Friday, March 10, 2006

Open Mindedness?

A quote from a friend’s blog:

Why do most self-proclaimed open-minded people seem to me to be very close-minded? .… I do have opinions, but they can be changed when presented with reasonable evidence. I do find I have a difficult time arguing when presented with numbers. I mean, numbers are numbers. My opinions do frequently change. Sometimes I don’t even have an opinion on things because I don’t have enough knowledge on the subject. I try not to purport to know everything. I do know a lot, and I do have an above average memory.…

(If you’re not familiar with ellipses, click here for a quick lesson.)

He raises some interesting questions. I basically see myself the same way he sees himself; I know that I’m stubborn, there isn’t much question about that, but I try to make an honest effort not to be, and to allow my mind to be changed when it’s presented with enough evidence. I also feel I’m pretty knowledgable in a lot of areas—not as much as my friend is, though—but I try not to let that colour my thinking; the people I’m talking with may indeed have more information than I do, so I should keep my mind open to what they’re saying. (Of course, he also says that he has an “above average memory”, which I definitely do not have. My memory is terrible.)

There is, however, one area where I definitely do not change my mind, and that’s religion—or, more specifically, Christianity. Here’s the thing: religion, in a nutshell, is the search for truth. The kind of truth it’s most concerned about are questions like “is there a God?”, and “if so, what is s/he like?”, and “are there general rules by which one should lead one’s life—absolute moral rules, or that type of thing?” etc. Religions are potential answers to those questions; e.g. when asking “is there a God?” Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all say “yes”. When asking “what is that God like?”, however, all three have very different answers. In fact, the answers are different enough that all three can’t be right; if Christianity is true, then Islam and Judaism must be false. (There may be parts that are true—the parts that agree with Christianity.) Similarly, if Islam is true, then Christianity and Judaism are false. Either one of them is true, or none of them are true, but there can’t be more than one that are true, because they disagree with each other on certain core principles.

The key, though, is that there is something called “truth”. Using the same example, of whether there’s a God or not, one of three things is true: Either there is a God, or there are multiple gods, or there is no God. One of those things is true; the other two, therefore, are not. So if there is not a God, and I believe that there is, then I’m wrong. Similarly, if there is, I’m right, and those who believe there isn’t are wrong.

I’m a Christian, and Christianity says that there is, and provides a book, the Bible, which purports to be written by God. There are those who don’t believe that God had a hand in writing the Bible, which is fine—they’re either right or they’re wrong. I believe that they’re wrong, and that the Bible is the word of God, which tells us about who He is, and who we are in relation to Him. And that, therefore, it gives the answers to many of the questions religion is trying to answer.

But when it comes to arguments about religion, or about Christianity, there is a wall that will always stop the argument, which is faith. A key element of Christianity is faith, and this is where the conversations will sometimes grind to a halt; you can argue things intellectually only so far, and people will sometimes get to a point where they think they’ve somehow argued that Christianity is invalid, or that some aspect of it is incorrect, or that a part of—or the entire—Bible is incorrect. And this is where they get frustrated with me, because I have faith that the Bible is correct; I may not be able to argue my point conclusively, in all circumstances, but I believe that it’s true. So, if someone brings to my attention some argument that some section of the Bible must be incorrect, I may not have a counter-argument, but I still won’t believe them; since I have faith that the Bible is true, I believe that there must be a part of the argument that we aren’t including, or a piece of information we either don’t know or aren’t considering. And this is where people will get frustrated with me, and say that I’m being irrational, instead of listening to their logic. And I can’t blame them for that, either—at some point, I’ll have to do another blog entry where I talk about “grace”, and then people can really get frustrated with me.

The thing is, we all do that. We all have faith in something or other, that can’t be shaken. One of the main reasons I enjoy reading Noam Chomsky is that he questions a lot of the core beliefs that Americans have, about America. If you were to raise the question of whether America invaded Iraq for oil, most Americans would start labelling you a conspiracy theorist—even though it’s pretty much a given, in the rest of the world, that that’s exactly why they invaded. But they have faith in their country, and in their leaders. Or, to take Necessary Illusions as an example. If I were to just tell you that the media in North America is a propaganda machine, you would probably, again, label me a conspiracy theorist, but Chomsky puts forward a very good case in this book that that’s exactly what the media in North America is. But people have enough faith in the media, and in the “free market economy”—in which they include the “free market of ideas”—that they have assume that the media must be fair and balanced.

If I were to say that I don’t believe in evolution, I’d be labelled as an absolute nut—because people have enough faith in scientists who claim to have evidence that evolution is true.

So, like my friend, I can definitely be argued out of many of the ideas I have. I don’t have his faith in numbers—numbers can be used and misused in a lot of ways, although I’m sure he feels that way too—but I think we both share a high regard for logic. If I believe—to use a political example—that most people in America are conservatives, because over 80% of them say so in polls, but then I hear about other polls, which claim that most Americans call themselves conservative, but when asked about the actual issues they turn out to actually be very liberal, then I’ll change my mind, and instead believe that most Americans are liberals. They just don’t know it. But it doesn’t matter what kinds of arguments you have, you won’t be able to convince me that there isn’t a God, or that the Bible isn’t true.

Unlike many Christians, however, I’ll try not to be a jerk about it. I do have the ability to respect others’ right to believe things that I think are wrong. Heck, this blog entry might even put that to the test; I wouldn’t be too surprised if I draw a bunch of comments.


Anonymous said...

Religion aside (see tonight's weblog for my scathing opinion on this subject!)...

I knew what I had said re: numbers was going to be skewed as soon as I wrote it, I know numbers can be made to say different things (ie saying "approval rating has doubled!" (but not saying it went from 17% to 34%) seems good while saying "approval rating is 34%" seems bad). I was mroe going for the 2 is less then 3. No arguement to that. Well, I can make one, but, ya know.

I do think your use of the word "purports" is incorrect though, so we're even. :D