The Illusion of the Open Mind – Part 3

This post is part of an ordered sequence of posts. If you are new to the site, please scroll to the bottom of the page or click here to start at the beginning.

So far, my mental experimentation had provided me with 3 pieces of data:

1. When my mind perceived a concept (e.g., “person”), it immediately formed an understanding of it that cohered with a Christian world-view.
2. When my mind stumbled upon a directly non-theistic understanding of a concept (“person”), it immediately reacted with opposition and repulsion.
3. When my mind was faced with the possibility of not having to believe that the fate almost every person I met was hell (or whatever negative fate befalls those who do not accept Christ), I experienced an overwhelming feeling of relief.

Points 1 and 2 were of particular interest to me on that day. I wanted to know why it was that my mind so quickly and determinedly sought out a Christian explanation for things and why non-theistic explanation were so repulsive to me. Did my mind naturally arrive at a Christian explanation because Christianity was evidently true or because I was somehow biased or defending it for the sake of defending it? Did I feel repulsed by the non-theistic explanation because it was evidently false or because I for some reason just didn’t want to believe it? At the time I was quite convinced that my mental processes were generally unbiased, but I felt I needed to verify it more thoroughly, so I conducted another mental experiment.

I decided that if I wanted to make it evident to myself that my impulsive Christian explanations for things were based on its evident truth rather than bias or pure defensiveness I would need to set aside the biases and impulsive defenses I had, at least for a time. I wanted to see if my mind would naturally lead to some form of a Christian explanation without my previously developed biases and defenses screaming in my ear. I decided that I was going to blatantly ignore each and every one of the impulsive objections that came to mind as I considered the non-theistic worldview. I would only allow these objections to come back into play if my mind naturally found its way to them. This prospect excited me. I was sort of expecting that this process of letting my mental defenses down and opening my mind up as far as I possibility could would direct me straight toward a Christianity much purer and more true than I’d ever experienced.

So I let my defenses down. I sent the defensive militia surrounding my Christian belief home for the day. It was time for my Christian belief to stand up for itself. There would be no flaming arrows of impulsive objections to the non-theistic world-view today. After all, if Christianity is true, there should really be no need for a structure of defense around it, protecting it from all the false world-views.

Now, with my defenses down and my impulsive objections quieted, I set out to put myself into the mind of a [hypothetical] person who genuinely sought truth, who had considered the options and had settled upon a non-theistic world-view, simply because it made the most sense. I looked around me at the world and I noticed people and I observed the way that they interacted with each other. My [hypothetical] non-theistic mind set to work at explaining all these things I was perceiving much like it had before, only this time I was intentionally suppressing any impulsive reactions. Theistic explanations were allowed, but were not to be given any priority whatsoever. Only if my mind bankrupted on a non-theistic explanation would I move to a theistic one. I wanted to see how my mind, wearing non-theistic shoes, would come to terms with the various concepts it was confronted with. Really, I just wanted to see if it could. This was what I was really testing. Is it possible to be a completely genuine truth-seeker who weighs out the options, settles on a non-theistic world-view and finds it intellectually satisfying? Prior to this point I could not for the life of me see how anyone could look around at the world and not see God in it, at least some god. However, it was evident that a great many intelligent people have indeed done exactly this. I wanted to understand how this was possible so I put myself into the mind of someone who believed this, expecting that I would begin stumbling upon points within the non-theistic world-view which were evidently incoherent and where any person holding a non-theistic world-view would need to start glossing over things and subtly ignoring what they knew to be true or avoiding certain topics that might lead them to consider a theistic world-view.

I continued to look at the world from my non-theistic mind, explaining the things I perceived in a way that did not include a god. Something very eery occurred at this point in my experiment. Suddenly, for the very first time in my life, I looked around me at a world with no god, and it made sense. Without my impulsive Christian defenses/objections in play, my mind began settling on alternative explanations, precisely the ones that had been so repulsive to me before,  and they made sense. My mind did not lead naturally to the Christian defenses or objections that I had always used, nor to any other theistic defense. My mind was able to sort out and fit together the world using the non-theistic premise in much the same way that it was able to with the theistic one.

