Open mindedness is hailed as one of the top virtues in society today. I invite you all to take a closer look at the point of having an open mind.
A man walked into my office today. He asked for permission to take pictures of the church I belong too (I work for the church). A beautiful, ‘grandiose’, traditional Catholic Church. He’s a writer and does some traveling, randomly taking pictures of what he finds in order to help him be descriptive in his writing. The book he’s working on has a main theme of “What happens when you die?” I quickly told him I’d grab my keys and would gladly accompany him over, an action completely unnecessary for the grown man but fueled by my interest in other writers and quirky people who are bold enough to randomly stop in and ask (yes, most of the time writers turn out to be the quirky ones…).
While walking over we chatted briefly about the outer structure of the church, how he found the church here, etc. As we walked in he was amazed. I crossed myself and genuflected. He quickly, and in Protestant fashion (meaning loudly), announced that he didn’t know anything about Catholic worship space, so to keep him from being irreverent.
After I turned on the lights for him and he began taking his pictures, I busied myself with finding a booklet containing information on our history and the architectural and theological symbolism embodied in our church.
Curiosity peaked, I questioned the storyline and plot of his book. I was delighted by how willing he was to share all of this information, even the end of the story-still-unwritten with me, a random stranger.
I then proceeded, in typical me-fashion, to ask personal questions, ‘Are you currently practicing any faith, or affiliated anywhere?’
“Oh, no,” came the reply. “My wife is Baptist and I was baptized Lutheran and we go to the Baptist Church sometimes, but I am not really associated with any particular church or faith.”
I nodded my head, “Okay.”
Sometimes I selfishly enjoy how my quiet and calm mannerisms, my seeming lack of response, often invites others to keep speaking.
“With my line of work, I have to keep an open mind,” he continued. “So I try not to affiliate one way or the other. Because of my job and what I do, I have to keep an open mind. I try to stay free of certain ideologies so I can keep an open mind.”
He began talking about his book again and I interrupted him, “So, when you say ‘facts’—that you want to present the facts for your readers—you mean truth, right? Facts, truth, you mean the same?”
“Yes,” he said. And I laughed on my insides-muahah, people can’t get away from objectivity. “I don’t want to offend anyone so I just want to present the facts..” and on he continued explaining this character and that plot and this turn. Eventually I sneaked in a quick, “Yes, the Truth will always offend someone.”
We continued to converse, talking especially about art and history. I gave him all knowledge I could about the symbolism and architecture of our church, it’s relation to worship, art’s capacity to lead the human soul to the depths of truth. And on he went on his merry way, promising to let me know if he uses the pictures and when his book is out. Score, maybe he’ll send me a free copy which I can then read and write about on the Literary Project.
In hindsight it is odd to me how the line “I have to keep an open mind” is often said with a type of “hush-hush”. An “oh no, we can’t do that” kind of fear. A fear that stating belief will somehow cut one off from something. I don’t know what that something is—except the exalted virtue of tolerance and open mindedness touted by our society at large. To state belief implies an inner conviction of the truth presented to one’s self and yes, necessarily sets one apart; however, the virtue of open mindedness implies that it is better to let truth pass in and out of one’s open mind, along with all the falsehoods that float through our atmosphere. To tout open mindedness implies that it is better to not have an identity rooted in anything. In attempts to “not conform” or “force values”, the open mindedness touted by society creates a whole society of weak, unrooted, unthinking individuals. Chaos runs amuck over an open minded person’s soul and the society runs amuck because it is filled with people who can’t stand up for anything or sit down for anything.***
Society exalts open mindedness. Now let me make a worthy note: true open mindedness—meaning the willingness to listen to another’s viewpoint and rationally enter into dialogue—is huge. And necessary. Not just “for society” but for the fulfillment of human beings—who are rational creatures.
But when society exalts open mindedness without acknowledging objective truth, it is like taking the bottle out of a baby’s mouth and giving them a nook instead. “The purpose of an open mind, like that of an open mouth, is to close it on something solid,” said GK Chesterton. Our culture begs people to have open minds. As rational creatures we crave truth, and whether we realize it or not our minds are naturally open—for the truth. Our culture begs us to crave, to open our intellectual mouths, and then it tells us not to eat. It tells us to taste one thing to the next to the next, but to never swallow. It tells us it is not fair and mean to have our cake and eat it too. And heaven forbid we share that cake with others, whose mouths are open.
The problem is we don’t want to recognize that someone else’s cake may be better. Or that there may only really be one, best cake that will satisfy us.
Well, you say, I thought this was a blog about literature? If there is one thing you can learn form literature, it is that when politics, art, history, and faith all come together they make a great work of writing and show how the human person is affected by culture. Books are classics, or great, because of their capacity to capture the depth of the human person in a realistic way. Today an open minded man and myself grazed the surface of truth because of art and writing. While open mindedness is on the rise, it is the renewal of interest in art of different forms, of history, of faith and of politics that provide a common grounds where people can help each other find TRUTH.
It is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of its three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. –G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Great literature ought to show man his limitations. Remove limitations from man, and you remove man’s very nature. To be a human person is to be limited. The reading of great literature should help teach a person how to interact with others, how to engage in true conversation, and how to live in an objective reality. Part of great literature’s greatness lies in its capacity to transcend time and bespeak truth about objective reality to subjective persons of different sorts over time. (The other part lies in the satisfaction that left parts of the brain find in new words, proper grammar usage, and stimulating sentence syntax.)
***Look at the Occupy Wall Street Movement: a collection of individual’s who are not united in any fashion, have no leader, do not ask for anything as a group because they are all there as individuals, protesting for whatever reason each deems fit. This is what they want. This is what they want with commentary that I enjoy. I have opinions…but that would take another blog.