I grew up with, live with and work with smart people. I like surrounding myself with smart people because they motivate me to do things that perhaps I would never otherwise do. I love to be exposed to new ideas and new things, and real innovation typically comes from smart minds. At the same time, I'm constrained to empirical evidence and reason.
As a Christian, what has become more and more obvious to me is this: smart people that say and believe stupid things make mainstream Christianity look idiotic. There is a reason why I keep pounding on silly things like core Creation Science doctrines of a young earth and a global flood, and the relevancy of today's Zionist state of Israel in Bible prophecy: mainstream Judeo-Christian malarkey makes the faith of Abraham a target for honest, truth-seeking smart people.
It's not hard to find smart Christians saying fantastically- stupid things. I jotted down something said In a recent sermon given to the huge Grace Community Church by John McArthur:
"for 120 years he [Noah] is telling people it's going to rain. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN RAIN. He says it's going to rain - they don't even know what rain is. He says there is going to be a flood - they don't even know what a flood is..."
John McArthur has his own "study Bible" and set of commentaries. He is president of a Christian college and seminary, and has written scores of books. He is a smart person, but he is also a full-blown dispensationalist and young-earth Creation Science adherent, which often makes him sound stupid. Here, McArthur is claiming that there had not been rain on planet earth until approximately 4500 years ago. This means that Noah built the ark using wood from conifer trees that did not require water.
When smart people say stupid things, they (rightfully) get called on it. Here is a brief excerpt from a 2011 debate between two very smart people: atheist author Sam Harris, and Chris Hedges, former New York Times correspondent in the Middle East and Pulitzer Prize winner. Listen carefully to Sam Harris in his opening statement:
[Audio Clip - listen to Podcast]
How would you answer Mr. Harris? You see, a lot of honest, truth-seeking people with a solid moral core have been broken by honest questions like this. My bet is that the mainstream answer would be to simply recite part of a well-known verse:
...The fool hath said in his heart, [There is] no God... (Psalms 14:1)
This is, of course, a non-answer, because a fool can be not only intelligent, but potentially truthful. It will not do to walk away from any person with an honest question.
How many of you send away Mormons or Seventh-Day Adventists that walk up to your house with pamphlets? If you do send them away, tell me: do you think they are fools? Do you think they are stupid?
Many of us have no idea what intelligence really is. There is a popular television show called Are You Smarter Than an 5th Grader? hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy. The idea is to pit what the average American knows against elementary-school kids. What is missing is this: a lack of knowledge is not an indicator of intelligence at all! This doesn't say much for the viewer, who apparently can't distinguish between ignorance and intelligence. The chances are high that the 5th-grader is smarter than the contestants presented.
One need not have a lot of knowledge to be intelligent. Being intelligent is not analogous with academic achievement. Intelligence is not the same as understanding or wisdom. I know many college graduates - some actually having higher degrees - that do not have the capacity to understand practical things. I know many that have much knowledge in one or more areas, but little in others. It is clear that the atheist in our example is intelligent and knowledgeable. I would submit that Sam Harris has more understanding than many mainstream Christians, who have never even thought about the problems he's addressing. I'm also convinced that he could paralyze nearly any Christian with the logic of his arguments. He does not sound stupid.
Here is an example of a smart Christian believing (and saying) something stupid. This is an excerpt from a debate between Dr. Kent Hovind, a Creation Science adherent, and an atheist evolutionist:
[Audio Clip - listen to Podcast]
Hovind, who is a PHD, actually is claiming that the physiology of every carnivore and omnivore on the planet changed dramatically in the middle of the Bronze Age; less than 4500 years ago. Worse, he is claiming the Bible supports this incredible claim. These are the kinds of statements we hear which make not only the speaker sound stupid, but makes the Bible sound stupid too. Believers, do we really need that?
Let's investigate some of the reasons why smart people believe (and say) stupid things. Let's be honest: nearly all of us who are either in (or grew up in) mainstream Judeo-Christianity are guilty of believing stupid things. Finally, we will conclude with five important things we can do to address this problem.
Growing up in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, my congregation was always elated with a young person elected to enter the ministry, and apply to attend Christian colleges like Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO or Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary. Tragically, these institutions sometimes instill in these young minds made-up myths and fairy tales which are presented as facts. Both of these schools openly teach "young-earth Creationism" and a universalist gospel as being not only truth, but biblically supportable.
