My name is Seth, and I’m a recovering intellectual.
I say intellectual not because I consider myself intelligent, but rather to describe my typical approach when interacting with the world. I am most comfortable in situations that can be understood and resolved intellectually. My knee-jerk reaction is usually to attempt to rationalize, analyze, and deduce.
I say recovering because I have come to realize that this approach is not always the most appropriate.
I am also a Christian, and so I do my best to imitate Jesus Christ; but even for those who are not people of faith, I believe there’s still a lot about Jesus that’s worth emulating. Jesus was definitely a smart man — a genius in fact: He stood toe-to-toe with the intellectuals and the experts of His day and usually left them stumped, without an answer (John 8:1-11; Matthew 21:23-27, 22:15-46). But most of the time, He connected with people relationally, not intellectually. Perhaps He knew that most people don’t respond to arguments, at least not in the way He was looking for. On the whole, people’s lives are not changed by an airtight intellectual case — they are changed by love.
And thus my lifelong struggle to reconcile my addiction to rationalization with my fervent desire to connect with people in meaningful ways.
Is there anyone else out there who has become somewhat disillusioned with the general approach to intellectual discussion in our current culture? Has anyone else engaged in theological debate forums on Facebook, or read comments on YouTube debate videos, and came away feeling slimed? Such discussions, in my experience, seem almost invariably to become reduced in time to mud-slinging and name-calling — has anyone else had enough of that?
Here’s the problem, as I see it: The kinds of people that are drawn to such discussions are generally intellectuals like me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — it’s just the way people like us operate. However, when intellectualism is unchecked by empathy, humility, and mutual respect, it is allowed to run rampant in the pursuit of one singular goal: being right. And when all one wants is to be right, it’s amazing the amount of human decency that can be thrown out the window in the process.
Is there anything wrong with being right? Absolutely not! I like being right — not because I feel it makes be superior to those I consider wrong, but because I think it’s important to hold virtues and ideals that are stalwart, that hold up to criticism and scrutiny. For me, it’s not enough to believe in something — I must be able to be convinced, by evidence, that what I believe is the right thing. If you’re going to take the energy and effort to believe in something, might as well make sure it’s something worth believing in.
However, I have seen what happens when the quest for right is unchecked by respect for others. And I for one am sick of it.
This is why I chose the label recovering intellectual for myself: I still believe being right is important, and I still believe that ideas should be discussed and challenged — but I don’t think such things must be pursued at the expense of respect and common decency. One with whom I disagree need not be my enemy — in fact, some of my most rewarding friendships are with people with whom I disagree strongly on matters of faith. I’ve tasted the fruit that can come from respectful discussion, where it’s not “us vs. them,” it’s “both of us searching together for the truth.”
Are there any others out there who could get behind this idea? I could see any of the following types of people benefiting from being part of a community that centers around these ideals:
- Someone who used to engage in online debate forums, but who now avoids them because “they don’t ever do any good.”
- Someone who find themselves prejudiced against those belonging to an opposing worldview (“all theists are morons,” “all atheists are jerks,” etc.) — knowing it’s probably not true, but having no experience to counter that prejudice.
- Someone who believes “faith” and “reason” are incompatible. (They aren’t.)
- A person of faith or a spiritual seeker who wants to know if there are any good reasons for believing, but who doesn’t know where to start looking.
So, even as the seeds of this blog are just beginning to send their shoots into the world, it is my hope that this endeavor will become more than just a blog; I have no desire simply to talk at people. I hope for a vibrant dialogue, a community. Do people agree with what I have to say? Great, let’s talk about it! Do people disagree (and I know they will)? Even better! Let’s talk about that too. But let’s always talk as if we were all travelers on the same path: the path to truth, not the path to superiority.
Behind every disagreement is the potential for mutual benefit and betterment. My central goal here is to provide a community for people who can get behind that statement, who are willing to let their beliefs be challenged and tested against others’ knowledge and experience, who can understand that people can discuss topics even as volatile and touchy as faith with respect, honor, and fairness.
This is my dream.