Anti-intellectualism (Part 4)

November 10, 2020

 The Church is Anorexic
All these facts point to the present condition of the church as deeply anti-intellectual. It could be said that the church now has a kind of "Spiritual Anorexia." Anorexics (1) have an intense fear of becoming fat. The comparison between Anorexia and anti-intellectualism in the church is telling. Anorexia is a complex condition that involves, psychological, and sociological components just like the anti-intellectualism problem. The similarities don’t stop there; anorexia and the anorexic church both have a fear of becoming fat. The church sees the use of the intellect as the way one’s faith becomes fat and ineffective. So they fear what could happen as a result of using the intellect. It functions similarly to what William James named as the “Agnostic veto”. It is when the fear of the unknown or thought of a possible outcome can paralyze one from some action.

The fear of becoming religious intellectuals leads them to not seek spiritual food and they spiritually starve. Moreland puts it this way, “The contemporary Christian mind is starved, and as a result we have small, impoverished souls.”(2) Overtime the anorexics become weak and develop brittle and thin skinned, irregular heartbeats, and shortness of breath. Just like the complications to anti-intellectualism are weak Christians that can be easy offended, confused in their passions, and often shallow to the ways of the Spirit (breath). And just like anorexia all the complications lead to inhibiting the normal growth process.

What the church has sadly forgotten is that it is the mind that has the more direct affect on the spiritual life.(3) If we wish to regain a healthy vision of God we must first take some baby steps towards clearing our thinking up. The first step to be undertaken is repentance for the sin of anti-intellectualism. Then we begin the long prayerful journey of regaining a hunger for the deep riches of theology and faith.  The writer of Hebrews was familiar with this impoverished disposition of the soul. He describes the condition of the Hebrew Christians:

You are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14)

The anti-intellectual disposition was among the Hebrews Christians. So what does the writer of Hebrews suggest? He thinks they should dig deep into the things of God and not just swim in the shallow side of the faith.

Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Hebrews 6:1-3)

Second, we need to value knowledge for its own sake. One day, while home for the weekend from collage I thought I would mow the lawn for my dad. So, I brought the mower out of our shed and attempted to try to start it.  I tried over and over till I saw my dad go into his shop. "Hey, Do you know how to start this thing?" My old Preacher Father, "More than you, But less than Jesus!” Part of me wished I had kept my mouth shut. He reached down and pressed a small red button a few times then turned the key. The mower started right away! I was a little embarrassed. It was so simple. I was doing a lot of stuff yet I lacked the necessary knowledge. I didn't know I even needed to prime the mower.

Sometimes prayer is not enough, sometimes we need to come to a knowledge of the truth than utilize that knowledge in our life till it becomes wisdom. Yet if we lack knowledge, we will be caught in our foolishness. Just as the prophet states, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). But this need not happen, if we value knowledge, value truth, we can avoid the fate handed the recipients of Hosea’s denouement.

Without biblical and theological knowledge, your faith would be about as useful as signing to the blind. Consider this, if being a person that loves others as virtuous then without understanding that comes from good thinking such love has no direction, no moral imagination, even no wisdom. Thus such a weightless person can be easily manipulated by others. Over time the result is a religion of sentimentality. Or consider this, if a religious ritual or sacrament is a symbolic action pointing to a divine truth then when one’s action is done from an empty head the ritual is meaningless. The meaningful symbol in the action is lost in the lack of refection. Over time the practices becomes hollow ritualism. Empty heads repeating meaningless actions, from muscle memory, all the while God stands present with them, named but unacknowledged, weeping alone.

Third, we need to begin to individually cultivate a Christian view of the world. Christianity is the true frame from which all our truths flow. Dorothy Sayers aims at this loss when she wrote, “We have rather lost sight of the idea that Christianity is supposed to be an interpretation of the universe"(4) This will take study and time, reflection and prayer, contemplation and application. But I promise you, one day, you will wake to see the sun rise and in its viewing, your mind will be captured by how God’s mercy is new every morning. How it pour forth like rays of light, slowly changes the way you see the world.

Or one day, You may see the wind blow through a tree. The first thought that wanders through the landscape of your mind will be that God wills the wind, and like a loving Father providentially place you to see the wind as a loving reminder that His Spirit is ever moving and always unpredictable and still changing the lives of those who believe in Christ.


  1. The term anorexia is of Greek origin: an (α, prefix of negation), and orexis (ορεξις, appetite), thus meaning a lack of desire to eat. Anorexia is a psychiatric illness that describes an eating disorder.
  2. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997), p. 80.
  3. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997), p. 80.
  4. Dorothy Sayers, 1937-1944: From Novelist to Playwright, vol. 2 of The Letters of Dorothy Sayers, ed. Barbara Reynolds, preface P. D. James (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998),158.


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