How To Tell When Your Mind Is Closing

One of the goals of this blog on theism and atheism is to help people become more open to the ideas of other people. If I can successfully encourage theists to be more open to the views of atheists, and encourage atheists to consider theistic perspectives, finding common ground between, say, Muslims and Christians or Hindus and Sikhs should seem easy by comparison.

Not surprisingly, few people seem motivated to become open-minded, especially about political or religious issues. I think of a comment by Rabbi Steven Reuben: “the only person in the world who really likes change is a wet baby” (A Nonjudgmental Guide to Interfaith Marriage, p. 31).

If we want to escape the prison of self-justifying beliefs, we can try to identify early-warning signals that tip us off when our minds are closing. We can learn to feel ourselves slamming the door against new truth.

So ask yourself now, what warning signals occur when you start blocking out a good idea that might disturb your preconceptions? For example, is an alarm going off in your mind right this minute, just thinking about learning to notice when your mind is closing? If you can identify cues that alert you when this is happening, you can learn to catch your mind-gate just as it starts to swing shut.

Some cues are felt in the body and others are more “mental.” You may feel a vague unease, a mild irritation, or physical tension such as tightening your jaw.

Personally, I tend to hold my breath and focus on counter-arguments. I may not even state these counter-arguments out loud, but by concocting a rebuttal that I find cogent and clever, I feel relieved. I have succeeded once again in fending off the threat of mind-expansion.

As you read entries in Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, watch for moments when you encounter something plausible that disturbs your preconceptions. When that happens, check what you’re feeling inside. Once you know what you experience when your mind is “threatened with expansion,” you can watch for that cue when you’re with people who challenge your belief system.

Roger Christan Schriner

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5 thoughts on “How To Tell When Your Mind Is Closing

  1. I certainly have noticed recently that I have this reaction and have made myself examine why! Part of it is that you have created your own set of “norms” that you feel comfortable with and which protect your self esteem and you don’t want them threatened. And there is a sense of betrayal because in the past you have been taught that orthodoxy equals loyalty. So thank you, Roger, I will continue to challenge myself!

    • I agree with your comments about norms and betrayal. Also, a bit off- topic but related: It’s interesting that I seldom ask myself what my real motivations for some particular action might be. I tend to assume that my assumptions about my own motives are correct, despite the massive evidence that we delude ourselves about the reasons for our behaviors. The only time I’m likely to re-evaluate my motives is when I do something that turns out badly.

      Roger Schriner

  2. I think of atheism as just one more form of religious belief–Muslim, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, atheist–it’s all just different stuff people believe. I’m a theist, but humble. I don’t think I know enough to tell other people what they should or should not believe. I know what is right for me. That doesn’t mean it’s right for anyone else. I will, at every turn, ask people to confront the questions of spirituality, but I will not tell them what I think their answers should be.

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