“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.” G.K. Chesterton
In the first year of University I recall one of my professors starting his class with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay The Crack-Up: “Let me make a general observation — the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
I remember feeling unsure about the statement. Being a Christian in a secular university, I wasn’t sure if this was truth or just propaganda from the pagan left (at least that’s how I felt back in my zealot days). Years later, and with a little more maturity, I can say that I agree with the statement but disagree with the outcome.
I’ve learned the importance of looking at both sides of an argument and examining an opposing point of view with honesty and respect. Yet, like Chesterton, I have come to believe that “mouths and minds were made to be shut.” It sounds very progressive to approach all thoughts with an open-mind, but like a car at an intersection, a decision must be made for progress to continue.
In reality, all our actions are based on conclusions–conscious and subconscious. We all have conclusions by which we order our lives. And while we may function, as Mr. Fitzgerald suggests, by being able to hold two opposing ideas, I sincerely doubt that we are being truthful when we say that open-minds are actually “open.”
Recently, I was listening to a sermon series on the Gospel of John from Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Keller spent the majority of the sermon explaining the concept of Logos, and then giving it a modern context. There were a number of gems in the sermon–all of which I can’t expound on here–but I appreciated his explanation of Logos.
Keller acknowledged that the Greek term does not mean pure logic as much as it means logic to give order and meaning to our lives. Logos was the central point for the Greeks by which they get their sense of worth, their sense of accomplishment, and their belonging. It answered questions like: “What is my purpose?” and “What is life all about?” As you might imagine, people back then had a few disagreements about the answers to those questions, but Logos was most heavily debated by two major Greek schools of thought: the Epicureans and the Stoics.
Now wait! Don’t zone out, skip out, or close out…
Although these are Greek concepts, I think you might recognize some similarities in our modern thinking.
Epicureans: Pleasure is the greatest good. Enjoy life! Live modestly, gain knowledge of how the world works, and understand your own personal limitations. God either doesn’t exist or is greatly limited by our own free will…akin to modern day spirituality.
Stoicism: Science is the greatest good. Logic, self-control and fortitude provide a clear understanding of the world. Emotions are destructive to reason. God is dead. Virtue is a matter of will power…akin to the new atheism.
Epicureans argued that there was no greater good than our own emotions. Take one day at a time. Enjoy your walk to the car. Sing along to the radio. Smile. Fall in love again and again. Feel good about life and help other people feel good about their lives. This is all we have, so don’t squander a single moment.
On the other side, the Stoics believed that our own emotions were detrimental to understanding the logical and scientific order of the world. We belong to Nature. Everything has an order and place in the universe. Beauty and happiness come from finding that order and fitting into its creases. We are rational beings, capable of great thoughts and great influence. We can be known and remembered.
Keller refers to these two ways of thinking as “New Ageistic” (look inside yourself to find order) and “Scientistic” (look to the facts to find order– facts but no truth). Although these two ways of thinking seem opposed to one another, they are in fact preaching the same message: There is no authority and no truth outside of what we feel or know…We are our own masters!
To be master denotes having authority over. To rule. To dominate and determine. If we are answering the same questions about life as the Epicureans and the Stoics, then we must understand that these are questions of authority (who or what is ruling you? What is your Logos?)
Being closed-minded and dogmatic are derogatory terms in our culture; people like this are painted as arrogant, rude ignoramuses. But in my experience, it is the “open-minded” person who is less courteous to objections. The truth is, we are all closed-minded. We all have a Logos in our lives, but only some of us know it. Coming to a decisive conclusion allows a person to order his or her life from those conclusions.
I think our culture promotes open-mindedness because it is ultimately is a rejection of authority. Evasiveness to difficult questions affords a false sense of autonomy, and it allows a person to avoid being nailed down to any particular set of standards. I may disagree with the Epicureans and the Stoics, but at least they were courageous enough to define their beliefs.
I think Chesterton sums it all up well:
“The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas. It may be said even that the modern world, as a corporate body, holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not know that they are dogmas. It may be thought ‘dogmatic,’ for instance, in some circles accounted progressive, to assume the perfection or improvement of man in another world. But it is not thought “dogmatic” to assume the perfection or improvement of man in this world; though that idea of progress is quite as unproved as the idea of immortality, and from a rationalistic point of view quite as improbable. Progress happens to be one of our dogmas, and a dogma means a thing which is not thought dogmatic.”
What is our Logos? What are we driven by and what do we hope to accomplish in this life? These are some of the questions in the vast expanse of what it means to live. Regardless of whether we admit it or not, we all have answers to these questions by which we order our lives. Explore, question, search and research, and then let your mind clamp down on something. This isn’t to say that it will always and forever remain closed on the matter, but at least there will be solid ground under your feet for the time being.
May our minds be closed on truth and our hearts be open to those who seek it.