Thinking About Mental Purity

God calls his people to discernment which requires critical thinking, not to "mental purity."

Jacobs spends a lot of time building on C.S. Lewis’ teaching about the Inner Ring, or “’moral matrix’ that becomes for a given person the narrative according to which everything and everyone else is judged,” reasoning that if we are so caught up in our own Inner Rings, we begin to look at outsiders to our Ring as Repugnant Cultural Others (55). Jacobs calls these Inner Ring zealots “true believers.” This kind of tribalism really doesn’t sharpen our thinking or properly love our neighbors. When this happens, we are not truly being loyal to our group or our belief systems that we hold dear because we bind one another to strict orthodoxy of the Inner Ring rather than to the truth and rather than freedom to learn more, love well, and be sharpened. Inner Ring tribalism also produces pretenders who never really grasp the truths we hold dear. 

 
One thing that I really enjoyed about Alan Jacobs’ new book, How to Think, is the way he puts regular words together to make up a new term. Some he borrows from other writers, but it really was pure joy for me to ponder some familiar and new usages of word pairings.  There were some fascinating ones like “assignable curiosity,” “intimacy gradients,” and “intellectual sunk costs.” But I am led to think a little more on paper about his use of “Inner Ring,” “Repugnant Cultural Other (RCO),” and “mental purity.”

Jacobs spends a lot of time building on C.S. Lewis’ teaching about the Inner Ring, or “’moral matrix’ that becomes for a given person the narrative according to which everything and everyone else is judged,” reasoning that if we are so caught up in our own Inner Rings, we begin to look at outsiders to our Ring as Repugnant Cultural Others (55). Jacobs calls these Inner Ring zealots “true believers.” This kind of tribalism really doesn’t sharpen our thinking or properly love our neighbors. When this happens, we are not truly being loyal to our group or our belief systems that we hold dear because we bind one another to strict orthodoxy of the Inner Ring rather than to the truth and rather than freedom to learn more, love well, and be sharpened. Inner Ring tribalism also produces pretenders who never really grasp the truths we hold dear. Finding common ground with those who hold different convictions than us, even politically or religiously, does not necessarily weaken our own convictions. If they are in truth, they will be strengthened as we are stretched in our thinking.

How can we be healthier in our affiliations with one another? How can we have loving hearts and healthy minds? There are so many Inner Rings even in the Christian evangelical subculture. I know I have participated in Inner Ringmanship to my own regret. We also see polarizing Inner Rings with political affiliations, race, diets, social issues, and education. There are Inner Rings in church, at school, at work, and in our neighborhoods. Social media has become quite the Inner Ring facilitator. One of the toughest exercises in self-examination is to “distinguish between ‘genuine solidarity’ and participation in an Inner Ring.” (63) It’s the difference between true community and false belonging. You can know whether your social environment is healthy for thinking by its attitude toward ideas from the outgroup. If you quote some unapproved figure, or have the “wrong” website open on your browser, and someone turns up his nose and says, “I can’t believe you’re reading that crap”—generally, not a good sign. Even if what you’re reading is Mein Kampf, because there are actually good reasons to read Mein Kampf. The true believer is always concerned, both on her behalf and on that of the other members of her ingroup, for mental purity. (138)

Mental purity sounds like a really good thing, doesn’t it?

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