Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Against Christian anti-intellectualism

Here.

38 comments:

Dan Gillson said...

I have two clarifying questions:

1. What is anti-intellectualism generally?

2. What are the specific effects of Christian anti-intellectualism?

I have my own answers for these, of course, but before I share them I want to know what others think.

B. Prokop said...

Good points, Dan. I'll take them in reverse order.

I don't think there is any difference between "Christian" anti-intellectualism and generic anti-intellectualism.

As to what anti-intellectualism is, it's a contempt for what used to be called "book learning", as opposed to "life learning". A perfect example of this attitude is the statement recently made by a politician to the effect that he didn't need to know the science of Economics in making decisions about the economy, because he had "raised a family".

Now this is quite different from "street smarts" or the sage wisdom you get from your grandparents. That's the genuine stuff, and is greatly to be admired. Anti-intellectualism, on the other hand, replaces "book learning" with the mere assertion of having some superior wisdom, even when you don't necessarily have such.

oozzielionel said...

Anti-intellectualism can be seen in this blog when each post starts with a good question, some interaction with the issue, then devolution into name calling,ad hominum arguments, and exits in a huff.

Papalinton said...

Here are two dimetric views:
a CHRISTIAN ONE ON CHRISTIAN ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM
and an ATHEIST ONE ON CHRISTIAN ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM

The following two are:
a AN ATHEIST ONE ON ATHEIST ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM.

It depends much on what features are selected to constitute the definition.

Papalinton said...

diametric

Papalinton said...

and a CHRISTIAN ONE ON ATHEIST ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM

Dan Gillson said...
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Dan Gillson said...

Bob,

It would seem to me that someone could have some book learnin' and still be anti-intellectual. I submit the case of LindsayWheeler.

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

Dan,

I wouldn't call Lindsay an "anti-intellectual", but rather more of an "a-intellectual". He doesn't seem to have contempt for learning, but simply fails to absorb what he has learned. (We see many other examples of this on this website - people who somehow have amassed a great amount of information, but have not processed any of it into knowledge, let alone wisdom.)

But to your main point, you are absolutely correct. Having "book-learning" is no defense against having contempt for it.

Papalinton said...

Poor Lindsay Wheeler.

What is he an example of again?

Dan Gillson said...

Really Linton? You really don't know what he's an example of? You can't figure it out from my previous comment? Allow me to help you:

"It would seem to me that someone could have some book learnin' and still be anti-intellectual. I submit the case of LindsayWheeler.

End quote, emphasis mine. Lindsay Wheeler is a case of someone who has some book learning', but is still anti-intellectual. It was a response to what Bob said earlier:

i. " … [A]anti-intellectualism is … a contempt for what used to be called 'book learning.'"

ii."Anti-intellectualism, on the other hand, replaces "book learning" with the mere assertion of having some superior wisdom, even when you don't necessarily have such.

End quote, emphasis mine. Do you see how this works? Bob said something, and I replied to what Bob said. That's worth repeating again: Bob said something, and I replied to what Bob said. Bob said that anti-intellectualism is contempt of book learning. I submitted the case of LindsayWheeler to demonstrate that someone can be book-learned--indeed, can even love book learnin'--and still be anti-intellectual. Do you see? Do you see how to carry on an argument now? Or will you still be daft to the process?

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

Dan,

I still don't see Lindsay as a poster child for anti-intellectualism. Maybe for bad intellectualism, but that's another story.

Dan Gillson said...

Bob,

Point taken. I thought I'd use our friendly exchange to demonstrate for Linton the basics of following an argument.

B. Prokop said...

What we must be extremely careful of, in rightly condemning anti-intellectualism, is to not disparage non-intellectualism (as in the example of one's elders' life wisdom). I see too many posters to this website, for instance, pooh-poohing the religious views of people in contemporary Latin America or Africa (or of 1st Century Israel) on the grounds that they are uneducated, and therefore not worth considering. The problem with this is, some of the wisest people I know personally have very little formal education. I see no valid reason to dismiss the beliefs of "ignorant peasants" (as some have labeled them) on the grounds of their not having "book-learning".

The mirror image of anti-intellectualism is intellectual snobbery. Both extremes are to be avoided.

Crude said...

If you dislike most self-described or publicly described 'intellectuals', are you anti-intellectual necessarily?

B. Prokop said...

Wow - good question! Don't know how to answer that one. Have to think a bit...

