[edit: I want to clarify that an intellectual is not defined by one’ s formal education or credentials, but by the act of thinking. An intellectual is a critical thinker who asks questions, evaluates them, asks more questions, and seeks answers. When contradictions and inconsistencies arise, further questions are asked. When stonewalled and gaslighted, a critical thinker knows he is over the target.
A university education alone in no way creates a critical thinker–indeed it may promote group-think and close off critical thought. This is especially the case in the past few decades. I also know that this statement will brand me as an anti-intellectual. So be it.]
[The problem of anti-intellectualism in the church has a long history. I am skirting that history and hope I am forgiven for this. By anti-intellectualism I mean that form of religion that resists critical-thinking. It is an accusation that gets tossed around far too easily. It is a conscious withdrawal from the intellectual conflicts that inevitably arise when one holds to a religious faith in the face of another faith.]
“Christians are anti-intellectual.” This has been the charge since the late 19th century. At that time, many denominations and universities, once explicitly Christian, scrambled for credibility in the academy by accepting the presupposition of modernism: the universe is a closed system with no God and no supernatural intervention. On these terms, every miracle in Scripture had to be reinterpreted as myth. Of course, the divine inspiration of Scripture had to be rejected and God could only be kept as a personal chaplain to one’s own feelings, fears, and hopes.
There are really two reasons Christians who rejected the anti-supernatural biases of the day were labelled anti-intellectual: First, Christians rejected the assumptions of the modernist view of the universe. The assumption that the entire universe, all of it, was reducible to matter and energy. Because they did not accept the findings of the “assured results of modern science,” they were labelled as far less intelligent and backwoods rubes.
The second reason, and much more serious one, is that far too many Christians actually were anti-intellectual. Difficult, complex, and challenging questions left unanswered. Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, all presented challenges to the Biblical narrative, and many churches, denominations, and schools simply were not up to the task. Some were frantically trying to “save faith” from the onslaught of materialism and not spending their energies answering the false worldviews. These worldviews have proven in the 20th century to be devastating to humanity, but the Bible-believing church was largely quiet.
Some saw this as an answer:
Brunner maintained that the biblical witness could not be taken seriously in light of the assured results of modern science: “The conflict between the teaching of history, natural science and paleontology, on the origins of the human race, and that of the ecclesiastical doctrine, waged on both sides with the passion of a fanatical concern for truth, has led, all along the line, to the victory of the scientific view, and to the gradual but inevitable decline of the ecclesiastical view.… The pitiable comedy which is produced when theology claims that a ‘higher, more perfect’ human existence of the first generation existed in a sphere not accessible to research, as it retires before the relentless onward march of scientific research, should be abandoned, once for all, since it has for long provoked nothing but scorn and mockery, and has exposed the message of the Church to the just reproach of ‘living at the back of beyond.’ … The ecclesiastical doctrine of Adam and Eve cannot compete with the impressive power of this scientific knowledge.” Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1947), 85–87.
But we know better now. We should have pointed out that atheistic, materialist science is thoroughly religious: it presupposes that God does not exist because it cannot prove His existence. But if science cannot prove His existence then it must also admit that it cannot disprove it either. Both the Christian and the atheist live by faith at this point, but the atheist must be arbitrary and irrational. The Christian believes that knowledge is only rationally possible, that is, certain, if there is a God who Created and ordered the world.
But rather than to address this as the worldview assumption it is, the answer from the church was often, “just believe,” or “you need to accept what you are told,” or “your questions show a lack of faith.”
This led to a “Check your brains at the door” mentality. Although it has always been true that the faith speaks to the mind, the assumption was that faith had no answers. Faith was separated from fact. It became widely accepted that Christianity had no answers, so those asking the questions went on as thought that were true. Looking to the church for alternatives to the dehumanizing view of mankind, (Darwin, Marx) none was offered. (I will note here that there were many who did answer and did so very well. Those answers were largely dismissed because they rested on a pro, not anti supernatural worldview. It must be remembered that anti-supernaturalism has not nor cannot be proved. It is assumed).
I have much more to say about how this has worked out in our culture—the loss of Christian influence in almost every institution and sphere of life, most notably those of government, education, and media, but others have pointed this out.
But I want to get to the point: we are doing it again. We are choosing to be anti-intellectual in our response to Covid-19 and the rules set down by civil governments.
How often did we hear these phrases? “Stay home, stay safe,” “follow the science” “masks save lives” “vaccines save lives” and others? Besides these, how many churches, (following a defective reading of Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17), have without thought (critical thinking) succumbed to mandates to close their doors, restrict attendance, track attendance, demand masks, forbid worship in song, forbid the Lord’s supper, forbid assembly, and demand vaccine passports for attendees? We have uncritically accepted that online worship is equivalent to the assembly that defines the church (see Hebrews 10:25). It has even been reported to me that a group of churches in New Brunswick met with the Minister of Health in that province to ask how they might further co-operate with the already severe lockdowns.
Were any of these rules, regulations, and bylaws ever arrived at by real science and critical thinking? Were any of them adopted by churches after careful study of the Scriptures (which are sufficient for faith and practise in the church) and prayer? I don’t think so. It was “the State said it and that’s good enough for us.” We did what we were told and even with the science changed and contradicted itself, we held on to the myths that promised safety and freedom in exchange for obedience.
Why are we accepting a science that is based upon the irrational worldview of atheistic materialism? Why is the church, apparently without much thought, bowing to this?
This is anti-intellectualism! In allowing the State to define us, we have shouted to the world that we have no answers and no hope. Our hope is in the name of the State! Just believe and obey the State. Check your brains at the door (when you’re finally allowed to approach it).
There are people looking to Christ’s and His church right now, but they will be disappointed in us.
We proclaim that we have a hope in the resurrection, but our fear betrays our unbelief in that reality. Our fear of sickness and death shows that we are as terrified as anyone else.
We proclaim that Christ is Lord over all things and is Head of the Church. Our actions have shown the watching world that we only acknowledge Christ as King over all if we have permission!
We believe that God is sovereign, and in His providence, nothing happens outside His will. But we live as though we too are on our own. We are practical atheists.
We are in a crisis of credibility, and we have largely lost it. Perhaps as many as 300 churches in Canada, many of them very small, have done the hard work of resisting the propaganda. Some have paid a high price in fines and imprisonment. All have been smeared as foolish. But in God’s history, we will be seen as anything but anti-intellectual.