Open-mindedness versus Gullibility

Friends often don’t agree on a particular subject, especially if that subject is politics or religion. But that’s the way it should be. We need to hear as many opinions as possible to continually refine and improve our own. Besides, as unique individuals, we have different experiences, so it’s hardly surprising that each of us arrives at different conclusions. Also, if we all thought the same way, I think you’ll agree that it would be a dull world.

On the other hand, people often engage in friendly, but heated, arguments only to later discover they share the same opinion. You see, when we argue, it may not be over our differences, but over our PERCEIVED differences. Sometimes it takes time to discover how close our opinions are after all. When we express our opinions, we usually do so succinctly to give our companions time to speak. But by being brief, we leave room for possible misinterpretation and this easily leads to an argument.

Today’s article stems from a reader’s questions about one of my articles. Since the questions I raised in the mind of our reader may have also arisen in the minds of others, I welcome this opportunity to amplify and clarify my comments. The article he is commenting on is, and here is what he has to say:

“I like your article about gullible people but in one part you said: ‘Why are we so gullible? One reason is modern man’s loss of religious faith. That loss creates a vacuum ready to suck in some new form of belief.’

“Don’t you have to be a bit gullible to believe that you have to have some sort of religious faith or else face scary consequences (oh no!). I’d have to be a bit gullible to believe that my beliefs matter one way or another as long as they don’t lead me to exploit others or to become exploited by others. Didn’t the 9/11 terrorists have a lot of ‘religious faith’ also?”

My article didn’t endorse the religious belief of others, but merely stated that when believers lose their faith, they seek to fill the void with a new belief. And I went on to explain why this is so, for in the very next paragraph I wrote:

“Why are we so gullible? Another reason is we can’t face the truth. We’re too weak to accept the fact that not all of life’s questions have answers. We want stability, security, and answers. And we would rather find what we hope for or already believe than the truth. We’re willing to sacrifice the truth whenever it makes us feel uncomfortable. But, as Plato taught, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

My views on religion are outlined here: After reading it, I believe our reader may be surprised how close we are in thought. If he’s still not sure, he can read:

Our reader continues: “Also, with all of our scientific advances that finally are able to disprove or show lack of evidence of much of the ‘woo-woo spirituality,’ why do you think modern humans are especially gullible compared to humans of any other time period (besides your aforementioned loss of religious faith)?”

I’m afraid not all our readers may be familiar with the term “woo-woo,” so let me explain. It’s used as a synonym for irrational, crazy, and nonsense. Here’s a definition taken from The Skeptic’s Dictionary ( “When used by skeptics, woo-woo is a derogatory and dismissive term used to refer to beliefs one considers nonsense.” I’m sure our reader didn’t mean to be derogatory, but he may be dismissing spirituality as nonsense.

Here is a question to ponder, what is the difference between a skeptic and a religious fundamentalist? Not much in my view.
Don’t they both believe they are right and the other is wrong?
Don’t they both fail to see the glimmer of truth in the other’s position? The purpose of my article on gullibility was to awaken a desire to move from either of the two extreme positions and to settle in the middle by embracing open-mindedness. That’s why I wrote the following.

“To discover the truth we need to wear the cloak of humility, for we cannot advance until we realize there is much we do not know. Indeed, there is much we cannot know. However, if we accept that there is truth in opposing views and that the truth is shared by all, we can learn a great deal more. Charles Caleb Colton (1780 ~ 1832) offered this sage advice, “The greatest friend of truth is Time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion is Humility.” The search for truth is never-ending because our understanding of it is ever evolving. That’s why Andre Gide (1869 ~ 1951) advised, “Believe those who are seeking truth, doubt those who find it.”

As we grow older, we not only age, but we sage. That is, we grow wiser. After all, as we accumulate more experiences, read more books, and meet more people, how can it be otherwise? I find my interpretation of the truth continues to expand with each passing year. So it is with others.

For example, take Dr. Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, recognized as a leading scientist. He doesn’t think there is anything “woo-woo” about faith in God. He explains why faith and science are compatible in his book THE LANGUAGE OF GOD, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Free Press, 2007.

Even the most hardened atheist can be open-minded. For example, distinguished philosopher and leading spokesperson for atheism, Antony Flew, had a turnaround late in life. You can read about it in his book THERE IS A GOD, How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Harper One, 2007.

Science is the study of the material world. Yet, the underpinning of the material world is immaterial. As we drill down from molecule to atom, from atom to electrons, protons, and neutrons; from protons and neutrons to quarks, from quarks to gluons, we finally arrive at an immaterial world of energy. Is this ultimate world of energy “woo-woo”? If we can believe in it, what is so strange about spirituality?

I believe the deeper our understanding of science, the more likely we are to be drawn to spirituality. For a brilliant overview of the study of life, I recommend THE SEVEN MYSTERIES OF LIFE, An Exploration of Science and Philosophy by Guy Murchie, A Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. People may be skeptics not because of what they know about life and science, but because of what they don’t know.

There’s far more to life than the material and tangible. Science cannot answer all our questions. It can tell us what is, but not what ought to be. For instance, there ARE wars, but there OUGHT TO BE peace. Aren’t we all in favor of peace? If so, where did we learn about peace and love? Wasn’t it from the founders of the world’s great religions? To dismiss the teachings of the spiritual masters of the past because of wrongdoings of the institutions that claim to represent them, is to throw away the baby with the bathwater.

Our reader also asked why I believe people today are more gullible than people in the past. It’s just that with the advance of civilization, intelligence, and awareness, I expect people to ask more questions today. But too many blindly accept whenever they are told. This, however, is not true of our reader. He’s a bright person that questions what others say. As he ages and sages, I’m sure he will have a vast understanding of life. I don’t mean he will come to agree with everything I say. Why should he? I only have a part of the truth, as does everyone else. Our job, then, is to try to expand our portion as much as possible. And we do this not by telling others our truth, but by listening to theirs. What better time to start than now. So, let’s be still and ‘listen’ as our reader shares his truth with us.

“Just please take note that I was speaking of ‘religious faith’ because I feel that it gets distorted unlike ‘faith in goodness’. I feel it doesn’t really matter what the specifics of your beliefs are since there is no way that your thoughts can encompass the totality of existence and beyond. I live around a lot of people who think you have to believe ‘X, Y, Z’ or else face eternal wrath… that gets on my nerves. I have faith that everything is going to work out for the best but I don’t think that there is some specific created religious idea that I have to follow or else… I just want to strive for high character, you know… win/win behavior.”