Many of the world’s problems are directly related to people’s refusal to think. I’m not referring to the kind of thinking that is synonymous to having a gut originating opinion. This type of thinking is ubiquitous. It’s the type of thinking that gives free reign to dictators and yields power to congressional representatives in pseudo-democracies. The kind of thinking to which I refer is summed up in René Descartes’ reflective statement, Cogito, ergo sum. Sadly, this sort of thinking is scarce. It is shunned by many, for it is the type of thinking that is grounded in logic and challenges the tendency of the masses to rest on the comfortable futon of “groupthink.”
To put it bluntly, my lament is over the rampant inability of some to undertake the arduous task of critically assessing the foundations and assumptions behind their firmly held positions. This cognitive lethargy is shamefully exhibited in the current Republican schizophrenics who articulate opposition to government run healthcare while advocating the strengthening of Medicare. Sadly, the inability to reason is also prevalent among the masses in this denomination who have strayed far from the inquiring spirit that blessed our movement in its foundation. In many ways we have embraced the catechetic method of instruction and have produced a generation that merely echoes a party line. This rubber stamp attitude is so disturbing that I am compelled to ask, Where have all our thinkers gone?
Reaping the Harvest
Although we may not be aware of our current dilemma, we are reaping the harvest of what happens when we fail to train our children “to be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other [people’s] thoughts” (White, Education, 17). Those who advocate the “because I said so” approach to education fail to recognize that the “I” can undergo a paradigm shift. As we develop intellectually, our changing exposures and experiences bring us into contact with authority figures/institutions with differing ideologies. Consequently, those who have been taught to uncritically embrace the party line will voluntarily yield their reason to the external brain they deem most authoritative. I am still bemused when scholarly colleagues assume I should think a certain way because of the ethos and curriculum of the school in which I undertook my graduate studies.
My burden for an increase in the population of critical thinkers became even heavier this past month as I read some of the responses to my last Spectrum column. Yes, I do read the comments, but purposely choose not to intervene. It would be futile to reply to every dissenter with arguments that were already in the commentary. The truth is, many of my responses would probably have sounded like the British Prime Minister’s occasional refrain during his weekly question time: “I refer the honorable gentleman/lady to the answer I gave some moments ago.” Nonetheless, while I customarily refrain from dialoguing with those who feel compelled to comment on my work, I do believe that last month’s experience can be instructive to the topic for this week. Please indulge me for a moment.
Before I continue, let me be clear on what I am not saying. I am not saying that everyone who disagrees with me is inept when it comes to critical thinking. Neither am I suggesting that if a person engaged in a critical process he or she would concur with my conclusions. I am simply saying that some of the rebuttals given do not measure up to the analytical standard with which some claim to be judging my article. After reading them I was left wondering, Where have all our thinkers gone?
For instance, some reject my conclusions on the assumption that I am not qualified to address the issue of homosexual marriage. I was somewhat taken back by the individual who seemed to suggest that his position as a teacher of critical thinking made him more astute with the process than I. Based on his argument, it is clear that his idea of critical thinking means dismissing the arguments of anyone who does not have a terminal degree in a subject. There is no concern about any common sense merit the argument may possess. Somehow it seems as if this fallacious conclusion was arrived at after consulting with the brazen individual who tried to use my own words against me. Excising choice statements from one of my earlier columns in which I called for the opinions of academic experts to be respected, this individual totally ignored the concluding sections in which I make it clear that accurate knowledge of a subject is not the exclusive domain of “professionals” with terminal degrees.
This brings me to another groundless argument that my opponents obviously believed to be a touche. Can you imagine that someone questioned the academic readiness of a theologian to even discuss the morality of homosexual behavior? Others jumped on this bandwagon by purporting that the issue belongs strictly to the realm of science as they referred to studies that supported their position. Not only have they consciously chosen to repress the fact that there is no scientific consensus on the reasons for homosexuality (unless they are genuinely ignorant), but–more seriously for professed Christians–they have failed to admit that one of the reasons for the explosiveness of the issue lies in the fact that both testaments of the Protestant Bible have explicit injunctions against homosexual behavior.
