Close Your Mind by David Mills

Close Your Mind

Critical Christians in an Uncritical Age

by David Mills

G. K. Chesterton once said of his friend H. G. Wells: “I think he thought that the object of opening the mind is simply opening the mind. Whereas I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” (Though we think of him mainly as a science fiction writer, Wells was a great leader of the progressive movements of his day. He was, sexuality aside, the Gore Vidal of the early twentieth century.)

To be open-minded—now usually called “entering the dialogue”—is not necessarily a virtue. The virtue of open-mindedness depends on how far you open your mind and how long you keep it open, and whether you close it when you ought to.

An open hatch on top of a submarine lets in needed light and air—until the submarine dives. An open door in a country house is one thing, an open door in a prison is another. A man may open-mindedly weigh the merits of monarchy, but he may not, without branding himself a moral imbecile, open-mindedly weigh the merits of Hitler’s policies for the Jews.

Thus there is less to be said for open-mindedness than is usually said by modern mainline Christians. It is not at all virtuous to keep your mind continually open, because you are not using your mind as it is meant to be used. You are in fact taking very poor care of it. The mind continually propped open will only collect dust and cigarette butts.

Closed on Something

The mind that is being used will often be closed. If it is working well, it will be closed more often than not. It will have closed on something solid, and be chewing it over. That is what minds do.

This is certainly what the Christian mind does. Christian doctrine and morality are realities. Even the most technical and abstract language points us to realities we can to some extent comprehend and think about. We are not simply presented with a set of random and unreliable data from which we are to figure out as best we can what it all means. God has shown us what is really there.

If this is true, we cannot be open-minded in the usual sense when someone proposes that the reality does not in fact exist. That is something like being open-minded about the existence of a truck bearing down upon you as you cross the street, because someone on the sidewalk tells you, for whatever reasons, that he does not see it.

That people around you don’t see what you see, and therefore call for “open-mindedness,” is not a relevant concern until you know whether you can trust their vision. One cannot trust the man whose sexual life is disordered when he says that Scripture can be read in new and more permissive ways. This is to be open-minded about the existence of a truck bearing down upon you as you cross the street, because a blind man on the sidewalk tells you he does not see it.

David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.

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