Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Changing Your Mind(set)

Sunday's message referenced an article in the London Times by Matthew Parrish which discussed the Christian worldview and the African worldview. Later someone asked me if I could recommend a book that would help change your mindset.

If it were only so easy.

(Strictly speaking a person's mindset is a part of but different from their worldview, but for the purpose of the message and this post I'm using them interchangeably.)

Worldviews change, but not usually as a result of a person deciding, "I think I'll change my worldview." Often the change is imposed on a person; they have little or no choice in the matter.

Most people are unaware of their worldview. If you were to describe their worldview and call it that, they would respond, "That's not a worldview; that's just the way things are."

There is so much data coming at us from our five senses that, unless our brains were able to somehow sort things out, we'd be unable to function. Remember those times when you are trying to really concentrate on something--writing a letter or balancing your checkbook--but the dog is barking and the T.V. is on and your daughter is talking on the telephone and the neighbor is having a tree cut down and you just want to pull your hair out! Doesn't it drive you nuts? Sure. There's too much data being downloaded. Unless you are able to mentally "zone out" all this extraneous data, you'll never get anything done.

Well, your worldview is what the brain uses to zone most data out so that you can function in the world. Everything that fits into your worldview is allowed in, and everything that doesn't fit gets filtered out, explained away, ignored. What is left therefore just appears to you to be the way things are.

And we are largely unconscious of this happening. So, do worldviews change? Yes, but not often, and not without difficulty.

The first thing that happens is that some data confronts us that we can't ignore, but it doesn't fit. We don't know what to do with it, but we can't leave it alone.

Or, perhaps more accurately, it won't leave us alone. It haunts us. We keep seeing examples of it, and we don't know what to do with it. This is not some small detail; it is something huge that directly challenges the adequacy of our worldview for describing how things really are. All of a sudden, we become aware of something that is undeniably "the way things are" yet doesn't fit with our understanding of "the way things are." And we can't make it fit, no matter what we do.

And you feel like you are going to die. This is what is called "the crisis of belief." At this point some people run like hell back to their previous worldview, shutting their eyes to the this new reality. And in running back to the safety and comfort of their previous worldview, they become rabid fundamentalists--fighting for their worldview and against anyone and anything that would challenge it.

To do that, however, is to step away from faith. Fundamentalists of whatever stripe--Christian fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, Republican or Democratic fundamentalists, Caucasian fundamentalists, Dale Earnherdt, Jr. fundamentalists--are not most notable for their faith but for their certainty. They are absolutely certain they are right. And certainty, not doubt, not even unbelief, but certainty, is the opposite of faith.

But some people take a leap of faith away from the safety of their previous yet suddenly inadequate worldview. For some it is a step away from one worldview and immediately into another one, but for others, it is a step into the abyss as they search for something that fits.

In either case, once discovered there is an "aha" and a feeling of rebirth. There may also be a feeling of anger toward those who taught them something that they now feel is just completely wrong. Not always, but sometimes.

But the world is never the same. And when you look back on your "crisis of belief" you find that you are grateful that you were gloriously disturbed.

I'm not sure you can decide to change your mindset, but you can decide to expose yourself to more of the world than what you currently know. Read something completely different. Make friends with someone from a different culture--with the Internet that is probably easier than ever, but it may just mean getting to know someone from a rural culture or an urban culture, or someone from a different religious or political perspective. Travel more, whether to the next state or another country, but don't just go to the touristy places. Go to where real people live and work and love and die, and talk. Realize that they don't see the world the way you do, and be curious about that.

This is part of the Christian journey--to move from a "this world" mindset to Christ's mindset. "Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus..."

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