Anti-intellectualism (Part 2)
In this post we will look at 3 key distinctions and clarifications that makes the christian mind distinctly Christian.
A great guide for us is a mid 20th century scholar, Harry Blamire and his classic work, The Christian Mind (1963). Blamire was an Anglican theologian, literary critic, and novelist. Whose career spanned the latter part of the 20th century. He died at the age of 101 in 2017. Interestingly, C. S. Lewis was his tutor at Oxford. Lewis later became a friend and mentor to Blamire.
Blamires wrote on what he saw as the loss of the Christian mind and he pulled no punches. For example:
There is no longer a Christian mind. It is a commonplace that the mind of modern man has been secularized. For instance, it has been deprived of any orientation towards the supernatural. Tragic as this fact is, it would not be so desperately tragic had the Christian mind held out against the secular drift. But unfortunately the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church. One cannot characterize it without having recourse to language which will sound hysterical and melodramatic. (1)
Blamires left no doubt what he thought about the state of the Christian mind. Balamire contnues, “We have too readily equated getting into the world with getting out of theology. The result has been that we have stopped thinking christianly.” Christianity has been “emasculated of its intellectual relevance,” convictions are looked upon as “personal possession,” As individualism lends support to selfish rights based thinking our understanding of community is eroding with it. Being a good neighbor is no longer understood as looking out for one another but means stays out of the other’s business, with an occasional polite thing to say at the mail box. Even int he church, We have been reduced to encountering one another on the shallow level of guarded vapid speech and glib small talk. (2)
Blamires explains that Christians have grown so accustom to secular thinking that they are not even aware that it is secular. As Christian mind shrinks, secular thinking about Christian matters expands. For example, the Christian preacher who thinks christianly about Sunday’s sermon but thinks secularly about all other aspects of church life. After all Church “must” be run like a business if it is to succeed. Right? Sadly such thinking is more anthropocentric than practical.(3) How about someone who treats “worldly possessions as status symbols rather than as serviceable goods”.(4) Most people can hardly understand the contradiction.
Blamires’ big emphasis was on dispelling the sacred secular divide. He thought on the difference between thinking Christianly and thinking secularly is rooted in the radical distinction made by the apostle Paul in his Corinthian letter. For Blamire, 1 Cor 1:20 made clear the followers of Jesus should not expect the message of the cross to impress the social and cultural elite. In Corinth, as well as in Blamire’s day on into our own the intelligentsia reject the meta-narrative of salvation history and the revelational epistemology of the Christian mind. Paul’s words against social status and cultural elitism was more of an attack on underline pride. A pride that would bring them to reject the gospel as foolishness. His critique was never in favor of some bare Fideism (5) but a call to reclaim the Christain virtues of thinking well. Likewise, the apostle Paul does not use this fact to disparage the importance of the mind. In Christ, the mind realizes its true significance, not as a capacity for self-advancement and self-expression, but as a gift to be developed and disciplined for the sake of the truth—all God’s truth.(6) The importance of the mind is a positive tension challenging all believers to a rigorous engagement and rethinking of all of life in accord with the person and work of Christ.
Three Key Distinctions
I. Blamire’s distinction between the scholar and the thinker:
“The scholar evades decisiveness; he hesitates to praise or condemn; he balances conclusion against competing conclusion so as to cancel out conclusiveness; he is tentative, skeptical, uncommitted. The thinker hates indecision and confusion; he firmly distinguishes right from wrong, good from evil; he is at home in a world of clearly demarcated categories and proven conclusions; he is dogmatic and committed; he works towards decisive action.”(6)
To be clear, Blamires referred to the scholar as a type, not to all scholars. He had in mind the proud, self-reliant academician. What we need, he claimed was more thinkers less academics.
“The thinker challenges current prejudices. He disturbs the complacent. He obstructs the busy pragmatists. He questions the very foundations of all about him, and in so doing throws doubt upon aims, motives, and purposes which those who are running affairs have neither the time nor patience to investigate. ”(7)
Higher education as a necessary intellectual enterprise was encouraged by Blamires. The dark side of scholarship as a self-serving, career-enhancing, ego performance was exposed. Blamires was critical of a scholar who cornered truth as his or her very own intellectual property. Thinkers, on the other hand, rejoice when others express the truth that they have understood and embraced. They never think to themselves, “That’s my idea and you stole it.” The scholars are competitive. They want credit for their good ideas. Thinkers are cooperative. They want the fellowship of fellow thinkers.
Blamires’ contrast between the self-promoting scholar and the Christian thinker reminded me of Søren Kierkegaard’s contrast between the genius and the apostle. Kierkegaard pointed out to praise the apostle Paul for his brilliance or eloquence is to miss the heart of his message, that it was from God. You you can’t read first Corinthians without thinking if you called Paul a genius he might slap you then rebuke you. Not because he was slow, he likely was brilliant. Paul would not have let anyone celebrating him as clever and creative, as if He came up with it all by himself. As if it was His new idea.
