A Call for Critical Thinking to Engender Religious and Spiritual Tolerance

2 Jan

I have come to realize that it is the nature of humans to argue and disagree.  I have also come to accept that argument and conflicting viewpoints are necessary for the continued enlightenment and advancement of our species.  The problem, I believe, is that many people never learn how to think in a constructive way, what I call “critical thinking”.

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. However, much thinking is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced.  Since the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our thought processes, such shoddy thinking is costly in both money and quality of life.

Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.  If one gives over the responsibility for thinking to someone else, critical thinking is not possible.  This is, I think, one of the reasons that paganism and witchcrafting appeal to me.  I can, and indeed must, read about and consider what other people think and believe about the subjects of religion and spirituality, but I am solely responsible for the conclusions and beliefs around which I structure my thoughts and life; there are no “higher authorities” such as those that exist in churches and temples where higher reasoning and interpretation of doctrine and canon is restricted to a privileged few whose views and conclusions must not be questioned.  Paganism (or neo-paganism) is not considered a religion per se, but a spiritual path that is created and designed by each individual; that individual is the only “higher authority.”  It is pure laziness, IMO, to adopt someone else’s “thinking” without examination of the structures and elements of thought implicit in all reasoning; i.e., purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference.

As defined by the National Council for Excellence in Thinking in 1987, “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

Because most religions are based not on critical thinking but upon faith, belief and feeling, we inevitably find prejudiced, biased, ill-informed and distorted systems of thinking.  The religious faithful quote doctrine and non-contextual scripture to prove their beliefs and feelings; the thought process they have been taught to mimic must be “right,” indeed must be the only correct interpretation.  To learn to look at and question their religious beliefs is tantamount to admitting a failure of faith.  And to be fair, it is far more difficult to look at and question one’s beliefs than to trust and believe blindly.

Having said all of this, I am happy to leave the religiously faithful to their non-critical thinking, but only as long as they are happy to leave myself and others to our critical thinking.  It is not my responsibility to convince anyone that my critical thought results are right for anyone other than myself; indeed, to try to do so would make me no better than other so-called religious or spiritual experts and such action is, to me, tantamount to coercion.  An open exchange of ideas and thoughts is necessary, and is productive as long as each party acknowledges, at least for this subject, everything is subjective and personal.

Except when someone else’s religious thoughts and beliefs interfere with my freedom to think and believe as I will, how someone else thinks or what someone else believes is really none of my business unless they want and can discuss the subject without rancor or selfishness. When selfish motives exist, we find manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one’s groups’, vested interest.  This makes their arguments intellectually flawed and poorly argumentative, however pragmatically successful they might be. When grounded in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity, such discussions are typically of a higher order of intellect and thus productive.

I will not argue that feelings have no place in our thought processes, for feelings can temper and refine the beauty of thought. Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any person; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought.  No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, developing critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor, and one I think well worth the effort.

And that is what I think about why humans engage in petty, childish and drama-ridden religious and spiritual arguments that breed contempt, hate and intolerance.  What do you think?

3 Responses to “A Call for Critical Thinking to Engender Religious and Spiritual Tolerance”

  1. Marvin the Martian January 9, 2012 at 3:15 AM #

    Happy New Year!!!

    Why bother with critical thinking and reasoned argument when one can shut up opponents by screaming “RACIST!” at them? Or “SEXIST!” Or “ISLAMOPHOBE!” Or the catchall, “HATER!” It’s sooo much easier. 😉


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