Anti-Intellectualism in the Church

Can Christians gather without being dictated to? Can Christians gather without a vision being thrust upon them? Can Christians gather to seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually?” (Naked Pastor)

I don’t mind some direction and vision – namely for younger people that may need that type of structure – since it does help one become ‘disciplined’ in their personal lives. So, some of that I have little problems with.

However as an adult now, the answer is ‘no’ to…’gather to seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually’. The church is just not that concerned with this aspect of faith – it’s more rote and routine and get the dance steps down so everyone is doing the same conga.

The church is really quite anti-intellectual and in order for it to work effectively it needs to be.

*Comment originally aired on ‘Can Christians Gather?’.

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34 thoughts on “Anti-Intellectualism in the Church

  1. It is true…the same way that teenagers are good about being christians until they become adults and they realise what is out in the world and they go for that as well. I have seen it happen so many times. give any one a few years and they want the world has to offer

  2. “the same way that teenagers are good about being christians until they become adults” (Margaret)

    True. I think it has to do with the small world view the church offers and the fact they are almost ‘hidden’ from the realities of what is all around them. Maybe its also about growing up and becoming a responsible adult as well…we need to take our thoughts and actions into our own hands and not have them led and directed by someone else’s agenda.

  3. “The church is really quite anti-intellectual and in order for it to work effectively it needs to be.” SVS

    Recently in America, Homeland Security is looking into the radicalization of the Muslim community. I am not for generalizing all religious believers as being terrorists and I also think this is a racist policy, but the point to be made is:

    If the Muslim community was more about open debates about their religion and for critiquing and shunning bad religious ideas, we may not have 9-11 happen.

    And if the Christian church is not going to step up and stop the fake healers, profit ministers, snake handlers and pedophiles, then who is? The church is not open to these types of debates. They leave it up to their god to judge people after they are dead. That is not good enough anymore when good honest people are being harmed in the here and now.

    And that is what the new-atheist movement is about. It is a reaction to religious believers defending their faith rather than examining it for the bad ideas it is promoting.

    Accountability is the issue. How many more kids need to be abused in the name of Christ before someone steps up and says, “This is a crime and the Christian Church will not stand for it.” Because every non-believer has already made that claim, but the church is sorely lacking.

  4. Belief in god is an act of submission and runs counter to responsible independence. It also runs counter to intellectual integrity (as much as people simple don’t want to hear this claim and run through to its legitimate conclusion). So I agree that, no, it is not a priority in any theological setting for congregation to “seriously question, explore, examine and discover intellectually” anything that does not first support and attempt to justify the necessary submission. Unfortunately, this submission requires a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is intellectual integrity and honesty. After all, you can’t build a religious faith on “I don’t know and neither do you.”

  5. “The Church needs to become intellectual how?” (Xander)

    I think tildeb kind of hit the nail on the head – the idea of submission vs. intellect.

    I am not saying the church does not have smart people, it obviously does. However, the church seems more concerned with the pursuit of obedience than at the study of their own beliefs and teachings. Somewhere in the continuum from obedience to questioning there is line drawn by most churches concerning not crossing over – which in turn can make you ostracized.

    An example of this would be Bell’s new book coming out and he’s catching a hell of a storm for what some people are vieing as his questioning of the teaching on ‘hell’. He’s slowly moving from the ‘in group’ (obedient) to ‘ostracization’ (questioning).

    I would like to see a church that does not function as the a-typical churches we have now – which is a really cookie cutter mold that no one feels like innovating on. But I want to see some type of movement that gets the congregation more involved and becomes more community minded (in setup and focus) instead of the church set-up that is kind of like a classroom – they’ll speak to you and administer everything and that’s about the gist of church services. I don’t really consider that much of a ‘service’ (just my opinion).

  6. But the purpose of religion is to submit. The premise of Christianity is submission to God.

    It is great to rationalize and to try and reason things out, but that is to some degree anti-religion.

    • Exactly. Of course it is anti-religious. And it’s absolutely necessary to do so for the survival of the human race.

      Have you learned nothing from 9/11? God didn’t save people in the twin towers from the deluded 9/11 terrorists then and he ain’t gunna save us from more of the religiously deluded now. We have to do that ourselves. And the way to do that is to challenge religious believers to prove their case, to show that what they believe is somehow qualitatively different than a delusion or a brain infection. Although for many people this lesson comes too late to be dealt with by intellectual honesty that yields justifiable doubt, the next generation is learning. And that’s where the battle is taking place.

