Thinking Our Way Out of Church

All I did was ask questions.  People would make broad statements and I would ask, “How do you know?”  People would claim supernatural and paranormal explanations and I would ask, “Is there another explanation?’  Attributes would be given to God that didn’t come from the Bible and I would ask, “Where do you get that from?”  I dropped in on a group reading a popular Christian book, and some people actually groaned.  I finally left, feeling judged and ridiculed because I am intelligent.”

I got asked to leave.  I went to two different Bible studies where I evidently knew more than the teachers.  I asked questions they couldn’t answer, and they got mad at me.  I really was just trying to learn — I mean, I was asking questions because I wanted to know — but it got turned into some kind of contest.  The person leading the group took me outside and told me that if all I wanted to do was make him look bad, I should just go home.  so I did, and I haven’t been back to church since.

I am a scientist, for God’s sake — and I mean that literally.  “For God’s sake” I went into science to try to make the world a better, safer, healthier place.  But I am college educated, and I refuse to check my brain at the door just so I can sit and listen to drivel.  If our faith is legitimate, it must stand up to the rigors of at least common sense.  I understand that some things are simply accepted on faith, but some things God wants us to figure out and apply the best reasoning and thinking possible.  “God only knows,” or “it must just be God’s will,” are answers given by fools and nincompoops.  I need a faith that can stand up to scrutiny and criticism — and I believe Christianity is that faith, were it not for the fearful lowlights preaching and teaching from a 15th century worldview.”

Three different people in three different places from three different decades (first quote, 1988; second quote, 1995, third quote, 2009), but all sharing a real pain at the rampant anti-intellectualism they encountered in our churches.  And these are just a few stories from a fairly large number of Christians frustrated by a lack of respect for keen intelligence, common sense and critical thinking.

When did intelligence and faith part company?  Once upon a time, pastors and theologians were among the most educated and highly respected thinkers in the world.  They were “men” (in chronological context) of letters — hobnobbing with academics, scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and kings.  Pastors were often early adopters of the most rigorous standards of scientific method.  Nineteenth century theologians studied, discussed, and promoted the latest discoveries in astronomy, geology, and biology.  The leading voices of the Christian faith had nothing to fear from the natural sciences.  Physics held no threat to metaphysics.  But somewhere along the way our faith gave way to fear, our spirituality fell to superstition, and our reason succumbed to irrationality.

Today, a growing generation of the most educated feel that basic tenets of the Christian faith include credulity, ignorance, narrow-mindedness, irrationality, and downright stupidity.  Debates about stem-cell research, charting the human genome, evolution, astrophysics, and broader biomedical ethics begs the question that human intelligence is somehow against God, rather than a gift from God.  Various sciences find themselves at odds with religious faith — as if one displaces and disproves the other.  Perhaps science has disproven a white-haired Caucasian grandpa God in white robes floating in the clouds, but it has come nowhere close to disproving a “first cause” force from which all our beliefs about God emerged.  (Can’t prove a negative — only can display a lack of imagination…)  Has religion painted itself into a corner by anthropomorphizing that which is beyond human comprehension?  Sure!  Does that prove we’re idiots?  Not even close — just shows we’re limited (and not God…)

If the Christian faith is to have a meaningful future, we have to shuck off the mantle of fear and learn the lesson (again) taught repeatedly throughout history when religion bullied science and denied discovery and revelation.  If we believe we are in the least bit the image of God, then we must also believe that the height of intelligence is a reflection of God’s perfection.  Does it make any sense at all to believe that God isn’t smart?  Do we truly believe that we can learn anything that God does not already know?  Is there any true threat from science that is greater than God?  Real faith cannot be shaken by truth or facts, knowledge or intelligence.  Just the opposite.  We dishonor God and reject God’s gracious gift when we refuse to use our intelligence to its fullest extent.  Those who raise questions?  Those who challenge orthodoxy?  Those who fight against ignorance?  Those who demand rigorous critical thinking?  Perhaps they will be the ones who are first to hear, “well done, good and faithful stewards,” because they are the ones who truly value and manage wisely one of the greatest gifts God gives.

15 replies

  1. Thank you, Dan. I only make it to read here, occasionally, but this one struck enough of a chord that I wil respond. As a second (or third) career, I am now pastor in a small UM congregation. I work on an MDiv. part-time. I have a keen curiosity that particularly shows up in anything having to do with the sciences. And I cannot tell you how many people have expressed surprise, amazement even, that I am comfortable “allowing” both aspects of my God-given uniqueness to coexist.

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