Nothing ignites one’s personal passion, fury, excitement, etc, like religion or politics. Everyone knows it. Smart people steer clear of these topics with people they don’t know well, lest they risk a fight; physical or verbal. Recently I had this well-known truth exemplified for me once again at a local political caucus. Normally the local caucus is fairly tame event. This year, due to a number of factors, our local county caucus was imbued with power and importance.
One particular group showed up en-mass in an attempt to disrupt the event, unsettle the other attendees, and forcibly have their particular slate of delegates and alternates elected. They were vociferous and unrelenting regarding their opinions and comments. Now, I have an easy-going personality. I don’t have a problem with the back-and-forth exchange of ideas and comments. I am a fan of the political process. Yet, when those comments degrade into personal slander I take issue. No, I wasn’t personally slandered. At the time, I didn’t enter into the verbal fray. But, Metaphorical mud was slung all about the auditorium splattering all involved. Some probably relished the display. Indeed, the entertainment value of the day was better than reality television. Others might extol the exchange and power plays and call it political gaming. No one got hurt. Sticks and stones and all that. By the end of the day I was fired-up, and not just because of the verbal mud-slinging. I realize that is part-and-parcel of political events, like any other sporting event. No, my frustration trailed down another pathway.
For the most part, my frustration centered on the confused blending of Christian language and questionable conservative beliefs. There were those, among the more raucous group, that spoke of “heart-felt” burdens, and persecution, phrases more commonly heard in church settings. The problem, as I see it, is part of a larger picture. Just as many in the political realm are misinformed, or base their beliefs on passionate rhetoric rather than solid, wide-ranging, research, Christians have embraced a more emotional, and less reasoned faith.
We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization…we have passion–indeed hearts on fire for the things of God. But, that passion must resist with intensity the anti-intellectual spirit of the world (R.C Sproul). I almost hate to bring it up because there are so many articles and books bemoaning the intellectual failure of the evangelical Christian community. Yet, the problem goes beyond Christian culture. Secular society struggles with the same problem. There are a great number of factors that have led to, and contribute to current state of, Christian and secular intellectual sloth. There is no way I can address all of them in this short blog post.
There are those who blame ‘the fall’, television, technology, secular philosophy, news media, and other sources as the cause for our current state of affairs, both within, and outside of the church. The issue is not black or white. As much as the Christian community tries to combat the unethical, unmoral, and relativistic practices of secular culture-at-large, it still creeps into the Christian community. Proof positive is a political caucus with Christians on both sides of the aisle slinging metaphorical and verbal mud at each other as they attempt to emotionally defend their favorite candidate. All the while, nobody is stopping to think: “is the deceptive, manipulative, bullying tactic I have adopted for this event one I should employ as a Christian, or even as an ethical individual. ”
From the Christian perspective, I blame the popular emphasis on emotional messages, emotional responses, and a demand for observable physical evidence of the ‘Spirit’s’ moving that began in the mid 1800s. There is nothing wrong with responding emotionally to the move of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. Sometimes the Holy Spirit’s presence can cause all kinds of emotional and physical behavior. On the other hand, I strongly object to the lack of intellectual integrity and the devaluing of reason among some Christian groups. As Puritan Cotton Mather proclaimed, “Ignorance is the mother not of devotion, but of Heresy.” It is easy to be deceived when one doesn’t employ one’s own mind in thought and research. We all know that we are supposed to ‘study to show ourselves approved,’ but how many of us are happy to let someone else do the thinking. We read books written by others and adopt their perspective hook line and sinker. Furthermore, when we do read, we don’t read broadly. We stick with our favorite authors who never challenge our thought patterns. My tirade applies to both theology and politics. Both topics, and others as well, blend to create a person’s worldview. Without a willingness to ‘do the work’ involved in becoming an informed citizen spiritually or politically, a person’s conceptual foundation will become a house of cards built on shifting sands waiting for the wind of a stronger argument to blow it down.
The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind….Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life (Mark Noll.)
What do you think?