      When the young find out that the beliefs of their religious elders are exactly like the magical clothing worn by the Emperor – asserted and assumed with zero evidence for and obvious evidence against to be true – then and only then will the reasonable and the rational start to make greater headway against the ever-present danger of those who support this insane belief that we are to submit to this sky fairy through religious dominance in the public domain.

      When weapons of mass destruction are growing ever more easily available to any religious wingnut who thinks he honours god by destroying and killing the apostates and unbelievers of his version of god, then we have a major problem of why religious delusion is not a small matter on our collective hands. And we don’t fix this problem of delusional thinking by pretending an Iron Age scripture filled with factual errors and false truth claims is the literal word of some perfect god who has made his intentions known to us. The thousands of religions currently in use should offer a hint to the obtuse that perhaps there isn’t one central god with one central message everyone can agree on as true. And this is not a small problem to be shrugged off by the religious moderate as irrelevant. Nor is it reasonable to continue to believe that the collection of foreskins through genital mutilation makes an acceptable offering to some god and that this belief imposed on the unwilling is somehow worthy of respect. It isn’t worthy at all. Such a belief in scriptural innerancy is a moral obscenity and a immediate threat to others. And although this threat is maintained and supported by people who think their religious beliefs – and the misguided religious beliefs of others – are equivalent to what’s true and relatively harmless if it comforts old ladies with visions of an afterlife filled with cats, what’s important to emphasize over and over is that these beliefs have no means to show why or how they are true. It’s delusional thinking and it has to be heavily criticized whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head… not for the deluded but for those who can still think for themselves.

  7. “But the purpose of religion is to submit. The premise of Christianity is submission to God” (Xander)

    No problem with that premise.

    “It is great to rationalize and to try and reason things out, but that is to some degree anti-religion.” (Xander)

    If that’s anti-religion then there should not be this teaching as part of the core piece of Jesus’ own teachings:

    “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matt 22:36-38)

    Couple of things mentioned there:
    (a) heart
    (b) soul
    (c) MIND

    The point of the teaching is we should love God with our whole being – and the mind is part of what we are as ‘beings’.

    So if becoming more knowledgable about your faith and what is being taught (and the world around you) is ‘anti-religion’ someone should of told that to Jesus before he blurted this piece out and named it ‘the greatest commandment’.

  8. But how are churches stopping people from becoming more knowledgeable of their faith? The whole studying your faith and searching the respective holy scriptures is about becoming more knowledgeable.

    When your talking about intellectualism though, aren’t you referring to examine the beliefs held by the church and seeing if they still pertained to modern society? Trying to change the religion to better match society rather that society matching the faith?

    • What you’re talking about isn’t knowledge. It’s metaphysical musings. It has no link to the real, no connection to the testability of what works in the here and now, no manifestation that can be shown to be efficacious. Studying religion to improve understanding new depths of faith is to travel only deeper into the rabbit hole, all the while believing that this clouded dream is true in the factual. This is problem. It is not knowledge but anti-knowledge, not real but delusional, not rational but anti-intellectual, not enlightenment but entrapment of mind into a fiction. This submission is anti-human and anti-life.

  9. “When your talking about intellectualism though, aren’t you referring to examine the beliefs held by the church and seeing if they still pertained to modern society? Trying to change the religion to better match society rather that society matching the faith” (Xander)

    (a) Is modernization a ‘sin’?

    (b) I want faith to be realistic as it can be – and this does mean an examination of some beliefs we hold that may be in question.

    You have to remember the church has been modernizing for centuries and at some turns in the road it can be questioned if what was included in the faith was an accurate portrayal of what Christ taught? I review these things all the time in my blog and in my personal life.

  10. I don’t think taking what is said and putting it into current terminology is sinful. Are you changing the message though to reflect a perceived shift in society’s values though? When the message changes then moderinization is a bad thing and the meaning behind the religion is lost.

  11. “Are you changing the message though to reflect a perceived shift in society’s values though? When the message changes then moderinization is a bad thing and the meaning behind the religion is lost.” (Xander)

    What if society’s values have improved immensely – should we not modernize to support those shifts?

  12. @tildeb

    To think that without religion, the world would be this great place is delusional though. Sex slave trafficking is at an all time high and it is not religiously motivated. There were over 18,000 homicides last year in the U.S. and the majority of those were not religiously motivated. Over 90,000 forcible rape attacks. Over 360,000 robberies. These are not due to the influence of religion. Religion is actually on a downward trend, but the world is not becoming a better place. Why is that?

