Are you a recovering intellectual?

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.

Any takers?

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20 comments

  1. Hello.

    You make quite a few great points here. After years of debating politics and religion online, I now try to stay clear of both for three reasons.

    1. When the people involved consider themselves intellectuals, presuppositions usually trump logic and reason.

    2. Much of the time, debate is frustrating and relies and flawed logic and lacks critical thought.

    3. There is a distinct lack of grace and respect for opposing views on both sides of every issue. Most debates eventually end with insults and name calling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And yes, I hear you; perhaps this experiment will turn out to be an exercise in futility, perhaps not — I guess we’ll see! Thanks for weighing in.

      Your blog looks very interesting BTW, look forward to checking it out in more detail later.

      Like

  2. What an interesting idea! I’m so proud of you for abandoning this hateful mode of practicing Christianity. I wrote about “logical Christians” a year or so ago and I still maintain that they are the least Christlike of all of Christ’s followers. There isn’t a single compelling argument on the market for any religion, so why bother trying to argue people into one? It’s like they think Jesus said, “They’ll know you by your immutability arguments” 😉 But oh, so many go that route anyway. Thanks for the follow–looking forward to seeing what you come up with here as a recovering LC. Don’t let your former tribemates get you down. You’re doing something right here. — Cas

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “There isn’t a single compelling argument on the market for any religion, so why bother trying to argue people into one? It’s like they think Jesus said, “They’ll know you by your immutability arguments” ”

      What an odd thing for a theist to say! Though I must admit, I greatly admire your honesty. I presume you mean to show people that religion is the right path through love? This gets a little niggly in some cases though, as people can feel like you’re trying to evangelize them with love and kindness, instead of genuinely feeling love and kindness. The word for this is “love bombing.” I don’t know if you do that or not…but the general complaint against it is that people get all sorts of love and support until they join your denomination, and then are left in the dust.

      Your christ commands you to preach the word and win souls…this does set you up for conflict with those of other beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You raise a valid point — He did say He came to bring a sword of division, after all 🙂 But thank you for your kind words, and I shall do my best to resist the urge to love-bomb you or anyone else — for now, I just do my best to love people for their own sake 🙂

        Like

      2. Oh wait, I’m wondering now if you were talking to me at all, Violet — the “theist” comment threw me, since I know the good Captain not to be one. Sorry if I presumed too much — in which case, I withdraw my thanks for kind comments that were not directed at me 😉

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        1. My comment was to the captain, and yes, I thought he was a theist. Now that you tell me he’s not, his words makes much more sense. I’ve not run into him before so didn’t know his stance.

          However, my comments about “love bombing” would be relevant to all christians, and I’m relieved to hear that’s not a technique you use, seth. It’s a very manipulative practice.

          Liked by 1 person

      3. The captain’s a she and she’s not a theist, indeed 🙂 I don’t tend to talk about my personal views because I don’t regard them as relevant to other people. But you’ve got the right of it, I think. We should treat people as well as we can and help humanity progress forward because that’s the right thing to do, not because it’ll get us somewhere. Some people will treat others well and help humanity progress and they’ll window-dress that ideal with the label of Christian; others will use humanism or atheism or Hinduism or paganism or or or or.. you get the idea I hope. What we call it is of secondary importance to me.

        This was a nice blast from the past — I ended up moving to Patheos, so I don’t WordPress often. It was good seeing y’all again! (that icon is so dang cute, Seth)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Seth, I’m not sure it’s a good thing to abandon your intellect in favor of “subjective only” arguments and beliefs…that kind of thing has gotten me into enormous trouble in my life, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

    There is a major problem here that you’re not addressing; your deity commands you to go out, spread the word, and win souls. So you can’t tell me you’re not interested in being “right,” as that is not compatible with your holy book. In fact, the state of the world and every soul in it depends on you and your deity being right.

