“Turn your mind off” says Joel Osteen

Photo: D Dipasupil / Getty Images
Photo: D Dipasupil / Getty Images

I respond to Joel Osteen’s anti-intellectual encouragement for people to ‘turn their minds off’ and embrace faith.

Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen frequently advances a prominent anti-intellectual attitude of neglecting reason, argument, and evidence in favor of faith within a philosophically barren sphere of Christianity.

On October 2, Osteen wrote, “Faith is not in your head. Faith is in your heart. Sometimes you have to turn your mind off and listen to your heart.”

It is difficult to charitably interpret Joel Osteen’s comment particularly because his position appears to be self-refuting; Osteen advances what he would consider reasonable advice while simultaneously telling people to neglect using their minds which would be necessary for comprehending advice. Perhaps Osteen is being metaphorical — particularly because thought is a product of the brain and not the heart — and wants people to prioritizing feelings while neglecting anything which would seem to oppose feeling?

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Osteen is not advancing what some Christians would call a reasonable faith or a combination of faith and reason which would warrant belief in the Christian god. Rather than providing reasons for Christian belief — without merely appealing to faith — Osteen advocates a position of ‘listening to the heart’ – a faulty approach to attaining justified true beliefs which ironically leads religious people of various denominations to radically different conclusions about the nature of the supernatural…and presumably also leads some to believe that no gods exist.

If Christian belief — or any belief for that matter — is worthy of consideration it should have no difficulty facing the greatest intellectual challenges. Rather than ‘turning the mind off,’ Christian adherents ought to, as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, provide reasons for their belief in God. Besides, if there is good reason to suggest Christian belief is warranted, faith — in Osteen’s case, ‘listening to the heart’ — need not enter the picture.

I am extremely skeptical of someone who casts reason, argument, and evidence as something to be shunned – something to be ‘turned off’ – especially when very good reasons exist to doubt the claim being advanced. Osteen’s position, it seems, regarding Christians dealing with doubt, is not to rationally evaluate whether Christian beliefs should be maintained, but rather appears to be a suggestion to self-delude and neglect to wrestle with any challenges. Perhaps this position also further mires Osteen in an epistemological wasteland since this renders Christian belief is unfalsifiable — immune to revision — if it is the case that all challenges should be neglected in favor of faith.

Resorting to a position of telling others to ‘turn their minds off’ is a tactic of desperation and a huge red flag indicating that a claim may not stand to face intellectual rigor. Osteen offers a faulty epistemology with his anti-intellectual appeals. Christians should do much better than this. Are there any other areas in life in which people should ‘turn their minds off’ and ‘listen to their heart?’ If not, why take this approach when considering Christian belief?

As always, feel free to comment below.

 

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.