February 26, 2024

Why are some people more open to the truth?

As missionaries, we want people to change their minds about God and their relationship to him. We frequently are dismayed at how unwilling people are to change their thinking. They resist beliefs that are at odds with those of their parents and culture. But thankfully, sometimes we encounter people who are amazingly willing to reconsider their beliefs and look seriously at the truth claims of Scripture. We rejoice at what God has done to prepare them for the Gospel. We may find out that there are circumstances and past events in their lives that have made them more open than their neighbours. But how do we describe this openness and how do we cultivate this openness in others and in ourselves? I believe we can find some answers in Julia Galef’s book, The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t.

Now Julia Galef is not a likely candidate for helping us with our task of proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples. She hosts the official podcast the New York City Skeptics and says that she feels defensive when atheists are accused of irrationality (p. 192). But despite the fact that her worldview is quite different from mine, I found her book to be very helpful in identifying the traits of good judgment and a honest search for truth.

Soldiers and scouts

I found the book featured in Missio Nexus’ book summaries under the topic of leadership. Missio Nexus leadership summarized the book in this way:

This book helps the reader think through two different ways of reacting to the world. The first is the soldier mindset, in which we are defending a position and our goal is to win. This usually means, in this context, to win an argument or guard a viewpoint. The second viewpoint is that of a scout. A scout’s job is to see the situation for what it truly is, not in light of a position already taken. It is an attempt to be objective and present the truth no matter the cost. The author presents this framework and spends most of the book explaining how one can achieve the ‘scout mindset.’

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t  – Missio Nexus

The following table summarizes the two mindsets well.

I also found a Ted Talk from 2016 where Julia Galef talks about the primary thesis of her book – that we should become more like scouts rather than staying in the soldier mindset. The Ted Talk was published 5 years before the book, but is a great summary of the first few chapters of her book.

Our default is to fight

Galef talks about the problem of “motivated reasoning”. This is our internal drive to make sure that our beliefs and convictions triumph and that opposing ideas are discredited. We criticize arguments that support positions we do not hold, quickly looking for flaws in their reasoning. We are much more lenient with arguments that support our own positions, and do not inspect their logic and supporting facts nearly as closely.

Motivated reasoning is what Galef calls the “soldier mindset” and she says it is our default, developed over eons of evolutionary development (p. 39). But in today’s world, we have choices that our pre-historic ancestors did not have. Hence, developing good judgment is much more important for us than for them.

A theological explanation for the soldier mindset

From a biblical worldview, we would say that the problem of poor judgment is due to sin. People’s thinking has become futile. Their minds have been darkened and hearts have been hardened1 (see Romans 1:21 and Eph 4:17-18). In order for people to begin to see things clearly, we need God to graciously remove the blinders that prevent them from seeing the light of the Gospel in Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-6). People today have an option. We can choose life, rather than stay in the slavery and darkness of the ways of this world. But that option will only become attractive to those whose eyes have become open to truth.

Accepting the bad news

Galef calls this openness to truth a “scout mindset”. This mindset is one that seeks to get an accurate picture of reality, even the parts of reality that are unpleasant or ugly. We quickly see the application to our work. Anyone who comes to Christ must first accept the truth that they are a sinner, that their broken relationship with God has put them in eternal peril. This is not pleasant, but it is an accurate picture of reality. The bad news must be accepted in order to really appreciate the good news of the Gospel.

The author suggests that one of the biggest benefits of admitting that you were wrong is that it provides an opportunity to improve your ability to make better decisions in the future. As we gain a more accurate picture of reality, we become better at predicting what will happen in the future. If we cling to and defend our previously-held positions despite new evidence, we lose the opportunity to grow in our decision-making expertise.2 See another blog post on Making Better Decisions, in which I review another book on decision-making that says some of the same things.

Characteristics of scouts

Julia Galef says that you can’t identify a scout mindset by how much a person knows or by how high their IQ is. Research shows that there is very little correspondence between intelligence and one’s willingness to accept truth. Instead you can recognize a scout by the following characteristics. Scouts:

  • acknowledge when they are wrong and lets others know that they were right.
  • invite feedback and respond well to personal criticism.
  • take the initiative to investigate their own claims, even to the point of proving themselves wrong.
  • identify critics who have reasonable objections to their position and acknowledge the merits of these objections.

Searching for scouts

In our work as messengers of reconciliation, we look for people who are scouts. We invite people to study the Bible with us. We hope and pray that they will examine their worldview in the light of the Scriptures. Missionaries are looking for people who are willing to publicly admit that they have been wrong, and are now willing to follow the truth. We want them to be lovers of the truth, no matter what the cost.

But as we know all too well, many reject the Gospel and refuse to become followers of Jesus. Paul describes these people in the following way:

They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

2 Thessalonians 2:9

Becoming scouts ourselves

We are looking for lovers of the truth. But do we ourselves welcome the truth, even when it contradicts our current beliefs? Are we asking others to do something that we ourselves are not willing to do? I am not suggesting that we should starting doubting the core tenets of our faith. But how open am I to consider that I might be wrong on political, cultural, and even theological issues? How willing am I to admit that I have been wrong and am changing my position?

In reading 1 Thessalonians 1 this morning, I was again struck by Paul’s repeated declarations that his life was an example to these new believers.

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:6

The Thessalonian believers responded to truth in the same way that Paul had responded to truth. They welcomed it with joy, committed themselves to share this truth with others, and were willing to pay the price of social rejection.3 See 1 Thess. 1:8 and 1 Thess. 2:2, 1 Thess. 3:9. I am sure that the Thessalonian believers had heard Paul’s testimony of his 180-degree turn-around on the road to Damascus. He now proclaimed what he had formerly hated. The Thessalonians had copied their apostle, not just in receiving the content of his message, but also in imitating his response to truth. I pray that those I disciple and mentor will see this same welcoming joy in me when I see truth that conflicts with my previously-held position.

Holding our identities lightly

In the last section of the book, Galef talks about how identity impacts one’s willingness to accept truth. If a belief has become part of our identity, we will be much less willing to adopt a scout mindset. We will defend that belief at all costs because it is deeply connected to who we are as a person. So Galef advises her readers to hold their identities lightly.

Holding an identity lightly means thinking of it in a matter-of-fact way, rather than as a central source of pride and meaning in your life. It’s a description, not a flag to be waved proudly.

Galef, Julia. The Scout Mindset (p. 200).

I don’t think it is really possible for a committed follower of Jesus to hold their identity as a Jesus-follower lightly. Nor should we seek to do so. But maybe we don’t need to incorporate our particular missiological strategy (e.g. pro-DMM or anti-DMM) into our identity. I hope that the different sides of theological debates dividing the evangelical church today would not need to be intertwined with our identity as a Christ follower. Definitely the cultural values of my passport country should not be embedded in my personal identity.

Lifelong learners are scouts

I think we all want to be scouts, and we probably see ourselves as such. We definitely look for scouts in our work of discipling the nations. But the book, “The Scout Mindset”, reminds us that far too often, we default to a soldier mindset. We defend what we have believed in the past, rather than seeking truth and revising our positions. Lifelong learners recognize the times that they have been acting like soldiers rather than like scouts. With the help of the Spirit, they recommit themselves to being lovers of truth.

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