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Do You Have an Open Mind?
by John B
Back in my WCG days I remember meeting a man whose wife was a member, but he was not. He was a really nice fellow. During our get-acquainted conversation I asked him about his religious beliefs. His reply: “I’m a Catholic, but I have an open mind.”
Good answer. I took that to mean that he disagreed with my views but didn’t want to offend me. I remember thinking at the time that he didn’t really have an open mind at all. He was Catholic, after all. And I knew that Catholics were brainwashed.
As church members, we all believed we had open minds. After all, God had called us “out of the world” and “opened our minds” to his “special truth”. It was a truth that few could understand, and the very fact that most who heard it rejected it was proof that it was true. The Bible said that many were called but few were chosen. Until we were called, our minds had been closed. Now they were open.
Just What Do You Mean, Open Mind?
Nobody likes to be called narrow-minded. I think everyone wants to think he has an open mind, just as everyone wants to be right. (Someone once asked me, “Why is it so important to you to be right all the time?” The question staggered me – I mean, who wants to be wrong?) Most of us want to be on the correct side of things, to embrace correct ideas, to speak the truth as much as possible, to have a correct view of life, history, and events. The only way you can do all that is to keep an open mind.
But before you can keep an open mind, you have to have an open mind. And if you don’t already have one, getting one can be very, very hard to do. Why? Because you probably think you already have an open mind, and the mere suggestion that you don’t is likely to make you angry. Herbert was right when he said, “People who are deceived don’t know they are deceived; if they did, they wouldn’t be deceived!”
How can you tell if you’re deceived?
Well, for starters, you need an open mind.
But how do you get an open mind?
Good question. How, indeed? Think about that for a minute. If someone were to ask you that question, how would you answer? How long would it take you to formulate an answer? Before you read any further, take a few minutes and see if you can even answer the question.
[ take your time ]
What’s Your Answer?
Back already? Did you find the answer? Never mind. Your answer might or might not be correct, but the point is that you took the time to think about it. That is the first step: think!
You can’t have an open mind if you can’t think. Even if you do think, you still might not have an open mind. Many people claim to have an open mind, but just making the claim doesn’t get the job done. Neither, all by itself, does thinking. For example: If your thought process involves only what your parents told you growing up, or what your preacher told you last Saturday, then you didn’t make much progress toward an open mind. The thought process necessary to develop an open mind involves weighing information from various sources. If you only process information from, say, The Plain Truth magazine (is that thing even still in print?), then you may still have a canyon in your head.
People who have all the answers all the time do not have an open mind. Nobody has all the answers all the time. NOBODY! I don’t, you don’t, your apostle doesn’t. When a person claims to have all the answers, or acts as if he does, you can be certain of one thing: he’s prejudiced. He has it all figured out. Everything fits neatly into pigeonholes. Everything is black and white.
The First Step
The first step in developing an open mind is to recognize that you may not really have one. Then you have to start to examine things. You have to reevaluate everything you know, every belief, every preconceived notion. You have to recognize that your parents were not all-knowing, that your teachers, your preacher, your best friend are not all-knowing. You have to come to understand that, no matter how hard you try, you will never be all-knowing either. Then, once you come to a firm acceptance of that fact, you can start to learn. And you will find that it’s fun.
But if you're going to have an open mind, be prepared for some surprises. When you really start to examine things, you may find evidence you never were aware of before. You may discover that, when it comes to religious, political, and social beliefs, you haven’t been provided with all the information you need to form solid opinions. Like a juror who is presented with some evidence but not all of it, you may have formed opinions in the past that were not firmly grounded. You may find that what you previously thought was reality now looks very suspicious indeed. It may rock your world. You may have a hard time accepting some things. But if the evidence is there, you won’t have much choice, unless you decide to give up the whole exercise and retreat back into the canyon of darkness.
Probably the hardest part of this entire exercise is trying to rid yourself of previous beliefs. All of us were taught certain things as we grew up, and because those teachings came from adults, we usually accepted them as fact. Nothing wrong with that, of course -- what's a child supposed to do? The problem is that those who taught us had their biases, and many may have been narrow- or close-minded. By the time we reached adulthood, if we still believed what we had been taught, we now held those same biases and/or narrow-minded attitudes. If we weren't careful, we still have those same attitudes today.
For example: depending on where you were raised, you may have been taught (directly or by example) some of the following:
Never trust a black person -- he may have just got out of prison.
Women make lousy drivers, and care only about spending money.
Most American Indians are drunks.
College graduates may be book smart, but they have no common sense.
An Asian person will smile at you while he cuts your throat.
Jews are greedy and will cheat you.
People up north think they're better than the rest of us.
People down south are lazy and stupid; just listen to how they talk.
Homosexuals want to screw your kids.
Black men want to screw your white wife.
Most cops are crooked.
Most women who are raped were asking for it.
People who go to church are all hypocrites.
People who don't go to church have no morals.
