Tag Archives: relative-truth

Close-Mindedness, Open-Mindedness, and Meta-Systemic Thinking

Seen on a bumper sticker on the way home this evening:

bq. “The mind is like a parachute-It only works when it is open.”

I find it interesting that the general assumption is that a person is either open-minded or close-minded. It’s like you have to pick which one you want to be, and it had better not be close-minded (according to the edicts of the culture-at-large). For those who consider themselves open-minded, it’s the only way to view to the world. Open-mindedness is a breath of fresh air, allowing all men to be at peace with another because they can now accept one another without prejudice because all beliefs, all values, and all worldviews are equally correct, because there is no such thing as being right (or at least not 100% right) about anything, because it is the height of arrogance to ever propose to your fellow man that his beliefs might be in error or flawed in the slightest. The only blight upon this system are those they consider to be close-minded (a condition considered almost on a level with pedophilia, it seems), those who believe that their way is the only way, those who feel that they have no need for further analysis of their beliefs and worldviews.

Strangely enough, neither position recognizes, let alone acknowledges, the inconsistencies of their own stances. The ‘open-minded’ individual is tolerant of everything but the close-minded individual, making the open-minded individual close-minded in his very open-mindedness. The ‘close-minded’ individual is so self-assured of his correctness, of his ‘rightness’, that he is completely unwilling to acknowledge the idea that he may be mistaken in his logic or in his
conclusions and is thus unable to admit that the open-minded individual with whom he has been conversing may have a valid point. Both extremes are so confident and comfortable in their self-chosen philosophical stances that they rotely discard the entirety of the other’s arguments out of hand because it is seen as deriving from a philosophy which is completely counter to their own. Sadly, as a result, many great trues and compromises are lost to this practice, and
many great and wise men are reduced to foolishness and idiocy.

What both the open-minded individual and the close-minded individual seem to not understand is that their philosophical approaches are not simply an either/or choice but rather are two ends of a continuum. The continuum looks something like this:

Close-minded ————————– Open-minded

Every man, woman, and child alive fits somewhere along this line, and few populate the furthest extremes. Few people (if any) are so open-minded that they are willing to embrace any and every philosophy arbitrarily. And few (if any) are so close-minded that they reject every single philosophy that is not their own. Instead, everyone is open-minded about some things and close-minded about others.

I would propose that a specific mid-point be assigned to the above continuum.

Close-minded ————- Meta-System ————- Open-minded

This is my conceptualization of meta-systemic thinking. The prefix meta in this case means “beyond; transcending; more comprehensive; at a higher state of development.” When applied to thinking systems, meta opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It combines the best of close-minded and open-minded thinking while discarding the worst of both. Meta-systemic thinking would be known, in more familiar terms, as critical thinking, but in calling it meta-systemic thinking, certain implications and techniques are found that the definition of ‘critical thinking’ has lost (or never had).

Meta-systemic thinking approaches every philosophy and every worldview with a fresh eye, critiquing, anyalzing, breaking down, identifying assumptions, naming presuppositions, ferreting out flaws, and praising strengths. Meta-systemic thinking collates all that which is worth keeping and discards all that which is not. Meta-systemic thinking is continually reshaping the individual, being just open-minded enough to accept the possibility that a personal conclusion
or bit of logic may be flawed and in being willing to correct that flaw, even in accepting a bit of truth from a philosophy traditionally viewed as being wholly incorrect. It is also just close-minded enough to be willing to settle down to a firm stance once the individual believes that all available information has been gathered and processed and the chaff discarded. It is something of a tight-rope to walk, constantly struggling to balance on the edge of correctness while admitting the flaw of human error. Meta-systemic thinking acknowledges the existence of absolute truth and that that truth can be known by men. Meta-systemic thinking is an ongoing process, lifelong and continual, but overall it is a healthier and more robust approach to critical thought.

What I find so amazing is how few individuals are unwilling or unable to engage in meta-systemic thought, allowing instead personal hubris to interfere. Many a productive discussion has been derailed by the refusal to critically listen and think about the opposing argument and adjust accordingly. If only more people were willing to use their minds, rather than their feelings, to engage the world, we might find ourselves in a better place.

Knowing When To Speak Up In A Post-Modern Culture

Well, Liz requested my thoughts on knowing when to speak up for your beliefs in a post-modern world, so here goes. (Liz, let me know if I’ve addressed your comment adequately.)

It’s true. It really is hard sometimes to know when to speak up in a post-modern world and when to just keep your mouth shut. So much of our culture today is driven by a philosophy of
non-offensiveness that squarely speaking your mind can often put you in a position of scorn and ridicule by your peers.