Some colleges have within their campuses exploitative organizations which parallel student studies with unsound doctrines, outside of faculty endorsement. For instance, I know that Manhattan Christian College has harbored at least one charismatic cult which seeks to control and to dominate young Christians to the extent of determining whether they are saved based on the evidence of tongues, who they are to marry, and dictating their precise career path. Sacrificing parents and congregations send susceptible children to schools like this with the best interests of the young man or woman in mind.
The brightest Christian minds that I know keep Christian academia at arm's length, and for good reason. Established Christian academia discourages independent thought. As their secular counterparts attack dissent as being unscientific, they attack dissent as being unbiblical either without comment at all, or by throwing out a phrase or an out-of-context verse designed to terminate conversation.
Doctrinal boundaries become institutionalized, and do not easily change, as history readily reveals. One well-known Christian dissenter was, of course, Galileo. Regarding the disgraceful position established Christian academia took at that time, author John C. Lennox noted that modern Creation Scientists still struggle with apparent conflicts between good science and the Word of God:
The following comment on the moving-earth controversy by a leading young-earth creationist is noteworthy: "Only when such a position became mathematically and observationally 'hopeless,' should the church have abandoned it." (Seven Days that Divide the World, Page 62)
One accepted Church father, Augustine, made this rational observation centuries ago:
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics: and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn... (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol 1)
I'm convinced that Creation Science is the modern equivalent to the old stationary-earth position. This time, mainstream Christian academia is tragically positioning itself again as representing real science:
Once the "science" of creationism is accepted, the Bible reigns as the undisputed word of God and the sole arbiter of truth. Leaders who interpret the Bible must be obeyed. Creationism is a key part of a system aimed at building a society that relinquishes the capacity to examine itself. (American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges, p125)
Our Christian leaders today are profoundly influenced by what they were taught. Their credibility as being a pastor, an author or any other public role is characteristically reinforced by their academic credentials. It is implicitly believed that one is not qualified to engage in doctrinal judgment if not academically qualified. Worse, there are nearly as many colleges as there are denominations, and often clear denominational lines are drawn which must not be crossed. Duplicity in opinion and questionable conduct by teachers and leaders - supposedly all singularly led by the Holy Spirit - must not be brought to light through rational thought and speech. For a smart person to cross that boundary is scary.
How powerful is the influence of those we surround ourselves with! We build safe, warm and non-threatening relationships with members of our congregations and friends, and often - especially for women - to threaten these relationships would be unthinkable. Of the reasons why smart people believe stupid things, this is probably the most common one. This isn't an issue of intelligence; it is simply human nature. When faced with a decision to chose what we know to be true over our relationships, many unfortunately choose their relationships.
Buy the truth, and sell [it] not; [also] wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. (Proverbs 23:23)
But, to reject what is true for the comfort of companionship and familiar friends - though understandable - is still to reject truth. Consider how many friends the Apostle Paul gave up. or even eventually became his enemy, because of his determination to yield to what is righteous and true:
For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. (2nd Corinthians 13:8).
Those believers who have stepped outside the mainstream have, both then and now, placed themselves in a different world. Many, if not most people today, don't want to be in a different world. They're comfortable where they are, and don't see reason to change what they believe if it falls outside of what is acceptable to their peers.
I'll never forget driving home alone from a meeting with the Elders of my local congregation 10 years ago. It was as if everything I grew up around was being left behind, and It was happening because of a conscious decision that I made - not the decisions of others. I didn't know at the time that paths were to shortly open up with the powerful, lifelong friendships that ultimately would develop not just in my little town, but all over the world.
For me, to have knowledge and understanding is more important than retaining relationships with people who will not accept reproof and instruction. I've since learned that many (if not most) people are unwilling to face the emotional hurdle, and will only change their views if their relationships also change their views.
It isn't easy to stand up and walk alone to confess one's faith in front of our peers. It's even harder to walk away from them in their error. We are instructed to live in peace with one another (2nd Corinthians 13:11). We don't want to hurt or upset them, but neither do we want to be censored or ridiculed. For what it's worth, I have learned that there are times when peace can only be retained when one steps outside the circle of comfort, involvement and acceptance.
