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"Epistemic closure is a recently defined philosophical term that describes someone who is so thoroughly encased in the echo chamber of their own ideology that they are completely immune to considering other viewpoints. The term is derived from the Greek word pistis which means faith or trust. When people live in epistemic closure, they are immune to integrity because they only trust people who already agree with their ideology. They scan potential sources of information for the presence of code words that indicate whether or not the speaker can be trusted as a member of their own ideological tribe. As a pastor communicating in our “post-truth” environment of ideological tribalism, I try to be very attuned to both the code words that make me trustworthy and those that instantaneously discredit everything I have to say.
Part of the reason that many people today live in epistemic closure is because we no longer have a Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw whom everybody trusts to give us the facts without taking sides. Objectivity is no longer considered a possibility; thus the world becomes “post-truth.” There are only ideologies that must be defended or deconstructed. There is only FOX and MSNBC; every other source of information is a more or less subtle version of one or the other. Underlying today’s anti-truthful world, Christianity paradoxically provides both the source of epistemic closure as well as the means by which people can transcend it.
There are two things about the way that Christianity defines itself that can contribute to the phenomenon of epistemic closure. First, Christianity is a religion of people who expected to be persecuted: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
Second, Christianity is based upon a paradoxical wisdom that appears foolish to the wisdom of the world: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
These two passages happen to be two of my favorites in the Bible. They are immensely empowering and comforting to people who actually suffer persecution (which is different than people who proclaim their own persecution as part of a political strategy). Christianity is without a question supposed to be a home for outsiders — people who are foolish, weak, and hated by the world. But we should not turn around and make these words of comfort into a prescription for anti-social behavior. These verses are not saying that discipleship is measured by the degree to which we strive to provoke the world’s hatred, like the Westboro Baptist Church that pickets soldiers’ funerals with their strange, awful signs.
It is easy to turn these words of comfort which are part of the legitimate core of Christianity into the justification for epistemic closure. If the world is supposed to hate us, then any criticism or ideological conflict we encounter is redefined as “persecution,” which means that we don’t have to take it seriously. The world simply hates us; we don’t have to consider why. If Christian truth is supposed to be “foolishness” to the world, then the measure of how bold a person is in embracing Christian truth is how anti-intellectual that person is willing to be. When you think you are supposed to feel persecuted and foolish, it’s easy to embrace epistemic closure and immunize yourself against the possibility of considering other perspectives."
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