Monday, April 26, 2010

Intelligence and Acceptance

I recently read something on internetMonk that really upset me. The post is entitled, "Are Liberals and Atheists Smarter?" and it upsets me for a few different reasons.

First of all, it's unclear what, if anything, IQ tests actually measure. Studies involving IQ tests and social science have a long and dubious history.

Secondly, the post goes with the assumption that Christianity and conservative politics belong together. This is unfortunate, but I've gotten used to it.

The thing that upset me the most was the way he wrapped it up. After making some very solid points about how we need to engage the broader culture academically, he falls back. He says that he supports this kind of engagement only up to a point. He concludes that we must be willing to be fools for Christ.

I have a problem with his use of scripture here, but for now I won't go into that. Instead I'm going to talk about why this post bothers me, personally.

For me this is about acceptance. It is about the kind of people who we think are welcome in church and the kind of people who, in our opinion, don't really belong.

The message that conservative evangelicals have been sending is clear. If you believe in evolution, you don't belong here. If you believe that the earth is more than a million years old, you don't belong here. If you vote democrat, you don't belong here. If you're gay, or your friends are gay, you don't belong here. If you ask the wrong questions, you don't belong here. I could go on, and on, and on, but I think you get the point.

Recently, Bruce Waltke, a renowned Old Testament scholar, had to resign from Reform Theological Seminary. The reason: he said, in an interview, that if evangelicals continue to deny evolution, we risk becoming a cult.

I think fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals should be more open to theological views that allow for an evolutionary model, but not because we might become a cult. I have family members who already think I'm in a cult. That's doesn't upset me.

What upsets me is the message it sends to outsiders. The message is, if you believe in evolution, you don't belong here.

I think churches often do a similar thing, not just with evolution, but with intelligence. People who ask difficult questions, people who think critically about their beliefs, people who can poke holes in the pastor's sermon, are made to feel unwelcome. They are told, either implicitly or explicitly, that they don't belong.

The question that I have had to ask, the question I have to keep asking myself is, does God accept me as I am? Would I be a better Christian if I were just a little stupider? If I didn't ask as many questions? If I learned to accept things as true without thought or critical examination?

When I ask these questions, the following words come to mind: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without affect." There I am reminded, again, that it is God who made me who I am. If God had wanted me to be stupid or thoughtless, he could have made me that way.

Going back to the scripture that was used on internetMonk, I will say that I have no problem being "a fool for Christ". I have no problem with appearing foolish in the eyes of others. As a geek, I've kind of gotten used to it.

However, if we equate being "a fool for Christ" with actual stupidity. If we equate it with not pursuing higher education, not asking hard questions, and ignoring any evidence that might contradict our understanding of the Bible, that I have a problem with. I have a problem with it, partly because it's obviously a bad idea, but mostly because it's going to force a lot of people out of the church, and prevent a lot of new people from joining the church.


  1. At the end of it, I think being a fool comes down to willingness. Are we willing to put ourselves in situations where we might mess-up? Even... GASP!... make a mistake! Are we willing to be a fool to the world? For Christ's sake?

    The scripture says nothing about being a fool to Christ. Ask Him (and His Church) all the questions you have. Challenge Him (and His Church) when something doesn't seem right. And be prepared for Him to answer. Not doing so, when those questions are in you, makes you a fool to Christ, not for Christ.

  2. The problem is that in a lot of churches people aren't told that they have the freedom to challenge or question Christ when things don't make sense, and a lot of churches equate their teachings with the teachings of Christ.

    Right now in my small group we have an ex-Jehovah's Witness. The JW's are the poster child for a controlling, anti-education Christian group, but a lot of more mainstream churches use similar tactics. As a result, I think a lot of people really believe that when they insist that the earth is only 6,000 or so years old they are being fools for Christ. Maybe they are, but I think that kind of foolishness prevents people from seeing Christ.