Among the commentators that relegated me to the pseudo-science camp were those who guffawed at my addiction theory. Had they done their research, they would have seen that bonafide scientist Peter Sullivan also drew fire for coming to the same conclusion in his 1984 scientific article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In fact, I’m sure if they cared to dig deeper, they would discover that many others have arrived at the same verdict. While we’re on the subject of research, there were even some who somehow believed that these monthly columns should meet the exacting criteria (or should I say their constricted criteria?) of dissertation proposals or scholarly theses. As I contemplate the readiness of some to replace measured reason with vacuous aspersions, I ask again, Where have all our thinkers gone?
Apparently, certain readers were so frustrated with my position that they felt the need to “put words in my mouth” so it would be easier for their bullets to shoot down the intolerant ogre they perceive me to be. In the commentary, I am very clear in stating that I have no desire to evoke hatred towards homosexuals and even go as far as placing myself in the same camp as they. Along these lines, to even suggest that I insinuated that homosexuality is “just an addiction” is not only taking me out of context, but trivializing the very nature of addiction. All who read the article carefully should sense my understand of the power of addiction. It’s not akin to deciding between whether to run or push weights for exercise, it’s a very real struggle.
Further, nowhere does the article state that it’s a sin to be homosexual. From a biblical perspective, I do believe that homosexuality–like coveteousness–is an expression of our sinful nature, but sin only occurs when a person entertains or carries out that which God forbids. And by the way, how could anyone read this article and deduce that I isolate homosexual practice from other sexual addictions? Not only does this fallacious assertion ignore the basic thesis of my argument, but it claims to know what’s in my mind. Ironically, unless this person believes there is no such thing as sexual sin, this line of thinking lends support to my contention about the immoral nature of homosexual practice–how’s that for a practical lesson on critical thinking (deductive reasoning)?
I’m not sure why, but among those who chose to contend against my thesis were those who had no problem playing the race card. Yes, they went there. You know the “some of my best friends are Black” line. While one sniper mentioned the stable of Black leaders who appear to have drank the GBLT Kool Aid, another appealed to the great anti-Apartheid giant, Bishop Desmond Tutu. The problem is, this person seemed to believe that the Black/gay discussion should stop because the Bishop has spoken. That’s the very kind of thinking I find problematic, and one that certainly does not persuade me to add the Gospel of Desmond to my authoritative canon. O, and while we’re talking about Bishop Tutu, where in my column did I even suggest that Africa was a perfect place? It’s precisely these types of generalizations and straw man assertions that force me to ask, Where have all our thinkers gone?
If I lost a couple of fair weather supporters in my last column because I veered from their preconceived litmus test, I’m almost sure that this column has inspired others to save some soft tomatoes for the next time I come to town. Nonetheless, while I know that some are so entrenched in their positions that not even Jesus himself can move them, there are others who will look seriously at the logical implications of their thought processes. Again, I am not suggesting that consistent application of critical thinking principles will result in all of us singing from the same sheet. However, it will allow for more civil discussion as we learn to listen more carefully to our opponents and form intelligent rebuttals that productively advance the discussion.
It would be foolish of me to think that any thinking person would take this column as the last word on the subject of critical thinking. Even as I write, I’m fully aware that some will be analyzing each line in search of logical inconsistencies, and if personal experience is any precedent I’m sure there are some. Notwithstanding, it is my sincere desire that the comments will reflect some thought and betray evidence that the commentator has actually taken the time to understand the arguments. If this is done, fewer people will feel the need to engage the columnist beyond the initial posting, after all this is an opinion piece and is intended to evoke discussion. The truth is, when I see that a column has been the catalyst for healthy dialogue between people on different sides of the fence, I am comforted to know that there are still some thinkers left.
Keith Augustus Burton is Executive Director of Life EmPowerment, Inc. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Classical Rhetoric from Northwestern University and has published and delivered scholarly papers on analogical argumentation and deductive reasoning.