Open-Minded or Close-Minded?

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I frequently go out with the missionaries in our ward to meet and help teach their investigators. When I do I often hope that they are open minded, but not to open minded. If they are open minded, then they may be willing to accept, read, and pray about the Book of Mormon for example. But if they are to open minded they may feel that all religions are true, and all paths lead to heaven and God. Such a person may never really commit to anything specific since it is all good.

There are many who will champion the virtues of being open minded, as well they should. An open mind may be evidence of humility. And when one is starting a quest for truth in any area, being open to new ideas, methods and concepts can be very important to ultimate success.

But as one discovers truth, one ought to accept it as truth, and commit to it. And in doing so one becomes closed minded as far as this truth is concerned. There are still other areas where the mind may remain open, but not in the area of known truth.

A scripture that comes to mind is Alma 32 where Alma compares the word unto a seed. Near the end of this grand experiment Alma declares:

And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

Once we come to know religious principles are true then our faith becomes dormant in that principle. In this context it seems that the open minded experimenter has tried something new, and the experiment was a success. Now the individual can be closed minded about this principle since he knows the truth. But that does not mean that he becomes closed minded to all things because he is enlightened, and his mind has begun to expand.

Another scripture that comes to mind is D&C 50:24. This familiar verse reads:

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

The phrase which catches my eye here is ‘and continueth in God’. Once one has received light from God, he should acknowledge God as the source of light and continue on – in that same course – and receive further light. One should not receiveth light, and continue to question and doubt, or seek out other light sources, or continue in some other way or direction. One should continueth in God.

Once we have received light and truth, we ought to be committed to it. We should become closed minded concerning it. And while we may be sympathetic to another point of view, we should not let such open minded sympathy cause us to lose what light we have.

May we be open minded enough to be able to recognize and accept truth when we find it, and once we do, may we be able to become closed minded enough to commit to that truth.

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21 Responses to “Open-Minded or Close-Minded?”


  1. 1 Eric Nielson February 5, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    What, no image? I had the Rush Hemispheres album cover, but thought perhaps I shouldn’t given recent posts…

  2. 2 Connor February 5, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Eric,

    Are you talking to yourself? šŸ™‚

    Very interesting idea. This is something I’ve thought of before, but never really put into words. I remember several investigators that had the “God is good, every church that talks about him is true!” mentality. Obviously, such people were ignorant and didn’t understand the logistics of the plan of salvation which assures that there is only one way, one path, one Savior. Anywho.

  3. 3 Jeff G February 5, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    “An open mind may be evidence of humility. And when one is starting a quest for truth in any area, being open to new ideas, methods and concepts can be very important to ultimate success.
    “But as one discovers truth, one ought to accept it as truth, and commit to it.”

    This is the contradiction inherent in many religious appeals to modern values. People are supposed to be open-minded, but only our truth.

    People are not close-minded “just because.” They are close-minded because they think that they already have the truth in some matter. Thus, to ask people to open-their minds is to ask them to consider the possibility that they are wrong.

    The contradiction lies in the fact that any possible reason for why people should not open their minds after they have received the gospel can be give by those who have not yet accepted the gospel. Of course the Mormon will say that the difference lies in our having the actual truth, while they only think that what they have is true. This, by very definition, is being close-minded. There is simply no reason why a Catholic, Buddhist or Atheist cannot give the exact same response to the Mormon.

    In other words, either being open-minded is a virtue or it isn’t. You can’t have it both ways. Either somebody is open to the possibility that the beliefs which they hold to be true may turn out to be false or they don’t. It shouldn’t change depending on what beliefs are in question.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson February 5, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    Connor:

    I am not above talking to myself through comments. For a particularly pathetic example see here. Oh the sad and lonely life of a new solo blogger on the nacle. Boo-hoo.

  5. 5 ed42 February 5, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Can “receive truth and light” be applied to non-spiritual thought?

    Should “open-mind / close mind” also be applied to economic, political, physical, etc. truths?

  6. 6 Eric Nielson February 5, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Jeff G.

    Thank you so much for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment. You have articulated the opposing view very well.

    I guess I would perhaps say that one should be open to all truth, not just our own version of it. But once one finds truth commit to it. This should work shouldn’t it? Yes, others may make some claims, but for the most part they do not. I have rubbed shoulders with many Catholics and Protestants of various kinds, and I have never heard anything resembling what I would call a ‘testimony’ from them. Perhaps I have not met the right kind of folks from other religions.

    If the gospel of Jesus Christ is the truth, and you have a knowledge of it, would it not be a virtue to be somewhat close-minded regarding it? Perhaps I am not understanding. Should we not be close-minded about what we know, and open minded about what we don’t? I don’t think this is an example of having it both ways. It’s really just a question of your honesty – yeah your honesty. (Rush on the brain tonight)

  7. 7 Eric Nielson February 5, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    ed42:

    I believe the answers are yes, yes.