How had I not seen this before? How had I been so completely unable to understand how a sensible person could hold a non-theistic world-view? The only way that I was able to understand was by forcefully removing my Christian defenses, and I was now convinced that they were exactly that, defenses. If they were more than defenses, my mind would have naturally led to them. The defensive structure around my Christian belief had been forcefully preventing me from seeing the possibility of any other world-view being intellectually satisfying. If this wasn’t bias, I didn’t know what is.

No ultimate decision about which world-view I would choose was made on this day. This last piece of data did serve as one of the most powerful factors in my final choice to leave the Christian faith though. This experiment made it evident to me that I had constructed a massive mechanism of defense around my Christian belief and it was that mechanism, not the truth of Christianity, that was holding me in. Of course, having a defense mechanism around a belief says nothing about whether the belief is true or false, but it seems sensible to claim that if a belief needs to be surrounded by layers and layers of defense to stand, it’s probably not a belief worth defending.

Ultimately, I became extremely wary of my own mind and its ability to discern truth. It makes more sense to me now how there are so many intelligent people who strongly and authentically believe so many different things. I would like to posit that there is something which often serves as a higher priority than truth (for everyone, including myself), and it is the continuity and coherence of one’s framework of understanding. The mechanism of defense is by no means unique to those adhering to the Christian faith. I think that in every case, the stronger the belief in a framework of understanding is, the stronger and more complex the defense mechanism around it is.

Continuity and coherence. More important than truth?

[Note: In order to keep a respectful dialogue, comments will be moderated before appearing on the site.]

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8 thoughts on “The Illusion of the Open Mind – Part 3

  1. I have read all three parts of this posting. What puzzles me is your lack of references to other philosophers. You only mention Kant once.

    Your struggles remind me of Kierkegaard’s. But there have been many other immanent Christian thinkers going back to St. Augustine. You have plenty of company, and I think you need to avail yourself of them.

    I was raised in a religious family myself, and I know how non-thinking most religious people are. There is a huge difference between having a personal religion and belong to a religion. They are almost opposites.

    God can be defined, and understood many, many ways. Your reasoning seems on-track to me, if somewhat verbose. Carry on.

    1. The reason I don’t make much mention of the philosophers who are relevant to my ideas is because I don’t think most of my readers are very interested in what some random philosopher from who knows when thinks and also because I don’t have the patience to try to accurately and clearly summarize the arguments of the relevant philosophers. Hey, I’m lazy. I am currently studying philosophy full-time at the University of Toronto, so I am familiar with the numerous related arguments to my own (at the moment I’m actually studying Augustine in my Early Medieval Philosophy course). Most of my writing is an indirect response the ideas of philosophers I have come across. I think I may do some more reading on Keirkegaard since I’m only vaguely familiar with his philosophy. Thanks for reading and if you have responses that bring in arguments from the philosophical tradition, I would be more than happy to hear them!

  2. I am intregrided by this series of post. I find it iinteresting that at one time in my life I did the exact same thing (well not exact, because I used myself, not “people” as my topic) a couple of years ago, and I came to opposite conclusion. I agree that you have to let your defenses down, because those are the things that distract our mind from reality. However, I think there is another element missing in your experiment. Have you tried talking to source? I mean when I learned that God answers prayer I had to test him… see if it was true. I didn’t want to go down a superstitious rabbit trail. So I address him. Hence I came to the conclusion that God is there and he is relatable…

      1. Hey Sorry I am late with my responses, I have kind of busy lately. But yes, God does answer my prayers. Of course not always how I pre-conceived the said prayer to be answered, but really, does anyone respond exactly how you image them to?

  3. Hi Donna,
    Thank you especially for the final paragraph of this post. I was wondering how an experiment like this would work in the mind of a “follower” of another belief system such as Buddism, Hinduism etc

    1. I can’t say anything about what would happen in the mind of anyone else. It’s entirely dependant on the experiences of each individual leading to the belief they have and they way they’ve been influenced by other systems of belief.

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