An open mind
Here is the question, or rather, two questions about an 'open mind'. First: is it possible? And second: if it is possible, is it useful or desirable? These questions are almost anathema in today's postmodern world. But I think that is because the term 'open mind', like so many others, has been loaded with presuppositions to the point that it has become useless. Like the word 'progressive'. Progressive now means political, philosophical, and religious left, or liberal thought. A formerly neutral, straight-forward word is now politically loaded and ready for combat. Of course this wouldn't work with a word like Neanderthal or Kettle. Neither of those are seen as intrinsically good in the way that Progress is good. People want progress, so attaching your ideas and beliefs to a word like that is very advantageous to the proliferation of them. Also important is the implicit antithesis of the word. What's the opposite of progress? Regression, stasis, retardation, stuck, old, etc. By couching your view in a word that opposes so many negative ideas you automatically cast your opponent in the worst light possible.
The same thing applies to the term 'open mind'. Let's consider the opposite to having an open mind… Well, obviously you would be close-minded. You're not open to new ideas. Unmoving, unable to adapt to change. Stubborn, old-fashioned, and not-too-bright. These aren't typically good attributes to have. Or ARE they? I submit that the answer, as usual, is "Sometimes". Certainly in the business world, the inability to adapt to an ever changing market and customer demand is a bad thing. It would also be bad for a military strategist to be unable to change their plan based on new information. When it comes to personal relationships, you never want to be stagnate, or rely on formulas and what-worked-before. If you are involved in politics, it behooves you to be open to new information that can inform your decisions. Being open minded in all of these spheres of life is undeniably important and good. But does it naturally follow that you should apply that same thinking to the spiritual, moral, and philosophical? Here is where I diverge from my liberal brethren and say No. To an extent.
The reason is that a person's philosophy is the bedrock of their thinking. Everyone has a philosophy weather they know it or not, and it powerfully influences what kind of decisions they make in business, politics, and relationships. Religion too; but since philosophy and religion are so interconnected I'll leave that out of the equation for now. Being a bedrock for your decision making, means that the more stable your philosophy is, the more stable your decisions will be. If you are constantly revising what you fundamentally believe, you will have a cascading effect throughout the rest of your life, as you re-analyze your decisions and decision making process. Like the Bible says, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." And here, I've discovered, is where the term loses it's teeth. Because the fact is: most proponents of open-mindedness don't really do this. They aren't always shifting their core beliefs. That's just not a reasonable way to live your life. What they really mean is that those who disagree with them should be open to changing over to what they believe. Or that they are willing to change their mind about superficial things, giving them an illusion of open-mindedness. They will change whether they vote for a particular Democrat or a Republican, whether they think it's OK to spank children, whether they should be aggressive in perusing their career. Because it's possible to swing either way with these kinds of opinions without reevaluating your basic philosophical outlook. But that's not the kind of change in heart that liberals are after when they ask a conservative to be "open-minded" about gay marriage. (Gay is another intrinsically positive word, stolen and loaded with artificial meaning.) However, as a proponent of the idea that there is objective truth, I have to believe that someone who has a false philosophy should be able to open their mind to the truth. Which of course requires an open mind in the most obvious definition of the term. But I'll get back to this.
First, let me state that I don't believe anyone has ever discovered THE complete and perfect philosophical outlook on life. No human is capable of discerning the WHOLE TRUTH as it truly is. Only a god could have that kind of view of reality. So when I refer to false philosophy and true philosophy, realize that I am meaning further-from-the-truth and closer-to-the-truth. Most people's philosophical opinions are full of contradictions and half-baked ideas. This is because it takes a lot of time, research, wisdom -and I would suggest revelation- to construct a really solid, unified theory about the big questions. I know I certainly don't have the time and energy to pursue such an endeavor.
So how do we cobble our philosophies together? Simple. We choose authorities. We decide that someone, or some institution has figured out X, and that it seems to make sense to us, so we accept their authority on the subject and integrate their opinion into our belief system. Everyone does this. Ask yourself this: what is your opinion about evolution? How about UFOs? Mormonism? Answers could range from, "I don't know enough about it to make a decision." To "I think it's all a load of crap." To "I have fully studied the subject and know enough about it to agree or disagree." Now ask yourself where you data comes from. Let's pick one, for simplicity's sake. Evolution. You are probably not an expert in the field. You could be well read, and if you were, you would know that there is a huge range of opinion among the experts in this field. You have scientists who have studied this theory all their lives and staunchly support the idea that humans evolved in a totally random accident of coincidence and chance. Then you have equally credentialed scientists who look at the same data and say there is no way this could have happened without some kind of guiding force. You also have scientists who say that it's all bunk because it doesn't agree with their interpretation of the Bible.