  8. 8 Doc February 5, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    Eric,
    Yes, you can be close minded to those who claim the gospel of Jesus Christ false. However, to yourself that is really inconsequential as you already know these things, so why feel threatened by what another has to share. Then you can glean truth from their perspective and broaden your understanding while that the flies in the face of your understanding has no power over you.

    I thinkof this as merely an enlarging of Joseph Smith’s advice to take the good you have and let it be addded upon. So your mind isn’t really closed, you recognize that there is always more to learn and new perspectives to be gained by listening and understanding others.

    Re-examining where we stand from time to time then shows that, Lo and behold, little small things at the edges that we thought we understood before, we now have a deeper understanding of, or a rejection of our false ideas and expansion of our mind. An open mind is a progressing mind.

    I don’t think open minded means you refuse to commit to Christ as Savior, or that the Lord speaks through prophets, just that you realize there is always more to learn and that it can come from many sources.

    After all, If God loves all his children, than cutting everyone off but the faction of a percent in the Church from his word doesn’t compute. I think he is willing to work with everyone where they are at as they are able to let him.

  9. 9 SmallAxe February 5, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    Should we not be close-minded about what we know, and open minded about what we donā€™t?

    IMO, generally speaking the answer is “sure”, but I think this presupposes that we are sensitive enough to recognize the difference between that which we know and that which we dont. It seems to me that so many members take the church lock, stock, and barrel as “true”. This includes taking all of its cultural forms, which in many circumstances are born of the historical circumstances of an Anglo-American way of life.

    So much of our truth talk is ambiguous. What does it mean for instance when we say that the church is “true”?

  10. 10 Jeff G February 5, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    The point I was trying to get at is that now way to distinguish between “having the truth” and “thinking we have the truth”. After all, what prevents the Muslim from claiming “Islam is truth and once one has come to a knowledge of Islam why be open-minded about it?” It’s the exact same, close-minded view. Why should we ever expect people who disagree with us to do that which we are not willing to do ourselves? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  11. 11 Jeff G February 5, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    Just to be a little clearer, being open-minded include never moving beyond “I think I have the truth” to “I more than think it, I actually do have the truth.” It means never closing one’s mind, especially in the case of religious doctrines, those claims at which open-mindedness has always been a criticism against.

    If religious people get to close their minds then open-mindedness means absolutely nothing.

  12. 12 Matt W. February 5, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    Jeff G, why “especially in the case of religious doctrines”? That seems a bit uneven. By the Way, what you’ve been calling blue all this time is really red. Do you keep an open mind, or reject me based on your current set of paradigms? You reject me, and well you should, as I have no informaition beyond my basic assertion. This does not mean you are unwilling to receive new information on the given topic, just that the information has to be of a certain quality and appeal to you in a certain way as to “trump” your current paradigm.

    But I do agree that you should keep an open mind in all things. Christ said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” A term I like to use is “Giving it the benefit of the doubt.”

  13. 13 Jeff G February 5, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Matt W.

    I agree that it is a bit uneven, but how is this any different from how Eric was using it in the post? The fact is that nobody cares much about non-religious open-mindedness. Don’t blame me for that fact.

    As for the rest of your comment, I don’t know who you were responding to, but it sure wasn’t anything I said. All I did was point out that if open-mindedness is really a virtue of humility, then it should apply equally well to Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, etc.

  14. 14 Janet February 5, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Well, drat. I composed a lengthy comment and it got eaten, apparently. Yargh.

    Basically, I shared a worry that closing one’s mind after gaining a testimony of a principle precludes finding out that this testimony is limited, grasping onlya teensy fraction of incredibly complex things which can only be further understood when approached with the humility inherent in the recognition of our own ignorance.

    I also wonder to what degree anybody’s knowledge of something relies on stasis. I’ve “known” things that a day or so later seemed hazy as revelatory spirit fades; in these cases, I have to rely not on actual knowledge but on the integrity of memory. And memory–just like perception in the first place, come to think of it–if flawed while I’m mortal. So instead of looking at testimony as some sort of aggregative thing which I own (and therefore must be guarded like a bunch of money, closed off from visitors), I try to see it as a process of sorts–a process which only works when I allow memory, current perception, the spirit, and yes, my doubts, to work in concert. Open-mindedness can become empty-headedness, sure. But it doesn’t have to.

    I share the anxiety over missionary discussions, though. I was on splits once on my mission when a member told the investigator that in order to be baptized, she’d have to believe in alien UFO visitations. The investigator lapped it up with the same enthusiasm she’d embraced the story of the first vision. It wasn’t a good moment for missionary me.

