The Uncommon Space Between Credulity and Close-Minded Dogmatism

Let’s begin with a line. A simple black line against a white background. The line represents a spectrum, a continuum reflecting how people handle or approach or react to new concepts. On one end, far to the left, we see a word like credulity. On the other end, far to the right, close-minded dogmatism.

If we think of a person situated near the left, we might envision someone continually tossed to and fro by the winds of doctrine. As culture shifts espousing new views, or when the academy presents the latest novelty, those on the western edges of the spectrum accept the new ideas with ease. No real reflection. No guiding principles. All it takes is a few Facebook posts. Or maybe an article or two. Maybe a friend confidently announces the concept. However it comes, Mr. Credulity morphs in moments. His convictions shift and change with the tides of the moment.

Now if we think of someone on the far right, we might envision a person entangled in a cult. Perhaps it is one of those sparkling Mormon boys riding their bikes around the neighborhood or a Jehovah’s Witness handing out tracks. It need not be a cult, of course. It could be a Baptist. Or a Charismatic. A Presbyterian. Nor need it be religious. There are plenty of liberal elites and conservative stalwarts who fit the bill. These are the people who cannot, or at least will not step outside of their bubble. No matter the evidence, no matter the logic, everything is filtered through their particular lens; and when something doesn’t quite gel with their paradigm, it is cut off in the usual Procrustean fashion.

The longer I live, the more I am convinced that most people occupy one of these two extremes.

It isn’t a good situation. Neither credulity nor close-minded dogmatism facilitates progress or peace or unity. There must be a better way.

So what is the cure?

I don’t quite know. The inner workings of the human heart, especially as it relates to the formation of sound convictions, is wildly mysterious. What does happen in their? How do relationships and information and circumstances mold and shape us exactly?

I just don’t quite know. Not in any formulaic way. That being said, here are a few, brief thoughts I would like to toss out.

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I cannot help but think that part of the solution is simply being made aware of the problem. If we imagine ten people with ten very different views coming together, but then refusing to listen to one another, what would we say? We would say that the situation is hopeless. They need to think to themselves, “We cannot all be right. Therefore the vast majority of us are wrong. Therefore it is incumbent that we wrestle with the evidence and hear and formulate cogent arguments.” This is a very obvious point. But it is so easily forgotten. Each of us must be willing to explain why we believe what we believe. But more than that. We have to be willing to subject our beliefs to criticism. If not, just imagine what happens with the ten people in the room. They remained locked in their close-minded dogmatism, never budging and never advancing.

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It is worth remembering the Bereans. We are told by Luke, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” This is neither crudulity nor close-mindedness. There was principled inquiry. Extended principled inquiry. And because they examined such things daily, wrestling with Scripture, we are told that their character was more noble. Here we see a vital, moral component. To the degree that we remain encrusted in blind dogmatism, or indulge in intellectual whimsy, to that same degree we advertise something of our character.

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Paul’s words to the Ephesians are crucial.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

He then goes on to add,  “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Paul presupposes a struggle for unity. In fact, that is one of the reasons why God has provided the church with teachers. The shepherds need to equip the saints well. And the ground swell of the saints need to strive after the unity of the faith. No more tossing to and fro. No more falling into deceitful schemes. But a humility and gentleness laced with patience and charity.  In a church full of teachers and shepherds harboring different convictions, I cannot help but think that we must be willing to humbly read outside voices, charitably represent differing views, and engage those ideas with a vigorous love wrapped in intellectual rigor. We certainly see this today. But we could use a lot more. Very much more. Not only among the shepherds, but among the saints more generally.

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