Jonah Goldberg, in his The Tyranny of Clichés relates how Andrew Sullivan quoted approvingly a story from an old book whose moral was that one should not believe morals of stories from old books, particularly those books which advocate restrained behavior. Ancient and merely old morals are held only by those who have narrow minds, you see.
“MissionGathering Christian Church IS SORRY,” screamed a billboard noted by Timothy Dalrymple, “for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of THOSE WHO DENIED RIGHTS AND EQUALITY TO SO MANY IN THE NAME OF GOD.” The folks responsible for the billboard were displeased that North Carolina had voted against “gay marriage.”
Sullivan, the angry parishioners at MissionGathering, and most of the rest of us moderns just won’t tolerate the narrow-minded. The term is everywhere one of opprobrium, when it should be one of approbation.
What irritates many, and what seemingly gives justice to the insult, are those narrow-minded folks who have chosen to believe what is absurd. The Van Jones 9/11 “truthers” who insist that a mustachioed Dick Cheney personally planted thermite charges in the World Trade Center; the Oliver Stone groupies who are convinced that JFK was murdered by Marilyn Monroe using a gun concealed in her brassiere; or abductees who believe they have been taken forcibly on a three-hour tour of the upper atmosphere by grey aliens and who describe in nauseating (yet loving) detail the precise placement of probes into their persons.
If you think these people do not know all the facts, if you believe that all you have to do is to present to these stalwarts all the relevant evidence and that they will then recant, then it is you who are mistaken. These passionate people know everything about their subjects, more than you could hope or ever want to learn. They have at the ready angles, trajectories, time-lines, weights and measurements, the various chemical considerations of steel, family trees, all woven into theories more intricate than any Byzantine tile.
And this is usually the case when a man believes something which is false. His mistake is not in collecting clues, but in how he ties these threads together. This is why naive-minded programs to “educate” the mistaken fail, and will always fail. Education is in these instances like attempting to untie the Gordian knot, like attacking the enemy where he is strongest and most fortified, when what is needed is to cut the thread which holds the knot to the man’s desires. What bothers us about these people is not their narrow minds, but their embrace of error.
Now there is nobody as narrow-minded and as dogmatic as a mathematician. This is a man who just will not open his mind to hearing about new methods to square the circle or to show that two plus two is sometimes not four. He will rebuff, sometimes angrily, arguments which claim triangles have four sides. What a judgmental bigot! It is as if this man is in thrall to a religion, who actually has hold of Truth and believes it come what may. A truly closed mind.
We should all have minds as narrow. To possess and hold Truth—and not to be talked out of it because of faulty, frivolous insults, or because many have decided to be against you.
Just think: If you have ever been called narrow-minded then you know that your interlocutor does not want to broaden your scope, to open your mind, to make it fuller, more “accepting.” What your adversary wants is for you to change your mind, to believe differently but just as narrowly as he does, to reject what you previously believed.
The parishioners at MissionGathering have made up their minds that it is certainly the case that men should be allowed to marry men, and that all should embrace this new custom. This is a very narrow view, just as narrow as dogmatically insisting that circles have no corners. This being so, these parishioners cannot really be angry that their adversaries have narrow minds. They are incensed only because somebody believes differently than them.
And the same is true for Andrew Sullivan who would have you reject those books with which he disapproves, but who would have you embrace those books with which he approves. Sullivan would have you narrow your mind, to become as judgmental as he.
Of course, it might be true that it is Sullivan who holds the truth and that the ancients and our elders who were mistaken. In that case, we should narrow our minds, and change them in the direction Sullivan et alia point. But we have one large clue that Sullivan and others like him are wrong. And that is they can do no better than to employ logically absurd abuse when confronted with opposition.