Teenagers are all reckless and delinquent.
Old people are crazy and fucked up in the head.
The list goes on and on. What makes these statements dangerous is that, as with all stereotypes, here and there one can find an example that "proves" each statement is true; i.e., certain individuals in each of these groups may really be that way, so the rest all get painted with the same brush. That's what makes a stereotype, and stereotypes are where prejudices begin.
Prove All Things
If you have beliefs similar to those above, what can you do about it? Are you willing to spend the rest of your life clinging to such absurd notions? Maybe Pappy and Grandpappy believed all that stuff to the day they died, but does that make it true? If you're going to have an open mind, you need to challenge those beliefs; if they turn out to be true, fine, but if not, then you need to know the truth. After all, "the truth will set you free"! Right?
In order to challenge long-held beliefs, you need to be willing to do the one thing the Bible was right about: Prove All Things (and hold fast that which is good).
To begin with, you need to know that doing this will take longer than a week or two. It will take years, and unless you're committed to the project, you may as well not even start. The reward, however, will be a peace of mind you never imagined; you'll find that you get angry a lot less than before, that you no longer hate certain people and groups, and your anxiety level will be a lot lower than it probably is now. You will feel less threatened when people disagree with you. You won't be afraid any more. Proving all things can be hard work, but it's also fun.
How do you start? Pick a subject, something you have strong feelings about. It doesn't have to be religion or politics, though it can be either. It could be something social, such as abortion or premarital sex, or maybe masturbation. Take one subject at a time, work it all the way to the end, and see where you end up. You may be surprised at the result.
How Does It Work?
To begin the exercise, write down the topic you are going to concentrate on. Next, write down your current opinion of the subject (pro or con), and state as many reasons as you can think of why you are for or against it. (Make special note if the reason you hold your opinion is because Mom and Pop said so, or Preacher X said so, or your old-maid 5th grade teacher said so; this could be significant.)
Now do some research. If you can find books or magazine articles on the subject, read as many as you can. If not, search the internet (Yahoo and Google, among others, are wonderful search engines). Be sure your research includes both sides of the argument. As you research, take a sheet of paper or spreadsheet and make two columns, one pro and one con, and make note of the arguments in each column; if you find an argument convincing, underline it.
When you've completed your research, take a look at your notes. How many of those arguments on each side make sense to you? I mean, really make sense? Do the arguments that disagree with your opinion have any merit? Do some of the arguments that support your opinion sound silly? Do you see a hidden agenda in some of the arguments on either side? Does any of this change your original opinion, or make you question it?
Before you answer that last question (and this is very important): pretend that you know nothing about the subject, that before you began your research you had never heard of the subject. If you are religious, pretend that you aren't; if you have a political persuasion, pretend that you don't. If you have a personal conflict of interest in the subject, pretend that you don't. Try to think like a juror being presented with facts for the first time. Try to keep an open mind!
Then (and this may be the hardest part), be honest with yourself. Render your verdict fairly and impartially. Write down your conclusion based on your research, your objectivity, and whether or not certain arguments make sense. Logic, not emotion, is the key. An emotional approach will result in prejudice every single time! Use logic, and only logic.
So how did it go? Did you change your mind? Were you right about this topic all your life, or have you come to a different conclusion? (There is no "right" answer here; this is just a matter of being honest with yourself.)
Now that you've been through this exercise, here's something to consider: Presumably you have altered or affirmed your opinion on this topic using evidence (and logic) from your research...but what if you missed something? There may be evidence out there that you aren't aware of, or that hasn't even surfaced yet. Keeping an open mind means that, when you encounter that evidence, you are still open to it. In other words, you may have established an opinion based on the evidence, but you are willing to change it if you learn something new.
That is what having an open mind is all about.
Imagine a juror hearing a rape case in 1980; he knows nothing about the victim or the defendant except what is presented at trial. The victim positively identifies her rapist as the teenager sitting at the defense table. He swears he didn't do it, but she picked him out of a lineup; she is adamant. He has no criminal record, but he looks pretty seedy. It isn't hard to believe he's guilty, and the juror convicts him.
Imagine that same juror in 2006, when that convicted rapist's case comes up for special review. Now that DNA testing is available, the samples from the crime scene are run through the laboratory and prove conclusively that the kid the juror convicted is not a match! That kid has been in prison for 26 years for a crime he didn't commit! How does that juror feel when he hears that the kid has been released because of new evidence?
How would you feel?
Always remain open to new evidence.
The rest is up to you. You can continue this exercise with another subject, or just say "Screw it" and keep on thinking what you thought before. If you do the latter, it may be that you were uncomfortable with the results of your first exercise. If this is the case, maybe you really don't have an open mind, because the truth can sometimes be uncomfortable. On the other hand, you may find that you were pretty balanced in your thinking all along. Either way, the next time someone accuses you of being narrow-minded, you'll know better. And that feels good.
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