Being an Open-Minded Believer


September 20, 2019

A friend wonders if I am becoming too negative, with a doom and gloom mentality. I hope not. I do have a lot of concerns these days. I remain, however, generally optimistic. I still believe that problems created by human brings can be solved by human beings – although it may take some time.

I also strive to be an open-minded believer and I hope I will never become a sourpuss, closed-minded old guy. A negative and grouchy outlook displays a short supply of Christian joy, generosity, and tolerance.

Being open-minded can be tough sometimes. It shakes a person loose from beliefs and values once so comforting. It enables a person to appreciate that some beliefs and values are temporary and provisional stages along life’s journey. As friend and fellow-blogger, Joris Heise, recently wrote: “Faith is the readiness to change, to grow, to admit blindness and deafness—to become open.”

We learn new things. We adjust our vision and beliefs. We re-shape our values, as we go along life’s road. The journey always leads, I believe, to sunrise at the horizon. I remain the perennial optimist. But we do indeed change….as our world changes; and we confront its ups and downs.

I once thought, for instance, as I was taught in a small Catholic grade school in Southwest Michigan, that Protestants adhered to a false religion. Then one day I looked at my Protestant father, reading his Bible, and I started thinking: my dad is really a great guy who follows the way of Jesus and believes in God just as I do. Nothing very false about that. I was taught as well, by our parish priest, that priests were ontologically superior to lay men and that all men are inherently superior to women. Contact with many men and many women over the years convinced me, long ago, that men who maintain and proclaim such beliefs are inherently ignorant fools.

There is much to be learned and appreciated from opening the doors to one’s mind and letting new ideas and beliefs come in. Over the years I have tried to help my students become informed and open-minded critical thinkers. Critical thinking is a skill, greatly needed today. And I have had to deal –- sometimes with great difficulty — with sourpuss, narrow-minded priests and bishops, who were my “superiors” and controlled my paycheck. They were unable, however, to read the contemporary road signs; and, unfortunately, their cars only went in reverse. One had to carefully maneuver around them. I survived.

Yes of course, there are indeed some fine younger and older people in ordained ministry. And more and more wonderfully pastoral women in ordained ministry today. They deserve our appreciation and, even more, our moral and public support. Their’s is not an easy life these days….

Being an open-minded believer greatly enriches a person’s life. I can think of seven ways, but I am sure there are more:

(1) It enables one to explore and discover. A person allows himself or herself to experience new ideas and fresh thoughts that stimulate personal growth as they challenge old visions, understandings, and beliefs. It can be a very liberating look at one’s contemporary world through an open mind. Remember Paul in First Corinthians: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

(2) It promotes personal change and transformation. Opening up our minds to new ideas allows us the opportunity to change what we think as well as our view of the world. This doesn’t mean one will necessarily change basic beliefs. It does give one the option to adjust beliefs, when one begins to think with a more open mind. I once thought it impossible for women to be ordained. I once thought Jesus’ disciples were all guys. Now I know that both beliefs/understandings are pure nonsense.

(3) It also makes oneself vulnerable. This is more scary. In agreeing to have an open-minded view of the world, we acknowledge we don’t know everything; and we accept that there are possibilities we may not have considered. This vulnerability can be both terrifying and exhilarating. The jar is half full or half empty. It depends on one’s perspective.

(4) It helps one see and acknowledge personal mistakes. With an open mind one begins to see things from others’ perspectives; and one can recognize the mistakes one has made. From time to time, we all fail and fall. The challenge is to acknowledge it and then get back up again and continue the journey. That is the virtue of Christian humility and courage!

(5) It strengthens oneself and gives stability. Open-mindedness presents a platform upon which a person can build, putting one idea on top of another. With an open mind, one learns about new things; and one uses new ideas to build on old ideas. In my field we call this ongoing theological development. Dangerous stuff for the old guard at the Vatican! Nevertheless, everything a woman or a man or a child experiences adds up. It strengthens who one is and what one believes. Note well: It’s very hard to build on experiences without having an open mind.

(6) It helps one gain confidence. When a person really lives with an open mind, he or she develops a stronger sense of self. One can respect and appreciate, but is no longer confined by, the beliefs of others. Then the respectful dialogue can and should begin….

(7) It promotes self-honesty. Being open-minded means admitting that one is not all-knowing. Even if one is a bishop or a pope….or an older theologian! Whatever “truth” one holds, each person must realize that the underlying reality in its depth has more to it than anyone realizes. This understanding creates a sense of honesty that characterizes anyone who lives with an open mind.

For some people, being open-minded is easy. It seems to come as effortlessly as breathing. For others, having an open mind can be more of a challenge. But for anyone who wants to travel the road of life, it is absolutely essential. We remember the words of Jesus in the Gospel According to John: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Take care,

Jack

22 thoughts on “Being an Open-Minded Believer

  1. I very much appreciated your post, Jack. Sage advice, indeed, and a must-read especially for us older folks who need not to become atrophied in our thinking!
    (By the way, I don’t know why but I am unable to comment on your facebook page.)

