Devote your energy and time to seeking truth
"Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." - Matthew 22: 37-38
Lately I've lamented how many Christian friends have allowed their minds to be hijacked by biased right-wing media sources, instead of evaluating information using the same techniques for thinking we employ in apologetics.
As Christians we say we’re committed to truth, to following the facts wherever they lead. Therefore it’s incumbent on us to devote the energy and time to really contemplate issues honestly, not accepting certain facts or ideas because we want them to be true. Granted, that means devoting more time to reading and thinking.
Separate having an opinion from thinking
Many of us assume we're experts at thinking because we do it all day every day. But Christian philosopher Dr. Alan Jacobs argued in his excellent book "How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World At Odds" that we conflate decision making with thinking.
"This is what thinking is: not the decision itself but what goes into the decision, the consideration, the assessment. It's testing your own responses and weighing available evidence; it's grasping, as best you can and with all available and relevant senses, what is, and it's also speculating, as carefully and responsibly as you can, about what might be. And it's knowing when not to go it alone, and whom you should ask for help,” he wrote on page 14.
Here were some of my key takeaways from the book.
Give any idea five minutes before responding. Use that time to start critically thinking about what you heard.
Avoid logical fallacies like these.
There is a severe lack of listening in our culture, a prerequisite for thinking.
Thinking is not primarily solitary. "Everything you think is a response to what someone else has thought and said. And when people commend someone for “thinking for herself” they usually mean 'ceasing to sound like people I dislike and starting to sound more like people I approve of.'" — page 36.
Humans crave consensus. Be cognizant you're biased toward wanting to agree with close friends and family. Strive to be part of a group where people don't all think alike and care about thinking deeply, not hurtling rhetorical grenades at one another.
Battle ideas, not people. People are equal. Ideas are not. Have empathy for every person and battle the best version of their ideas. "When people cease to be people because they are, to us, merely representatives or mouthpieces of positions we want to eradicate, then we, in our zeal to win, have sacrificed empathy: we have declined the opportunity to understand other people’s desires, principles, fears. And that is a great price to pay for supposed “victory” in debate." — page 98
Be brave enough to think. "Human beings are not built to be indifferent to the waves and pulses of their social world. For most of us the question is whether we have even the slightest reluctance to drift along with the flow. The person who genuinely wants to think will have to develop strategies for recognizing the subtlest of social pressures, confronting the pull of the ingroup and disgust for the outgroup. The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear," — page 22
To think is to hope unceasingly. "To cease thinking, as Thomas Aquinas explained, is an act either of despair—'I can’t go any further'—or of presumption—’I need not go any further.' What is needed for the life of thinking is hope: hope of knowing more, understanding more, being more than we currently are." — page 150
Devote time to the topics you want to learn about
How much time do you really spend studying issues?
My favorite podcast is Deep Questions, with Cal Newport, a Georgetown computer scientist. At the 1:25 mark of episode 67 he and his guest Tim Harford discussed how really knowing things requires considerable effort, and the more technical it gets, the more challenging it can become.
Newport explained his method for evaluating what he thinks especially on political or philosophical issues. His process included reading the best argument on one side of the issue, then seeking out the best counter argument. When he referred to reading, he meant primarily long-form articles, professional papers and books. After that, he sometimes wrote a report for himself on his position, which can be more nuanced than either perspective.
When it comes to technical topics such as climate change, Harford acknowledged that unless you want to spend considerable time learning about the topic, it’s best to examine the motives of the person giving you the information. Is the person trying to showcase information in context to help you understand the big picture, or just certain facts in hopes you’ll embrace a certain view?
Often just trying to explain a concept to someone else can help you grasp what you do not know, Harford said.
Sometimes to deepen your knowledge it’s worth the financial and time investment to enroll in courses such as this one I’m about to begin, which evaluates the gospels using the investigative techniques of cold case detectives. Don’t kid yourselves. If the goal is real knowledge, tweets aren’t going carry you there.
Exercise intellectual humility more often
If you haven’t really exercised the sort of thinking described above on a topic, refrain from commenting. Remember, your goal is to reflect Christ well, not primarily win arguments. Sometimes winning an argument if not done in the right spirit, could hurt the cause of Christ.
The Bible is filled with verses that talk about listening more than we talk, such as James 1:19 - 20: "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires."
This comes with the additional bonus of naturally being wrong less often.
In addition, people often aren't convinced by great arguments. An effort to be inquisitive, patient and friendly is generally more effective.
When witnessing for Christ, asking questions instead of providing information is often the best approach. My favorite 2020 book taught me that, and reading how Jesus responded to people in the Bible also showcases this.
Guard against believing conspiracies
This is the second time events have prompted me to discuss thinking. The first came when different Christians I knew started trying to sell me on conspiracies. Believing the election was stolen is just the latest conspiracy Christians are slipping into.
As Christians, we're supposed to be people who love God with everything we are, including our minds. That means loving the real truth of Christ, attained in part by genuine thinking — whether that looks like it's conservative or liberal or something entirely different.