B. Prokop said...

Upon reflection, I don't think that disliking specific "intellectuals", even if it's a majority of them, makes one an anti-intellectual. I'd like to tweak my definition already given above to make it clear that the contempt has to be for the very idea of "book learning", as if it were in some way irrelevant, useless, illegitimate, or just plain distasteful. It wouldn't apply to a contempt for a specific person (e.g., George F. Will or Howard Zinn or Sam Harris or whomever).

Papalinton said...

The notion of anti-intellectualism is a bit of a dog's breakfast really. It is not largely driven by reason unless it is a 'reason'[?] heavily weighted to produce a desired outcome. For example one could successfully argue Edward Feser is an in mint condition example of morbid anti-intellectualism when it comes to his perspective on 'modern philosophy'. He certainly makes no one doubt his great discomfort with mainstream philosophy.

But to do so is really an appeal to personal bias and not very productive.

The branding of individuals as anti-intellectual, the Lindsay Wheeler instance comes to mind, is simply an undisciplined ad hominem made for no reason other than to impugn his character with a spot of self-justificatory malice.

Here is an interesting quote: "Religious critics[who?] describe intellectuals as prone to mental instability, proposing an organic, causal connection between genius and madness; they are unlike regular people because of their assumed atheism, and are indecent given their sexual mores, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, or celibacy." This is a common theme but for me, it is just personal bias and scuttlebutt.

No, I don't think anything of value can come from a discussion on anti-intellectualism other than to set it aside as measure of informed discussion. Claiming one as anti-intellectual does not advance the discussion in any productive fashion. It is a resort to the lowest common denominator.



Crude said...

Bob,

Well, I think there's potential confusion on both sides of the divide.

* There's a literal scorn for 'book-learnin'!' and such. Straight up dislike of intellectual activities. Worse, there's "I don't need to learn about or understanding what I'm criticizing/endorsing to actually criticize/endorse it!" attitudes.

* There's dislike of faux-intellectualism - treating such and such book or idea as 'intellectual' when, really, it's not. (Or at least, it's not some particularly intelligent, insightful thing.)

* There's dislike and scorn for 'intellectuals', for various reasons. Some not so valid, some - I think - valid.

* There's also people who think they're intellectual simply by parroting those they perceive of as 'intellectual', and who see criticism of that habit as anti-intellectual.

And there's a lot of slipperiness here. I can totally get behind criticisms of the sort of anti-intellectualism that justifies literally scorning reading books, studying ideas, becoming more well-versed in the liberal arts (putting it broadly.) I can also get behind criticisms of 'intellectuals' as a whole ("the intelligentsia!") depending on what's being claimed.

Nice and convoluted.

Dan Gillson said...

We've hit twenty comments, so I'll answer my own questions:

1. I think that anti-intellectualism is a form of entrenchment, a sort of heavy-handed intellectual protectionism, if you will. It is arbitrarily suspicious of ideas that challenge the status quo. Ideas which challenge the status quo are seen as being morally wrong, whereas ideas which fall in line with it are seen as righteous or morally right.

2. The effects of Christian anti-intellectualism are best seen in contemporary liturgies, where moral sentimentalism and spiritual intuitionism are the badges of honor amongst faithful.

Crude said...

I think that anti-intellectualism is a form of entrenchment, a sort of heavy-handed intellectual protectionism, if you will.

This, I question. I think there's several things which tend to get grouped under the heading 'anti-intellectualism' - some good, some bad, some too broad to easily categorize. And I think a failure to automatically defer to a status quo is something people who think of themselves as intellectual charge those who they regard as anti-intellectuals with.

That's part of why the article doesn't resonate with me. They mention the 'status quo', they talk about 'radical' change, but what gets me is that the single status quo mention gets presented as some kind of invisible universal - and I think in reality the status quo is local and multiple. The status quo in the groups I'm part of is probably different from the status quo in someone else's.

Here's part of what I mean, straight from the article, with emphasis:

As for elites who address our biggest problems with moral sentimentalism, the point is that if we take their moral claims seriously, then they demand serious political solutions—which is precisely what they try to obscure by speaking in moral terms.

Really? Since when? But there it is, floated as obvious. That's someone's status quo, and I bet you challenging it would not be a pleasant affair.