Paul was an apostle, called and appointed by God, to proclaim the revelation of God. His authority resided in his calling from God and in the message given to him by God to proclaim. His voice was heard, not because he was a great speaker, but because he was bore to the revelation of God. Kierkegaard defined genius as a person who by virtue of his or her extraordinary abilities, personal uniqueness, and self-sufficiency. In contrast, an apostle is one who is called of God, submissive to God, and compelled by God to be faithful, come what may. By way of this distinction, Kierkegaard complained that “the pernicious thing” about Christian discourse in his day (one might say ours as well) was that “the whole train of thought [was] affected.”(8) Preachers relied on their own ingenuity and profundity in such a way as to make truth depended on their abilities and powers, instead of relying on the authority of the Word of God in the Spirit’s power. It was “their” teaching not what the word taught. He goes on to compares the leisurely life of the Genius/Scholar, who is “momentarily clever, and afterwards a publisher and editor of the uncertainties of his cleverness,” to the faithful life of the follower of Christ, who lives purposefully and obediently under the authority of God. (9) In relationship to the truth, Kierkegaard, contended that the former is an idolitor, the latter beautiful.
II. Blamire describes six tenets of the Christian mind.
We should seek to secure these categories as a fixed point in our mind. Absolutes that help us navigate the currents of our the ever-changing always shifting world in which we live.
(1) A Supernatural Orientation: a mind that cultivates the eternal perspective, that believes in the fact of Heaven and the fact of Hell, that understands that all of creation, all of history, all of humankind is under the sovereign control of the triune God. Lost to many even among Christians is the reality of the demonic, the actuality of miracles and the power of the Spirit.
(2) An Awareness of Evil: a mind that understands the pervasive and pernicious presence of evil, that is alert to the tragic extent of human depravity and resists evil in all of its manifestations within fallen creation. The Christian mind is sensitive to the extent that evil pervades our own judgments. The tragedy of this world is not primarily social nor political, but personal. G. K. Chesterton was asked to write a article on the subject “What’s Wrong with the Universe?” He responded to the editor’s request with two words, “I am.”
(3) A Conception of Truth: a mind that is transformed by the revelation of God, that is founded on doctrines of Divine Creation, the Incarnation, the Redemption, etc. The truth of the gospel is an audacious truth that must “be defended for the right reason.”(10) We must not beguile unbelievers into thinking that Christianity is good because it builds self-esteem, strengthens marriages, offers comfort, and leads to success. Blamire writes:
“We have to insist that the Christian Faith is something solider, harder and tougher than even Christians like to think. Christianity is not a nice comforting story that we make up as we go along, accommodating the demands of a harsh reality with the solace of a cherished reverie. It is not a cosy day-dream manufactured by each person more or less to suit his own taste. It is a matter of hard fact….. We Christians appreciate its hardness just as much as those outside the Church. We are as fully aware of its difficulties as the outsiders are. We know that, in a sense, Christianity leaves us with an awful lot to swallow… We must outdo the unbelievers in agreeing with them on that subject.” (11)
(4) An Acceptance of Authority: a mind that submits to the God-given nature of truth, revelation, and the Church, that finds its freedom in surrender to the will of God, and that leads “to that state of personal inadequacy, human dependence, utter lowliness and lostness, which brings the Christian to his knees and throws him into the hands of our Lord.” (12)
(5)The Christain mind has Concern for the Person: a mind that values the human person in light of the Incarnate One, that holds to the sacredness of the human personality, and that seeks to preserve the person against all forms of dehumanization.
Blamires identified various forms of dehumanization some are eerily applicable even today. The Christian ought to be committed to “pointing the finger of condemnation” at including “servitude to the machine,” “the eerie loneliness of personal solitude in the midst of the crowded urban civilization,” the exalted status attributed to the user of “mechanical gadgets,” behavior modification, transactional relationships, and target-market evangelism.
(6) A Sacramental Cast: a mind that is focused on “life’s positive richnesses,” that is life-affirming, rather than life-rejecting, and that revels in the beauty, truth, and goodness derived from the Divine Nature. (13)
Blamires describes the Christian mind’s positive view of life
“A living Christian mind would elucidate for the young a finely articulated Christian sacramentalism which would make sense of, and give value to, the adolescent’s cravings towards the grandeur of natural scenery, towards the potent emotionalism of music and art, and towards the opposite sex. A living Christian mind will not be content to refer to these things only in cold abstract terms which annihilate wonder and transmute them into bloodless modes of experience, unrecognizable as the stuff of passion and exaltation. Nor will the Christian mind allow these richnesses of life to be vaguely identified with sins of the flesh, or even with a life of the body which it is the Christian’s duty to transcend.”(14)
We could always remind ourselves that the Bible call us to a pre-modern view of the world.That doesn’t mean we can’t be analytic scientific it means in the day-today living would it be more poet than mathematician. But as anyone in the arts no the best among them, have a keen analytical mind, yet still see the world brimming with beauty, Love and life.
