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Open Minded Not Open Space

The highest virtue in our postmodern society seems to be what is euphemistically called “open mindedness”. It also goes by the names of “tolerance”, “acceptance”, and “inclusivity”. As is always the case of euphemistic appellations, the name has very little connection to the underlying ideology. A humorous example can be found by taking note that almost all countries with the word “Democratic” in their name are single party, authoritarian tyrannies. It is yet another instance in a growing list of prophecies that George Orwell accurately predicted in his prescient novel, 1984; where ideologies and programs were labeled opposite of what they actually were. War is called Peace. Lies are called Truth. Of course, Isaiah, preceded Orwell by 2700 years, when he prophesied of those that would call evil good, darkness light, and bitter sweet. And here we are. 

Intolerance of diverse ideas is sold as promoting tolerance. Closing off to all dissenting views is marketed as being open minded. Excluding undesirable ideologies is trumpeted as inclusivity. There is tolerance for everything except what is deemed an intolerable intolerance. There is open mindedness for all ideologies except for those that assert truth. All beliefs are welcome except for the belief that reserves the right to rank other beliefs on a hierarchy of value; that belief is excluded with prejudice.

In a statement even more foreboding than Orwell’s 1984 or even Isaiah’s prophecy in the fifth chapter, the Apostle Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

“Dear Corinthians, we have spoken candidly with you, our heart is wide open to you! We are not closed to you and you are not closed because of us. You are closed because of your own feelings. Reciprocate to our openness and open your hearts to us also!”

The Corinthians, like their Millennial ideological offspring, had laid the blame for their anger, resentment, and failure at the feet of Paul’s alleged intolerance, close mindedness, and exclusivity. Hence, they refused to recognize that the actual source of their obstructions was ideological inferiority, intellectual inadequacy, moral deficiency, and emotional entitlement. 

In this follow up to his first fiery, thundering declamation he opts for the tack of a fresh start and both attenuates his tone and resets his approach. Through the first five chapters he “reintroduces” himself to them, offering them his resume and bonafides and references. He reminds them who he is, both in the broad context of the Gospel movement but even more importantly in the specific context of their new birth and spiritual life. But he does this as gently as possible, affirming their sincerity and potential at every turn. Speaking to them as if to young adults — not quite as self-sufficient and capable as they fancied themselves, but not as the childish and immature “babes in Christ”, as he presumed in his first epistle. So, whereas he lectured and lambasted in the initial interaction; in this followup he implores and entreats. In the first foray he not only calls them “babes in Christ” but he breaks out the 1st Century equivalent of “Who’s yo daddy?!” (1 Cor 4.15) But in the second missive, his tactic is to rekindle the fond memories of their relationship and both reaffirm it with warm reminiscences as well as contextualize it with a naked but unabashed biopic of his life outside the Corinthian experience, engaged in the spiritual war that had engulfed him at the same time he cared for them. The story of Paul and the Corinthians is a story of a battle-hardened, crusty, pragmatic, war hero general and his talented, sensitive, teenage son.

Nevertheless, while his tone and approach is radically different, Paul is as candid as ever. He still lays his thumb on the wound, only this time he wears a glove and talks the patient through the procedure; he also administers a mild anesthesia. Whereas in his other epistles, including First Corinthians, he issues a staccato of direct admonitions, in this epistle he builds up through 5 chapters to the one and only direct admonition in the whole book. (2 Cor 6.14-7.1) But just before that, he gingerly and with heartbreaking tenderness performs a heart transplant so that they might enjoy the full benefit of his exhortation. He quietly yet insightfully diagnosis their core malady. As dexterously as any top-shelf psychologist he pinpoints that they were projecting. They accused Paul of being close minded, entrenched, and overbearing. In their mind, it was Paul’s reticent intolerance that was keeping them boxed up and pushed down. But Paul firmly explicates the record. He had always been open with them as well as to them, that is to say, he was both honest and tolerant. And it was not affected in the least. It was more than heart felt; his whole heart was wide open to them. His mouth was open to them. He imposed no restrictions. The quashing that they indicted him for was entirely of their own doing. 

