mind and be glad to do so.

Ask a theist what they would need to see to make them change their minds about the existence of their God. What information would they need to be presented with? What can make them alter their position?

Herein in lies the problem. If we both begin a debate about Iraq and I say that George Bush went to war because he loved the sand, and nothing you could say would EVER convince me otherwise, what would be the point in having a discussion? Would you believe me to be open minded? Willing to evaluate evidence and information?

As for being a product of our life story, yup, I’d agree 100%. We believe in what we do not because we choose to, it’s been chosen for us.

So you’re right, we need to question why we believe. But that’s a very difficult discussion to have if you’re a Christian. Most, if they think about it believe because of where they were born, who they were born to and the surrounding family. The only reason they believe in a certain God is because of an accident of birth. Of course one might say ‘well God decided that this would be so’. Skirting the question a little though isn’t it :)

As an atheist I just hope that I can make people question their beliefs. I believe that if someone is willing to ask the uncomfortable questions they are more than likely to lose an absolute belief in God and scripture. I just don’t think people are honest enough to ask those questions most of the time.

I posted a link on my site to a really interesting Derren Brown documentary about belief. Take a look, it’s fascinating.

2. Swint - July 5, 2007

I have alway thought that saying “your not open-minded” was a cop out for someone who is frustrated that you don’t believe like you do. I think it is always smart to be open to new ideas and allow others to have theirs. Take religion, I was brought up in a particular religion, wasn’t sold on it yet, searched around and did some research (I was “open-minded”), at the same time I studied my family’s religion and prayed about all that I came across in my search. Ultimately, I determined that the religion I was brought up in was the one for me. 10 years later I am more confident in that than ever, I have no doubt of the truthfulness of its teachings. So when people challenge me on a doctrine and I say there is no way you will change my mind, I am accussed of not being open minded. Perhaps that is true, but I am willing to try to understand your argument, see all sides of it, but that does not mean I will change my mind. Now my religion is an absolute, how can I be open-minded about an absolute?

Your assessment of open-mindedness is spot on. Although, I completely disagree with you on Iraq. Iraq is essential and extremely important.

3. The Barefoot Bum - July 5, 2007

Sure, you can create a useless or contradictory definition of “open minded”. But there are useful and coherent definitions.

The easiest definition of “open-minded” is the principle that one will not reject an argument only on the basis of disagreement with the conclusion: An open-minded person may reject an argument if and only if she identifies a logical fallacy in the reasoning or explicitly contradicts or denies a premise (or enthymeme) of the argument.

Open-mindedness demands that I evaluate your argument—not the conclusion—it does not demand that I agree with your premises or tolerate non-canonical logic.

4. Briggie - July 5, 2007

First, since you asked,
o·pen-mind·ed /ˈoʊpənˈmaɪndɪd/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[oh-puhn-mahyn-did] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
–adjective 1. having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments.
2. unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.
[Origin: 1820–30]
—Related forms
o·pen-mind·ed·ly, adverb
o·pen-mind·ed·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I think it is possible to remain steadfast in your beliefs and still remain open-minded. You hold on to your beliefs until someone is able to express their view in a way that is intelligent, clear, unbiased, non-accusatory and non judegemental so as to allow you to compare their views with yours. I love how you have broken down the post/comment process in your second paragraph – dead on. I also agree with your point about anyone being “converted” at that given moment. I hope that those posting/commenting are not doing so with that intention. Hopefully they are putting their thoughts and beliefs out there to generate conversation and get people thinking and reading and studying. As for your statement about the end of the day no one winning and everyone losing, I feel that while the line is very thin, there has to be something positive that comes out of it. If only one person takes something away from the discussions, or it starts something thinking, then don’t they win? Is being open-minded really a false notion -I don’t know, perhaps it’s like beauty…in the eye of the beholder. I would like to think it isn’t. I would like to think that I am open-minded, much like Swint I am willing to understand the poster and commenters argument, and see all sides of the argument. And as Swint states, just because I am willing to see all sides and weigh them does not mean in the end I will change my views. Does that make my choice an absolute or the best choice for me at that time? I love it, things that make us go hmmm. Thank you for putting it out there in a way that was non-offensive and matter of fact. I look forward to reading your other posts.

5. erichaynes - July 5, 2007

atheistperspective,

Thanks for coming by…I greatly appreciate the perspective.