    For people to have faith in something they can not see gives them hope. That there is a reason behind life and not that life is just meant to live. The crime rates show that being humane to each other is not a desire that is within all people. Not all people want to advance the human race as a whole. They want to advance themselves and those close to them and that will not change when religion is gone.

    I am not going to try and argue with you that my God is real because it doesn’t really matter in this discussion. I do think that your views are misplaced though if you think that a world with no religions is going to be a better place. No matter what happens, we will always have money as a god.

    • It’s not the absence of religion that would make the world a better place: it’s recognizing and accepting that faith-based beliefs disconnect us from respecting what is true. Such delusions of knowledge derived from faith-based beliefs detract us from knowing how the world really is, interfere with how we can know anything, impede what we actually do know, and fights advancements in knowledge. The inevitable result is unnecessary conflict, which may explain why all the rates you mention are significantly lower in countries that respect human rights and freedoms in law over and above faith-based claims that interfere with these.

      A perfect example is your own faith-based bias against homosexuals and your willingness to impose your biases in law. You merely assume your faith-based beliefs are true. Whether they are in fact true is not your concern (obviously) but your willingness to impose what you simply believe is true on others by legal discrimination causes unnecessary suffering. Would a gay person’s life be better with no religious influences in it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I do know that legal discrimination you think ought to be imposed under the banner of your religiously inspired beliefs about god’s intentions does not improve its potential. It makes you part of the problem of establishing equal legal respect for human rights and freedoms and the dignity of personhood in law. Your faith-based beliefs are an impediment to achieving social justice based on legal equality for all and the cause is your willingness to assume the truth of your beliefs rather than establish their truth through reason and rational discourse.

  13. @societyvs

    The basis of a religion is you have faith in something that doesn’t change. If it is changing, then how can you trust it?

    I am not sure how society’s values are that much better. People still use each other in order to profit off of them. People still hate and kill each other for numerous reasons. Society has swapped one evil for another evil, but evil is still present. Where is this great improvement in society’s values?

  14. @tildeb

    What is true though?

    The population is also significantly lower in those countries which might be another contributing factor.

    I am guessing you are talking about the christian right trying to impose restrictions and not myself personally as that is not the case. I want the two to be separate. I think civil unions should be the law of the land and take religion entirely out of the equation. This way both establishments are protected. Need to read my stuff further to see that I was against the rights of one restricting the rights of another. I fully support homosexual rights, but I want to retain the right to say I think it is wrong. It is my personal belief just as your belief is that the lifestyle is not. I am with you in wanting adult incest to be legal along with poligamy. I am not trying to stop these groups from having equal rights and want social justice to thrive. Don’t assume my beliefs are one things without reading it all.

    • What is true? Whatever is consistent with fact and reality for starters. And that does not align with faith-based beliefs in Oogity Boogity no matter how you approach it.

      Note how easily assert god as some kind of divine giver of morality but when faced with said facts and said reality that is contrary to this baseless assumption you forget that what you are actually suggesting is that populations who have the least amount of religiosity shouldn’t even have anywhere near equivalent percentages if your assertion is IN FACT true. Nevertheless, these populations have lower percentages of these examples you give of what immoral behaviour looks like, which stands monumentally different than your original assertion! But do you take notice? Do you say to yourself, maybe my assertion is actually… wrong?Are you willing to grant that human behaviour is not improved by higher rates of religiosity because religiosity in no way confers any cumulative benefit to a population that embraces it?

      Of course not! Yours is not to question why your beliefs are inaccurate, incorrect, and untrue! How can they be? They are sanctioned by god!

      And the reason why you will not FIRST consider what’s true – what is factual and real – is that you have already assumed the truth of your assertion and justify it by calling it a matter of faith. And that’s how your religious beliefs poison your brain, pollutes your ability to reason critically, interferes with your openness to honest inquiry, and dooms your ability to maintain intellectual integrity. Those are the gifts religious fealty bestows on the faithful.

      You claim that it is equally delusional for me to think that the world would be better off without religion. Yet when I offer you hard evidence that my ‘delusion’ is in fact informed by at least some good evidence you pretend that some bias in numbers must account for these populations behaving far better than those brimming with religious piety. That’s your bias showing right there because you will never – and let’s be honest, shall we? – consider any evidence contrary to your faith-based beliefs to be equivalent or superior in truth value to the ready-made assumptions your faith-based beliefs spoon feed you.

      I don’t think that’s something to be proud of nor something I want for my own children or yours.