  15. 15 Eric Nielson February 6, 2007 at 7:45 am

    All:

    Thank you so much for helping me sort through this. It is new territiory for me and I am trying it out. I am not suggesting total close-mindedness, but becoming ‘close-minded’ a little tiny bit at a time as we progress. I realize that the term is loaded.

    Doc:

    Great comment. I do not think there is any reason to feel threatened when you know something is true and someone disagrees with you. The rest of your comment is right on for me.

    smallaxe:

    I agree. I am not suggesting a lock, stock and barrel approach, but one tiny piece at a time approach. Thanks.

    JeffG:

    If I were to expect people of other faiths to only become close-minded to what bits of truth they really have and be open to everything else would this be reasonable? That is the point I am getting at.

    Matt:

    Thanks for chiming in. I do think this applies to all areas of life, not just religion.

    Janet:

    Thanks for stopping by again! Your mission story is hilarious! I sometimes thought of telling an overly open-minded investigators something outlandish just to see what they would do. I also think you speak to what I was hoping to say, that our learning real truth usually comes one small step at a time.

  16. 16 Naiah Earhart February 7, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Your first paragraph reminded me of this quote from The Enoch Letters, by Elder Maxwell:

    The adversary need not be consistent, Omner. Indeed, evil is not only erotic; it is erratic, since it must entice so many in such a multitude of ways. Thus, persuade a man posessed of one truth that he has all truth. Convince another that there is no truth whatsoever. Let another believe that all truths are of equal importance to man. Notice, Omner that the result is the same in all cases: the searching for truth stops. Allow one person to think that no matter what he does, it is not wrong. Tell another that he has done wrong, but it is not serious. Persuade another that he has erred so gravely that there is no hope for him. Again, the result is the same: the sinning continues. (pp. 32-33)

    Kind of random, I know, but I thought I’d toss it in here.

  17. 17 Eric Nielson February 7, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks Naiah:

    Elder Maxwell and I are a lot alike.

  18. 18 Jeff G February 7, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    “If I were to expect people of other faiths to only become close-minded to what bits of truth they really have and be open to everything else would this be reasonable? That is the point I am getting at.”

    That would be great, but it missed the entire reason for why open-mindedness is a virtue in the first place: we can never tell the difference between those things which are true and those things which merely “seem” to be true. The whole point of open-mindedness is prevent people from taking any of their beliefs, especially those of religion, to be infallible.

    The point is this: In virtue of what can we KNOW with absolute certainty that some belief is true? What ever answer we give to this question has always given rise to contradictory beliefs in the population. For instance, the Mormon says that God tell them X and the non-Mormon says that God tells them not-X. At least one of these people must be wrong. How can we find out who? We could suggest asking God, but that is exactly how we got into this mess in the first place.

    It is because there is no objective criterion for certainty that open-mindedness came to be seen as a virtue: Since you can never be absolutely, 100% sure about X, don’t act like you are. That’s all open-mindedness is.

  19. 19 Eric Nielson February 8, 2007 at 5:58 am

    JeffG:

    So are you saying we should never commit, religiously speaking?

  20. 20 Jeff G February 8, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Again, I said nothing of the sort. I’m just saying that people shouldn’t act like there is absolutely no possibility, whatsoever, that their religion isn’t true. I’m saying that the open-mindedness you hope to see is Catholics, etc. should be shown by Mormons. That’s all.

  21. 21 Eric Nielson February 8, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Perhaps this may help, perhaps not.

    There are only a few things that I am not very open-minded about. Things like:

    The existence of God. I am kinda close-minded on this. I feel there is ample evidence all around. All things denote there is a God.

    Christ as Savior. I am fairly close-minded on this as well. While I might have a light interest in hearing some of the wisdom that can come from non-Christian religions, it will never be more than idle curiosity for me. He is the way, the truth, and the light. There is no other way.

    Book of Mormon as scripture. I find the quality of content of the Book of Mormon to much to ignore. I am pretty close-minded about it’s general truthfulness and it’s status as scripture.

    This combination then has some logical chains of implications that flow throughout the Mormon religion. It seems to me that once one makes these connection they will naturally become more close minded as they go. Not in a mean and intolerant way. I don’t think this means we can not relate to people. There seems no harm in learning about world religions. In a way I hoped investigators I met were skeptical to some level. They should be.

    So, was Christ close-minded to some extent? I think one could make the case that he was. If so, should we not try to be like Him? I’m not trying to be sarcastic here. Maybe a future post for someone there.

    Also, I think there is ample evidence that there will always be many Mormons around who will question and doubt. This is natural as well.

    I do appreciate you helping me think this idea through Jeff.


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