Every human being is born with such a narrow view of the world and we all have to learn to broaden our horizon. This is equally true for people when they become Christians. A Christian is a person-becoming-an-adult, a “child of God” with ‘L-Plates’ front and back. We are serially myopic in our vision of the world and we need help.
This help has to stretch way beyond the borderlands of family, heritage, culture and social ranking. It needs to be taught and caught, otherwise we become mini-echo-chambers of our own interior world. This is especially true for Christians, because Christians make claims about life and death, the world and eternity that reach far beyond personal capabilities in education and training in the social sciences, theology, epistemology and philosophy, etc. And even when we do stretch beyond the accidents of our birth, we still face the challenges to grow beyond the givens of our life. This is why hindsight is so powerful, because we see more clearly from the vantage point of another view or angle – we see better and clearer because we are no longer blinded by the limits of being in a place or moment in time.
Many people struggle with this: reading books that do nothing but reaffirm a strong belief (it’s always a “strong” belief); repeatedly meeting with certain people we’ve interiorly vetted within our chosen social circles, who will never reach into our well-buffered interior self (what Peter Berger calls ‘plausibility structures’ – and these are always “strong” and often impenetrable), and lift us out and up to greater height. We dwell in inner news-cycles of self-affirmation, self-confirmation and self-aggrandising. Jonathan Haidt gives it a psycho-political perspective when he writes,
“The fundamental rule of political analysis from the point of view of psychology is, follow the sacredness, and around it is a ring of motivated ignorance.”
That ring is the defense wall, and it is always guarding what people find or believe to be most sacred, even if what is considered sacred is secular! And this is a type of narcissism. It’s not always a deliberate narcissism, but it is self-serving enough to know where the boundaries of our capabilities lie, and so allow us to perpetuate the myopic myth of our unintelligent design. One evidence of this is seen in the strange fact that most people love the location that they were born or come from simply because they were born there! This is a delusional self-importance that beggars belief. Do I think Coventry is great because I was born there?
So we come to the famous words of C. S. Lewis that are so valuable today, and were, and will always be. Gerald Sittser in his fabulous book, Water From a Deep Well, writes,
“Every generation of believers faces the risk of becoming a prisoner to its own myopic vision of the Christian faith, assuming that how it understands and practices faith is always the best. C. S. Lewis cited this problem as a reason for reading old books.
“None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books,” for modern books only tell us what we already know and thus reinforce our blind spots and prejudices. “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.” Of course people from the past did not get everything right. “People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” Their successes will teach us; their failures will warn us. “Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”
C. S. Lewis quoted in Water from a Deep Well by Gerald Sittser, p.18
This is the best advice for people in any field of knowledge (we are always in a field somewhere), and it is especially appropriate for Christians to ensure a growth in the faith as it is related to 2000 years of practise by people who know better that me, within history.
We all know how hard, if nigh impossible to change a person’s mind, remember the “ring of motivated ignorance.” Slavoj Zizek reminds us of this whilst hinting at hope when he recently said, “Our innermost attitudes are something we learn, but they can also be changed. We must never forget that” (my emphasis). This is why evangelism is such a thankless task. Thus, the role of apologetics in evangelism calls out for a greater range of the arguments, and the competence (i.e. training, etc) to carry it out.
For example, it is utterly pointless using the Bible to argue for the existence of God when the person you are discussing it with doesn’t acknowledge the authority of the Bible. You need another starting point, and among these starting points, philosophical categories need to come into play, such as:
Cosmological Arguments: A general pattern of argumentation that makes an inference from certain alleged facts about the world (cosmos) to the existence of a unique being, generally referred to as God (Thomas Aquinas was good at this).
Ontological Arguments: Ontological arguments are arguments, for the conclusion that God exists, from premises which are supposed to derive from some source other than observation of the world, i.e. from reason alone.
Teleological Arguments: Theistic arguments which share a focus on plan, purpose, intention and design.
Moral Arguments: Theistic arguments that include or rely on a moral component.
And the only way one can do this is to “…keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”