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Randy Alcorn: Petrified Minds Are the Nation’s Real Threat

The thousands of letters and website comments that I have received from readers over these many years confirm that many Americans are firmly bound to one of two antithetical ideologies and are absolutely convinced of the truth of theirs and the fallacy of the other. Furthermore, they feel compelled to categorize everyone as a follower of one or the other of those ideologies.

It is sadly amusing that, depending on my position on an issue, I have been despised as a liberal by conservatives and as a conservative by liberals. Even more amusing is when this happens with the same column.

In the world of true believers there can be no departure from doctrine and certainly no compromise. Those not subscribing to one’s chosen ideology are simply assumed to be intellectually or morally errant.

People on both sides of America’s ideological divide really believe they know what is best for the entire country and think that the nation’s problems can be solved by universal application of their particular belief system. But life is more complex than these people comprehend it, and neither solutions nor wisdom are found by screening issues through ideological filters.

Hard-held, unquestioned beliefs are indicative of a fearful, lazy mind, one that has surrendered exploration, skepticism and discovery for the comfort of certainty. The ideologue has the smugness of counterfeit intellectualism and can readily quote rote from doctrine but struggles with valid evidence and conflicting information.

Human progress and enlightenment have not come from minds welded to established beliefs but from free thinkers questioning those beliefs. Critical thinking and the rules of logic are far greater tools for finding truth, uncovering mysteries and resolving problems than are ideological formulae, which rarely if ever work as well in the field as they do in the lab.

No ideology has successfully organized economies and societies to provide perfect justice and equal opportunity. Ideologies are idealistic and are eventually invalidated by the inescapable realities of human nature.

Because life is vast and ever-changing, survival depends on adaptation. Ideologues tend to be rigid and uncompromising. They do not adapt well.

The increasingly deep and inimical ideological schism in America is making Americans enemies of each other. Each camp gazes across the rift, counts the fires of its opponents and asks how can we discredit and demonize the other side so that we can utterly defeat them? There is no longer healthy debate that arrives at some reasonable compromise benefiting the general welfare. Politics has become a holy crusade seeking to vanquish the infidels on the other side.

Americans are tending to see each other as liberals and conservatives rather than fellow citizens. It is not much different than the religious divides that have and continue to plague human civilizations around the world. Unquestioning belief is dangerous. The need for so many people to fiercely adhere to doctrine and dogma is society’s undoing.

The greatest existential threat to America is not external but internal. Americans’ own fears and entrenched ideological prejudices could undo history’s greatest democratic republic. Look how quickly we surrender civil rights when faced with physical danger.

Those rights were won with the blood of many Americans who risked physical danger to secure them, but we cower behind an emerging police state in the vain hope that it will shield us from danger.

Look how our great democratic institutions are sullied and weakened to ineffectiveness by partisan zealots seeking to destroy each other in a furious quest to grab all the power for themselves and their greedy clients.

Polls find that more and more Americans believe their country is in decline. There is much cynicism, pessimism and discouragement among citizens as crucial challenges go unmet and nagging national issues go unresolved.

Disgusted with political gridlock and feckless politicians, an increasing number of citizens declare that they are politically independent, yet, if they vote at all, they continue to vote for one of the two entrenched political parties whose petrified ideological positions virtually preclude cooperation.

For those secure in their beliefs, discarding dogma and doctrine can be unsettling, like stepping off a cliff for the first time with a hang glider. It is unnerving, but it is also exhilarating. Allowing your mind to soar above conventional thinking is one of life’s great joys.

The nation’s salvation starts in the minds of its citizens. Whenever you settle for doctrine over critical thinking, whenever you let established beliefs go unquestioned, whenever you engage in demonizing those who disagree with you, whenever you disregard new information that conflicts with your beliefs or weakens your argument, whenever you join the ideological mob and shout down others rather than listen and objectively consider what you hear, you are contributing to diminishing this nation. You are the existential threat.

Democracy is not for dummies.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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