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11/12/2009                                                                                       View Comments

Open-mindedness, anecdotes and lies! Oh, my!

by MtlRedAtheist

Open MindedImage by Dr Case via Flickr

Recently I had a discussion with my Evangelical father-in-law, which went surprisingly well (for a religious debate). It started with an argument between my mother-in-law and my wife and then somehow the conversation got hijacked by us (the men). I know I have to work on that one, seriously. I got involved when my mother-in-law accused my wife of being closed minded for not accepting her beliefs in Creation. Her exact words were, “I wish you could just be more open-minded!” My father-in-laws take wasn’t that we are “closed-minded”, but rather we are “less open-minded” than they are. I obviously disagreed. Here is a summary of some of the points I covered in this conversation. I will be leaving out a lot of the conversation out and focus on a few of the points that I was pleasantly surprised to have been able to make.

My father-in-law believes the Bible to be the infallible word of God. He believes it contains no errors and takes it literally. Since he suggested that we are less open-minded, I asked him if he has committed to believing the Bible to be completely true and accurate. He said, “Yes.” I asked him if he understands everything that is written in the Bible. He said, “No.” I asked him if any external evidence or ideas can convince him otherwise. He said, “No.” He is firmly committed to believing the Bible at all costs. I explained to him that my understanding of what it means to be open-minded is to be willing to modify your stance or opinion on a topic as more information is introduced, even if it involves completely abandoning the previous understanding when it has been proven to be false. He agreed that that was a good definition of open-mindedness. I explained that I cannot see how someone who has admittedly confined the scope of his mind to the parameters of the Bible can consider himself open-minded. I was really surprised to have been able to have the floor to complete that point. Praise be to Zeus!

My father-in-law tends to rely heavily on anecdotes to help encourage people’s faith, and in this case with me, as evidence for his beliefs. He expressed to me that it can be hurtful when he shares a very personal story about how he feels God supernaturally intervened in his life and I try to rationalize it by thinking of the possible natural explanations for these stories as an alternative. If I recall correctly, I believe he used the words, “it rains on my parade.” He gave me two stories this time. One about a hockey player who always had one leg considerably shorter than the other who was healed and another about a lady in his church who had Lupus (a disease for which there is no known cure) and was healed. In each story the doctors were “astounded” and proclaimed it a miracle.

For each of these stories I thought up some possible natural explanations. It bothered him that I would default to speculating about natural explanations rather than take his word that it was supernatural. I said that if the natural possibilities I put forward are plausible, then why should I default to accepting it was supernatural? Praise be to Poseidon for giving me the floor to make that point.

I also took this opportunity to boldly challenge him on his honesty. I asked him if he had fact checked these stories before sharing them. He told me he didn’t feel it was necessary, because he trusted the sources. I pointed out that he was then spreading these stories without being reasonably certain that they were true as they were told. I shared an anecdote of my own to make a point. I have a friend who has crones (a disease for which there is no cure). Many years ago, she went to a “healing service” at a church and someone prayed for her to be healed of her crones. She believed she was. She testified how the doctors couldn’t find a trace of the disease in her and that it was gone. As a Christian in those days, I was impressed. I shared with my family and friends. This story began to spread among the faithful. As the story continued to spread, she became ill again and discovered that the crones was still very present. She was not healed. The story had spread to the point where it was impossible to correct the information for everybody that heard it. For all I know, the story continues to spread to this day.

I also took this opportunity to boldly challenge him on his honesty. I asked him if he had fact checked these stories before sharing them. He told me he didn’t feel it was necessary, because he trusted the sources. I pointed out that he was then spreading these stories without being reasonably certain that they were true as they were told. I shared an anecdote of my own to make a point. I have a friend who has crones (a disease for which there is no cure). Many years ago, she went to a “healing service” at a church and someone prayed for her to be healed of her crones. She believed she was. She testified how the doctors couldn’t find a trace of the disease in her and that it was gone. As a Christian in those days, I was impressed. I shared with my family and friends. This story began to spread among the faithful. As the story continued to spread, she became ill again and discovered that the crones was still very present. She was not healed. The story had spread to the point where it was impossible to correct the information for everybody that heard it. For all I know, the story continues to spread to this day.

These points were made during a very lengthy conversation with lots of interruptions on both parts and a lot more information from both sides that were shared. It didn’t go as smoothly as it appears above, but my point in posting is to praise Jah Rastafari for the little openings he provided to slip in the above points, that I consider valuable, to an otherwise chaotic conversation.

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