In addressing the post-modern culture, there are a couple of things we always have to be aware of, things that we recognize and with which we have to deal. We have to understand that, in general, there are two separate groups of post-moderns — the group that is composed of professing Christians and the group that is composed of unbelievers. Knowing to which group the individual or individuals with which you are conversing belongs greatly affects the approach you want to take in declaring and defending your beliefs. With the Christian group, you are able to cut a few more corners, take a more direct route to your personal statements of faith, and speak from a greater pool of common ground and understanding. With the unbelieving group, you will typically have to take more time to lay out the basic tenets of your beliefs before you can talk about the beliefs themselves, to clarify the assumptions and presuppositions that are
generally taken for granted in the Christian faith, to establish a level playing field where (hopefully) everyone understands the logical and philosophical starting point of everyone else. Of course, as I have entered in many more conversations recently with believer and unbeliever alike, I have come to understand that this simplistic demarcation is much more blurred than it once was. We are required to explicitly define our terms so that, even if we disagree with the other’s starting point, we at least understand where the other begins his logical and philosophical train of thought. And even so, it is not always appropriate to speak one’s mind.

Allow me to lay out my personal approach to speaking up and to speaking out about my beliefs. This has come from many experiences, both good and bad, and I am constantly checking myself to make sure I am acting in a way that is beneficial, uplifting, and constructive to all. The rule by which I live is this — I simply wait for the appropriate opportunity to speak. Sometimes I succeed at this; sometimes I do not. As I said before, sometimes it really is difficult to know when to speak up for what you believe in. There are many factors that I take into consideration when determining if the time is right for me to say my bit. A large portion of this consideration is in determining the frame of mind of my target audience. Some topics, just by the mere mention, will fire up certain individuals into a blind rage and passion of debate that makes a lot of noise but ultimately ends up going nowhere. Those are the sorts of discussions that I try to avoid because no matter what I say or how well I phrase my own arguments, ultimately it will amount
to little more than an itch that, once scratched, goes away and is immediately forgotten. The sorts of people with whom I am really most interested in conversing are those who are genuinely open to honest discussion, who have their own opinions and stances but who are
receptive to other opinions and who are willing to recognize that they, too, are human and fallible and who desire to correct any flaws in their own logic that may exist. Those are people to whom I am most willing to open my own heart and mind, to share what I believe and why, from whom I am most willing to accept constructive criticism and challenge of my beliefs and to whom I am most willing to reciprocate in kind. Those are the sorts of people who have helped me grow the most over the years. We may end up still disagreeing on what we believe and why, but in the process we have had an exchange of ideas and of relationship that leaves everyone changed, often for the better.

It’s difficult to converse with the post-modern who holds certain core values and beliefs to be in flux due to a lack of absolutes, but it is indeed possible through the clear explanation of personal values and beliefs and through humble and open dialogue between peers. When do I choose to speak my mind? When I feel my audience is open and receptive to my ideas. Sometimes I
end up in a debate that ends in a waste of time, but sometimes I don’t, and I leave the discourse feeling as though something truly great has happened.

Drive

Everyone has certain values, beliefs, and goals that drive them. They serve as the presuppositions and the assumptions behind every thought, behavior, and action. And when these value systems are not clarified, they can hinder communication because people think they are on the same page when really they are not. Like everyone else, I have values and beliefs that drive me, that serve as my foundation for behavior. I could probably list many values that drive me, but here are my top three:

1. I believe in absolute truth and that that truth can be known. The main reason behind this belief is purely logical. A universe without absolutes would quickly (possibly instantly) spiral into chaos and disorder. There are absolutes in science, in the basic workings of the universe, that keep everything working smoothly. There are some who would say that there are no absolutes, that all truth is relative, and I would quickly point them to proven absolutes. They might then suggest that there is no social truth, that what is truth is different to each individual. But I would also suggest that this breaks from the very nature of the universe and of life itself. It is not hard to look into human behavior and see absolutes defining that behavior every day.

2. I believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere-present God, loving, compassionate, yet just in all His ways, slow to anger, quick to forgive, a God who is there and who not silent, active, yet often subtle in His ways. This may, in fact, be the most basic of all my values, the foundation of all my foundations. There must have been an intelligent design to the universe, an establisher of the absolute truth I see all around me, a Being so much bigger than I am who can do all that I cannot. The only Being who even remotely fits the facts as I observe is the God
of the Bible. Everything I do is done with the knowledge that He sees me and cares about me and that I have to do little more than speak in order to communicate with Him.

3. I believe in integrity, that a man’s word is his bond. This is a natural step from the last and encompasses a great many other values. This includes keeping promises, fulfilling obligations
and responsibilites to the best of my ability, maintaining confidentialities (even when not explicity asked), and behaving with utmost respect and courtesy toward all other individuals.
Integrity is a big deal to me and drives me in a way that few other values can do. I would expect integrity directed toward me, and so I would direct no less than absolute integrity toward others.

We all have values to guide our lives and behavior. I’d be interested to hear some of yours. And if you haven’t thought about it, maybe it’s time you did.

Forced Worship

[Why is it that I always come up with my best thoughts when I’m driving down the road, listening to jazz, away from any venue where I could possibly actually record my thoughts as they come to me? I really ought to find my mini-recorder and keep it in the Explorer with me….]