    • Xander writes I fully support homosexual rights, but I want to retain the right to say I think it is wrong.

      No, you want to support businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. You advocate for people to come out and demonstrate against non-discriminatory business practices. That means you support actions that are discriminatory and not merely expressions of what you personally think. There’s a very significant difference here, which shows that you do NOT support equal rights for all and are willing to misrepresent what’s true to appear reasonable rather than bigoted.

  15. “The basis of a religion is you have faith in something that doesn’t change. If it is changing, then how can you trust it?” (Xander)

    Its a false premise – since Christianity has changed immensely since it’s foundation – and Judaism as well (the foundation that brought forth Christianity). So how can we trust that I guess? You have to accept the changes are made because humans have come to better understanding of the world around them and interpretations have been effected.

    For example, Judaism law has been written off by Christianity as useful for Gentiles, since they have their own laws and cultures to follow and this is all permissable. However, in Paul’s letters and the gospels this was an issue of contention – we figure Paul won. However, Christians still try to use those Tanakh texts for justification of their current beliefs – ‘since God has not changed’ – but apparently He did change (ie: Jesus’ inclusion into the godhead). And if God did not change, Christianity sure changed Judaic beliefs.

    However, a good historical look at these things reveals changes can be made for the good and not be harmful – and do not really have to be about ‘God changing’ but about our understanding of life on this planet changing.

  16. Jesus showed that the Jews were not keeping the spirit of the Law the whole point of the law was to show man that they could not be made righteous based on their own efforts. That hasn’t changed. Paul was trying to show that the Jewish lifestyle was a part of who the people were and did not make them righteous so why should Gentiles be forced to follow it. There were changes that had to be made though for the two cultures to interact. Gentiles had to raise their standard in which they conducted their life and stop doing what was culturally acceptable to the people. This hasn’t changed with either religion though. There is a standard that is right to God and one that is right to man.

    We are going back on to a path though where we disagree on Christianity again which gets us no where, but that is the problem with this discussion. I see that Christianity is the only way to salvation and you do not. I am not going to declare war on you or demand to have your rights taken away due to disagreement, so the anti-intellectual with in me isn’t that detrimental to society.

  17. “Jesus showed that the Jews were not keeping the spirit of the Law the whole point of the law was to show man that they could not be made righteous based on their own efforts” (Xander)

    Jesus says nothing of the sort. This is an interpretation of what someone thinks Jesus is saying via his teachings and debates with religious groups of his day. Personally, I don’t see that at all in the teachings of Jesus.

    “There is a standard that is right to God and one that is right to man.” (Xander)

    Intriguing, I could name a handful of teachings and you could not tell me the standard by which to live those teachings. In fact, Jesus tells people to develop standards by which they measure themselves with – so even if you had a standard that worked for you – mine might be higher or lower on that same issue. (ex: love your neighbor).

  18. @tildeb

    You want to discount me for not holding to what is true but you can not supply truth because what we know is always changing. The truth evolves in what we know and what we accept, so truth is relative to you. I hold to the truth of my faith in that it is static.

    I don’t want you to feel like I dismissed your claims. To be open to your allegation, I looked at the crime statistics for other countries. I learned that there are more crimes per capita in the U.K. than in the U.S.. I was surprised by this as England is light years ahead of us in social equality. Canada, Sweden, and England all have a higher percentage of crime victims than in the United States. All three of those countries are ahead of us in social justice as well. I am sorry though and yes religion is evil and has made this country a horrible place to live.

    It is pointless to argue as you have your mind made up as to what I think and feel and any disagreement to the contrary is dismissed. I am in agreement with you in that I do not want either my children or yours to grow up in a world that is filled with hate. Unfortunately, that will not happen as man kind will always turn on itself regardless of what religion is functioning.

    @soceityvs

    I don’t want to get into this with you again. We continue back to the same arguments and it is pointless.

    • Oh I see: all truth is relative except god’s. Gottcha. Except you and I know your suggestion is ludicrous in both fact and reality: step out a window and let’s see how much gravity has evolved.

      Come on, Xander. Something is broken in your thinking to assign what is factual and true only to the make-believe world of your faith-based beliefs. Your gears aren’t meshing. And that’s why you look to the next life as if in that one everything will be hunky dory and you spend this life preparing for it. That makes your faith by definition a death cult and your time here on earth merely that of a visitor rather than someone at home.