I am intriqued with the idea of what it would take for me to stop believing in God and Jesus Christ…but the reality is that I wouldn’t because my personal experiences with the Living God far outweigh any logical arguments regarding biblical inerrancy. It’s not grounded in any logic other than I know who I was before I had a personal relationship with Christ and I know who I am now. In essence, I am close-minded about that.

So, that takes us back to your point about the Iraq war and the benefit of the discussion. If neither of us is going to change our opinion, is there value in the discussion…Barefoot Bum’s comment would have us evaluate the value of the argument, not the outcome. On one level I agree, but then again, my love for God is based on my experience, not so much on logic. How do you evaluate my argument…it is personal and subjective.

The difficulty for any objective discussion is that it is nearly impossible to separate the objective from the subjective.

BTW: what “uncomfortable questions” would you ask of a conservative Christian like myself and what answers would be acceptable? I’d love to engage on that.

6. erichaynes - July 5, 2007

Swint,

Thanks for your input. I think that is the difficulty of understanding “religions” is that to truly be a part of any particular religious community, you need to hold to those tenants, otherwise, isn’t it just play-acting? This becomes difficult for those outside of that, e.g. a-theists, because they see out actions as intolerant. Barefoot Bum made a statement on another comment on the Apology to Atheists stream that the more liberal Christians should talk to the more conservative Christians (loosely translated — forgive me Barefoot) and calm them down. Yet, my question would be whether we really want people with watered-down faith that has no real meaning or truth?

I guess my question is: is there absolute truth and what is it? Who has the answer? As a Christian, I think that I have discovered it, but as you said, I’m then intolerant and close-minded.

Is there value in the discussion, even if you and I aren’t going to change each others worldview? I think so, if it grows a relationship and creates understanding of how we came to our respective conclusions.

BTW — though I used an attitude of negative perspective on the Iraq War, I, for the most part, am not ready to give up on what we’re doing there. It’s a mess, for sure, but lives are dependent upon our being there.

Eric

7. erichaynes - July 5, 2007

Briggie,

Thanks for the post…and I loved the dictionary’s commentary. No offense taken!!

I guess that is my greatest hope…that we enter into conversations not to convert people to our way of thinking (who am I to think I am God?), but to engage each other and seek to understand each other. The story is of greatest importance…when we turn our chairs towards each other and seek to explore each other. And I am definitely in agreement that I love to have questions that “make me go hmmm.”

Thanks!

Eric

8. atheistperspective - July 5, 2007

Eric

“I am intriqued with the idea of what it would take for me to stop believing in God and Jesus Christ…but the reality is that I wouldn’t because my personal experiences with the Living God far outweigh any logical arguments regarding biblical inerrancy.”

That’s the point I am making really. If someone is willing to question, I believe that it’s at that point they turn away from religion. I would certainly describe you as closed minded. In my opinion that’s not a very good trait however I can understand that people believe it to be one of the most virtuous traits, after all, faith is what salvation is based upon. You need to reject the questioning of your faith, it’s an important part of your belief system. However we all do it to some extent. No matter how ‘rational’ we are. Non theists just don’t go as far :)

With regards to not knowing what would make you question your faith; What if I showed you that every personal experience of God was ‘all in your mind’? What if I could take you into my lab and make them start and stop at any time? What if I could make you experience God to such a great extent you would be on the floor crying? Would the fact that I could do that make you question your faith? It wouldn’t would it?

“If neither of us is going to change our opinion, is there value in the discussion”

First, I am willing to change my mind, indeed it would make me happy to change my position. Second, yes, there is value, for two reasons.

1. There are people, many people, that think they believe in God but actually do not. You’d be surprised how many people, when really questioned about it, end up talking about some mystical power rather than a specific personal God. From there, you can then talk about the ‘mystical’ power and it’s not too difficult to make them see sense.
2. It’s especially important to make people understand just how dangerous faith and religion can be, the pain and suffering that it causes. The way it ‘can’ and often does impede us as a species. You may well believe in God, and assuming you were a catholic I would want to point out the evil that your church is committing, it’s not far from genocide. Because of this ridiculous idea of latex being evil, millions are dying and suffering needlessly. By debating this you may still be a believer but you might be willing to take some action against your church.

Even if you do nothing, even if nothing changes it doesn’t matter, because at least I have tried and it would be wrong of me not to.

