Sunday, December 19, 2004

Wise Men (Even Smart Men) Still Seek Him

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (King James Version)

18”For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men”

I’ve just started reading Michael Guillen’s “Can a Smart Person Believe in God.” His purpose in writing the book is two-fold. First, he is attempting to return civility to the “debate” over whether it is possible to be intelligent and believe in God at the same time. While it’s admirable, it’s begging the question. Of course a person can be intelligent and believe in God at the same time. The problem is the perception that many on the left, academia, and the “intellectual elite” hold concerning faith and intelligence. This brings us to his second purpose, which is to debunk and demythologize:

“This unseemly and unfounded prejudice voiced a lot these days, mainly from secular humanists who see themselves as smart, free-thinking realists and believers in God as dim-witted superstitious sheep.

The accusation is expressed in many different ways, but its underlying message is always the same: you can’t possibly be an enlightened, scientifically literate person alive in the twenty-first century and still believe in God, or in all the celestial trappings that go with Him. It’s as if, as we venture forth into the new millennium, there’s a gigantic Dante-esque sign overhead that reads: “Abandon Faith, All ye Who Enter.”

The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, first person to orbit the earth, quipped while in space: “I don’t see any god up here.” Similarly, a machinist from Toledo, Ohio remarked: “No, I don’t believe in God – (after all) did the space travelers ever see heaven on their trips?”

God is now obsolete, declares the modern-day doubting Thomas, superceded by deities of a more earthly variety. The report of an MIT professor’s imperious reaction to a campus event being sponsored by a Christian group says as much: “We don’t care that these people are here,” he reportedly scoffed. “At MIT, science and technology are the gods we serve.”

I’ve seen lots of that thinking in my life. Sometimes it manifests itself in very amusing ways, like the time I got into a brief discussion with a young student at Ohio State University in the late seventies. I’ve told the tale before, but I believe it’s worth repeating to give some light to this discussion. I was sitting outside one of the campus buildings, between classes. As I waited a young man started to pass by, then stopped. He got right to his point. “Marx was right!” he declared. I looked around to see who he was talking to and realized that just he and I were there. The declaration surprised me. After giving a few seconds thought I asked him to repeat himself. “Beg your pardon?” His voice got more emphatic when he made his declaration the second time. “You know…..Marx was right!”
“Which one?” I asked…..”Chico…..Zeppo…..Groucho…..Harpo?”
His response told me that he was sure he was dealing with a person of inferior intellect. “Karl,” he replied, correcting my faulty thinking.
I got curious. “What was he right about?”
“Religion is the opiate of the masses.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know man; religion is the opiate of the masses.”
How could I respond? There was only one way, I felt. “You’d better be careful. You’re gonna’ bite your butt off if you keep chasing yourself in circles like that.”

I don’t think I got through to him. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that once a person believes they’re intellectually superior to others they box themselves in, never allowing for points of view that might conflict with their acquired “wisdom.”

There are even times when things get turned around. One of the great advantages I had when I started my college work was that I was serious about what I was doing. My formative years living within the welfare state, or, more appropriately, the belly of the beast, and eight years of military service, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, had prepared me. I was ready to do my very best.

I majored in communications, with a minor in linguistics. I worked fifty-eight hours a week in a packaging plant to support my family. And I maintained a 3.78 GPA, which was more than enough to qualify me for a full academic scholarship. All that is to say I took the task before me seriously. I was in college to learn, and to me that meant not only absorbing the material, but also to think critically.

At the beginning of my second year I became acquainted with some of the neo-Pentecostals on campus. They were an interesting group. They were young, vibrant, bright, and happy. I think this combination made them dangerous to many of the other students. Being young, vibrant, and bright was one thing. But also being happy was something most students there had a real problem with.

Well, I won’t go into the details of how I too became one of the “happy,” It’s just enough right now to say that I did.

I was the third rated student on campus, and now I was one of “them,” one of those wild eyed fanatics who had scuttled my intellect for something far inferior.

It was during this year that the college sponsored a series on the Charismatic movement. Day one included presentations by professors in psychology, sociology, and linguistics. Each professor, to his credit, believed that the Charismatic movement was not only viable, but valid. That was surprising, but what was even more surprising was the response of the rest of the community. “These people aren’t thinking critically…..” “They’re just relying on emotion…..they’ve left their brains out of this equation.”

On the last day of the series some of the “happy folks” got to share. And oh was it a real mess. The more they shared the worse it got. The general consensus was “These folks aren’t as bright as us, they’re weak and they need something like this.” As I listened I’d determined to just lie in the weeds. “No sense,” I felt, “in getting myself into the middle of this.” But as the “discussion” progressed my sense of justice prevailed on me. I went to one of the microphones. With fear and trepidation I made my declaration. “You all know me. My mantra’s been that life is all about death, taxes, and my 3.78 in the honors program. Well I’m here to tell you that there’s more to learning that all that.” Then I made my declaration. “I’m one of those “happy” folks you all think are so dumb.” Suddenly neither my 3.78 or my academic achievements meant anything. I remember a couple of students who had been in a linguistics class with me shouting, “Dillon, we always knew you were brain dead.” This analysis came from two students who had been caught cheating on a final exam. I earned my “A” the old fashioned way. They needed to cheat to get their “C’s.”

Well, as Forrest Gump, my fellow savant once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Michael Guillen isn’t going to make this debate go away. This type of thinking has always been with us. If it can happen to an apostle like Paul it can, and will, happen to us. The best we can do is to accept our foolishness and move on. Paul himself put it this way in contending “super apostles” who questioned his wisdom and intellect:

1 Corinthians 4:9-10 (King James Version)

9”For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
10We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.”

Well, it’s Sunday morning. I think I’ll go and do something “foolish.” I’m going to get together with about 250 other fools and worship God.

And how about you, dear reader? What foolish thing are you going to do today?


MaxedOutMama said...

The thing is, faith followed by practice works, and that is threatening to those who denigrate it as foolish. Isn't the entire Bible about not doing foolish things?

Dr Mac said...

Intelligence seems to have some of the same merits as wealth. Too much of either is similar to the old saying that "one can't see the forrest for the trees!" Excellent discourse... Bless you!

M. Joseph said...

I, once again, did the incredibly foolish act of going to work at my non-profit company, Christianity Today International, because I wanted to do something today that would help get the Words of God's love to someone today.

What in the world was I thinking??

Pastor Mike said...

You know what I did on Sunday morning that was "foolish?" I got up and told everyone what the Bible says about their lives and found most of it was just opposite of what the world had been telling them for some time. It seems they like what the Bible says about them better!