Friday, November 14, 2008

By What Measure?

"So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence." ~ Bertrand Russell

It's an interesting comment. On one level it reveals a value system that is common among many intellectuals. Intelligence has high value.

But in the Gospels, there are other values of importance. Being good, for example. Or being compassionate. Or being wise. There are so many educated fools that the very expression has become a byword.

I remember listening to a mean spirited diatribe by Andy Rooney against Mel Gibson and his film Passion of the Christ a few years back on Imus in the Morning. Rooney essentially dissed Gibson and the film because "the smartest man of the last century, Bertrand Russell" was an atheist.

So there you have it. A smart man's ideas are more valid than a holy man's. What do we do, then? Give everyone I.Q. tests to decide who gets to declare what we should all believe? It's nonsense. Newton was a smart man, and a Christian.

Sir Isaac Newton has been near universally ranked as the greatest mathematician of all time. Of Newton, Einstein said, "Nature to him was an open book, whose letters he could read without effort."


This only proves that smarts does not bring us all into agreement. One difference between Newton and Russell, however, might be that Newton was quite humble about his smarts. Before his death he remarked, "I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." I doubt either claimed to have perfect knowledge. And maybe Russell would have been embarrassed to have Andy Rooney put him on a pedastal like that.

There was a time when I thought being smart was the thing to be. I looked down on people who couldn't spell. Then, in college I met a guy who was valedictorian in his high school and lo, he was an atrocious speller. He wanted to co-write a play with me because I was an excellent speller and he felt I could communicate his message more effectively than he.

This threw a monkey wrench into my notion of smarts. And later when I learned he raped (at the time it was "heavy coercion") a friend of my girl friend, more head spins were occurring for me. Personal character has to be part of the equation.

By what measure, then, should we be measured? I can't recall anyone saying Mother Teresa, St.Francis of Assisi or Gandhi's significance had something to do with I.Q. Where did this strange measure come from?

There are other faulty measures of value, too. But it's getting late, and before too much fog settles in I'm going to pass on that.


Anonymous said...

Dallas Willard, in "The Divine Conspiracy", argues quite persuasively that Jesus was the most intelligent human being who has ever lived.

Anonymous said...

Ed -

The previous comment about Dallas Willard was posted by me, in case it matters. Somehow it showed up as anonymous.


Ed Newman said...

Thanks, Mark. You are right that there is a perception that to believe in God is only something less intelligent people do. I'd be interested in finding this section in Willard's book defending Jesus' intelligence.

Another commonly proposed idea is that it is courageous and heroic to be self-sufficient. People who believe in God are weak and pathetic instead of self-sufficient with "no illusions"... Like the I.Q. discussion, it feeds the pride...

Be well. Thanks for the visit

Sandra said...

I don't think one needs to be exclusive of the other, but I do know (or at least think I do) that there tends to be less 'belief' as one becomes higher educated.

Perhaps the current impression is framed by current events. Under-informed is often accompanied by some form of religious association. Not always, but often enough.

Smart or religious or both is not a guarantee of ethical, sensible or compassionate. Neither will tell you if the person will lie, cheat, rape or murder. Because smart doesn't mean anything other than that and religious doesn't tell you what rests inside, only what is displayed to the world.

If Christians were to be truly Christ-like, the religious right would support politicians that supported social issues, because I do believe Jesus never turned his back on those who needed.

Ed Newman said...

>>>Smart or religious or both is not a guarantee of ethical, sensible or compassionate.<<<

You are absolutely right about this. Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan is precisely addressed to this point. The religious folks "cross by on the other side." I also address this in a more recent blog entry that England's religious leaders were opposed to intervention in the Irish potato famine because the Famine was "God teaching them lessons" and it would be wrong to interfere with "God's purposes."

As for politicians and social issues, would that there was honesty in some of those programs which claim to help the needy but often do nothing or worse.

Matthew 25 tells the story of the sheep and goats, and as we clother the naked and feed the hungry we are "doing as unto Him."

Thanks for your comments.

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