Often religious believers are accused of being small-minded, of refusing to account for the way things are, of being tied up in fundamentalism and divorced from facts. Doubtless, this is the state of many believers. Many Christians find themselves confined to their Bibles and unwilling to meet the demands of reason. They are stuck, in a certain sense, in another world and refuse to enlarge their minds so as to make contact with the realities of earthly science.
In this sense, many religious believers may be said to be “small-minded.” They are small-minded in much the same way as many of their atheist counterparts, who refuse to engage anything beyond the simple facts of contemporary science. Such atheists are confined to a fundamentalism of physics or biology or chemistry or sociology or literature, constantly accruing methods and the results of methods that are repeatable, historical, and factual. They engage a small set of human experiences to the exclusion of others. Indeed, each of these scientists makes man smaller and smaller by removing aspect after aspect from the “legitimacy” of human experience.
The Catholic, though he may be a madman to his peers, is a man of larger mind than either his fundamentalist or his atheist friends. The true Christian is steeped in dogma and doctrine, but he is a man who must account for the ways of the world. He is Biblical, and he is scientific. He is a lover of faith, and he is a lover of reason. He is a man of heaven, and he is a man of earth, constantly inhabiting two worlds, both of which he must love and account for. He is in a constant struggle between the extremes presented by fundamentalism and atheist scientism.
He takes seriously the works, studies, and accomplishments of secular science. These are all truths that he must accept and know. But, unlike his atheist friends, these works, studies, and accomplishments are not merely stored away in a database of facts. Rather, the Christian brings together these facts to form a shape of the world and its relation to the truths of faith. He must always go further than his atheist friends. While his atheist friends can only see the side of these facts that are accessible to human reason, the Christian must constantly enlarge his vision of these facts and account for them in relation to his knowledge of God. The Christian will accept the valid conclusions of his atheist friends, but the Christian will take these conclusions, combine them with his faith, and come to an infinitely larger number of conclusions. The Christian will always have more conclusions than his atheist friend, not less.
Atheists think that they can destroy God by demonstrating how the world can be accounted for with the methods of secular science. They might be surprised by the faithful Christians who work alongside them, seeking to demonstrate the ways in which the world can be accounted for with the methods of secular science. They might be surprised by the Christians who find their faith confirmed and enlarged by the ways in which the world can be accounted for with the methods of secular science, as if the reasonable ordering of the universe may provide evidence for a universal God.
Further, while the atheist may only be accountable to himself or to his community, the Christian is a man of much greater accountability. There are few guides on how the atheist is to combine, interpret, and manipulate his facts. Thus, atheists are constantly contradicting each other, and this need not be a problem for them. The popular response of the atheist to such contradictions is, “He got his funding from a conservative organization,” or, “He is a liberal.” Thus, results are only relative to a particular point in history or a certain set of people or a confined cultural context.
The Christian, however, must constantly rise from particulars to universals. He must take the results of a point in history or a set of people or a cultural context, and relate them to the universal truths of God and Church. While the atheist only wrestles with the truths of man, the Christian must wrestle with both the truths of man and the truths of God. He might identify the conservative or liberal biases in a study, but he cannot reject a study due to such biases. Rather, he understands the biases that are tied to every human pursuit, while understanding the universals that can still be discovered.
The true Christian is neither the small-minded fundamentalist nor the small-minded atheist. Rather, he takes up the truths of both of his small-minded friends, while seeing a world infinitely larger than the world seen by either of them. And, as his world is larger, so must his mind be larger.
Nicely Chestertonian, Chris!
Please find an essay (and website) which describes the small-minded provincial nature of most/all that is promoted as religion in todays world. It applies equally to both liberal/progressive and conservative/traditionalists varieties