When the Thinking Atheist mentioned my blog at his Facebook page, his commenters responded with a long series of smirks and harmless taunts directed my way, mostly to the tune of “There’s no such thing as a thinking Christian.” A couple dozen people said “thinking Christian” is an oxymoron. Oh, well. Such is life.
Apparently the Thinking Atheist has heard the same directed at him. I appreciate what he said: “I never assume anyone is thinking, atheist or otherwise.” I agree, and I’ll add that I never assume anyone is unthinking, atheist or otherwise.
I’m sure both of us would agree, though, that sometimes we can move beyond assumptions toward a reliable, evidence-based conclusion that some person is either a thinker or not. How might we do that? Commenters at his Facebook page seem to think they can tell just by knowing what conclusions a person comes to. If she’s an atheist, she’s a thinker; if he’s a Christian, he isn’t. This comment from Peter Grack represents the near-constant drone there: “Ack! They’ve got to be kidding! If they were ‘Thinking’ they’d be Atheists.”
I have to wonder what that does to poor Descartes. He wasn’t an atheist. Therefore he didn’t think. Therefore he wasn’t. Poof! He’s gone. How do you say, “I don’t think, therefore I am not” in Latin?
(I hope Descartes wasn’t a solipsist. Sometimes his skepticism seemed to tilt him in that direction. If he was, then I really hope he was wrong, or else we’re all gone, too.)
There’s no need to point out I did real violence to the logic of the cogito there; that was just for fun. What I’m trying to say is that a person’s atheism could not possibly the proof of their thinking. If it were, then not only Descartes but most of the great philosophers of Western history, almost all the leaders of the scientific revolution, and the majority of the founders of history’s greatest and freest democracies, were non-thinking dunces. It’s an absurd (dare I say unthinking?) thing to think.
Signs of a Thinker
No, the sign of thinking is neither in one’s atheism nor in one’s theism. Any idiot could be an atheist just because his friend told him to be. And though I’m convinced Christianity is the far better choice for a thinking person, I certainly don’t believe every Christian came to faith through deep thought. I’ve seen plenty of unthinking Christians.
So then how does one identify a thinker? These are the best signs I know of. A thinker is:
- Well-read. It’s impossible to become a thinker in the privacy of your own head. A thinker knows what others think.
- Aware of opposing viewpoints. This is a sub-set of the previous point. A true thinker seeks out opinions contrary to her own.
- Able to string together a coherent sequence of thoughts, whether in a literary, narrative style (artists are thinkers) and/or in logical form.
- Able to change his mind, based on evidence and reasoning.
Some people do that kind of thing regularly. Some prefer not to spend their time that way. Some just can’t do it.
There are atheists and Christians in all three of those categories. There are liberals and conservatives in all three. There are good neighbors and bad ones, and there are loving/giving persons and haters, in all three groups, too. Anyone who says “So-and-so can’t be a thinker if he’s a Christian,” is someone who hasn’t thought much about thinking. The one who says that is sending a signal that he may not be much of a thinker himself.
What Really Matters
There is virtue in good thinking, but it is not the only virtue, and not at all the highest one. “Faith, hope, and love, abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” said a wise man several centuries ago. He was a world-class thinker himself, one of the most influential writers in all of history, but he knew what counted. I am a thinking Christian, but (as that same writer said in the same context) if I have not love, I am nothing.
Good thinking should help guide us toward truth, but it’s not the only relevant aspect of the truth-discovery process. There’s also one’s willingness to encounter truth and to change if necessary. There are social factors: we gravitate toward conclusions shared by people we like to be with. Obviously there’s the matter of what information one has access to. There is a spiritual side to knowing truth, too, for an encounter with truth is an encounter with God. (I know you atheists don’t agree with that, it’s too obvious for you to bother mentioning. I’m quite sure it’s true regardless.) I have a high regard for great thinking, but I do not think that thinking alone can overcome these other factors and lead unerringly to the right answer every time.
The Right Answer
And what is the right answer, anyway? That’s the $64,000 question. Here’s what it isn’t: “I must be a great thinker.” This is closer to being right: “I will seek to be great in love, in relationships, and in whatever skills and capacities I might have opportunity to develop. But I won’t do this for myself, for that would be a denial of true love and relationship. I will do it for the God who created and who loves me, and I will do it for others.”
I’m all in favor of good thinking, but it’s not the test of a good person.
I think it would be great if the Thinking Atheist and I could have some kind of continuing positive exchange of thoughts, with all the good evidences and good reasons we could bring to it. If we have that exchange—which is a decision I’m not yet ready to make, since I need to learn more about this Thinking Atheist first—I intend to show up as the best thinker I can be.* But I do not intend to let that be the main thing. There are other important matters besides that.
Not an Exit Strategy
I’m not saying this to set up some pre-arranged excuse or exit strategy. If we decide to debate, I plan to win. 🙂 I just don’t plan to let anyone confuse me into believing that thinking is the most important thing in the world. I chose “Thinking” as part of my blog’s brand, sure, but I know it’s not the test of a good person, and it’s not ultimately what determines what’s true, either. Truth is what it is, no matter what we think about it.
God is who he is, no matter what he think about him.
*Note to Thinking Atheist: you might want to check out this site as a potential debate venue. It’s designed to eliminate noise and to maximize focus on real issues.