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The Sin of Open-Mindedness

The Sin of Open-Mindedness

December 28, 2020 · C.E. Carter

“An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.” ~ Chesterton

The appearance of “open-mindedness” is a virtue of our time, and it’s a generally unchivalrous virtue when it’s adherence is required at all times, in all places, and with all ideas. Nonetheless, it remains a central pillar of what the secular world (and increasingly, the Western Church) consider “good behavior”. A man who isn’t afraid to let you know what he believes on a certain issue may receive a quick “you should be more open-minded” from his audience if they are worldly evangelicals. This criticism is founded in hypocrisy; a truly open-minded person would have probably responded to your strong assertion with a question (“can you tell me more about…?”), or a simple statement of ignorance or doubt (“that’s new to me, I didn’t know that”). They would never, ever be so closed-minded as to think that the only reason that someone would feel so strongly about a certain issue is because they themselves really are closed-minded. A truly open-minded person would take it into account that they said what they said for some other reason other than closed-mindedness, and would have to happily concede the mystery. A quick “how do you know that?” is an excellent Socratic retort to “you should be more open-minded”.

The majority accusations regarding the sin of closed-mindedness arise as a means of control. In a situation like that, you can replace “you should be more open-minded” with “you just said something I don’t agree with, I don’t know how to respond, and I want you to recant”. In this circumstance, your critic does not know more than you do, so you are within your right and your means to carry on as you were before. By contrast, a knowledgeable critic will actually address the specific points of your assertion when they say you should be more open-minded. When asked, “how do you know that?”, a learned person with their ducks in a row would actually give you a reason for their contradiction of your initial assertion. Standing your ground is not the way to go here; you’d be wise to heed correction or learn some bit of nuance that you were previously ignorant of. Open-mindedness ought to be a temporary and guarded disposition which seeks to gain new knowledge by building upon that which is already known; your skill and the skill of your opponent can only be truly assessed if you are willing to draw your sword and spar. That’s purposeful and wise openness.

The willy-nilly free lovin’ flavor of open-mindedness strips off its armor and throws its sword to the ground before attempting to embrace its sword-wielding assailant with a warm hug. The man who sits staunchly open-minded knows nothing, learns nothing, and offers no knowledge. He is not a source of anything or a destination for anything. His mind is more akin to a five gallon bucket in a slaughterhouse, which may be filled or emptied with whatever, whenever, and by whomever. If he were perpetually open-minded about whether 2 + 2 actually equals 4 (or whether it equals something else) he would never develop a suitable foundation upon which to calculate a tip, learn calculus, or build a successful career as an engineer. His insistence to remain open-minded has closed him off not only from arithmetic, but also from everything which depends on arithmetic. The open-minded man is a fool who has, ironically, closed himself off from entire academic disciplines. Learners are the ones who learn to close their mind, just like eaters are the ones who learn to close their mouth. In doing so, they build upon their existing knowledge, and receive correction from their bad ideas. A closed-minded man has a position and thus has the ability to change his mind by changing his position, but an open-minded man has nothing to change about his mind; it is as windswept as it ever was.

Christians are people of truth. This means that we aren’t supposed to be open-minded about falsehood. We have the Truth, and He has written a book for us. There is no room to be open-minded, for example, about whether cold-blooded murder is a morally righteous act (it is not), even if it occurs in the womb. There is no room to be open-minded about whether Jesus really is both truly human and truly divine (He is), or whether the doctrine of the Trinity is a true description of the Godhead (it is), or if salvation really is by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone (it really is). If something is clear, then we should hold fast to it for the same reason that we lock our doors at night: the knowledge of the truth is a strong fortress for ourselves and our loved ones, and we have a chivalrous duty to keep it that way.