Let’s face it, everyone thinks they are open minded. But everyone will also agree that most people are NOT open minded. The conclusion, then, is that most people are closed minded, but believe themselves to be open minded.
We all want to discover greater truth and illumination. But we don’t want to be- as the old adage goes- “so open minded that your brain falls out.” For there is the very real danger of losing once’s self in a sea of moral ambiguity.
So how do you become an enlightened person, without losing yourself- Your sense of values and principles?
I’d like to share some pearls of wisdom that were shared with me during my formative years- words of wisdom that have helped me along my journey of life discovery in theology, science, and even politics.
I’ll explain each further but I will first list these three principles.
The first principle is this: Nothing suffers from examination but error. There is nothing too sacred to be questioned.
The second guiding principle to having an open mind is this: The mark of an intelligent man or woman is the ability to truly reflect on a position that is not their own, and to consider the possibility that their own position may be wrong, and their opponent’s position may be right.
The third key to truth discovery is to embrace in a broad sense, what is invented in the truth that
Science is not designed to prove anything. Proper scientific method is to disprove hypotheses and thereby narrow down possible truths. Science is designed to disprove false theories, not to prove theories true.
While this last point may seem to be the most abstract to our purpose, you will soon discover that it holds the key to great- and even spiritual- truths as well.
Three Wise Men
During my formative years, three men- my father (a polemic debater and Christian theologian), my professor of theology at College, and my Iranian Chemistry professor at University, all gave me pearls of wisdom that have helped me along my exploration of life and my quest for truth and enlightenment.
The first piece to this puzzle was given to me by my father.
I became a student of theology before I reached my teen years. I’d sit in the front row at the conferences and debates where my dad spoke- Bible in my lap and a pen and paper in my hand.
And if I heard him say it once, I heard him say a hundred times that “Nothing suffers from examination but error. There are no sacred cows too Holy to be questioned.”
This is part of my Apostolic heritage; to have my sole allegiance- not to a religious institution or denomination- but to truth and to truth alone.
I believe this is a paramount ideal for anyone wishing to have an open mind. Anything should be open for debate. Anything is a candidate for examination. Because, in the end, only error suffers from examination.
If you are convinced, before you begin, that your way is right- well, you’ve aborted this journey of discovery before it begins. We all come from different religious, political and ethical traditions. And it is ok to question the beliefs of others, so long as you are also willing to take a critical review of your own values.
It is very possible that I am wrong…
The second pearl of wisdom given to me was by my College professor where I studied Theology.
The university I attended was of a different religious tradition than the one I grew up in. Having graduated early from high-school, I found myself at the age of 17, in an environment where many tenants of the faith I grew up in were under daily scrutiny.
Dr. Magnus, in his lectures, was fond of putting me on the spot by saying, “This is our church position on this passage of scripture, but Jonathan comes from a different tradition that has a different perspective on this passage. Jonathan, would you share your position on this passage with the group?”
The first time he did this I was nervous and unprepared. But I soon learned to look ahead in the syllabus to find out where my faith differed from theirs, and to be prepared, if asked, to give a defense of my own.
I learned from this biweekly ritual that it would not do to simply believe something because it is what my parents or my church had taught me. If I was to hold something as a tenant of my faith, I had to be able to defend it against criticism. And if I could not, I should not hold to that tenant of faith. I also learned from this that Dr. Magnus was not afraid of divergent views to his own being expressed in his classroom. That, I felt, was admirable.
While I had begun to grasp the concept of what he was doing, it all came together for me one day in a lecture when Dr. Magnus said,
“The mark of a truly intelligent person, is the ability to reflect on a position that is not his own, and to truly consider the possibility that he himself may be wrong, And that the opposing view may be correct.”
Since that day I have always sought to do this. Not because I want to be thought intelligent .But because I want to be intelligent.
In every discussion, debate, or contention, I proceed with a thorough consideration of the apposing position, and the accompanying consideration that I may be wrong.
I seldom engage with those who will not offer me the same courtesy. Arguing with a closed minded person may be edifying, but more often than not, the lack of introspection leads to frustrating gridlock. It is as the old southern adage goes… “a good coonhound can whup’ a skunk, but a smart one know’s it ain’t worth the trouble.”