      Societal health matters when we’re talking about the effects of religious belief. This analysis shows what should be a SHOCKING lack of correlation you assume is present with religious belief. But it isn’t. And that’s my point. You can talk about specific rates of this and that if you want and which countries have higher and lower per capita rates but all of this is beside the point: if morality is linked to religious belief as you assume, then there should be a clear correlation that is simply absent in fact. This fact is what you are dismissing and trying to cover it up with a “But look over there…” strategy. It’s a dismissal, Xander, by you although not surprisingly you attempt once again to make it appear as if the cause lies elsewhere, because that’s what you do: misrepresent to make your faith-based beliefs appear rational when they are not. Your final sentence is equally misleading and intentionally so: you pretend that I suggested I didn’t want my children to grow up in a world of hate (duh), whereas in fact I stated that I wanted my children AND YOURS to respect what’s true. All of your responses are aimed to avoid respecting exactly that and it reveals your disingenuous intentions on behalf of promoting your faith. That should tell you something important.

  19. “I don’t want to get into this with you again. We continue back to the same arguments and it is pointless.” (Xander)

    Your call Xander, I respect that. I am always open to the discussion just to let you know.

  20. “The church is really quite anti-intellectual and in order for it to work effectively it needs to be.”

    what church? not mine. we have a ton of college profs and even a science and theology group, who are right now studying the Manhattan Project and it’s implication, which is quite timely considering Japan and all.

    the mainline denominations have always been quite scholarly. the evangelical and fundamentalist ones, not so much. the catholics have always been a mix of scholarship and tradition, so they are quite a mixed bag.

    gotta be a little more specific here Jay.

    • May I humbly suggest that any pursuit of knowledge about the universe and everything contained within it is not in any way enhanced by some special pleadings for belief in a supernatural agency necessary for creation, the inquiry into achieving states of divine grace and redemption, and inclusion of this agency’s unknowable characteristics and intentions as can be found in almost all religious traditions. The pursuit of practical and applicable knowledge is not enhanced by such prolonged theological masturbatory imaginings but by respecting critical reasoning, respecting the evidence of our senses, and respecting the methodology and findings of science.

      And this has always been the case: simply look to the profusion of differing religious traditions. Now compare and contrast the ‘knowledge’ gained over the centuries from these ‘other ways of knowing’ with today’s science unshackled from previous and imposed theological compromises for which Z1G pretends modern science is the progeny rather than victorious competitor. All we need to remember is that the knowledge gained from today’s chemistry, for example, is neither related to nor dependent on such vagaries as geography or culture (or bitterly divided over which fingers must be used to move beakers, such as the the Russian church which was so bitterly divided over which fingers to use in making the apotropaic gesture of the sign of the cross) for us to support and respect its universal truth value derived from its honest inquiries.

      Funny, that.

      • yawn. speaking of masturbation i love this little up and down you presented “respecting critical reasoning, respecting the evidence of our senses, and respecting the methodology and findings of science.”

        our senses are incredibly faulty, our reasoning biased and culturally bound, and “science” a weasel word in this particular instance. you state “May I humbly suggest that any pursuit of knowledge about the universe and everything contained within it is not in any way enhanced by some special pleadings for belief in a supernatural agency necessary for creator..” sure, you can humbly suggest that and even see that the scientific method is largely unaffected by this bias or lack there-of. so i’m largely pondering why write all this unless my above paragraph is true! or you just felt the need for a little “tissue time.”

  21. “It is great to rationalize and to try and reason things out, but that is to some degree anti-religion.” -Xander

    are you kidding me? Christianity has had a great tradition of scholastics and humanists that pre-date and worked to usher in the modern era. Aquinas being the main dude and before him, Augustine. all very logical within their world view. Augustine so much so that most in our pews are worshipping him rather than Jesus who i view as more an existentialist/nonsystematic theologian than anything else.

  22. I didn’t exactly read all the comments because I’m using an iPhone, but I did read the post above.

    I like what you have to say here. I don’t know if anti-intellectual is quite the word I would use because the intellect should be used for God’s glory as well, which I’m sure you do agree with. However, I think the best model for churches would mimic the monastic model in some way where deep intellectual reflection is always accompanied by communal living, work, practicing neighborliness, etc.

    I understand your sentiment, but I think the Christian life may benefit from this in our day and age.

    • yeah, i’m right with you. Richard Rohr really knocks it out of the park for the model with you’re talking about in his book “things hidden.” there must be a degree of prayer and an embodiment to the theology, not just an intellectual assent. i think that the historic scholastics and humanists (esp the humanists) had this model in mind and exemplified it. but it was lost somewhere along the way. we would totally benefit from this model today, you’re right!

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