Why open mindedness can’t get you truth or love

Open mindedness is good for the journey, but it is no destination itself. Though it’s thought of as the Promised Land of our time, it makes us all the more into desert wanderers.

Each culture has its narratives and dogmas. In some way, we’re all religiously affiliated to scripts and scriptures of a kind. Right now, open mindedness is one of our reigning cultural virtues, but I don’t think it’s particularly noble or even very helpful when it forms the center of our search for truth and love…

Why? Because while it comes dressed as intellectual and spiritual humility, it harbors a keen distrust of commitment. It cannot carry us to truth and cannot sustain love.

An unwaveringly open mind grows obstinate against truth, evaluation and love that comes from outside the self. To be open minded about my friendships, my responsibilities, my marriage could cause great turmoil. Love requires a commitment to promises and truth claims that exist outside of our rising and falling favor of them.

The persistently open mind cannot throw the arms of embrace around anything at all. In remaining open to all lovers, it commits to none.

Let it guide your search for truth, not terminate it. Seek, expecting to find. Keep fellow travelers close, reminding each other that you’re pressing into a truth not created, but revealed. Have the desire to be more than a lifelong seeker of truth who never knows when she’s found it. Be increasingly in awe of its objective beauty, meaningful reality, and transformative power in your life. No seeker of treasure hopes to never find it, and no seeker of truth should assume it can’t be found. If you find the real thing, you may even sense it was seeking you all along–sounds like love to me.

Let’s discuss:
In what ways can open mindedness be helpful? What are its weaknesses as a guiding principle? What are its limits?

Photo credit: Davide Ragusa | https://unsplash.com/davideragusa

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5 thoughts on “Why open mindedness can’t get you truth or love”

  1. Levi, I think I disagree. Here’s why.
    Open mindedness is crucial to our advancement as a society and as a species. It applies in several different ways.
    Scientifically, if we don’t remain open minded, we grow stagnant in out advances. For millennia the standard model of our solar system was the geocentric one, with the earth at the center and the universe revolving around it. Galelleo’s tenacity and bravery to have an open mind, to follow the real data and challenge the status quo revealed the cosmos to us. Again, for millennia disease and sickness were thought to be the work of supernatural efforts, or blamed on different ethnic groups with disastrous results. However, open minded research lead to germ theory, which allows us to develop vaccines and medicines to counteract the microbes and viruses that not only assail us on a daily basis, but vastly outnumber us, evolving so fast that even today it’s hard for us to keep up. The simple fact that a scientific theory is required to be falsifiable is a testament to the open-minded basis needed for advancement. There are countless other examples.
    In regards to society, it’s important to keep an open mind with people of other ethnic, moral, societal or religious beliefs and backgrounds. This is a big planet and there’s more than seven billion people on it. In order to survive the human race has to adapt to its own varieties. This great nation was founded on the freedoms that make it such a melting pot, anyone from any background has a voice, a say in how things are run. Today, no matter your color or creed you have freedoms in the US under our constitution. Hindu people own stores next to Asian businesses. A black man is president, and Hispanic – Canadian is running for office! It’s a beautiful concept and at the heart of it is acceptance and open mindedness.

    Even taking the religious standpoint, open mindedness is christ-like. In Matthew 9:10, Jesus ate with the tax collectors and other “disreputable” sinners, showcasing his acceptance for them. This was highly condemned by those following the status quo. In James 2:1-13, jesus tells his desciples not to judge people based on their appearance, or by the color of their sins. What could describe an open mind better than not making snap decisions merely based on appearances?

    Sure, we need to draw a line in the sand in many instances. To be open minded and accepting of the Islamic State and their savage, murderous set of beliefs would be a moral crime. To allow Adolf Hitler to slaughter millions without repercussion would have been reprehensible. But rational, logical thinking people banded together to stop the Third Reich, and many people from all across the world are fighting ISIS for every inch of territory they capture. Moral and civil accountability is crucial, which is why an open minded mentality MUST be balanced with logic and reason and empathy.

    My bottom line is that, sure you can search for absolute truth or treasure or whatever you’d like to call it, and you’re right. You might not find it. But to live your life in presupposition and ignore what the data tells you isn’t a rational way of looking at the world. Without the Helicentric model, we wouldn’t be able to orbit satellites and the Internet wouldn’t exist for us to have these conversations. Without germ theory, pandemic disease would continue to destroy innocent people’s lives like the Black Plague. Without the open minded, blanket freedom of our founding fathers, religious discrimination and slavery and oppression would be as rampant in America as it is in the middle east today. We asked slave owners to think of the humanity of their slaves, we protested the status quo for the voting rights of women. Looking back, who would dare say that subjegating women or enslaving African Americans is a good thing? Yet these practices were the zeitgeist in those days. We look back, and with an open mind, enlightened, condemn those behaviors.