“BTW: what “uncomfortable questions” would you ask of a conservative Christian like myself and what answers would be acceptable? I’d love to engage on that.”

It’s not so much what I would ask of you but more of what you would ask yourself. Think of the top 10 reasons why you believe in your God. Then try on some atheist glasses for a minute, be honest about it and see what happens. Not many theists will do that.

Furthermore, you might like to take that list, and substitute the word God for Zeus. Do those arguments still apply? Sam Harris wrote an interesting piece on witchcraft, you might be interested in it: http://www.atheistperspective.com/in-defense-of-witchcraft/

What is it you really believe and why? Are they likely to be the same answers that a Muslim would give? Probably. You dismiss those however. Why? Why do they work for you but not for Islam?

There are plenty of these questions. I can ask them of you but it’s not nearly as effective if you ask them yourself. Julia Sweeney in ‘Letting Go of God’ is a good example of someone that asked herself questions. If you get the chance, take a look.

I hope all that made sense, I’m typing very quickly as I have to dash :)

9. erichaynes - July 6, 2007

Though I am willing to accept the notion that I am “close-minded” when it comes to my belief in God, I would disagree with you that it makes me unwilling to question my faith. I can only grow deeper in that faith if I feel I have the freedom to question it. But maybe this is what causes other Christians to come across as dogmatic…because they are insecure in their faith, they can’t take the risk of questioning their beliefs. They fear that maybe the secular world is right and they are self-delusional. In contrast, I feel that I have broken beyond that fearful veil to the point of knowing it is necessary to ask God and myself the hard questions that life throws out. The Bible is not an easy document to swallow…it is full of violence, betrayal, hurt, and evil. What I appreciate is that God isn’t afraid to reveal that his most faithful followers — King David for example, the author of the Psalms — questions God constantly and expresses his dismay, doubt, and frustrations.

And sadly true, many people claim to follow God, but their god is in a box, or a genie that they want to force to make their every wish of happiness come true. It is fascinating that over 90% of Americans pray, but barely half believe in the God they are supposedly praying to…where is the elementary logic in that??

I’ve always wondered, would the world have been any less evil if there hadn’t been religion? Granted, it has created some great excuses for evil men to hurt others, but would they have not found some other culturally relevant excuse to justify their actions? And has all hurt caused in the name of God happened out of evil desires, or sometimes merely misguided but good-willed motives?

And I’ll save the “latex argument” for another time!! :0)

I’ll check out the references…and I’ll attempt that exercise in a future post…it could generate some good discussion too in the blog-o-sphere.

But I will ask you this question, partially because of my response to you on my other post (“God is Alive!) and encountering that our experiences are not so far apart despite our difference of thought on the existence of a god: what are the top 10 reasons for why you don’t believe in a god? (and set aside the scientific theories — I believe God is the creator of science and theories are only theories until they have been proven true and are reproducible). Or maybe the better question is this: who is the god you don’t believe in? I wonder if I don’t believe in him either…

Thoughts?

Eric

10. atheistperspective - July 7, 2007

I don’t think it’s just about questioning faith itself but all that comes with it, the morality, the rules etc of a particular religion.

That’s where the dogma lies. “Jesus said it so that’s the way we should live our lives”.

My top 10 reasons? Without referring to science?

Well, as we’re in a conversation where we answer questions with questions :) I’ll ask one which will give you my answer.

Why do you not believe in Erik, my invisible pink and blue flying elephant with big ears that created England millions of years ago, who was born of a virgin green elephant?

Okay, I’m being glib but your answer will be exactly the same answer I would give you for not believing in your God. Another less humorous example might be Zeus. Why do you not believe in him? As Dawkins famously says, we’re all atheists, I just believe in one less God than you do.

11. erichaynes - July 10, 2007

LOL — you caught me…I can avoid answers that I don’t have if I ask another question…isn’t that the Socratic method, or something???

Maybe the answer is that my “god of choice” is one that I have come to be comfortable with (as opposed to the elephant) and have self-deluded into believing is the creator of the changes in my life. My only argument is that this works for me, and once I die, and I discover that it truly was a self-delusion, I’m no worse off than if I hadn’t believed in anything. On the other hand (and I’m sure you’ve heard this argument), if you die and discover that the Bible is true, then you’ve missed out. Suddenly, my self-delusion doesn’t seem so bad, especially since it caused some positive changes in my life on this earth.