    I hate to be so contrary, but your view does have the slight ring of hypocrisy. I say that not to insult you, but to show you how non-christians might view this post. That said, I find you have been quite respectful in your debate style, which is something to be proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Violet! Though I see now that I was presumptuous in my reading of your latest comment 😉

      It’s an interesting point, and I appreciate you looking out and informing me how my words may be taken by others. But here’s the rub: If I’m right, then the whole world depends on my message — but, if I’m wrong (at least, with regards to theism), then any urgency I may feel from my personal convictions shouldn’t matter at all to anyone else. Thus, since I am personally convinced (for the moment) that I am right, I’m going to passionately try to win souls for Christ — however, I’m under no delusions that my personal conviction in any way means that I am right, objectively. I’ve been convinced, and I do what I can (on this blog and otherwise) to share what has proven to me to be good news, and the reasons I have for believing that message — but, this isn’t because I enjoy “flaunting” my right-ness. It’s just the natural, logical step from what I believe to be true.

      So, I’m not sure how that is hypocritical. I should hope that individuals of any ideology would be able to say the same about themselves.

      As for your first comment… I’m not sure I’m guilty of abandoning my intellect and favoring exclusively subjective evidences — though I am perhaps less apt than some to abandon the latter a priori, which might make it seem that way.

      Thanks for weighing in! Glad you found your way here, and hope you stick around 🙂

      Like

      1. “but, if I’m wrong (at least, with regards to theism), then any urgency I may feel from my personal convictions shouldn’t matter at all to anyone else. ”

        But it does matter. Because you are trying to jam a very stringent set of rules and a way of life onto other people, including children. There’s going to church and giving over your money to the church, religious obligations (not the least of which is to win souls), and you have religious agendas/prejudices/laws to push. Tell me again how these things don’t matter to unbelievers?

        You do not wish to “live and let live.” You wish to rule the world with your religion and your deity, and won’t stop until it is done. Your god commands it.

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        1. First of all, is that what you feel that I, personally, am doing? Or are you generalizing me with your perception of the whole of Christendom?

          Secondly, yes, my God commands me to spread the good news — I don’t see anything in there about imposing anything on anyone. If I share and they don’t want to hear it, no one is worse off, are they? I don’t see how sharing and evangelizing, at least in essence, can be equated with the kind of forceful tyranny you describe. You may take issue with how some practice this value, but I don’t see how educating others on my beliefs and engaging them in discussion about them is any more criminal than what you and the rest of us are doing in our respective blogs.

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        2. Do I feel that is what you personally are doing? Yes, you and all christians do it…though I don’t believe you have bad intentions while doing it. Nonetheless, the message of christianity is this: believe in my deity or be damned. That’s a powerful message and it can’t be gotten around. You can preach and educate on other messages of Jesus, but in the end, it’s submit or burn. I hold that to be harmful.

          I don’t actually want to jam up your blog with atheist rantings, because believe me, I could go on for some time. I think I’ve said my piece, and I’ll let you enjoy other commenters who may be less hostile to your message. Have a great day. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Seth, the nub of the issue was what you outlined to Violet, that if Christianity is true then it is the most critical thing in the world, however if it is not true well then….

    So the real issue becomes how can one determine if it is true. Many Christians cite ‘experience’, however this is intensely personal and difficult for someone who has not shared a particular experience to accept.

    I have been deliberately focussing my search on the Bible because it is something that can be more objectively considered. But even then it does raise the issues of:
    1) what would be required to prove the Bible was divinely inspired?
    2) what would be sufficient to prove it was not divinely inspired?

    It would be interesting to determine if Christians and non Christians could agree on these points. I suspect not based on my experience of discussions between people of faith and people without faith. Actually the real problem is when there appears pointers to both outcomes, if some pointers strongly suggest a touch of the divine, but others strongly suggest not then this raises a real dilemma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apologies for my late response, mate. Good thoughts here!

      Regarding the Bible… I’m no historian, but the approach apologists seem to be taking these days is to sidestep the issue of divine inspiration entirely, and simplify the question: “Is the Bible historical?” Because you’re right, divine inspiration is a difficult thing to nail down — however, even if the Bible is merely historically reliable, then the Gospel is true regardless of divine inspiration of the text.

      Apart from the Bible, though, I think we can still have a reasonable chance of making some educated inferences about the divine. in Christendom, for instance, there are numerous claims of the miraculous, both historical and contemporary — if there’s any sufficient weight to the evidence for these accounts (as I believe there is), then it seems we have some interesting evidence that there are supernatural forces at work. Once we arrive at a body of miracle accounts that can be reasonably accepted as reliable, then perhaps the pattern of these miracles might, in a circumstantial way, provide some clues as to the kind of supernatural universe in which we live.

      Like

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