What Is An Open Mind?

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Most often, when people say they have an open mind, it’s kind of meaningless. Having an open mind is a good thing. It means they’re not the one with the problem. People with closed minds have the problem.

Except that it’s easy to have an open mind towards anything agreeable.
It doesn’t take much courage to stand up for an idea that’s popular, or to speak about something generally. Platitudes and cliches are great for this. Everyone deserves respect. Be kind. Try to see different perspectives.

The problem is that it’s all meaningless. I grew up being told to have an open mind – as long as it was open to things that had been pre-approved. It’s funny how everyone else’s perspective matters more than the reasons for your own.

This gets brought up the most when talking about faith.
The insinuation that people without faith have closed minds (and vice-versa) isn’t always true. Like everyone else, a mind can be open to some ideas but closed to others. People don’t have to re-litigate the obvious. For example, my mind is closed on the sun being bright. It’s established. I don’t have to go blind testing it out.

The same thing applies to other stuff. I have my reasons for not believing that the Christian deity is real. On most points, the matter’s settled for me. This means my mind is closed to things like arguments for a deity’s existence, or biblical quotes, or stories of miraculous signs. Yeah, people might think they’re real. Good for them. After miracle number five hundred, I’m tired of seeing the same excuses. Should I have to entertain them again and again?

It comes back to the assumption that an open mind is a good thing. I feel the urge to put up with thoughts soaked in religious spirits because I’m afraid of being told my mind is closed. Nobody cares that I’m being sold something fraudulent. If I say it’s fraud, I’m the bad person for sticking up for myself.

This is an issue of maintaining one’s integrity.
Growing up the way I did, yeah, it’s a hot-button issue for me. Faith worked really hard to break me as a person. I never existed as myself. It was always what I can do for everyone else. My identity does not matter. My needs are irrelevant to my existence. If I ignore myself long enough, I might just fade away.

When I get told to keep an open mind about faith beliefs, I get brought back to that fading version of myself. I forget that people are trying to resell the same thing over and over again. I forget that I made a good decision for my own health and well-being. Being told to have an open mind is a way to get around a person’s self-esteem. It’s gaslight poison in a chocolate-covered shell.

In reality, if I have to beg someone to keep an open mind, I’m asking to have it close on something else. Not many people complain if it closes on something nasty. I can’t think of anyone who’d want me to have an open mind regarding racism or slavery.

And I get why others don’t want to keep an open mind about lack of faith. For many people, they’ve made important decisions for themselves. My thinking isn’t going to change their mind. I don’t think it has to.

So what is important about having an open mind?
It’s about giving people a fair shake. It’s not about rolling out the welcome mat and letting them trample all over me. Open minds are great when I’m considering something new. Such a thing would tell me if I’m wrong.

Just as important: being true to myself. Having an open mind is pointless when it comes to old ideas that have already been evaluated. Unless there’s a new relevant fact, there’s no point in rehashing the picture of Jesus on my morning toast. Or whether certain fantastical creatures made it onto Noah’s Ark…

8 thoughts on “What Is An Open Mind?

  1. I’ve been told that my mind is so open that everything has fallen out 🙂

    But seriously, I think most rational people will have a closed mind about a great many things. I’m not going to entertain the possibility that race is anything more than skin deep, or one sex is better/stronger or whatever, than the other sex. I’m not going to go explore a path that equates a 100% relationship between sex and gender or that gender is binary. I’m not going to consider the possibility that autism is a disorder instead of a difference. And that’s just a start. I don’t think it’s necessary that we all have the same “bottom line”, but I think we all have one. It’s part of being human.

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  2. “Faith worked really hard to break me as a person. I never existed as myself. It was always what I can do for everyone else. My identity does not matter. My needs are irrelevant to my existence. If I ignore myself long enough, I might just fade away.”

    This happened to me as well. By the time I dragged myself into therapy I was barely a person at all. When my therapist asked me questions, I answered with scripture, or some catch phrase or portion of a sermon I’d heard or read. My mind had been open to all things Evangelical, which over the years replaced almost all parts of Me. The remedy was an open mind to other possibilities, together with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    I appreciate what you and others have said about being closed to material that has already been analyzed and found wanting. Having been trapped in Evangelical faith, I have an easy out when believers try to reconvert me. While many issues are closed in my mind, I do want to remain open to people, willing to listen and to love, with a no-proselytizing boundary in place.

    Thanks for reminding me of how far I have come in freeing myself from doctrine and dogma and in remaking myself into who I actually am.

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  3. Hi, Sirius, thought I’d drop by. I think you have brought up a good point. All of us reflect a bias, and it’s true. No one is completely open to everything. It’s good to be aware of that. I think this is something to be aware of in sharing across the internet, too.

    For me, I naturally assume that if something is truly from God, it will lead to a greater fullness of life, not harm and evil. This is what I’ve “closed” my mind around, and is a baseline for me.

    But, the rub in this is that different people can interface with Christian faith differently. To share one example, when I read, the teaching of Jesus to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I think God first of all thinks we should love, value, and care for ourselves. Afterall, we’re made in His image and likeness. How can we truly care for others without caring for and nurturing ourselves.

    But, someone else might take ahold of this Scripture, and assume that they should just put themselves last, and “burn out” in service to God.

    For some the confession of sin in church, leads to a needed balance and amendment of life, which can
    result in becoming even more compassionate and less judgemental, willing to make changes and restitution if needed. But, for others, if this begins to interface with a genetic predisposition to OCD, it can lead to scrupulosity which causes harm.

    However, the same thing, can happen with non-theistic beliefs. For some folks, naturalism can seem to result in greater freedom and self-actualization. They might become secular humanists. But, for others it can contribute to nihilism, fatalism, a devaluing of human life, or a philosophy that “the end justifies the means.”

    How do we sort this all out?


    • Hey there!

      Sorting out a bias involves looking hard at what’s behind it. Bias isn’t inherently irrelevant or improper. All it does is indicate that a view is getting skewed one way or another.

      To use your examples, the golden rule itself might not cause people to egregiously put others before themselves. However, it’s the added weight of Philippians 2:3-4, Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 10:24, and others like these which prompts people to self-neglect.

      Likewise, equating godly gifts as leading to a “greater fullness of life” has its own issues. Prosperity gospel ministries arguably help the minister have a greater fullness of life (take a look at Joel Osteen’s house). But these ministries often rely on money from people who can’t afford to give. These people might not have greater fullness as a result of their donations. If greater fullness was the yardstick, you’d have something simultaneously from and not from divine endowment. Some people of faith are okay with this logical impossibility, others might have more concerns.

      What’s important is that people try to acknowledge how they evaluate ideas. Something that is more internally consistent requires fewer intellectual effort to maintain. It also helps people evaluate whether ideas help lead them to better actions. Holding an idea doesn’t improve a person’s life. Actions do.

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  4. Your right. I am not a big believer either. I do have a little faith, but I like to have faith on my terms, not on anyone else’s. So many claim to have an open mind but they really dont, they only have an open mind on things that they believe in or agree with. Xxx


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