Magazine article The Christian Century

Fool-Osophy

Magazine article The Christian Century

Fool-Osophy

Article excerpt

I COLLECT EXPRESSIONS of anti-intellectualism. I even consider myself to be a connoisseur of the sorts of things that fall within this genre. But this is no mere hobby. I was raised in a spiritual environment in which the intellectual life was regarded with suspicion, even with overt hostility at times. The anti-intellectual one-liners of my childhood still echo in my heart. "The only school anyone has to go to is the Holy Ghost's school of the Bible!.... If you have to get educated, be sure to get the victory over it!"

There were times when those warnings hit close to home. Just before I went off to graduate school in philosophy, for example, a dear family friend sent me a letter expressing concern for my soul. He quoted Paul's warning in Colossians 2 about not being corrupted "through philosophy and vain deceit." In quoting the verse he spelled the key word "fool-osophy."

I take time on occasion to remember my spiritual roots, to examine my collection of anti-intellectual expressions, and to meditate on this or that warning against the life of the mind. Testing the state of my soul against the complaints of those who view people like me--people devoted to intellectual pursuits--with suspicion has led me to practice an important personal exercise in spiritual self-examination. To be sure, that takes some discernment. By their very nature, attacks on the intellect display considerable rhetorical overkill, so in most cases I must separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here is one of my favorite overkill examples, quoted by Richard Hofstadter in his classic study, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Peter Cartwright was a 19th-century Methodist circuit rider who observed that he served the cause of the gospel with wonderful results without ever having darkened the door of a theological school. He and his friends, he declared, have "preached the Gospel with more success and had more seals to their ministry" than all of those "sapient, downy D.D.'s in modern times who ... are seeking presidencies or professorships in colleges, editorships, or any agencies that have a fat salary, and are trying to create newfangled institutions where good livings can be monopolized"--and all of this "while millions of poor, dying sinners are thronging the way to hell without God, without Gospel."

As someone who occupies both a presidency and a professorship, I take some comfort in knowing that I don't exactly fit Cartwright's description of the "sapient, downy" type. …

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