Eve Tushnet has a somewhat scattershot but interesting essay up on AmCon about the emphasis we place on critical thinking:
We teach students to find the undefended premises of an argument, or the contradictions in a claim. This is really easy. Every single argument has a premise for which it doesn’t and can’t argue, and every even mildly interesting worldview is built on conflict and internal tension. Not every contradiction is a reason to reject a worldview! Internal contradiction can reflect the fact that human life is not reducible to rationalistic syllogism; it can disguise a deeper harmony or a fruitful paradox; it can arise from an attempt to craft guidelines for prudent decisionmaking in a world of unique cases. You won’t find any of those pathways through a contradiction if you just walk away from the argument as soon as you’ve identified a contradiction.
If we allow any alternative to critical thinking, it’s creative thinking. We fetishize self-expression and novel or counterintuitive approaches to problems. This is why #slatepitches is a thing; #slatepitches is, among other things, a recognition of the limits of creative thinking, a satire on its aggressive hunt for the new angle.
What we don’t teach, and don’t even consider as something worth teaching, is the art of acceptance. The art of accepting somebody else’s thoughts, words, insights, and dwelling in them until they become your own as well. We don’t teach how to tell when you’re sure enough, when you really should take the leap of faith, when you should say, “Yes, my understanding is totally inadequate, but I believe.”
First, it’s worth pointing out that a good amount of what is considered “critical thinking” or “thinking for yourself” is really just publicly stating your dissent to a particular viewpoint which is already considered to be odious to the current zeitgeist or whatever milieu you happen to find yourself in; you’re still expected to internalize and not question all the shibboleths.
But Tushnet is, in a sense, very right. The great epistemic quagmire of the Enlightenment was that we needed certainty before we could have knowledge. But as Santayana put it, we find that we can only have certainty at the expense of knowledge. And this is true in the less rarefied plane of our messy lives.
I wrote earlier of Christian Orthodoxy as being alien territory . It might be more appropriate to call the Church alien territory, and orthodoxy the willingness to let it remain that way, to not let it be remade in our own image (while still finding a home in it). The fear of this is less that it involves leaving our intellects at the door, but rather that it will change us in ways that we cannot entirely control.
“This means you’re a self-made man,” was what one lady said to me when she heard of my conversion. But really, it was quite the opposite: that I wound up in the Church was because I had given up on the shaping of my life as a sort of existential quest for authenticity, opting instead to be shaped by a particular, all-encompasing relationship I had chosen for myself. Yes, it was my choice, and reflected the sort of person I wanted to be. But like a marriage, it was a choice to give up my autonomy in favor of a greater good.