Thursday, May 17, 2007

Closed-Minded Liberal

I am a closed-minded liberal. Or at least that is what I was accused of recently. I tend to take any criticism very personally regardless of the source. So resisting the childish urge to ad hominem attack I looked inward to see if there was any truth to the matter. I’ll break the accusation into its two parts and analyze them both separately. Am I closed-minded? Am I a liberal? Today I’d like to address my alleged closed-mindedness.

If I were to find any evidence to support that I am closed-minded this would be a very damning blow for me personally. To me a closed-minded person is one who restricts the information that they allow into their mind. Or when some stray bit of information that they disagree with makes it into their mind they categorically renounce it without subjecting it to any internal debate at all. I have always prided myself in being very open-minded. I absolutely enjoy exposing myself to essays, books, movies and art that presents opposing views to my own. A cursory scan of my previous posts here and posts on will show that I pretty much will read anything if I feel there is any chance that it will bring me to a better understanding of my own opinions or at least a better understanding of why the other side may feel the way they do.
There was a time in my life, not all that long ago, when I must now confess that I was very closed minded in both matters of religion and politics. Whenever a point that contradicted my faith was brought up I simply resorted to the standard defensive tool kit employed by most apologists. “The truth with always have its persecutors.” “That scripture is only figurative. You’re taking it out of context.” “Well, consider the source.” etc. I now understand the logical problems with these responses, but they sufficed me at the time. I mentally moved the idea off the table and would consider no further debate.
Thanks to an incident a few years ago, I believe that I have shed many of those apologetic reflexes. In fact many would, and have, claimed that I have gone too far to understand the other side.
While preparing for a new church assignment to teach my son’s Sunday School class I concentrated on memorizing the 13 Articles of Faith of the LDS church. These have been modified slightly since I first learned them as a child and I wanted to make sure I was teaching the students the most up to date versions. Most of the modifications were relatively harmless adaptation to more modern language. Shortly after I had committed them to memory the Church magazine, the Ensign, published the Wentworth letter. This is a letter written by Joseph Smith to a Chicago journalist detailing some of the beliefs of the LDS church. It is also, according to LDS church history, the origin of the Articles of Faith. I was glad to see the letter published and I looked forward to taking it to my class so they could see the Articles of Faith in the form that I had memorized them when I was their age. However, to my shock and dismay I found that the article had revised this historical document to reflect the newer versions of the articles. How can they do that? This was a historical document. It had been published in multiple newspapers at the time.
In a quest to find a copy of the original Articles of Faith I scanned conference talks on My goal was to find some other reference that read as I had remembered them. I became very disillusioned when I found talks that were thirty-years old and, like the Wentworth letter in the Ensign, had been updated to reflect the more recent forms of the Articles of Faith. At that moment I had a chilling image of the “historians” in Orwell's 1984 revising and updating the newspapers to “newspeak”. Frustrated I shared my concerns with my wife and she lovingly agreed to help me sort this out.
Until I went to Victoria I had confined my search to official LDS sites. Like a good Mormon is supposed to I, avoided anything that might even have a chance of saying something “anti-Mormon.” Victoria did not feel this need to stick to the official sites and supplied me with site after site that showed the multiple progressions of the Articles of Faith. I also learned that there were originally 14 articles rather than 13 and that Joseph was not the original author of them. Since I now had evidence that the church was polishing up its history, from that moment on I became obsessed with understanding the “real” history of the church and not just the sanitized version that is put into our lesson manuals. Since then I take everything I hear from the pulpit with more than a few grains of salt. This new open attitude towards studying theology has caused me to grow spiritually in way that I never have before. I credit Victoria for showing me that it was okay to look outside the narrow box that the official sites and books. Those were the first steps on my journey towards making my logical brain deal with and make sense of the paradoxes that were before me when it came to church doctrine and behavior.

I share the previous story not to challenge anybody else’s faith or to suggest that you should take the same path. I intended simply to illustrate my progression from being relatively closed-minded to a more open-minded approach to studying this subject. I have no doubt that many members of the church would not support my extra-curricular studies. Although it has not been easy, it has been a very stimulating and uplifting journey. Others would likely not receive the same results.

It has been my experience that when somebody accuses me of a certain trait that they are projecting a fear that they may harbor that same trait. High profile cases like the homophobic Ted Haggard’s encounter with a male prostitute just reinforce this in my mind. Granted I don’t think that this is a universal law. However, I have seen the correlation too often to write it off completely. A previous supervisor accused me of being too defensive about everything. I agreed with him because I realize that I get very defensive sometimes. Later on another coworker commented that this supervisor had accused him of being defensive too. Recognizing that these correlations are not necessarily causations, I have simply seen too many instances where people parrot the same criticisms they are accused of in attacking others.
The recent issue that caused me to be called a closed-minded liberal was a debate on the subject of Young-Earth Creationism and Biblical Literalism. As a result of the discussion I dismissed both of these on the grounds that they are not supported by evidence. My accuser then went on to dismiss the work of millions of geologists, biologists, anthropologists, astronomers, and physicists as just being part of the liberal conspiracy to conceal the truth about God. He quoted one physicist and one journalist as his basis for his beliefs. My immediate response was to stop by the library and put every book by both men on hold so I could read them and evaluate the claims on their merits. I thought about challenging my accuser to read an equally extreme book against his position. In retrospect I think that this rhetorical name calling was not used logically. I would suspect that he throws out the closed-minded liberal argument against anyone who does not mirror his own opinions. Considering his beliefs he must use this defense rather often. After considering the event I just wonder what else I could have done to show that disagreement does not equate to closed-mindedness. I heard his arguments and asked to read the evidence. Is there possibly a way I could have been more open-minded to his comments?

I share these events and revelations only as an attempt at introspection. I do not want anything in my character that impedes my relationships with my fellow beings. How can I get better? If I am indeed closed-minded, I have not dismissed that option, what steps can I take beside what I have been already doing?

Look for a future introspective post to evaluate whether or not I am guilty as charged on the remaining count of being a liberal.


  1. This may just be my experience, but when someone tells me they are open-minded, I have learned to interpret this to mean they are close-minded about progressive or trendy issues. So, it's interesting to hear that someone used the phrase, "close-minded liberal." Perhaps you're right in that people are parroting the criticism that have been directed at them.

  2. Thanks for this honest and open post, Michael. I think your response was more than sufficient. I do not know whom you were talking to but I must say that young-earth creationists are in a terribly tight corner. Therefore they are a very defensive lot. I would take any name-calling you may receive from such a one with good humor.

    And about your digging into your church history, that is really enlightening. I can see how such an experience could shake you a bit. Sometimes it's good to be shaken, no?

    Keep up your good inquisitive spirit! It's inspiring.


    P.S. I don't often use my Google email account. If you'd like to email me, use