Any observant person knows that everything is not going to be OK in the short term. So, as the storm approaches, it's our nature to find a safe place to hide as the threat gets closer. We have concocted all kinds of ideas to make us feel safer: the Rapture and the idea of an "end of the world" are possibly the most obvious. Universalism, teaching that all people will be saved and go to Heaven, is another one.
The problem is that the things we hide behind are falling down. There will be no Rapture, no end of time, or a time when everybody and everything will be as safe. They are myths, fantasies and fairy tales.
Consider that most of us were brought up believing that we must either "accept Christ and His Love" or suffer in eternal torment. It is fear that motivates many Christians today - not disgust with their sin and the sins of the world around them, or even justice for the righteous. The dominant theme in mainstream Judeo-Christianity is to be nice, and keep our heads down until the Salvation bus arrives. In the meantime, we are to hand out free tickets to anybody to board the coming bus. We are afraid of the threat of sickness, pain and death, and long for a place free of sickness, pain and death, and try to convince each other that our Loving God will have a hands-off attitude towards us as we, in our fear, increasingly look, talk and think like the world until the Salvation bus turns the last corner to pick us up.
We are afraid of the elite. We lift up tyrants and criminals and place them in domination over us, because we fear them. The IRS. The TSA. The BATF. The Jews. Homosexual activists. Evil corporations. They are big, and we are small. They can inflict pain, and disrupt our lives in major ways. We really don't want to know the deep, dark secrets held by those who are braver than us. We don't want them to see us, so we are quiet as our children become invested emotionally and intellectually in spectacle around them. We do not have the willingness to endure; we want to be removed from our responsibilities. We have checked out in despair as smart people with no moral constraint demand we believe things which are not true.
It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts...For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it. (Patrick Henry)
If you aren't angry yet, what will it take? I believe any intelligent person with a moral core should be engaged at this point. Washington and Wall Street are run by criminals. Greed and corruption is unchecked all around us. Our savings, homes and jobs are being taken from us. We are fed a constant stream of disinformation and diversions while everything our fathers have built before us crumbles.
Moral nihilism is not only everywhere, it is celebrated - even in many churches. Our grandparents would be stunned and how far our nation and our people have fallen.
We know that there is now a war on our minds, but are not angry with our Judeo-Christian leaders who have seized the attention of so many people, knowing that the war is now image-based rather than word-based. Modern mega-churches honor and reflect this paradigm change in their teachings, and their poison has continued for many years now. They continue to regurgitate what they've been taught in our seminaries, from our pulpits, and our Bible "studies". In the meantime, we are expected to tithe to them, or we are not being "faithful stewards."
Atheists have long claimed that "religion is a response to conditions" and we're proving them right! We react to conditions around us by actually adopting them to a slightly lesser extent, as if by doing so we still remain separate and "peculiar" as the Word of God demands us to be. Compromise is actually regarded as being a biblical principle.
We're not angry as media opportunists like Jerry Springer parade sick, perverted people on the television stage. Instead, we console ourselves by saying: "I'm not that bad!" Like a 21st-century Roman arena, we simultaneously will not turn our eyes from the sickness and prefer to believe that we are exempt from the need to provide responsible response. We have imagined immunity.
It takes anger to be righteous! If we have no anger and are always tolerant of evil, we cannot bear fruit.
Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. (St. Augustine)
Be honest: to your way of thinking, is there a "this far - and no further?" Are you willing to be reminded of the cost of complacency, or are you a "passive enabler?"
Smart People and Curses
Regardless of how smart we think we are, this is fact: we've become a hedonistic nation of fat, sick people who can barely reach our Twinkies and Cokes on the store shelves. Nearly all of us haven't the mental, physical and spiritual energy to fight as the curses are leveled upon us in our disobedience. It may be that the madness of Deuteronomy of 28:28 is most demonstrated in smart people, who have no excuse. They have become immobilized, self-absorbed, distracted and physically ill.
Smart people react to reality around them by pointing fingers of blame, and redefining whatever it is that make them - or their peers - feel uncomfortable. Very simply: smart people more effectively attack those that challenge them, but are no more likely to escape the consequences of national sin and madness than those with less mental horsepower. Consider that history tells us that a spark of the ever-diminishing concept of "common sense" will be retained by "common people". For all peoples since the beginning of human history, this spark is always ultimately manifested in revolt and revolution. The old Hebrew term for this is being "cleansed by fire".
