An Open Mind Tends to Fall Out
I’ve never liked the phrase “an open mind.” It’s not that I favor ideology or rigid, narrow views. Rather, it’s that people I’ve met who claim and open mind are often indecisive, or even lame-minded.
Yes – intellectual curiosity, a willingness to entertain new ideas, the ability to listen, and the desire to enter into the thinking of those who disagree with you are all signs of intellectual virtue. Even more so, the willingness to continually rethink and refine one owns thinking and the positions generated by such. In this sense, keeping an open mind is not a sign of weakness or skepticism, it’s a sign of strength and discipline.
Sadly, many people who claim an open mind simply don’t want to have to decide or think too hard about certain subjects. Even worse, indecisiveness and intellectual vacillation are sometimes treated as a virtue or the sign of a truly intellectually engaged person.
An open mind is fine when it comes to tasting new wines, but a perpetually open mind when it comes to cultural, academic, philosophical, and theological views risks, as the expression says, “being so open minded that one’s brain falls out.” In a sense, an open mind is often a diversion that tries to mask what is essentially a closed mind – one that is closed off to decision making, judgments, and reaching conclusions, even if temporary or open to future revision.
I much prefer an informed mind to an open mind.
An Informed Mind is better than an Open One
An informed mind is one that yearns for information. An informed mind is one that wants to hear the best of both sides of an argument. An informed mind is one that remains hospitable to learning, to the truth, and to revising one owns thinking based on new evidence.
Those who read this blog once in a while know that I am gay – and that I am seriously engaged in my spirituality. I believe truth is a core foundation of spirituality and that seeking and honoring the truth is a key part of a worthwhile, meaningful life.
Further, I believe it is everyone’s obligation to engage all sides of an argument. I believe that an informed mind is one that understands and has sincerely engaged the opposing arguments. Let me tell you a story that illustrates the above points.
When I was an undergraduate at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, I took a course in Christology as part of my theology major. It was taught by a bright, engaging, young priest who did a great job with the material. However, he made one mistake as I see it.
Toward the end of the course, he used Madonna’s newly released song, “Like a Prayer” to illustrate a few points about worship, human nature, and devotion. It was 1989 or so and the video and song were garnering all sorts of attention. I’m sure the priest wanted to simply refer to something in the popular culture to make a point.
However – he (somewhat naively) forbade us from watching the music video. And he preferred we didn’t listen to the song either. His final even featured an essay question on the video.
Hmmm. How are you to speak intelligently about something you are banned from engaging?
I think the priest was well intentioned and simply a bit sheltered. Overall, I give the guy credit for even engaging Madonna at all. Also, I don’t think he was aware that most of us were more or less familiar with the popular culture and that all of us in the class had already seen and heard the song – dozens and dozens of times.
Sadly, many people – religious people especially – do what this young priest did – they only superficially engage those arguments, positions, and views that they disagree with. Worse, many don’t ever read the work of those who disagree with them.
That priest’s class wasn’t the only one that suffered from such weakness. I had philosophy classes where the professor, a revered and highly intelligent woman, would refer to Hume, Descartes, and other “objectionable” thinkers as her “enemy.” She wasn’t trying to be funny, either.
I have no problem with people drawing lines and making distinctions. Nor do I have a problem with folks considering others their intellectual enemy. But please, at least tell us why David Hume is your enemy. Don’t simply assert the notion. Engage his ideas, critique them. And to critique them properly, you must read them, consider them, and enter into them for a time.
To be Informed means to Engage
I understand that we all don’t have the time to fully engage those positions we disagree with. I don’t need to read the latest Socialist thinkers to feel confident in my affirmation of free markets. Time is limited, I can’t read every book, every article, and sift through every argument.
But I feel obliged to do the best I can for topics that particularly touch on my life and animate me. As a gay person, I believe I have an obligation, a duty, to engage in the arguments – both pro and con – concerning same sex marriage, homosexual relationships, the cultural impact of such, their moral status, and so on.
And I do. And I’d like to offer you a short sampling of some of the best resources out there on the matter.
Arguments in Favor of Same Gender Sexual Relationships
God and the Gay Christian – by Matthew Vines. Matthew is a young gay man who recently left Harvard. He was raised as an Evangelical Christian and continues to practice and take seriously his faith. His book is an attempt to lay out a carefully considered argument, mostly from Scripture, that same sex relationships and marriage are permissible – even under a somewhat orthodox and conservative reading of the Bible.
Just Love – by Sr. Margaret Farley. Farley deconstructs traditional Christian sexual ethics and then reconstructs them using the latest in science, psychology, and human thinking. Her book is a serious, sustained argument that gay sexual relationships are meaningful and morally permissible.
Bible, Gender, & Sexuality – by James Brownson, who offers a Reformed perspective on the Scriptures and the philosophical arguments concerning homosexuality and gay marriage. A great read. His conclusion is much like that of Vines’ – the scriptures are condemning oppressive sexual relationships and outdated notions of impaired masculinity, not committed same sex relationships.
The Sexual Person – Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology – by T. Salzman and M. Lawler – two Catholic thinkers who engage the Catholic tradition and its personalist strands to conclude that same sex sexual relationships can be holy, blessed, and genuine. As a former Catholic, and a current Personalist, I really appreciated this work.
God vs. Gay? – by Jay Michaelson, a Jewish theologian who reaches beyond his own comfort zone and considers the philosophical, theological, scriptural, and cultural arguments concerning homosexuality. His conclusion, from a Jewish perspective, is that same sex relationships can be holy and are in accord with God’s vision for humanity redeemed.
Arguments Opposed to Same Gender Sexual Relationships
The Bible and Homosexual Practice – by Robert A. Gagnon. A careful, compassionate treatment of exegesis concluding that Scripture does not approve of same sex sexual relationships. A thorough and excellent work.
On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons – Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, CDF – written in 1986, it remains the central document of Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Ratzinger elaborates the Catholic understanding that homosexuality is a metaphysical disorder and that such relationships can never be morally approved.
Theology of the Body for Beginners – Christopher West. An excellent summation of Catholic teaching on sexual morality borrowing heavily from the theology of Pope John Paul II.
Law, Morality, and Sexual Orientation – an essay by John Finnis. One of the more recent scholarly efforts to defend traditional views of marriage and further traditional Natural Law thinking on the subject of sexual ethics. Also, anything on the subject by Professor Robbie George, who adopts a similar set of views within the same paradigm.
I highly recommend that anyone engaged in this debate read the above works – all of them, from both sides. An informed mind is capable of presenting the opposing argument with honesty and vigor, grasping its core elements. The only way to achieve this is by engaging the thinking of those we disagree with.
I welcome additions to the lists, as well as your thoughts.