Now who are you going to believe? You will choose an authority. Choose a side. Based on what? Your core philosophy. You will give more credence to the arguments of those with whom you agree philosophically. Do you believe in personal a god? You'll lean towards the Intelligent Design scientists. Do you believe there is no god, or that if there is, he is not active in the world of humans? Then you will probably favor the Darwinist evolutionists. Do you believe that science and religion are totally separate and often contradictory? You'll tend to agree with the Darwinists.
So are we then destined to continually instantiate our preconceived notions by bolstering them with our chosen authorities? I think for most people the answer is Yes. It's human nature. It's darn hard to reorient all your thinking based on new data. And with the proliferation of technology and information it's easier than ever to find some expert who agrees with what you already think. This is why information debates have become pretty pointless lately. People throw statistics back and forth all day. They can research and quote experts to back up their claims, and the other guy can do the same. You can follow the arc of this type of debate and it leads to a battle over the credentials of the sources. Which will just lead to more debate over the validity of certain credentials. It's ridiculous and futile. We are said to be living in an information age, where information is the new commodity. But it seems to me like we just have so much conflicting information, that it all proves to be fools gold. (Although the mere fact that data conflicts does not mean there is not true data and false data, it just isn't useful a debate tool anymore.)
But then, all of man's wisdom is bound by moth and rust. Which leads me to my next point. If we are supposed to have an open mind to different points of view, but can always be skeptical about those views based on the validity of their authority, where then can we find truth? How? Well, human wisdom attempts to answer this conundrum with a philosophy called postmodernism. It simply says that there IS no transcendent truth. Everyone makes their own. There are all sorts of practical problems with this philosophy, and no one actually fully embraces it. But God's answer is the same as it always has been: Revelation. The only way to access real truth is to have it revealed to you by a power beyond you. While having an open mind is based on an admirable desire to humbly seek truth, once that truth is found you need to wrap your mind around it.
But that being said, there are many people who have wrapped their mind around false philosophies. How do I know I'm not one of them? What right do I have to say I've closed my mind on this idea, but you need to open your mind to accept what I've found? Quite simply, I don't. No person does. That is why we are completely dependant on God for wisdom. Ours sucks.
Of course I'm at a supreme disadvantage in this argument since I have never radically changed my beliefs. I have tweaked, grown, and stretched them, but never taken on a completely different outlook on life. I'm still on the same trajectory I started out on: Generation X, protestant, conservative, white, male, American in the 21st century. So this means one of two things. Either I am extremely blessed to be given parents who raised me with proper beliefs and a philosophy already pointing towards the truth, or I am just close-minded and don't want to change. I could be filtering my information and choosing my authorities based on my personal opinions that are a result of how, when, and where I was raised. Like I stated above, I think the vast majority of people do this, so I don't feel bad if that's the case. But what I don't want to do is tell others that they need to have an open mind about my beliefs if I don't have a truly open mind about theirs. That seems arrogant and hypocritical.
Unless I'm right, and they are wrong. But as I said, I don't think a human mind can truly know that. I'm thinking that just as the complexity of biology leads to the natural conclusion that there is a God, so too the complexity of thought and ideas leads to that same conclusion. No one can possibly know enough about everything to be able to state with 100% certainty that they have found The Answers to everything. Again: only a god could claim that. Being in the class of Non-God, you and I can only understand what we are given the ability to understand. With the reasoning that I have been given, I have read about all sorts of other religions and philosophies and found that they either do not line up with reality, or are utterly useless. (Like Solipsism and Postmodernism.) Although I'm wary of taking a utilitarian approach to truth-seeking, as truth should be the ultimate goal, not a means to an end. But there again, is my underlying philosophy directing my thought patterns.
I'm having trouble coming to a conclusion about this topic. Perhaps that is the way it should be. But let me try to sum things up… Most people who claim to be open-minded really aren’t. (Try convincing an open-minded Pro-Choice advocate that a fetus is a human if you don't believe me.) Most people sift the data they consume through a filter that only lets in the data that already backs up their beliefs. They do this by rejecting authorities who present contrary data, and accepting those who present agreeable data. Because of this state that people are in, only divine revelation can truly change a person's heart and basic beliefs towards the truth.
So while it takes some humility to be open minded, I think it takes even more to realize that you just can't know truth on your own. You NEED a God to mercifully show you truth. Then, when you have been given that truth, close your mind on it and don't let go.