Who Says?

This afternoon at services, I heard a sermonette that reminded me of one of my biggest pet peeves, and it is something that I consider worth writing about, as it is an area of considerable personal sensitivity. The sermonette speaker (who, it should be noted, was speaking on only a few days’ notice for someone who was out of town) started out in a way that I found somewhat dangerous. The comment was made in the context of an article that appeared about a year ago or so in the Oregonian (the major Portland newspaper) that talked about the ethnic origin of Jesus Christ, and it said something to the effect that “scholars say Jesus Christ would have been a person of color.” Needless to say, reading this particular comment made the speaker rather upset, and rightfully so, largely because it sought to make the Savior into a politically correct tool by people who have corrupted their God-given intellect. This is something that tends to make any sincere believer upset.

What struck me about the comment was the way in which the speaker engaged in the same sort of error that the author of that article apparently did. To say, “scholars say” is an immensely lazy and terribly inaccurate technique as a writer and a journalist. Scholars, of any field and discipline, are not a monolithic group. Whatever espirit d’corps tends to exist among people who share a particular discipline or intellectual enterprise, there is also always, in any area of intellectual study, a rich diversity of views and positions and schools of thought that have widely varying views about the various areas of study that are within their fields. Often the diversity of views and particular opinions and positions and judgments about matters varies on the individual level, given the specific emphases and foci that a given thinker will have in distinction from others. To lump all scholars in a given field in a given statement, without any kind of nuance or context or citation is an immensely lazy way of writing, lacking any kind of research skill or the openness to let those scholars who say such ridiculous things face ridicule by name rather than hiding behind the skirts of some nebulous community of scholars in which they wish to hide in anonymity.

That said, the speaker himself committed the same error when his message attacked intellectuals in general rather than the corruption or misuse of the God-given act of the intellect. To be sure, this is a lamentably common problem [1], in that people feel safe in attacking the gift of the intellect in a way that they would not feel comfortable doing for other gifts. As an intellectual and scholarly sort of person myself, I tend to take the broad-brushed attacks on intellectuals that I see as a personal affront. There are a few reasons why I take it as a personal attack, probably chief among them that I tend to see a basic community among people who seek to use their brain and develop their capacity for reason and intellect, despite a diversity of foundations and worldviews upon which these reasonings and justification is based, and the fact that I tend to feel that in a world of people who are not particularly inclined to develop reason and intellect for their own sake (or for the glory of God) that those who do take this effort tend to be vulnerable on account of envy as well as fear that those who are intellectual look down on those who are not and that intellect can be easily corrupted. In stark contrast to this, while we recognize that beauty and strength can be easily corrupted by those who have them, we do not tend to attack all beautiful people or strong people (we are generally still attracted to beauty, and still appreciative of strength, even if we realize that people can misuse them; this is not necessarily the case with intellect) simply because some people corrupt these God-given gifts, even if we do not always consider intellect in the same light.

I am aware that the speaker may not have wished to paint such a broad brush. For that matter, the writer of the Oregonian article may have wished to convey a smaller set of scholars and not the entire community of Bible scholars. That said, both of them spoke or wrote in such a broad brush that the nuance and diversity of the community was neglected in a desire to score points for a particular opinion. Despite the fact that such opinions were contrary, one person wished to marshal an imaginary unity of scholars in favor of an opinion that is patently ridiculous, and another person wished to use the patently ridiculous opinion of a few self-professed scholars to impugn the worth of education and intellect as a whole. Ultimately, both positions are not so different after all, in that they equate (whether consciously or not) the value and worth of intellectual development, or those who are self-identified (or identified by others) as scholars and intellectuals, with political factors, as if the legitimacy of the gift of intellect depended upon the agreement of those people with whatever position one had. Self-professed intellectuals have no monopoly on wisdom, and there are many ways in which the mind can be corrupted by pride and immorality and unbelief. That goes without saying, as does the fact that the heart and body and spirit can and are easily corrupted as well by the same things. Yet the worth of beauty does not depend in any way on whether any beautiful people wish to be with us, nor does the worth of strength or health or any other God-given gift depend on the fact that we possess these gifts or the fact that those who do wish to use these gifts on our behalf. It is high time that the gift of intellect be seen in the same way, as a gift to appreciate, even if we do not always agree with the way it is used or the conclusions it reaches.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/anybody-else/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/signs-of-mind/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/so-that-they-are-without-excuse/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/romans-1-18-23-concerning-foolish-atheists/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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