Anti-Intellectualism in the Church
I wrote this post in the first year of my blog, and it has become important to me now to revisit this subject. Recently, I found out that one of the lies being told about me, in regards to my departure from my previous fellowship organization, was that I had become too educated to believe the Gospel. Odd considering that then, when I left, I hadn’t restarted my collegiate career, even looked into Master’s programs, and hadn’t really thought much about finishing my educational degree. I suspect that this was mainly in response to my views on biblical translation (not KJVO, which was widely known) and my habit of questioning my ‘leaders,’ however, anti-intellectualism does go deeper than that.
Many fundamentalists abhor biblical education of any kind. They wouldn’t dare learn a biblical language, or study anything but the KJV-1611 (which I find laughable because those that preached such things didn’t themselves use the 1611), using nothing else but Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. Imagine their surprise when I used Greek to defend positions, looked to the Church Fathers – and yes, even the Reformers – and challenged them and their need to trivialize the bible for children. The break, of course, was over none of this – it was over something very different; nevertheless, this is one of the rumors which was shared with others on why I had left. I reckon that bothers me, that much more so because I have never denied the essentials tenants of the Faith.
I wonder what they will say when I get my BA in the Summer, start my MA in January and push on to my ThD sometime after that? Does education make anyone ‘better’ in the Church? No, I don’t think so. I know that for myself, educated or not, if someone loves God, then that trumps a lot of things. Of course, most people will seek to better themselves, or to study to show themselves approved, as it were. My original intention with this post was not to be taken as criticism of them or anyone except those that deny the rightful place of education and learning in the Church. What I had hoped to do with this post was to provide a Scriptural foundation against anti-intellectualism.
Rick M. Nañez, in an interview sometime ago said,
Anti-intellectualism keeps us from affecting our institutions and their various departments with solid Christian thinking. It hinders our ability to think in terms of worldview, that is, to understand the hundreds of otherwise fragmented areas of life in a coherent way. If we are suspicious of the intellect, we are hamstrung when it comes to providing well-thought-out answers to difficult questions from critics and skeptics. Anti-intellectualism can also lead to dangerous forms of mysticism and a type of superstitious faith.
I believe that anti-intellectualism tends to lead Christians into relatively superficial spiritual lives, at least, in comparison to the impact they could make if they engaged in “thinking on purpose” for the glory of God. Also, mediocrity in the “life of the mind” leads the Christian subculture to criticize, fear, and condemn the secular institutions that their anti-intellectual, evangelical, and Pentecostal parents and grandparents abandoned the generations before.
He points to the root cause as,
Though Pentecostalism has built within it some elements that make its adherents more susceptible to anti-intellectualism, I think that evangelicals struggle with the problem almost as much as we do. We have common roots in the pragmatic, revivalistic, and romantic era of America in the 18th century, so both our nation as well as our nation’s homegrown movements tend to battle with the temptation to pit doing against thinking, and spirit against mind.
Anti-intellectualism leads to a faulty foundation for the Church, based solely on tradition – tradition that is generally only a generation or two old. Many point to the reaction against modern science, such as evolution and even biblical translation as causes of this anti-intellectualism; however, these sciences must be explored and whenever possible, embraced. We shouldn’t be afraid of any science – evolution, archeology, or any other for that matter. Further, we can look to the advances biblical languages, culture, and customs and create a truer translation of the very Word of God instead of holding blindly to a 17th century translation. And in studying the very Word of God, we can hear the words of Peter and Paul, John and James, as they tell us their theologies and their stories of Christ. In studying the biblical languages and the surrounding environment, we can be in the audience as Christ teaches the parables. We do not need to fear today’s knowledge.
This anti-intellectualism is based in misunderstood passages found in the bible, such as the one listed below.
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 NASB
The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 NLT
Θεωροῦντες δὲ τὴν τοῦ Πέτρου παρρησίαν καὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ καταλαβόμενοι ὅτι ἄνθρωποι ἀγράμματοί εἰσιν καὶ ἰδιῶται, ἐθαύμαζον ἐπεγίνωσκόν τε αὐτοὺς ὅτι σὺν τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἦσαν,
This is a much used verse to rail against education of ministers in the Church, or to dismiss education outright; however, upon closer examination of this verse, in context of the entire passage, we will see that the ‘ignorance’ of the fishermen was not due to lack of education, but failure to observe Jewish Religious education and the traditions that were enforced by it.