Smart people can be not only be intoxicated with the same garbage found in contemporary sports, games, television and movies as "lesser people" but can play out their "alternate reality" in more frightening and destructive ways. They have more at their disposal to play out their continual insanity and sense of invincibility. It is deluded smart people who ultimately lead the charge over the cliff.
Decline begins by redefining what is rational and observable. Once that happens, we accept what is irrational and non-observable. Brothers and sisters in Christ: we're deep in this process right now, and it is smart people that are leading on both sides.
An Appeal to Smart People
If you are a Christian leader, and you don't know what you're talking about, then you have no business teaching and leading other believers. I believe that, if you are Spirit-led, you will cease teaching in areas where your understanding is limited and murky. Another thing: when smart people come to you, and ask a question for which you have no substantive answer, simply tell them that you have not yet reached a conclusion on the matter.
This is important: if you become angry with the person for asking a question then you have no business in Christian leadership at all; you need to repent and humble yourself.
Here is a short list of five things smart Christian people must be willing to do now if they are to be effective leaders today.
1. Study. Do you believe the Bible is Inspired? If so, then study the Word of God, because it will not be wrong. Start fresh, from Genesis to Revelation, with positively no shadows of creeds, denomination or liturgy. Start with the big picture, from beginning to end. What is the Hebrew Bible about? Who was it written by, for and to? Keep your Greek and Hebrew lexicons handy, and don't believe what you read in any translation when it appears to conflict with the Original texts. When you hear a preacher preach something that doesn't make sense, don't just believe him - study it yourself (2 Timothy 2:15).
Be willing to be wrong. It seems I can't repeat what my old friend John Anderson used to say in his Voice of Reason broadcast: "you can never be right unless you're willing to be wrong". Don't be afraid to let others know that you've been wrong about something. There is no end to the growing in both grace and knowledge, and we are bound to that growth (Colossians 1:10, 2 Peter 3:18).
2. Believe what you see - not always what you hear. This age-old advice holds very true today. Unless the Creator made you smart for some undisclosed reason, you should be able to extrapolate what is real or not based on what is observed and known (Romans 1:20).
Science is not a dirty word, and don't play into the current Science vs. Christianity or Evolution vs. Creationism contexts. These have no more meaning than Republican vs. Democrat. Listen: the Heavens and the Earth is modeled after Creation, which is eternal and vast. The physical Creation is explained in truth by good science. What is revealed by good science will not conflict with the Bible, and vice-versa.
3. Know what is going on around you. Today, it is imperative to know what is going on around the globe, because this is the arena that can trigger the inevitable. Don't endorse anything until you know what it is all about. If you don't know what it is about, then you cannot draw from the Bible to gain understanding. In addition to the many Internet resources available, listen to shortwave radio and read books - lots of books.
You will not learn what is going on around you by watching network news. The smartest people I know don't watch TV. Turn off all the noise and images all around you, and be willing to submit yourself to solitude. Read, read, read. Memorize important and persuasive things, because you will likely need them. To the Hebrew mind, this was "writing on your hearts and minds" - this is not only knowing, but applying. We have known for millennia that we cannot know and apply when we are immersed in the bedlam of the world, but we seem to have forgotten.
4. Once you understand, be willing to articulate what you believe, and be willing to provide rational apologetics (James 3:13). I have often heard excuses like "I don't like to debate". I've even heard it implied that if one has the Gifts of the Spirit, they will not engage in discourse. Hogwash: our Master and His Disciples where characterized by their both their ability and willingness to engage in discourse. How is it that a university-trained scholar can debate fine points in their field of interest, but are unable to do so when it comes to Christian doctrine? Could it be that Christian doctrine is not a field of interest?
5. Be willing to endure. What is at stake is great, so take your stand seriously. Be willing to be angry. Be willing to fight. The world is full of Christians that cannot - and will not - defend what they believe. When a righteous Christian cannot defend what they believe, they become irrelevant. When Christians become irrelevant, they will never have dominion, and the Kingdom of God can never grow.