Recently, esteemed author Salman Rushdie was brutally attacked by a religious zealot.
“A preliminary law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts showed he was sympathetic to Shi’ite extremism and IRGC causes…” NBC New York
This statement about Salman Rushdie’s attacker is, unfortunately, not unexpected. Believers of every faith continue to and have been for centuries committing atrocities around the globe. Religious blind-faith-based violence is so common we have come to expected them as regular occurrences. But blind faith is not restricted to religious believers. It can be found in politics, cultures, and other social groups. And there are varying degrees of blindness; all the way from complete blindness to slightly blurry vision. I have been thinking about why the phenomenon is so common across all cultures. I have come to believe that this kind of extreme faith must satisfy a basic human need. The common human needs explored in The Hopeful Mindset are:
In looking at these needs to see if having a strong faith in one’s religion, political party, culture, or social group might satisfy one or more of them it occurred to me that extreme faith might satisfy almost all of them in one way or another.
- physiological – physical needs met with the assistance of the group
- safety – safety is provided within the groups (strength in numbers)
- security – a sense certainty is given in ambiguous circumstances (the party line)
- membership – belonging in a group of like-minded people
- significance – personal importance exists within the group
- meaning – a shared belief system provides guidance to what matters
- purpose – as defined within the belief system
If I am right about blind faith meeting basic human needs to the degree shown above then it is little wonder why it is so alluring to so many people.
The problem with blind faith is that those who believe blindly do not know they are blind. Given this discouraging fact, what could help to open the eyes of those blinded by faith enough to allow new ideas to penetrate their seemingly opaque bubbles of belief? One way to approach this question is to look at people who are not blinded by faith and ask how have these people become resistant to the many allures of blind faith? One obvious answer is that they have open minds. They don’t automatically latch onto just any idea that their religion, political party, culture, or social groups might promote. Somehow they have learned to be discerning about the ideas they encounter and to evaluate them according to a set of criteria that can be trusted to determine the relative validity of an idea. One way for this to have happened is for the individuals to have been exposed to some form of critical thinking skills. The learning of such skills can inoculate people against a viral contagion of blind faith. They provide the foundation for an open mind which is, in fact, an antidote to blind faith. Developing an open mind can prevent becoming prey to blind faith in the first place as well as being a cure for the condition if already has taken hold.
What then are the skills that encourage the development of an open mind? I did a search for available online resources related to the topic hoping to find something that might be able to provide an effective way for people to learn about the skills and benefits of acquiring an open mind. At the top of the search results list was a website called OpenMind (since that time the organization has changed its name to Constructive Dialogue Institute).
So what exactly is an open mind? According to the Constructive Dialogue Institute website (https://constructivedialogue.org) an open mind is a one that:
– has a basic understanding of its own workings and limitations
– recognizes how differing opinions and beliefs are formed
– has a sense of humility regarding its own beliefs and opinions
– welcomes diverse perspectives
– explores other worldviews
– can manage emotions in difficult situations
– can navigate difficult conversation
While poking around to get a sense of what the site was all about I discovered that it offers a free course covering the characteristics of an open mind listed above. It is supported by various foundations such as The John Templeton Foundation (https://www.templeton.org/) and the Einhorn Collaborative (https://einhorncollaborative.org). It is also supported by individuals, among whom I recognized the name of Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind and a social psychologist. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Haidt)
Curiosity soon overcame me and I signed up for the course. I have been impressed with the thoroughness of the content in the lessons and user-friendliness of the presentations. As a person who likes to keep up with recent publications in psychology I recognized instances where current research was included in the lessons. For example, references to the two thinking modes identified by Daniel Kahneman in his influential book, Thinking Fast and Slow were included. Each of the eight lessons in the course are designed to take about 30 minutes to complete.
Discovering a resource like the Constructive Dialogue Institute excites me because it seems to me to be an accessible and FREE tool that offers individuals an opportunity to gain the skills and information necessary to support the development of an open-minded mindset.
If you are interested in exploring the topic of open-mindedness further or just seeing what an up-to-date example of an well designed online course looks like I recommend giving https://constructivedialogue.org a look.