Are You Open to New Ideas?
SOME people close their mind to any new idea. They may reject it because it differs from their viewpoint. For instance, a certain woman in Denmark wrote to the weekly journal Hjemmet and said: “We are constantly haunted by Jehovah’s Witnesses at our door. They irritate me terribly, but I can’t figure out how I can get them to leave. . . . Couldn’t their pestering be forbidden by law?”
To the Japanese of the mid-19th century, the knock at their door by the West was also viewed as “pestering.” In the eyes of many of them, everything having to do with the intruders was worthless or even harmful. As an Oriental proverb says, “Suspicion creates monsters in the dark.” The frame of mind of many Japanese was well illustrated in their drawings depicting Commodore Perry. Out of some 50 that remain, only 2 or 3 represent him as an ordinary U.S. naval officer. The others depict him as a long-nosed goblin or a pale-faced monster, as illustrated here.
With the opening of their country, however, open-minded Japanese came to realize that the foreigners were not barbarians. In the case of some on the first Japanese mission to the United States, it was as though scales fell from their eyes as they saw Western culture firsthand. Higher officials kept complaining about how impolite the Americans were from a Japanese point of view. But the younger generation made a more balanced judgment of the new culture.
One 19-year-old attendant of a high official later wrote: “Most of the 70 Japanese delegates on this mission resented or hated [the Americans]. However, on witnessing the real conditions, individuals among us realized they had been mistaken and regretted harboring such feelings. Considering foreigners as being as base as dogs or horses and insulting them will only win from them the notoriety of our being unmerciful and unrighteous.” Are you open-minded enough to look at new thoughts with as unprejudiced an attitude as that of this young attendant?
The Example of the Beroeans
In the first century C.E., many Jews harbored an unreasoning prejudice against Christian teachings. In some ways, it resembled the prejudice of seclusionist Japanese against the outside world. “Everywhere [Christianity] is spoken against,” claimed the Jews in ancient Rome. (Acts 28:22) Concerning certain Christians in the city of Thessalonica, biased Jews cried out: “These men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also.”—Acts 17:6.
Nevertheless, there were people willing to look beyond their prejudices. For example, how did residents of Beroea respond to the good news preached by the apostle Paul and his associate Silas? Regarding the Beroeans, the Bible writer Luke said: “The latter were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Are you “noble-minded” like the Beroeans?
Please consider the case of Masaji. At one time, he bore a strong animosity toward Christianity. He was like the exclusionists who opposed the opening of Japan. When his wife, Sachiko, started to study the Bible, he violently opposed her. He even thought of killing his family and then committing suicide. Because of his violence, his family had to flee to the home of Sachiko’s older brother in northern Japan.
Finally, Masaji decided to open his mind a little and investigate his wife’s religion. After reading some Bible literature, he saw the need to make changes. As he studied the Scriptures, his violent attitude changed into one that reflected the fruitage of God’s spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Masaji hesitated to attend meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses because he feared that the Witnesses might seek revenge for his violence against them. But when he finally visited a Kingdom Hall, he was welcomed with such warmth that he burst into tears.
Yes, overcoming prejudice and examining new ideas can widen our horizon and may benefit us in other ways. However, does that mean that we have to be open to every new idea that comes along?
With the end of Japan’s seclusion, new ideas poured into the country. Some of these benefited the Japanese, but they would have been better off without others. “Against the intentions of Commodore Perry,” said U.S. general Douglas MacArthur upon accepting Japan’s surrender after World War II, “Japan turned the knowledge of the West into an instrument of oppression and slavery.” Imitating its Western mentors, Japan embarked on a course that led her into a series of wars. These culminated in World War II, at the end of which two atom bombs were dropped on Japanese territory.
What can we learn from this? That we should be selective about accepting new ideas. We would do well to imitate the Beroeans by “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things [taught by Paul] were so.” (Acts 17:11) The Greek word here rendered “examining” means to “make careful and exact research as in legal processes.” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A. T. Robertson) Rather than blindly accepting every new idea presented to us, we need to do careful and exact research, just as a judge would in hearing a legal case.
If we are selective, we will not be swayed by every passing fad or by new ideas that are really harmful. For instance, what was called the new morality of the 1960’s seemed to be an appealing new idea to some. But careful scrutiny would have revealed it to be harmful old immorality under a new name. Also, in economically troubled Germany of the 1920’s, doubtless many viewed Nazism as an exciting new idea, but what agony it caused!
Happily, God has provided a touchstone that can be used to test new ideas. It is his inspired Word, the Bible. Applying its guidelines to family life and human relationships will help us to check many of the new ideas heard today from sociologists, psychologists, and others who claim expertise in these fields. (Ephesians 5:21–6:4; Colossians 3:5-14) The Bible’s counsel regarding our relationship with God and neighbor gives us a means of checking many of the novel ideas now being spread on the subject of religion. (Mark 12:28-31) Accurate Bible knowledge will equip us to determine whether a new idea is of real value or not. We will then be able to ‘make sure of all things and hold fast to what is fine.’—1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Jehovah’s Witnesses visit their neighbors to encourage them to learn about the Bible and thus be able to judge new ideas properly. The Witnesses also point out Bible thoughts that are new to many. Among these is the truth about the times we are living in and what the future really holds for mankind. (Matthew 24:3-44; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Revelation 21:3, 4) So do not adopt a seclusionist attitude when the Witnesses call at your home. Rather, why not open your door and listen to what they have to say? Do not close your mind to ideas that can be of eternal benefit to you.
[Picture Credit Line on page 5]
Library of Congress photo LC-USC62-7258