However, I think that’s all a bunch of crap for this simple reason: for those who have REALLY (and I know you don’t believe that, but just accept that I do), I mean deeply, come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and are truly committed to following the life he gives as an example, He offers anything but a happy, easy, blessed life. My life, since coming to Christ is harder now than ever before simply because I have had to plunge the depths of the ugliness of my own life and selfish ambitions. I constantly wonder if true Christianity shouldn’t come with a warning sign. The problem is that most Christians aren’t interested in the Jesus of the Bible, they are interested in the Great Genie of the Sky who will make sure they get a big house, that the sky is blue on the day of the family picnic, and that they never suffer cancer.

As I teach my children, “A golden calf as your god is only going to give you cheeseburgers.” If cheeseburgers are what I want, then that’s the god for me. If redemption, grace, and truth is what I want, no matter how painful, then the only thing I’ve found that offers me that is Jesus Christ. The only thing I’ve seen that a-theism offers is facts and human love, imperfect and self-interested.

Any chance I could get a ride on the pink and blue elephant though?? Could be fun for the kid’s birthday parties.

Appreciating the conversation…thanks!

Eric

12. atheistperspective - July 11, 2007

Ah. Pascal’s Wager! That was one of the first things I posted about actually….
http://www.atheistperspective.com/pascals-wager/

Here’s the full text so you have it here:

He states:

“God is, or He is not. But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”

In other words

1. If you believe in God

a) If God exists, you go to heaven.
b) If God does not exist, you lose nothing

2. If you do not believe in God.

a) If God exists, you burn in hell
b) If God does not exist, you gain nothing

On the face of it, it’s a good point. People will often say to me “If I’m right and God exists then I’m going to live in bliss for eternity. If I’m wrong then I’ve lost nothing. But, if you’re wrong, you will remain in hell forever and if you’re right then so what? Therefore, it’s better to believe in God just in case. You never know.”

I remember a very funny Rowan Atkinson sketch along these lines. He’s an atheist and goes up to heaven, realizes there is a God and the only two words he can come up with are ‘Oh Shit!’

Of course any person who’s thought about this point carefully understands the weakness behind it and would probably leave it at the door when try to justify religious faith.

There are many reasons why. I will pick out five I often use. I could go on longer but the topic has bored me already. Sorry if it’s had the same effect in you….

1. This is not an argument to prove that God actually exists. Anyone that tries to use it as such is missing the point. It simply points out that it is in our interests to believe in God. That’s a very different proposition to arguing that God exists.

2. If God is all knowing and all powerful, then believing in God because of the reward is not going to go down to well. He would be able to see through it. If you only believe in him because you feel it’s in your best interests to do so then you’re unlikely to gain much favor with him. It’s tantamount to using belief as an after-life insurance policy.

3. There is more than one religion. If there are other gods that require one to believe in them then the wager is flawed because a person of another religion could use the same wager to support their own faith.

4. If you were to follow the wager then you should follow the religion that offers the best possible outcome. I personally like the female of the species. Perhaps therefore I should become a Muslim because for me, 72 virgins doesn’t sound that bad. Far better than a few angels with some nice clouds. Your choice of religion would then come down to the one that offered you the most attractive afterlife.

5. Here’s one that a friend of mine uses which I like very much “Why don’t you believe in the tooth fairy? What is the worst thing that could happen if you did? You should just forget religion and believe in the tooth fairy.”

———–

13. erichaynes - July 17, 2007

atheistperspective,

Sorry it has taken so long to respond…life has been busy and I’ve barely kept up with adding new entries, let alone comments.

Thanks for giving a name to the “wager”…I’ve never really liked it and you’ve offered five really good reasons for that (or at least four…I’m undecided on how valid the 5th one is).

I guess the question I’m left with is this: does God need anyone to believe in him to exist? I don’t know that this is a valid argument for validating the existence of God, but on the other hand, does it matter? How does a single nomadic tribe roaming the desert impact thousands of years of history and human thought with a God recorded and compiled over time in what is now considered the Bible that causes you and I to even have this discussion? Many gods have come and gone…many stories and characters like the tooth fairy…but the world’s history, philosophies, ideologies, and cultures are saturated in this God of the Jews, either for Him or against Him or in response to Him. I’m not sure the tooth fairy has had such a good PR plan.

But then again, I’m liking the 72 virgins idea (but I’m not sure my wife will go for it).

Eric


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