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Bad Thinking Insults the Creator Too

February 14, 2013

In last post I wrote about human artistic endeavors as a reflection of the “Image of God” resident in humankind. In this post I would like to address another manifestation of the “image of God”, the intellect or reason. Again, I see this as something that sets humanity apart from the rest of creation. It is true that there are some animals who demonstrate substantial skills in some kinds of problem solving, but what I am discussing here is something more substantial and moves on to include the abstract as well as the concrete. What I said about art, that to intentionally do art in a sloppy or poor manner is an insult to the Creator, is also true of the intellectual realm. The problem is that in both realms there is a tremendous cultural and sub-cultural inclination toward the anti-intellectual.
In our U.S. culture at large there has been a steady decline in the respect for and commitment to the intellectual that seems to have taken hold in the 1960’s. I would point to the attack of Spiro Agnew on “effete intellectual snobs” as a focal point when anti-intellectualism took hold and became respectable. At that time the finest universities in the country were seen as the source for much of the unrest of the counter-culture and the anti-war movement. Thinking, especially critical thinking, came to be seen as dangerous and subversive. Public schools and universities have been pushed in the direction of the practical and concrete and away from theoretical content. It is what I refer to as a trend to training and away from education. Today many major universities are little more than sophisticated trade schools. Granted the trades for which they train people are very complex and difficult but schools for engineers, physicians, or teachers are about training people to do specific jobs. Very little time is allocated for considering the philosophical underpinnings. An engineer may learn to build a rocket that can travel into space, but never consider whether he ethically should do what he can do.
Anti-intellectualism also shows itself in our political arena. There is great appeal in the “common man” candidates. It is seen as a liability in being too academic or too smart. How many times have you heard voters say that they want a candidate with whom they can identify? There have been a number of candidates who I am convinced have intentionally dumbed down the way that they present themselves just to appeal to anti-intellectual voters. Other candidates don’t have to go to that much trouble.
Learning how to think, substantively, critically, and with a solid background of basic knowledge is what education should be about. In raising our own children, we need to supplement what they get from schools to make sure that they are adequately prepared intellectually. In some ways that makes parenting more difficult, because when you teach your child to think they may sometimes come to different conclusions than you have. It is easier to tell them answers to life’s big questions that to help them to learn to discover them for themselves. But, you won’t always be there.
So far, I have discussed this issue from the standpoint of all of culture. Now I would like to get into the issue from the perspective of those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Several years ago Mark Noll, a historian who is a Christian, wrote a book called the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”. It is an excellent treatment of the dominant anti-intellectualism in “evangelical” Christianity. Mark takes this way back historically. My one criticism of the book is that he tends to deal with intellectualism only from the perspective of academia. This is understandable because he is an academic and that is the world in which he functions. I don’t believe that you have to be an academic to be intellectual, nor do I think that it is legitimate to expect less intellectually of people who are non-academics. Incidentally, I did have an opportunity to speak with Mark about his book a few years ago and after telling him how much I appreciated it, raised my one criticism. He agreed.
Without going into nearly as much substantive history as Mark did. There was an upsurge in anti-intellectualism among theologically conservative Christians in the early 20th century in the U.S. When liberal theology was exerting great influence in major universities and seminaries conservatives bailed out. They were far too quick to blame the intellectualism for the rejection of core truths. Instead of taking on the new ideas head on, they quit the debate. They blamed the process for the bad conclusions. They abandoned the major institutions like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and replaced them instead with Bible institutes and Bible colleges where truth was dispensed and questions were discouraged. In much of “evangelical” Christianity serious scholarship and substantive evaluation of theological issues was discouraged.
As I said at the outset, I believe that when we consciously and intentionally refuse to use the minds that God gave us, we insult Him. If we really believe that God is the source of all that is true and good. Then we need have no fear of digging deep into any of the issues that face us. When followers of Christ avoid difficult subjects, issues, or fields we abandon them to the other side. Whether the question is origin of the species, or authorship of the Penteteuch we need to be involved. And, these questions are important for believers beyond just academia. A number of years ago, I was a part of a congregation that was looking for a new pastor. A sizable portion of the congregation let their opinion be known that they did not want a new pastor who was so far over their heads as the last pastor. I do not believe that the last pastor was an intellectual giant, but he did challenge people’s minds from time to time. The leadership gave in to the wishes of that portion of the congregation. How much better off would that congregation have been and how much better off would we all be, if we would seek out leaders who would challenge our minds and force us to think more?
Parting thought: some years ago I had a friend come to me and tell me that they heard someone refer to me as an intellectual. My immediate response was to take that as a great compliment, as that is something that I aspire to. But, knowing the congregation that the source was a part of, I had to ask if that comment had been intended as a compliment or a slam. There is something very wrong when being intellectual is viewed as a negative thing


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