...Do you think about your own thoughts? Then yes, you metacognate.
If you are familiar with the term "metacognition" then you're probably fist-pumping like Tiger Woods in your head right now. If not, you're probably thinking met-a-cog-what?, confused from not knowing the meaning, or you're on Google attempting to erase this ignorance as I speak. For those of you who are not on Google, here is the definition: "awareness and understanding of one's thought processes." Or "to put careful thought into what you believe."
Metacognition changed my life, or I should say that it changed my way of thinking and my worldview. Like most people I had grown up to become a product of the various environments I lived in. Most of my beliefs on religion, politics, ethics, etc., were simply reflections of pop rhetoric--sound bites and talking points that I had heard others say on television or in a barbershop or things that my parents had instilled in me that were passed down to them or that they had adopted. They made sense and there wasn't much push-back, so I adopted them as well. I lived in a world where these beliefs were bought wholesale and accepted, so they rarely faced a challenge. The few times they did face challenges, it was often easy to be dismissive. After all, this person was arguing against the well-accepted and well-established truth of my position; they had the burden of proof on their shoulders. Because they were the only crazy person to see things that way, that must mean that they are wrong, right? At least that was my justification for dismissing them.
At this point, I'd love to tell you how I had some grand epiphanic event that changed everything for me. But unfortunately, that's not my story. While slightly more boring and lengthy, my story was none-the-less profound. I had already begun a minor paradigm shift in my religious views. I started listening to the Bible Answer Man program with Hank Hanegraaff and began to accept that many of the televangelists I respected and listened to were likely not representing the Bible accurately. In retrospect, they were greedy men that distorted the Bible's teachings. These men and women were widely accepted and respected in my circles, so for a long time I was blind and did not notice all of the telltale signs of chicanery. Through listening to the Bible Answer Man program I came out of that place of ignorance and, in the process, became more open-minded. Through the Bible Answer Man program, I also came across a book titled "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist." This book all the more triggered an Aha moment for me. The second chapter, titled Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All, argued for the various reasons that people believe that things are true. It gave a list of sociological, psychological, religious, and philosophical reasons. That's when the importance of having reasons for what I believed dawned on me. Later I learned that there was a term for the practice: "Metacognition."
From then on I've enjoyed the fruits of becoming a more thoughtful person in my worldview. I embarked on a journey of exploring my dogmas in many areas. My political and religious views have changed significantly. I’ve shed prejudices and learned to be gracious in my ignorance. I’m quick to explore rather than shun. I have adopted the practice of reading those with whom I disagree. After all, who better to critique my view than someone who doesn’t share my convictions? I've learned that many times good thinking gets labeled as “progressive” and “liberal” because it doesn’t fit the mainstream or tradition. Not that everything progressive or liberal is good--that’s certainly not the case--but the reality is that much of today's mainstream was yesterday's progressive and today's tradition is yesterday’s liberal. In cases where the knowledge is good and sound, we can get to the benefits sooner by simply interacting with information and seeing it for what it is rather than shunning and fearing change or the unfamiliar in ignorance.
So where do you begin? I would recommend reflecting on where you are currently and how you got there. Are most of your beliefs in the area of religion, politics, and ethics from actual research and challenging discussion? Or have they just adopted views from the various communities that you participate in? Have you ever genuinely engaged with others who’s ideas you know that you don’t agree with?
To start your journey into metacognition you must be honest with yourself. It’s not hard these days to find an “expert” to support whatever belief you want to believe in. The real challenge is in accepting that you are capable of understanding logic which is what undergirds all ideas, and then using that grasp of logic to assess supposed beliefs and ideas. Another immensely helpful tool will be learning about logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are common ways that people misuse logic when explaining their beliefs. Think of it as the order of operations in mathematics. If you solve the equation out of order you're likely to get the wrong answer, even though your math is correct. Performing it in the right order gives you the correct answer. Using fallacies likewise distorts conclusions, so learning to identify fallacies will be hugely beneficial. Finally, remind yourself that this paradigm shift affects how you adopt your views moving forward. So this isn’t something that you learn and then move on from. This is something that you will use for the rest of your life and the more you use it the better you get at it.
Christopher Samuel is a lay apologist who lives in southeast Michigan. He has attended Lake Pointe Bible Church in Plymouth Michigan for the past 15 years where he serves as a volunteer with the youth department and as co-coordinator of adult discipleship education. He also serves as a board member of a local apologetics organization called Advanced Ministries which specializes in outreach to Muslims. His focus in apologetics are in the areas of contextual apologetics, general apologetics, urban apologetics, church history and general theology. He has participated in local debates at Bible & Beer and online debates. He can be reached via email at email@example.com