    Sorry for writing a book here. Just wanted to give my two cents.

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    1. Matt, thanks for commenting on this. Your response gives some very welcome balance to my pithy treatment of the subject. I don’t mind book length responses at all…
      I am in agreement with you, and I am now evaluating my original post to see how it could be more qualified. I was attempting to caution against open mindedness, applied without restraint, in spiritual and relational matters. I entirely agree that open mindedness, or, as you put it so well, to not “live your life in presupposition and ignore what the data tells you,” has advanced unquestionably good progress in the realms you mentioned.

      But especially with regard to discerning spiritual reality or maintaining loving relationship, unrestrained open mindedness will limit our ability to commit. Commitment is the key to deeper understanding and experience of spiritual reality and relational intimacy.

      My concern here (to submit my book length response!) is with the way open mindedness can lead to keeping one’s options open. This is at a base level with regard to fundamental beliefs. Christ was open minded, I’ll say, about expressions and dimensions of spiritual reality, such as demonstrating sacrificial love to the most surprising of subjects and turning many kinds of tables. He was wonderfully subversive. But the same Christ said, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17). I see here Christ’s statement on the threshold of open mindedness. A choice about Christ, as he himself suggests, ought to be made based on a person’s willingness to evaluate, reason, consider, and–then–trust his word, which are his proposals and lived demonstrations of reality. We’re not encouraged by him to remain purely open about these weightier matters. And his challenge is not unreasonable. In order to function, we must hold to an unprovable, comprehensive view of reality. We have to make some commitment to then work outwards. So Christ gets to the heart of the matter: our desires. We’re asked to evaluate our heart’s disposition toward God before we start evaluating the teaching Christ brings. Then we are better equipped to discern truth. There’s a call to not remain merely open about Christ. Is he a man? Is he more? Just like with a lover, the person who demands empirical proof for all claims will remain deeply limited in his or her ability to love and be loved. Much of what my wife tells me, her words of kindness and fidelity, I can support with empirical proof. But it would destroy our love if I never trusted her and demanded continual evidences.

      We never arrive to certainty about relational or spiritual realities using just reason or logic. Faith carries us into certainty of a kind that still remains open to supplementary thoughts and data, so in that sense open mindedness aids our development. But a purely open mind isn’t very useful. It holds onto little. The question we can then ask is, which comprehensive view is most reasonable? Unchecked open mindedness can often lead us away, not toward, clarity and decision on these matters.

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  2. Well said. I can’t argue the spiritual aspect of the issue much more than I already have, simply because I don’t believe. It’s sort of a moot point for me, because from my perspective reality is inherently understandable, through impiricism and research. I don’t think we’ll see eye to eye on that aspect.

    With relationships though, I like your perspective alot and I agree, but I believe it’s mislabeled. When my wife tells me she loves me or she’s out with friends, it’s not a closed mind (not a term you used, I’m aware, but it’s the antithesis of the argued point) that keeps me from doubting her. It’s trust. I think that open mindedness, as applied to human interaction and relationships, applies more to the inherent changes we go through as we grow, both personally and as a married couple.

    Children. Aging. Career choices. Many events in life cause drastic changes in the dynamics of marriages, and it takes open communication and an open mind to work though those changes. No one stays in the “honeymoon phase” of their marriage forever, but through our love and trust we adapt to the changes and persevere.

    At least to me, keeping an open mind to how relationship dynamics shift is crucial to a lasting marriage. For one example, Shannon is 34 weeks pregnant, and as such she is sore and tired and irritable. I can’t expect anything less from the woman carrying my child. It would be shameful and wrong of me to expect of her the same attitude and energy she had a few months ago. I try my best to understand things from her perspective and adapt, and to take care of her regardless of my wants and needs. I keep an open mind to her ever-evolving needs and do my best to provide for her.

    That’s what an open mind in a relationship means to me. I trust her, though trust is a bond formed through imperial evidence in the form of relationship building. But commitment is something I can have without sacrificing an open minded life view. I’m committed to her and to my daughters, regardless of how the winds of change may blow.

    I truly enjoy conversations with folks as intelligent as you are, Levi. You often shine light on views I’d otherwise not consider. I apologize for my late response!

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