Open and Closed (Minded, That Is)

“You’re so open-minded”

“You sure are closed-minded”

“Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out”

Open- and closed-minded have very simple definitions in common usage. Open-minded means “you agree with me,” while closed-minded means “you disagree with me.”

However, some people use these terms with a little more thought behind them. I’m doing a lot of research on the topic of the integration (or lack thereof) of faith and learning, and this notion of being open- or closed-minded keeps coming up. This is especially the case in the slow process that led North American universities away from their explicitly Protestant roots and towards secular pluralism. The liberal Protestants who controlled the universities were victims of their own teaching: equality and open-mindedness. The universities took this seriously and saw that Christianity was far too privileged a view for there to actually be open-mindedness and equality on campus. So, in the name of “open-mindedness,” the universities closed their mind to explicitly Christian perspectives.

Now, I see the pragmatic reasons for this: we live in a pluralist society where the privileging of one view over all others simply does not work. Not only this, but Christianity has a pretty poor record when it has any kind of cultural hegemony, so I consider this a mostly helpful development.

What I do not consider helpful, however, is that although Christianity has been sufficiently de-priviliged in order to allow for pluralism, there is still a predominant bias against explicitly religious approaches in academics. The received wisdom is that we must “check our faith at the door” in order to do serious scholarship, but the historical reason why this was believed is now irrelevant.

Also, the promised pluralism never happened. One privileged viewpoint was simply replaced with another: scientific naturalism. Although some of the postmodern critique is making a dent in this hegemony, science is surely what predominantly drives and thrives in universities. Scientific naturalism is the new orthodoxy, as is easy to discover when Christians attempt to be explicitly Christian in their academic work.

For me, loving God includes loving him with my mind. I say that it is time for Christian intellectuals to throw down the false boundary between their faith and their scholarship. Many are doing so already, but many more are still buying the lie that faith must be put aside to do scholarship. All that is is exchanging your true faith in Jesus for faith in scientific naturalism. And that’s a bad trade.

4 responses to “Open and Closed (Minded, That Is)”

  1. Excellent post.

    What a tense issue hey?

    You said it, scientific naturalism has replaced Christianity as the dogma of our day. And that is precisely what I find so funny about our education system: allowing a dogma to govern your life is considered uber taboo, yet we all have a dogma that governs us. It’s really not profound. What’s profound is that religious people are the only ones considered dogmatic.

    I think the strength of the present-day universities is the fact that religious people face an onslaught on their beliefs and assumptions about the world. Let’s face it, most religious folk, at least ones who take their respective faith seriously, tend to be insular people, sticking to their own kind. Having your faith tested is a good thing.

    In theory I agree that we should not temporarily throw down our faith in scholarly endeavors. Kreeft and Willard do it so well. I guess I don’t need to worry about it since I’m not a scholar :)

  2. Tense indeed. There’s so much vested interest in remaining the status quo at the universities.

    I agree that secular universities can actually be a great source of faith-building, provided that the student going into the university actually has the ability to think to begin with. Sadly, most conservative Christianity produces parrots, not thinkers, and they are overwhelmed with arguments against faith.

    I submit that the problem of people “losing their faith” at universities is mostly our own damn fault.

  3. Matt
    Dropping in from Scot’s. Thanks for your insights. I agree and would just mention that people like Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Marsden and Noll have been helpful in the regard. Excellent point. We need more thinkers and alot less parrots.

  4. Hi Greg, thanks for dropping in and commenting.

    Those are precisely the kinds of scholars I have in mind. Unapologetic about their faith informing their scholarship, yet still producing quality scholarship that only the most bigoted atheistic fundamentalist could dismiss.

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