You can’t prove anything… but you can disprove a lot!
The third and final “Aha!” moment I’d like to share with you, came while studying organic Chemistry with professor Aryanna from Iran, when I had gone back to college years later to study Wildlife Biology. This was my third chemistry course with him, and I had grown to appreciate his mind greatly.
One day, a student, wanting to sound emphatic in a laboratory discussion, said “It is a scientifically proven fact that…”
Professor Aryana interrupted him and with his thick Persian accent, said, “Science does not prove things. That is not the purpose of Science. True science only disproves things!”
This came as a bit of a shock, coming from a renown scientist.
The professor went on to explain what any 4th year biology student should have known. The scientific method is to come up with a hypothesis, or an idea of how you think something is or works. Then, the scientist does not venture forth to prove his hypothesis. A good scientist will set out to disprove his idea. Finally, when he has not been able to disprove his hypothesis by a great many laborious trials, his hypothesis graduates- not to to the status of fact- but to the status of a theory. There are no facts in science. There are only theories that have stood the rigors of the negative scientific method time and again.
And so it should be with you, as you seek to discover Truth with an open mind. Rule nothing out. never assume something as fact. While you may have come to trust something because it has withstood the test of time by those who have sought to disprove it always consider the possibility that your perception may have just never undergone the right test to disprove it.
I believe that Faith and Introspection are essential for any quest for truth and enlightenment.
It should be kept always in mind that we all have bias. We all have predispositions. We all have our default perspectives. Those who think they do not are the most narrow minded of all. For they are those that take their perspective as gospel, without regard to their own predispositions.
On the other hand, If you believe in moral relativism- that there is no real ultimate truth, that there is ultimately no real right or wrong but that it is all subjective- than you have aborted your mission before it has begun. How can one find truth if there is no such thing? How can one find enlightenment if there is no true light.
I readily acknowledge, for example, that I am biased toward Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. But this is not an unwitting or ignorant predisposition. Rather, the rigorous experiments and trials of my life- and the efforts of countless detractors- have served only to reaffirm my established theory, that in Christianity is light and truth. It is not despite my training in science, that I ascribe to Christianity, but because of it. Since it has stood the test of time, I can embrace it as truth, and then use it to help me interpret future spiritual discoveries.
To make yourself the ultimate arbiter of truth without guiding principles, is will worship and exaltation of self.
Your compass must be higher than yourself. If you are the ultimate arbiter or right and wrong- if you have set yourself as your own God in that regard- then you have concluded your mission before it starts.
For me, Christianity is my compass and the Bible is my map. This is not to say that an organization or religious institution dictates these things to me. For they do not. Rather, I use the principles of Scripture and from Spirit in the same way an explorer would use the sun, moon and stars as indicators of direction. It is the telescope through which I view the universe.
You too, must settle on principles to guide you on your quest.
If you think this prohibits open mindedness, then you are misunderstanding. For example, I would not use “Im a republican” or “Im a democrat” as a guideline to decide your political position on an issue. Rather, your principles and values should dictate your political affiliation (if any).
In that way, for example, my quest to understand spiritual matters like the afterlife will be guided by (not limited by) my Christian faith. It will be starting place of understanding to guide my inquiry.
Do you want to discover new truths with an open mind?
Then be willing to examine everything and anything. even the most elementary values you hold. Explore thoughts and ideas that contradict your own. If you find they are wrong they will only serve to deepen your trust in your conviction and nothing is lost. Finally, stop trying to prove yourself right all the time. try setting out to disprove your notions for a change. Then, when you cannot, your convictions will be stronger than ever before.
I bid you Godspeed on your expedition of discovery. I pray that you too will employ the illuminations of Christianity to guide you on your mission. Your Faith should not be used (as some institutions would have it) as a set of blinders, that prevent you from seeing the greater world. Rather, we should use our faith as as one would use a pair of binoculars to increase our vision of all things. For you see, while there may be no such thing as a fact- in science- our tested and proven theories become truth when placed coupled with faith.
“Be not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” -Paul the Apostle