Closed Mind2It’s common for those who reject the Christian worldview to accuse Christians of being closed-minded.  Often this retort comes on the heels of a Christian’s outspokenness about his/her beliefs.  How can you respond when someone tells you you’re being closed-minded, or that you need to be more open-minded?

The first thing you ought to do is ask the person what s/he means by such terms.  S/he could mean one of several things, so we should not presume to know the answer.  In fact, s/he may not even know exactly what s/he means, and our inquiry may force him/her to think it through for the first time.  The truth of the matter is that those who use such terms often sling them blithely at anyone who disagrees with their point of view,[1] never stopping to think about what exactly it is that they mean.  And since the accusation is usually effective at silencing their opponents they continue to use it over and over again as the trump card of choice when discussing religion with “right-wing, fundamentalist wackos” such as ourselves.  If we can respond thoughtfully to his charge, not only will we rescue ourselves from a distasteful allegation, but we may disarm him/her from using this unfounded charge on other Christians in the future.

While there are several ways people define closed-mindedness, typically it is a label given to anyone who comes to a conclusion on a controversial matter, and believes that conclusion is true to the exclusion of all others.  We are told we must be open-, rather than closed-minded, which means we have an intellectual obligation to remain “on the fence” of all divisive issues, never taking a definitive position, and never claiming that one position has more merit than another.  There are a few ways to respond to this understanding of open- and closed-mindedness.

You could respond:

(1) “It sounds to me like you are saying your conclusion on the matter is that no one should come to a conclusion on the matter.  Am I understanding you correctly?”

The tactic behind this response is to expose the self-refuting nature of the claim.  While s/he demands that you not come to any conclusions, s/he has concluded that there should be no conclusion on the matter.  If open-mindedness means we cannot come to conclusions, then s/he is guilty of being closed-minded.

Another response looks like this:

(2) “What’s the point of being open-minded if we’re never allowed to come to a conclusion?  What’s the purpose of researching a matter, examining the arguments for and against the various theories, and weighing the merit of each if at the end of the day we can’t say one option is better than another?”

The purpose of this response is to help your opponent see that coming to a conclusion is the ultimate goal of being open-minded.  If we can’t come to a conclusion after doing the relevant research necessary to develop an informed conclusion, why even bother doing the research?  Why not just be intellectually lazy?  If the purpose of being open-minded is to come to a conclusion, how can your opponent fault you for having done so?  You can only be faulted if your conclusion is uniformed, rationally flawed, or contrary to other established knowledge.  The proper object of critique, then, is not the fact that you have a conclusion, but the reasons that inform your conclusion.

Here is an alternative response:

(3) “It seems that you are objecting to the fact that I have come to a conclusion, rather than with the substance of my conclusion and the arguments I have given in support of it.  But the fact that I have a conclusion is rather irrelevant.  What is relevant is whether my conclusion is right or wrong, valid or invalid.  So why should I believe my conclusion is wrong?”

This response helps you redirect their focus from the fact that you have a conclusion to the reasons that inform your conclusion.  Furthermore, it puts the burden of proof on him/her to demonstrate why your arguments/conclusion are flawed.

Conclusion

Each of these responses serves to demonstrate that closed-mindedness does not refer to the act of coming to a conclusion.  Closed-mindedness describes the mental disposition of those who dogmatically assert their view without sufficient justification, and/or those who are unwilling to consider any other viewpoint than their own.  If that is not an apt description of you, then you cannot properly be labeled closed-minded.

For additional reading see my mini-article entitled “Two Kinds of Narrow-Mindedness” at the Institute for Biblical Studies.

 

[1]It’s interesting how the only people they label “closed-minded” are those who disagree with them!  In essence they are saying, “If you agree with me you are open-minded; if you disagree with me you are closed-minded.”  How open-minded is that?  Open- and closed-mindedness becomes a one-way street in their direction.  While Christians are required to be open-minded to other views (meaning they can’t conclude Christianity is exclusively true), they don’t need to be open-minded to Christianity.  Why is it that when we think we are right we are wrong, but when they think they are right they are just right?

 


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