-By Warner Todd Huston
Every time I begin arguing with a liberal over the efficacy of our current system of mis-education, it almost always gets around to a few retorts from them. They say I am anti-intellectual or they say that because I'm conservative, then religion must form the bedrock basis of all my ideas and, therefore, my ideas are invalid. Then they say I don't know "the truth" because of all this. Sometimes all come up at once working together like a regular tag-team of ideas to invalidate conservative views.
But a few arguments always befuddle them and I love to see the confusion descend over their eyes as they try to figure out a way to reply.
Before I get too far into this, though, one thing they do is tout definitions of the terms of debate written by those ensconced in the education fields under discussion. They then say these definitions are "fact." I ask them if they understand that they are taking the word of interested parties on the definition of terms and ask them if such biased sources should be automatically accepted? If they say yes -- and they usually do -- I then ask them why they won't accept the biased definitions of religious authorities, then? Why should university folks be so automatically right, even though they are biased in favor of defining their terms in a self-serving manner but the same self-serving definitions have to be wrong when the religious are in dictionary mode?
At this they usually just cock their eyebrows and move on as if I never said anything.
So, as their argument goes, they tell me that religion is utter superstition and that the received wisdom of religion is necessarily anti-intellectual. They say that just believing what a priest or minister tells me is relinquishing my ability to think for myself.
Firstly, the Christian religion has, since the reformation, been grounded in a personal journey through the belief system of Jesus and the words of the Bible. Since Gutenberg started up his first printing press and began churning out copies of the Holy Bible, Christians individually and necessarily became students of religion, not just rote receivers. Christians are supposed to read, consider, inculcate, and come to understand the Bible intellectually, not just be indoctrinated into it. So, right off the bat the liberals are ignorant of Christianity when they claim it is anti-intellectual.
But, even if that were not the case, think about what the liberals are saying, here. They are saying that just being told what to believe by a priest is anti-intellectual.
Alright, let's go with that. Here is the proper reply: "Aren't you just being anti-intellectual, then, because all you are doing is taking the received wisdom of a University professor, assuming it is all 'fact,' and moving on as if you have 'learned' something?"
When they reply in return that, no, the professor is helping them understand and then allowing them to think for themselves and Christianity doesn't do that, then refer them to point one above. Christianity operates on exactly the same model as the universities where it concerns the passing on of knowledge: You listen, you read, you consider, and then you decide what to accept. And certainly there are universities that discourage intellectual exercise just as there are churches that do the same.
Friend to the blog, Jeff Reynolds, puts it well. "An un-skeptical faith in any orthodoxy is a dangerous self-delusion and an anti-intellectual way of viewing the world -- whether that be based in science or faith. You present your case very well, Warner – your faith is an ongoing conversation, and a lifelong learning experience. The other side states with breathless fervor that the science is settled, completely ignorant (willfully or not) that that’s not how science works."
Now, before I go on, I should say that my views on religion would be considered a bit heretical with many of my conservative brethren. In fact, I am rather like our religiously unorthodox founding generation. I am no Deist, mind you - and few of them were either, but that is the first question I get -- but I don't believe in the strict tenets of any organized religion.
Further, I fully understand the journey the Bible took before it got to my tiny little hands in 1962! The Bible I was made familiar with as a child was not the same Bible that the First Church used -- or even the second church for that matter. Men did a lot of tinkering with that wonderful book from its earliest days to ours.
Still, this is part of the intellectual discovery of Christianity.
OK, that aside, let's get to to the other thing. "Truth."
They sternly tell me that Christianity cannot be "truth" because they feel truth is only something that can come from outside religion. They tell me that science is truth, for instance. They tell me that education brings truth.
I reply that the "truth" of science changes all the time. Man's journey through science is shot through with the over turning of assumed truth. In fact, several times every decade some scientific "fact" is demolished and replaced with the new one.
So, what is "truth," anyway? Can something be unchangeably true? Here they usually begin to fall into the regrettable penchant of the modern university set to talk of how the truth is relative. But once they start down this path they've completely undermined their own argument whether they understand that or not.
If truth is fungible, then they must have to agree that religious ideas -- whether indoctrinated or intellectually discovered -- must be as valid as anything else. After all, if there is no "truth," then anything goes. And this whole argument that everything is relative then completely destroys the value of the education they think they are receiving. After all, if my "truth" isn't your "truth," then why is anything taught in their university of value?
Anyway, I love to see their eyes bounce around as these concepts start to boggle them. Usually the discussion just trails off with them still saying the same things they came into the argument with. They simply refuse to accept -- or are unable to grasp -- the fact that their basis for their entire belief system was undermined by their own beliefs.
But it's still fun to argue.
For an interesting series on today’s education establishment, see John Feeny’s three-part series.