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Faith and Feminine Intelligence

Question: Why do people assume that people who have a religious faith are unintelligent and uneducated? Just because they have a different belief system than you? The vast majority of Christians I know personally are college graduates, very well educated, well traveled, with a high I.Q.

This is a really good question.

First, intelligence and education are somewhat different. Considering just uneducated, the standard itself reflects our education system. The story of Western Thought’s advancement has been in many ways a rejection of religious authority. Even the ministry of Jesus is an example of this pattern.

History’s hero always tends to be the same plus or minus a few plot points: some rebel free thinker with a great idea that everyone laughs at that ends up being totally right about the universe beyond the wildest of then-contemporary dreams. Jesus himself, the stories go, walked the well-tred path of defying the religious authority to espouse some essential part of humanity’s truth. This occurred almost 500 years after Socrates drank the poison in his own ideological passion play.

The Scientific Revolution responsible for demystifying many of the essential truths of the universe was a bloody battle, and if faith and reason are truly harmonious parts of our consciousness, they certainly didn’t act like it. It’s easy to bifurcate certain aspects of religion today, but that doesn’t change the fact that Galileo wasn’t allowed to leave his home for looking in his telescope. The triumph of reason has diminished faith by necessity, by removing from religion’s purview the parlor tricks of satisfying our curiosity about the natural world.

I’m not going so far as to argue that empirical observation atrophies our need for spiritual engagement, except to point out that there are many satisfied atheists who feel that way. Still more non-religious folk prefer idiosyncratic spirituality, which seems to appeal especially to those who want to dissociate from all of the bad P.R. organized religion has received and make their own rules and language instead.

But, back to education, the reason that many Christians are seen as uneducated is because one’s churchiness is no longer a mark of a quality education. I don’t mean that flippantly; I’m merely pointing out that for a butt-ton of years the monks were the smart and literate ones, and even the Christian creation story is a tale of God asking us politely not to consume forbidden knowledge. My point is that religious education was inseparable from learnedness until very recently, civilizationwise, but that’s definitely no longer true in this part of the world.

So the state of modern education, to sum up a lot of other interesting historical developments, is in many ways a celebration of inquiry and a new sort of Faith which refuses to call itself so. In many cases, it’s the faith that controlled, measurable experiments will, when repeated, give a result that tells us something new about that thing. But (really) all it needs for us to consider it true is the resiliency that religious lore never had, an openness to being wrong and a satisfaction with how it’s currently right.

This capacity to know with increasing satisfaction is the appeal of education, whereas true faith is in one way an opposite action: the capacity to not-know with equal satisfaction. The Freud/Jung comparison is very relevant. Freud thought religion was for stupid people who hadn’t yet transcended it. Carl Jung, who himself saw no need to disrespect people of faith, saw past the characterization of religion as a security blanket to defend against death’s icy chill.

Our tendency to view Freud and Jung as opposed is an artifact of the very conflict (Christians are stupid vs. Christians are not stupid) you’re referring to. They’re not really opposites; there’s a polarity there between making people better against what’s holding them back and making people better by bringing out what’s deep inside their potential. Religion can do the latter for many, but it’s not as attractive as it used to be–no judgment there, it’s just not in fashion right now. And religion can certainly be a force that holds people back, it’s a very easy defense mechanism for some people because it represents a complete surrender of volition.

So the reason that Christians get a reputation for stupidity is because the term’s a bit loaded–it represents in some ways an over-valuing of KNOWING things, whereas Christianity should be in many ways a way of tolerating a state of not-knowing, of surrendering that tension to God. It’s easy to equivocate between not relying exclusively on a type of intelligence we’ve come to value (as it’s historically come of age against religious oppression) and being simply unintelligent period. It’s certainly unfair, but the rules have changed.

another smart carlWe now see intelligence as a very masculine act, a rigorous and transparent method of knowing to the best of our ability and being happy with that conclusion. As a result, there’s a pathology in modern Christianity. It’s in response to what society models as certainty. Carl Sagan calls science a “candle in the dark,” and that metaphor is sort of linked to the idea that a candle is our hope for understanding what else is around us–a too-perfect metaphor, really, because it lends a false security by barely illuminating a narrow sphere around a tiny flame. One arguing for the wisdom (seems less loaded than intelligence) of Christianity should point out how adaptive it would be to develop a comfort with the dark, rather than the probability of unseen demons lurking therein.

Jesus wants you to be unintelligent doesn't have a very good ring to it

My guess is that “vast majority” of degree-holding Christians you mentioned (and let’s be honest, this is the internet so it’s a very generous concession to even hypothetically consider the veracity of your sample) do not use their Christianity to illuminate what they know to be true about the world, but rather have a more feminine (in an archetypal way, not related directly to gender) intelligence that wouldn’t respond aggressively to someone who tried to engage them on that masculine can-you-prove-it level. For them, it’s a way of tolerating the not-knowing, and science persists as a useful tool–a yin to their yang that they learned to love while wading through all that school you said they went to.

So, if those Christians are quietly balancing their faith and their intellect, who among the faithful to defend Christianity against the newly-crowned intelligent and their arrogant demands for “evidence,” “logic,” and “rationality,” is remaining? These folk are happily afflicted with the pathology in modern Christianity I previously mentioned. To put it mildly, they’re not the learned folk you make them out to be. Perhaps you don’t know any of them, or perhaps you’ve re-defined Christians so that they don’t count. However, to put it less mildly, if they did go far in school, they weren’t paying attention or went to a school where they can write a five page exercise in cognitive dissonance about how natural selection doesn’t work if you stick both fingers in your ears and sing hymns really loud at the fossil record and earn a doctorate for doing so, perhaps with a ribbon that reminds them that anyone who persecutes them is actually blessing them.

They’re damn vocal and they define the false dichotomy between intelligence and devotion by making an ass out of Jesus. They’re the ones for whom scripture review takes the place of peer-review, who interpret religion not through a peace-seeking tolerance of the unknown but with the unerring certainty even the least-controversial scientific realities won’t lay claim to. The reason they’re seen as stupid isn’t just that they’re 100% sure about some stupid things. It’s not that they believe that Jesus was the light of the world, a lovely and intrinsically-harmless thought, it’s that after claiming to believe in him we need not cope with the darkness of uncertainty.

feminine intelligence is about not-knowing

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