Toward the Avoidance of "Epistemic Closure"

Toward the Avoidance of “Epistemic Closure”

It wasn’t until I got to college that I heard the idea that you didn’t talk about religion or politics in polite company. It didn’t make much sense to me then. And frankly, it still doesn’t make much sense to me now.

As a human being, and I’ll add, as a Christian, I want to enter into people’s lives. I want to know what makes them tick. I want to know what they’re passionate about, what really drives them.

And I want to be known. Not just for my hair color or my sense of humor. Not just for the exploits of my children or for my husband’s job. I want people to know me: a woman of faith, a woman of passion, a woman of thoughtful compassion.

I have lived all of my life, since age 3, as a political minority. An amusing way to put that. But it’s true. My parents were raised in Republican families, but began to vote Democratic as adults in the town in which I was raised, St. David’s, PA. Sitting smack dab in the middle of the Main Line of Philadelphia, St. David’s is wealthy and Republican. I knew from a very young age, as I went behind the curtain in the voting booth with my Mom and helped her pull the levers, that my parents’ politics were different than the politics of my friends’ parents.

But that was ok. It made for some lively dinnertable discourse — among friends and neighbors, among my father’s students and colleagues. The civil dialogue I observed as a child was the sort that helped hone one’s thinking and beliefs.

Leaving St. David’s, I came to Wheaton College in Illinois. By then, I had begun to self-define as a Democrat myself. Turning 18 in Wheaton, I registered to vote in DuPage County. I discovered, to my pleasure, that Democratic election judges were a hot commodity because a) bi-partisan representation was required, and b) Democrats were hard to come by. I enjoyed serving as an election judge in the 1988 General Election.

I married my moderate Republican husband and we moved to Boston for him to attend law school at Harvard. As traditionally defined social conservatives, we both felt like political minorities during these years. And in this institution where you would think dialogue would be encouraged, we found it squelched in favor of a Politically Correct party line.

We moved back to Wheaton after law school and I once again find myself explaining how it is possible to be a pro-life Democrat. And for anyone willing to listen, this is a conversation I love to have. I love to explain why I believe what I believe and to understand why others believe differently.

The article above reminds me, though, how easy it is these days to only ever hear the perspective we already agree with. We know our sources. We know where to hear what we want to hear. And we know, if we go to other sources, we will surely disagree.

I would challenge each one of us, myself included, to take the time to listen to the other side. It might be a different news outlet or a different blog. It might be listening to a different friend or neighbor. It might be listening to a sermon you’re not so sure about. Or reading a book or an article you’re quite sure you’ll disagree with.

I guarantee you will be challenged. Challenged to listen and to think and to articulate your own beliefs. Perhaps, in civil discourse, you’ll convince someone of your perspective. Or perhaps, you’ll find Truth in something someone else says, someone you didn’t think you agreed with at all.

One thing is certain, if we don’t talk to one another about the things that really matter, we’ll never know one another. And we certainly will never discover Truth beyond what we already know.

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