Fear of Reason

I usually read 2 or 3 books at a time. Currently I am reading a book by Mark A Noll titled Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. It is short but dense. Noll’s previous book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, bemoans the anti-intellectual culture of the evangelical congregation. In Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll argues that the Christian faith lays the foundation for intellectual advancement and critical thinking at its finest. If this be true then WHY are most evangelicals terrified of intellectual advancement?

In the first 3 centuries of Christianity the believers were faced with confronting the Greco-Roman intellectual scrutiny. These early believers had to know the Hebrew Scriptures intimately as well as the Hellenic culture of intellectualism. The apologists were well educated and equipped to debate the finer points of the Christian faith and the polytheistic beliefs of the day. This is why God needed Saul to become Paul. God needed Paul to debate the Hellenic cultural standards. Read Paul’s letters. He is addressing the Hellenic culture not the Hebrew culture. Jesus addressed the Hebrew culture and mastered any and all intellectual arguments brought to Him. Once Christianity came into favor with the Roman Empire then the power base shifted from Hellenic culture to a merger which became what we call the Western civilization culture. During this time power shifted to the head of the Roman Catholic Church from the Roman emperors. Education shifted from the middle – privileged class to the clergy. Knowledge is power and the powers that be at that time (and our time) did not want the average person to be knowledgeable. People who are knowledgeable are capable of critical thinking and making their own decisions. There is less power for the big dogs when the little dogs know fact from fiction.

So, one reason evangelicals are afraid of intellectual pursuits is that it takes power away from the leaders and puts power into the hands of the population. A second reason most evangelicals are afraid of intellectual pursuit is that it promotes critical thinking. Knowledgeable people ask questions, lots and lots of questions.
o What’s the purpose?
o Where did you get that information?
o What is the problem?
o What is the goal?
o How did you come to that conclusion?
o Is the reasoning logical?
o What assumptions are being made?
o What are the consequences?
o Who does this profit?
Promoting critical thinking skills means promoting intellectual standards which leads to a higher level of thinking. A thinking people learn how to reason through questions using intellectual standards: clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic and fairness. A thinking people then begin to exhibit the traits of the intellect: humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, integrity, perseverance, reason, and fair-mindedness. The powers that be then lose more power.

Ever wonder why the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted Jesus dead? It had less to do with His claim to be the Christ than the fact that He challenged their authority and thus their power over the people. He was teaching the people to think for themselves rather than blindly follow the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was diminishing their power base. Do you think Jesus exhibited the intellectual traits listed above?

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Catherine Cone

Professor of Biology at East Texas Baptist University

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