  2. Hello, Jack. I entered a reply yesterday, but since I do not see it here, I assume it got lost. I very much want to be an open-minded believer. I doubt I can just decide to be one, convinced of the seven benefits you mention. Don’t you think that we must understand the complexity of the process of becoming open-minded? What do we understand by “faith” and “belief”? Is the openness of questioning in children the default position, and does one learn to be close-minded? Is there a supernatural gift of faith? How does it affect open-mindedness? What is the effect of emotion on open-mindedness? Can a person in a closed-minded culture have a open mind and still belong to the community? Have the cultural forces operative in Roman Catholic diocesan seminaries in general produced open-minded ordained believers? Is closed-mindedness related to or identified with clericalism? Closed-mindedness may be a value in their religious formation. Could it be?

    • Dear Paula,

      Some responses to your questions:

      Don’t you think that we must understand the complexity of the process of becoming open-minded?
      Yes of course. That is the story of my life

      What do we understand by “faith” and “belief”?
      “Faith” is our experience of God, the Divine, the Sacred. “Belief” is interpreting that experience, putting it into language, symbol, and ritual.

      Is the openness of questioning in children the default position, and does one learn to be close-minded?
      I think it depends on parenting and socio-cultural environment. If people grow up in fear or live in fear, they begin to distrust what otters are saying. Minds are closed to voices from the other side….

      Is there a supernatural gift of faith?
      I have a problem with the word “supernatural.” Our experience of God is here and now in the world in which we live.

      How does it affect open-mindedness? What is the effect of emotion on open-mindedness?
      Belief can affect open-mindedness when that belief is a narrow interpretation of Faith. Example: only Roman Catholics have the truth. Yes emotion can affect open-mindedness when fear clouds everything.

      Can a person in a closed-minded culture have a open mind and still belong to the community?
      Yes but with difficulty. It is better go find a supportive open-minded community.

      Have the cultural forces operative in Roman Catholic diocesan seminaries in general produced open-minded ordained believers?
      It depends. I was never ordained to spent eleven years in very open and progressive seminaries. I was a professor for many years in a very open-minded seminary. Then under Pope John Paiute II and Pope Benedict XVI those seminaries became hothouses for regressive and closed-minded thinking.

      Is closed-mindedness related to or identified with clericalism? Closed-mindedness may be a value in their religious formation. Could it be?
      Yes. Clericalism is based on a superior vrs inferior understanding of human identity.

      Many kind regards, Jack

      • Thanks, Jack. Another question: do you welcome discussion on this blog? I can see that as a gracious former teacher you welcome Q&A, and I appreciate that. I am also looking for people who will think together with some questions about open-mindedness and Church. Are your followers interested in that too? I think the major problem in the U.S. bishops’ culture is that their self-understanding and understanding about truth claims have not made the shift that the Western world made in the 20th century from essentialist thinking to a moderate relativist way of thinking. I don’t have sufficient clarity or language to explain it, so I would like to explore these ideas with others. If the bishops were to make that shift, they could create programming in seminaries and in Catholic schools to develop leaders for the Church at large. We are so polarized now that it is hard to imagine a way forward. Do you know what I am talking about?

      • I answer questions but it really isn’t a discussion group. I suggest that you set up an internet group for church reform discussions…..a Google Group for example. I would happily join!

      • Paula

        I am quite interested in the idea of an internet discussion group for people involved in church reform. In fact I would be willing to set it up on condition that both you and I could be moderators….. Jack

    • Dear Jack,
      Many thanks for your reflections and words of wisdom. Through “Another Voice” I have found the open-minded support I had been looking for for many years!
      Best regards,
      Ines

  3. Dear Jack,
    You have caused me to reflect and re-evaluate many times but never so much as in this latest writing. With so much division in church and politics these days, your words challenge me to really assess what is in my heart as opposed to what is in my head. My thoughts and words speak of conciliation, acceptance, and tolerance. My feelings betray a darker, less merciful side. When I encounter, either through reading or personal engagement, attitudes and mindsets that clash with my own beliefs, I struggle to demonstrate the values that I, perhaps naively, believe I am living.

    Your essay gives me powerful personal benefits to continue to be an accepting, tolerant, and open-minded believer who demonstrates those beliefs especially and particularly to those who know what my positions are on many controversial issues. Fortunately, I have more than a few friends whom I genuinely love and with whom I frequently interact who put a face on “the other side” which makes it hard to be purely ideological.

    Your words are more than a treatise on the benefits of being open-minded. They are a profound challenge to live the faith that brings us closer to the divine. Thank you, once again, for truly being Another Voice!

    Peace,
    Frank Skeltis

  4. What prompted me to write before was the fact that in his reflections, Jack verbalises in clear and eloquent words many of the same questionings and doubts I have had with regards to some of the teachings I received during my Catholic Faith upbringing. For me, it is very reassuring and liberating to know that other people experience the same and that it is OK to keep thinking of oneself as a Catholic, even when in disagreement with the stand of the Church on some issues. However, I am coming to the conclusion that I just want to call myself ” A follower of Christ”. All the divisions inside Christianity and their ensuing animosities and even hostilities are in such opposition to Christ’s message of Love, to his teachings and to the example of his life!
    My main purpose now is to concentrate on deepening my own relationship
    with Christ. .
    Warm regards
    Ines

  5. Jack, terrific as usual! I especially like the possibility of a group discussion. My focus is more along the personal rather than the scholarly approach — how will it preach, how do I help people who have needs and questions, what will whatever I am thinking help or hinder my circuit rider old guy ministry. My thinking is continually “evolving”, and there seems to be some need on the part of the folks – both in the pews and not in the pews – for different ideas. It seems the biggest impact on me is from my Army experience. Enough said from me here.

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