To note, παῤῥησία (parrhēsia), does not mean courage as in boldness, but directly relates to how one speaks to a higher authority. Unlearned (ἀγράμματος, agrammatos) is literally, unlettered. With special reference to Rabbinic culture, which was absent in Peter’s short sermon, it should be noted here that while Peter’s epistles are not without theological insight, John’s Gospel is filled with hard theology, such as the use of Logos. Matthew is connected to the Jewish culture which even now we are discovering. James? James should not be read plainly, or one comes away with a contradiction with Paul. In the Apocalypse, nearly every phrase is coded so that solid listeners could understand where as truly unlearned could not. We find the NT texts connects to the thought world of the time, more so than the connections to today’s world. Unless we start to understand the depth of the bible, we may very well miss something important.
Literacy, of the lack thereof, has been shown to be very low, and usually restricted to those classes that needed it. Crossan (Jesus and the Kingdom, in Jesus at 2000, ed Marcus J. Borg, p.53) cites anonymous “experts on literacy in the ancient world,” as placing literacy in the area at the time at around three percent. However, the NET bible translators tells us, Uneducated does not mean “illiterate,” that is, unable to read or write. Among Jews in NT times there was almost universal literacy, especially as the result of widespread synagogue schools. The term refers to the fact that Peter and John had no formal rabbinic training (See Louw-Nida) and thus, in the view of their accusers, were not qualified to expound the law or teach publicly. Yet, tradition credits these men with some of the most profound of the New Testament writings.
This does not mean that Peter and John were unlearned, but only unlearned in the area of Jewish Religious teaching which was of the same party that had crucified Christ.
Ignorant (ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs) has a general sense of being a private person. Originally, one in a private station, as opposed to one in office or in public affairs. The idea is that the person does not have professional knowledge, something that the Rabbis easily said about the Apostles. (see below) In 2nd Corinthians 11:6 Paul uses to refer to himself as one unskilled in public speaking. Paul, who was perhaps the most educated New Testament writer surely could not be called ignorant.
It should be noted at least John, a son of Zebedee who was no mere fisherman but an owner of an enterprise large enough to employ not only his sons but others as well, were friends of the High Priest. See John 18:15.
College Press NT Commentary:
The nature of John’s relationship to the high priest has been the subject of considerable speculation among scholars for many years. On the one hand it seems incredible that a Galilean fisherman would be an intimate with one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Palestine. But, on the other hand, there is evidence that Zebedee, John’s father, had a considerable fishing business (see Mark 1:19-20). If John is the unnamed disciple of John 1:35, there is the suggestion that he was financially capable of leaving home and following first John the Baptist and then Jesus himself. Such a person may have been a frequent visitor to Jerusalem, and if his prosperous family had made substantial gifts to the temple, it is not impossible that the young John had worked his way into the friendship circles of the high priest’s family
If the father of the Apostles John was this wealthy, then it is more than possible that he was well-educated, although again it may have not been in the Rabbinical Tradition, the same Tradition that Christ taught against. Note, He never taught against learning, but the Tradition that developed absent of God.
Anti-intellectualism is very broad in its focus. If, on the other hand, intellectualism was tempered with the Spirit of God, as it was with Peter and Paul, then it would be serve to build a firm foundation. We must not eschew learning, else we find ourselves standing against a Paul or a John.
Granted, there can be a focus on intellectualism which would prevent a sincere believer from participating, and that too is a crime, but it is many experience to which I speak. I never want to stop learning just how much I don’t know.
What’s so Evil about Religion?
According to this enlightened blogger, it is the mind set which rejects reason and facts.
It is not any specific religious doctrine or act in the name of “god” that is the most harmful thing about religion. Rather it is the religious mindset. It is the religious mindset that allows people to reject facts and reason. It is the religious mindset that allows people to believe something just because they choose to, or because someone like Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler or Glenn Beck tells them to. It is faith, belief with no rational basis, that is the foundation of all religion and which makes it so dangerous.
Odd, don’t you think, that he associates God with Glenn Beck and Hitler? It is obvious that this person has never read the works of the Reformation, or any modern religious thinker, and I am given to doubting that this man has read any real religious writer, would see the reason and the acceptance of plenty of facts.