Anti-Intellectualism

Apparently my trackbacks aren’t working right now. Otherwise you would see that Tim Challies [graciously included me](http://www.challies.com/archives/001670.php) in the conversation on ignorance. That was very nice of him. He doesn’t know me from a stick of butter… (That was funny ha-ha, not funny ho-ho.)

Mostly, though, Tim’s comments struck a chord with me because I’ve had to struggle with anti-intellectualism as an intellectual problem, *a lot*. (There’s an irony up there somewhere, but I’m not going to dig it out for you.) You see, I’m an intellectual. That is, I like to think. I’m a compulsive thinker. And I’m practically immobilized until I have a unifying theory of the universe which explains everything that I do. This is not a joke. If you were privy to the constant thoughts in my head, you’d be bored out of your gourd. You’d be asleep in five minutes. (Please understand that “intellectual” is to be understood as something distinct from “smart.” Smart is how you are supposed to describe somebody like Stephen Hawking, who is supposed to be able to come up with the answers to questions before the rest of us think up the questions. Me, I’m just obsessed with finding answers to questions that nobody even wants to hear about.)

Being intellectual isn’t bad in itself, unless you grow up in an anti-intellectual environment. Then you get these conflicting signals. Here’s what I want to do. And it’s not bad, just useless. Not the main thing. And it could distract you from the main thing. So watch out!

I’m familiar with [Perry Noble’s](http://perrynoble.blogspot.com/) sentiment about “blowing most of [his] classes out of the water” and then finding he didn’t have any practical application from his classes. My mom went through the same thing. The way I understand the story is that she was the highest GPA in all her classes, and then dropped out because it was way too expensive for a hobby. She figured she could “get the same education for $1.95 in late fees from the local public library.” As far as I can tell, she did. But in my mom’s defense, the career she was training for was “mom.” They don’t offer advanced degrees in mom. On the other hand, the fact that Perry was “blowing most of [his] classes out of the water” begs some questions for me at the quality of his seminary. I’m paddling hard at *my* seminary and barely floating a “B” average. And somebody once told me I was “smart.”

But I was raised to think very practically. You don’t get a degree to get an education, I was told. An education is gotten by learning, not by spending thousands of dollars and sitting in a classroom. You get a degree to get a piece of paper. The piece of paper makes people think you’re important, which in turn helps you get a job. Since the job I wanted was something ministry-oriented, that sounded kind of crass. So I went to a [ministry school](http://msm.morningstarministries.org/msm_main.html), where I learned that I wasn’t practical enough. I was over in la-la land, when they wanted me to start jumping in there, helping people in a practical way. They didn’t flunk me, but let’s just say I failed to achieve anything notable. My guess is tha Perry would have loved it.

But it was in ministry school that anti-intellectualism started to strike me as a kind of intellectual problem. There was a leader there who was wont to point out that you didn’t need a degree to do what he did, and frequently told the story of turning down his dad’s request that he at least go to school before embarking on his call to ministry. You see, education would have done nothing for him other than to diminish his zeal for God. But the problem was, I couldn’t do ministry the way *he* did it, no matter what kind of education I had. I tried. I made a fool of myself. If I don’t have all my ducks in a row and all my theories properly aligned, I say really really dumb things. In the mean time, I *wanted* the education he was disparaging, in and of itself, whether or not it would help me be a big-time preacher on a stage (er, help people).

To make a long story short (too late!), it looks to me like Perry wants to be the kind of electrician who wires houses. Maybe big houses. Maybe he wants to wire a lot of really big houses. But in the end, it seems like his idea of ministry is individual people-empowerment (wiring houses), and it’s not going to be particularly innovative. He may think he’s being innovative, because he knows how to install motion sensors in his light switches, and he’s all up on new grounding techniques, and he knows all about wiring for built in audio-visual systems. But there are thousands of people all over the country who are using these techniques with similar successes, and it’s really only innovative in the sense that it conforms to the times. But if you ask him what he thinks about direct versus alternating current delivery systems and the comparative benefits of coal and nuclear power, he’ll tell you he’s heard about those things and he’s all for those debates, but they’re really beside the point when it comes to actually working with electricity. The important thing is wiring houses.

And to a certain extent he’s right. It doesn’t matter how what form of energy you use if your house isn’t even connected, or worse, if the wiring is bad and likel to burn it down. But it’s no excuse for disparaging the value of education. No matter how well your house is wired, no matter how well you’re equipping people to “get connected with God,” somewhere up the line you need somebody with a higher theoretical knowledge of theology. It isn’t just houses that get wired. Cities get wired as a group, and so do nations. And sometimes, it’s just one misplaced wire, one bad theology, that can knock out the power for an entire region.

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