I am a bad listener. I hate listening to thoughts that challenge my beliefs. I hate reading books that suggest that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah and that there is no Parousia. I hate watching videos that suggest that any belief in life everlasting is a form of zealotry. All these offend my beliefs; They unsettle me deeply.
I am not alone. When it comes to being open-minded when confronted with an idea that completely opposes one’s beliefs, most people respond in the same way as I do – defensively and with undue anger.
This is because one’s identity and ability to cope with life’s challenges are often built upon one’s world view. For many, religion forms a big part of this world view.
Let me illustrate this with the following example – A is able to handle immense abuse at home because A believes that there is a God who loves her and who cares for her. A persists in loving her family because that is the command of God and there is a promise of eternal reward in heaven. If B tries to convince A that God does not exist and everything A hears at church is a lie, A will be very challenged indeed. In response to the new idea, A is likely to attack B, convince herself that B is a crazy heretic, distance herself from B and get on with life as she did before B presented the queer idea to her.
Sounds familiar? To some extent, we have all been A before. At some juncture in our lives, we have all defended our beliefs in order to sustain the impetus and momentum to continue on the trajectory that we have chosen in life.
Considering the above, we can begin to understand why people gravitate towards others with similar world views. Our closest friends are often those who are of the same age group, religion and educational level as us. From a rational standpoint, you will notice how selecting such friends help reduce the chances of a possibly ‘unsettling’ idea ever reaching our ears. We are therefore spared the trauma of having the carpet pulled from beneath of feet.
But I believe that it is of utmost importance that we hone the art of being open-minded; the art of persisting in relationships where the other party shares radically different beliefs from us.
On the most basic level, such relationships offer us freshest and most diverse perspectives of this world and our current circumstances. We find another human being who is able to see this world from a completely different set of lenses. He/she can offer us wisdom that we will not hear from a like-minded friend in a hundred years.
On a deeper level, a steady stream of unsettling ideas help keep our faith alive. It is only when we are challenged that we look back at our own beliefs and question their validity. When we are challenged, we seek to acquire more knowledge to justify our current beliefs. If proven wrong, we are then able to adjust it and live according to it.
Catholicism (Skip to next section if Catholic ideology offends you – or perhaps, it is an opportunity for you to be open minded)
Perhaps it is timely to discuss the virtue of being ‘God-fearing’. To be God-fearing is to stay close to God like a toddler stays close to his mother. Yes, he may wander off a little to explore the surroundings but he will always look over his shoulder to see if mummy is close by.
Being God-fearing is not holding on to your beliefs so firmly that you leave absolutely no room for doubt (like a toddler who sticks to his Mother all the time). This form of faith is unhealthy and usually indicative of a presence of deep seated and possibly repressed doubt in one’s beliefs.
With that said, only those who are truly confident in their beliefs are able to be open-minded to the beliefs of others. Through this open-minded discourse with others, knowledge is enhanced, faith is strengthened.
I used to be from a charismatic non-denominational church. I had some questions about my faith then. I was open-minded when introduced to the Catholic faith. After one years of receiving private instructions from a priest, I was baptised and received into the Catholic Church. In the following year, I signed up as a catechist and went for my basic catechetical course levels 1 and 2.
I feel so much closer to God now. The knowledge, love and role models that I have experienced along the way really strengthened my faith. If I had not been open-minded, none of this would have happened.
My recent adoption of minimalism was met with some defensive and angry responses from my peers. When I shared photographs of my almost empty closet, people became very settled and challenged. I do not blame them. We live in a culture where almost everyone, whatever your religious affiliation, believes that material possessions are good, a fat pay check is good. In fact, so many people have sacrificed so much (e.g. health, family time, integrity even) to acquire wealth and possessions. Espousing the virtues of minimalism is akin to challenging the other’s life choices, it will inevitably be met with resistance.
However, I do encourage you to be open minded. Not because I want you to be adopt minimalism per se, but because just being a tiny bit open minded has led me to discover so much more about this world and has brought me so much joy that would have otherwise been out of reach.
Yes it might frighten the hell of you. I was frightened and I still am sometimes. But just give it a chance. Ask the questions, gather the information. You will be surprised where this might lead you.