I recently just finished up a CD series of Donald Carson, who spoke this past winter at Cedarville University during the annual Staley Lectureship Series. He spoke on the emergent church movement and integration of postmodernism into that movement. Something that he said really stuck out to me — postmodernism holds as one of its primary foundations the establishment of personal experience to determine truth. This method of finding ‘truth’ has crept into the church and influenced it in ways that I, personally, find somewhat alarming.

Something that has stuck in my craw for a few years now has finally been revealed to me, based upon this ‘revelation’. The worship times at Cedarville (during my five-year tenure there), especially the student-led times, often had a feeling of wrongness to them. A good friend of mine described it like this: “It was like they were ‘forcing’ us to worship, like they were saying, ‘Worship, dang it!'” This was in response to the call to worship, where the congregation was called to think on God, to think on all He has done for us, and to worship him with your heart, essentially with your feelings, your emotions. On the surface, this all sounded very good, but something still stuck out as being wrong about it. In reflection now, I see that this call to worship focused almost exclusively on the experience of God, little on the knowledge of Him and on His revealed truth through His Word. And the songs we sang, the worship choruses, were fantastic for building up emotion and describing the experience of God in our lives, but they also left me feeling theologically destitute, frequently neglecting words of Scripture, words of absolute truth to put all my experiences as a Christian, as a follower of Jehovah, into perspective in light of the Almighty One of Heaven, instead paving over them with poetic niceties. (Don’t get me wrong; I believe there is a place for this sort of worship, just not to exclusivity.) This is the wrongness that I perceived there, this almost single-minded focus on the experience, to the near-exclusion of the absolute and powerfully revealed truth of the Bible.

The weakness of this is that each individual interprets the same experience in a slightly different way, thereby gleaning a different version of the ‘truth’ than all the others. Truth suddenly becomes relative to the individual, based upon their own analysis of the experience in question. Multiple psychological studies have shown that people often define reality by their experiences, much more so in today’s world than in any other time in history. Their ideas of what is true and what is not is flavored by the circumstances they encounter each and every day. The trouble is, every single person encounters a different version of the ‘truth’ because of this approach. Of course, a postmodernist would probably now say that this all the more justification for their worldview, that nothing can ever be truly known because every person’s perspective is slightly different, that reality is constantly shifting for everyone because the only basis they have for ‘truth’ is their own experience of the world around them. They would even say that individual interpretation of the Bible as a standard for absolute truth is perpetually flawed and relative to personal experience because everyone is going to interpret the Bible according to the ways in which they perceive and experience the world. And yet, this is a flawed premise, in and of itself, for the Bible can be interpreted according to an unchanging standard and often be applied to a wide variety of circumstances and settings. All this is not to belittle the practicality of experience in determining truth. Paul himself, in many of his epistles to the early church, specifically encouraged the saints to test their faith against their own experiences and knowledge. But he also pointed them to Scripture, pointing out their sins and flaws, pointing them back to the path that leads to Christ. So, while experience is valuable for the testing of our faith and the working of our salvation, it cannot be held up exclusively as the only means for establishing truth because our own interpretations of experiences are frequently flawed and tainted by our finite sensory and cognitive capacities. The one source of truth that I am aware of that never changes (and has never changed over the centuries) is the Holy Scriptures, and while my own experiences help me understand this God that I love a little better and relate to my fellow man, they fall short of the true understanding of Him who I serve. Can I ever hope to know God and His truth fully? No. Not ever, for I am limited in my understanding, and I always, ever will be. But it is not enough to stop me from trying to learn more and understand more, from the only Source of true knowledge, for all the rest of my days. And I expect that I will often be wrong in my understanding. But I can frame my daily experiences within the context of the Word of God, and thereby gain truth and sanity and direction for my life.

Moral Attack

So how does one live a holy and moral life when our society is so absolutely immersed in the immorality that the media so blatantly promotes? It’s tough being a Christian in the midst of this, let alone a Christian married man, when every other TV commercial or show is all about half-naked (or even mostly naked) women (and latetly, even guys). It’s on the TV, on the radio, on the Internet, and even in our email. The message is being sent this is all ok, and since truth is such a relative or non-existent thing in our society, there’s really no base for a stance. And it is our youth who are so vulnerable to this. They are being brainwashed right out from under us. It’s no wonder that they think so much differently than we do.

Now, we can fight against this at every avenue, and it is our Christian responsibility to do so and to promote biblical morals (old-fashioned as they may sound sometimes), but with all honesty, we probably are not going to do a whole lot to change things. We are woefully outnumbered by the moderns and postmoderns who are submerged in their own despair. As unrewarding and unsatisfying as it feels, the main area where we can find success in waging war against relativity and immorality is by training up the younger generation to think differently than the majority of their peers. I thank God for His grace and my parents for their training that I think “old school,” with a sense of absolutes. I can’t imagine just how confused I would be right now if the only truth I knew was the one I made for myself. It would be so fluid and changing. And so it is up to us to mold and train the younger generation to continue the battle with us and after us.