Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Critical Thinking: A Spiritual Discipline

Written by: on September 13, 2012

An interesting and insightful read, the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder led me down several paths.  I ruminated on the influence of media on thinking; the biases and the stereotypes it imposes that go unnoticed for lack of logical reasoning and analysis, the role of leadership in enabling followers to think critically, the lack of instruction and training on critical thinking in the current Indian education system and the influence of culture on critical thinking sometimes branding it as disrespectful and breeding discord.  However, I found myself drawn to contemplating about the implications of critical thinking for me as a Christian and what it means to cultivate and exercise this habit in my day to day life.  

According to Elder and Paul (2009) “Critical thinking is, in short, self directed, self – disciplined, self –monitored, and self – corrective thinking.”  Historically, Buddhist monks, Hindu sages and Jewish rabbis in studying their scriptures have engaged in such a form of thinking to analyze, evaluate understand various issues of life with a view to improve it.   The synagogues, ashrams and monasteries were ancient learning centers and the fate of these centers depended entirely depended on these logical debates and reasoning.  Different aspects of life were debated, expounded, reasoned and philosophized in a logical manner in search of ‘truth’.   However, discovering the truth of a matter or the widening of existing truth was not an end in itself to exercise the mind but led the way to deeper spirituality.   The ‘truths’, discovered through the process of critical thinking and dialogue, were internalized and became underlying philosophies for their way of life. 

Spirituality, therefore, was not merely the worship of a god or gods but a state of harmony, both in relation to the divine and the world, which evolved by intellectually challenging oneself through critical thinking, dialogue and meditation and integrating it into worship and everyday living.   During the days of the ‘ashram movement’, E. Stanley Jones too, established his ashram at Satal to promote critical reasoning of scriptures through dialogue and meditation so Biblical truths can be understood and integrated into one’s life for a lifestyle witness.  

Critical thinking, now understood as a habit of the mind to cultivate, seems to have been a spiritual discipline of ancient times.  In which case, I am beginning to think, if critical thinking as a spiritual discipline can in fact a restore a sense of ‘spirituality’ to Christianity making it more than just a ‘common-sense’ type of faith?  If today, we believe that the spiritual disciplines of prayer, mediation and fasting are important to draw us closer to the ‘TRUTH’ and be in harmony with our neighbor then the discipline of critical thinking for a believer is just as important, for it enables him or her to reason out their faith leading the way to deeper spirituality.  

On the other hand, in the wider context of the postmodern reality, with a growing consciousness to develop and enhance ones own spirituality in this postmodern era will a spiritual such as this be appealing?   It is evidenced by a popular draw towards eastern mysticism and the New Age Movement.    I wonder if this practice of this discipline of critical thinking, logical reasoning and internalizing of truth, being both intellectually challenging and emotional stimulating, cause this emerging culture, that is seeking more than institutionalized religion, to look to the Christian faith as one that is both well grounded and transcendent in their quest for ‘TRUTH’.

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