III. Clarifying our term: anti-intellectualism
Blamires’ description of the Christian mind helps make some important distinctions about the Christian understanding of anti-intellectualism. The term is also used in the hard sciences and in sociology.
In the scientific, it comes up in discussions over scientific methodology. Anti-intellectualism is a label used to describing anyone who doesn’t hold to a naturalistic materialistic worldview. So to be anti-intellectual in this group means you reject the scientific method in its modern incarnation as the only means to knowledge. This group defines reason as synonymous with the empirical method. Christian differ with this group at the point of worldview. We hold to an open model of the universe. They hold to a closed model of the universe.
The sociological understanding of anti-intellectualism is wide reaching with conservatives as well is post-modern thinkers having written on the matter. The literature outline three major types:
- ‘religious anti-rationalism,’ the view that emotion is warm (that is, good) and reason cold (bad), an outlook often complemented by absolute systems of belief (primarily conservative Protestantism);
- ‘populist anti-elitism,’ public skepticism first of the patrician class of ‘gentlemen politicians’ and old money and later public hostility toward progressive politics and support of such figures as Joe McCarthy or George Wallace; The internet is seen as the tip of the spear of anti-elitism, with its democratizing influence the Internet is working to banish expertise altogether giving a voice to people who shouldn’t have one.
- ‘unreflective instrumentalism,’ beliefs and behavior indicating that knowledge is worthless unless it immediately and directly leads to material gain, such as profits or higher salaries and wages. (15)
In this view reason is seen as logical but socially constructed by language thus logical within a system but ultimately relativized outside formative culture. Given the diversity of perspectives some researchers more helpful than others. Overall anti-intellectualism is understood as oppressive and leading to an insidious mistrust of the academic establishment. Each type is seen as problematic in that they hinder social progress, the implication, often left unsaid, is society ought to uproot them and trust the experts again.
The Christian understanding of anti-intellectualism starts with our faith commitment to view things through a Christian worldview. Blamire’s description (above) is helpful on this point. It respects the objective view of facts within the science camp rejecting they’re worldview. We can agree with and learn from much of the analysis from the sociological camp while also rejecting the bulk of their remedy.
Christians see reason as a human faculty that enables humanity to use of the basic rules of logic, in conduction with the ordered form of the universe to gain understanding. Often the other two camps will speak of the Christain positions, especially Blamire’s, as actually promoting anti-intellectualism. Yet from a Christian perspective, the other two positions lack intellectual virtue or a proper view of the whole. In practice, both groups used as a pejorative to secure their own power and influence by delegitimizing other bodies of knowledge.
- Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind (London: SPCK, 1963), 3.
- Blamires, 38, 16, 40, 13.
- Or consider, the Christian who claims practicing homosexuality is a sin, but refuses to take that stand publicly, because it may turn people off, is thinking secularly. How is this thinking secularly? It seems you’re just being wise about evangelism? First such thinking is thoroughly disingenuous for the person who you might lead the faith does not understand the expectation of the faith in a particularly contentious area within our culture. Doesn’t mean we go out of our way to pick a fight. Love is our method. Love is the only way we are to speak truth yet we speak truth nonetheless. Furthermore such logic is thoroughly pragmatic assuming the if it works its right principle. Second, there’s no categorical divide between the secular and the sacred. Third, there is no ethical distinction between the public and private, personal ethics and social ethics are one and the same in the Christian tradition.
- Blamires, 29.
- Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths.
- Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, p. 51.
- Blamires, p. 50.
- Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age & Of The Difference Between A Genius and an Apostle (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 103
- Kierkegaard, p. 106
- Blamires, p. 120
- Blamires, p. 120
- Blamires, p. 146
- Blamires, p. 173
- Blamires, p. 175
- from a ‘A Brief History of Anti-Intellectualism in American Media’ Claussen (2004) who follows the word of Hofstadter and Rigney (1991)
Identifying Toxic Church Cultures (Part Three)
In the book “A...
Identifying Toxic Church Cultures (Part Two)
Poison in the Pound-cake: Identifying Toxic church cultures
Scot McKnight in...
Modern Martyr: Poet, Nun, Rebel
Did you know the...
God’s Self-identification and Gender
The church today...
John Wesley, the Continuationist?
During the month...
Wesley on Authentic Experience of the Spirit.
Soften Your Heart to use your Head
A minister, about...
Five insights on Church and Life from Francis Schaeffer