What a fascinating reversal! How could they be so completely wrong? Well, that is the interesting bit that our current postmodern culture should consider carefully. As Paul avows, openness and tolerance are virtues. To be precise, they are Biblical Christian virtues, even though they are seldomly associated with Biblical Christianity — neither by the world nor often in the minds of the Christians themselves, who tragically self-identify as close-minded far too frequently. Both of these reach that conclusion because the essence of true openness has been inverted. Evil has been called good, and good has been labeled evil. 

Openness is not a renunciation of barriers. It is not the flattening of values. The proper metaphor for Openness is not Outer Space, empty of everything but accepting of nothing. Everything gets sucked into a total vacuum, but nothing can survive it. Real openness requires constraints and parameters and access codes. A homeless person sleeping on the pavement in public cannot host an “open house”: He has no house to open. It is no great kindness to welcome everyone into an infinite, flat plain that belongs to no one. The person who castrates himself of all ideas can hardly be considered “open to ideas”. Rather it is the stringent minded individual who exercises rigorous discrimination on all ideas who is actually open. For the simplistic postmodernists, this is counterintuitive, however for you, the sophisticated thinker, grounded in reality it is self-evident. There are only two possible positions: Either reject all ideas, or judge all ideas and accept only those that are logically coherent, demonstrably useful, and empirically superior. The third, postmodernist option is only a quasi option. It can only exist in hypothetical counterfactuals. That is, to accept all ideas, to judge none, and to reject none. Because, logically, that simply is not possible. What if my idea is that all other ideas are false? Can that idea be accepted along with the idea that all ideas are good? This dichotomy is what Jesus referred to when he claimed that one cannot serve two masters, for you will, by necessity, hate one and love the other. 

As we stand back and survey the two options, it is clear that the side that formulates openness as the dissolution of all ideas is Closed, whereas the side that is critical of all ideas is Open. They are open precisely because they are critical of all ideas. Criticism, in its true sense, requires giving a fair hearing, careful consideration, and an honest opportunity to persuade. Anything less is simply Closed Mindedness repackaged with one of Orwell’s oxymoronic labels superimposed. To be clear, anyone who abuses of the words “criticism” or “discriminating” to reject out of hand whatever was not hammered on their own anvil, is not Open. To be open one must be always willing to be wrong, all the while holding firm to what they know to be true.

A proper metaphor for true openness is a tall, massive castle; surrounded by a impenetrable wall; encompassed about with an impassible moat; filled with voracious alligators; armed with impregnable defenses of death and pain (Death first and then pain after.);  manned by crazed purveyors of slaughter and mayhem (Slaughter first and then mayhem after.); with an indestructible drawbridge that is always in the lowered position; with a wise, tenderhearted king standing on the end of that drawbridge offering safe passage to all to enter in and present their best ideas with no fear of insult or injury. Anyone whose ideas are delightfully found to be superior are made princes in the castle and their ideas are added to the bulwarks; but those whose ideas prove to be inferior are required to leave with their ideas in hand, but with the same warmness and kindness with which they were welcomed. But not without first inviting them to consider adopting the superior ideas that the king has collected over many generations and used to build his unassailable fortress of thought. 

For the open minded, ideas are like bricks that can either be added to the top of his walls, or can be used to replace inferior bricks in his walls, or discarded as faulty bricks unworthy of his walls. For the postmodernists, ideas are also bricks, but their only acceptable use is to stone to death anyone who dares use them to build a wall. 

For the postmodernist, ideas are like teardrops in the ocean. They are indistinct, inmemorable, and insignificant. They displace nothing. They add nothing. They change nothing. They improve nothing. The person weeping is drained, but the ocean is none the wiser. On the surface, the ocean seems Open… Wide Open. But is it really open if one can cry himself to death into it and not even amount to a drop in a bucket? Whereas teardrops dripping down the cheek of a toddler into the hand of his father or mother, that is significant. That is a wide open heart. Even if… especially if… those tears are the result of that parent disciplining that child. This is the imagery that Paul is painting when he entreats the Corinthians: 

“Dear Corinthians, we have spoken candidly with you, our heart is wide open to you! We are not closed to you and you are not closed because of us. You are closed because of your own feelings. Reciprocate to our openness and open your hearts to us also!”

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