In fact, that's enough to actually come across as a kind of anti-intellectualism itself: the idea that the most moral thing to do is to stop all this talking and analyzing and do something, because we don't really need to analyze or be skeptical that we're right.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

1. I'm not sure if you meant the third sentence of your first para the way it's written. Another way to have written what you wrote is, "People who think of themselves as intellectual charge those whom they regard as anti-intellectual as automatically failing to defer to a status quo." I'm not nitpicking your grammar. I'm wondering if that's really what you meant, because it would seem to me that the charge that an intellectual would level against an anti-intellectual is that he defers to the status quo, not fails to defer to it.

2. I linked to the article because it describes how moral sentimentalism falsely empowers individuals to think that their individual conduct makes a difference. Moral sentimentalism is what evangelical pastors at mega churches preach: they shift the moral burdens of Christian living onto the individuals of their congregation, but in order to make the burden bearable, they have to make it much, much lighter than it should be.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

Correction: I was nitpicking your grammar, but I wasn't trying to be a dick about it.

Crude said...

Dan,

I'm wondering if that's really what you meant, because it would seem to me that the charge that an intellectual would level against an anti-intellectual is that he defers to the status quo, not fails to defer to it.

This hinges on the point about the status quo - that there's not one, there's many. Who's going to call me an intellectual if I question the claim 'austerity is the solution for our fiscal crisis'? People pro-austerity, because I'm questioning the status quo in force among austerity opponents.

Trying to choose the most easily known example that won't threaten a derail there.

I linked to the article because it describes how moral sentimentalism falsely empowers individuals to think that their individual conduct makes a difference.

It doesn't? I don't mean this flippantly. How doesn't it?

Moral sentimentalism is what evangelical pastors at mega churches preach: they shift the moral burdens of Christian living onto the individuals of their congregation, but in order to make the burden bearable, they have to make it much, much lighter than it should be.

I guess I'd need a concrete example. If it's 'There's so much murder and drug use in the world today! So remember, when your waiter brings you your order, say "thank you".', okay. I'm not so sure otherwise. If you got examples, I'd love to see them.

Crude said...

Correction: I was nitpicking your grammar, but I wasn't trying to be a dick about it.

Pff, that's fine. Nitpick all you like, I'll correct what isn't clear. I of all people should have a thick skin about this sort of stuff.

B. Prokop said...

What I find most revealing about this somewhat innocuous discussion about the definition of a word is how radically different our understandings can be, even of something that ought to be rather cut and dried.

Me: Anti-intellectualism is a contempt for what used to be called "book learning", as opposed to "life learning".

OOzzielionel: [It's] when each post starts with a good question, some interaction with the issue, then devolution into name calling,ad hominum arguments, and exits in a huff.

Dan: Anti-intellectualism is a form of entrenchment, a sort of heavy-handed intellectual protectionism.

Crude: Anti-intellectualism [is] the idea that the most moral thing to do is to stop all this talking and analyzing and do something, because we don't really need to analyze or be skeptical that we're right. (In fairness to Crude, he gave about five definitions on this thread. I just chose the one easiest to quote.)

Linton: Sputter... Wha? I mean, all Christians are biased, undisciplined, and full of malice!

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

What I should've said was, " … individual conduct makes a difference on the scale that it [moral sentimentalism] assumes." Moral sentimentalism assumes that a problem (say, global warming) would go away if everyone just did the moral thing (recycle, bicycle, buy organic, etc). I.e., if every individual just did his part, then the net effect would tip the balance in favor of a solution to an infrastructural/global problem. It provides someone with the false comfort that despite everything else, at least I am moral, and I have the power to get other people to recycle/bicycle/buy organic.

A concrete example of moral sentimentalism in a Christian context would be the preacher who convinces his parishioners that they are moral because they believe that abortion is wrong, that gays are bad, and that sex should be done the missionary way. Or, for balance, the preacher who convinces his parishioners that they are moral because they believe in social justice, etc.

Dan Gillson said...

Bob,

I don't think our understanding of anti-intellectualism is radically different. The definitions of anti-intellectualism that you listed seem to have two common traits: insularity and reactionism. In my opinion, we've discovered the necessary conditions for anti-intellectualism. Well done, everyone! Drinks all around!

B. Prokop said...

Does tea count?

Dan Gillson said...

I'm drinking coffee!

Papalinton said...

Bob
"Linton: Sputter... Wha? I mean, all Christians are biased, undisciplined, and full of malice!
"


Where did I say that?
Thanks for putting words in my mouth. You are free to do that, of course. But it seems you are determined that I cannot defend myself.

Not full of malice?

B. Prokop said...

Lint,

I will break my rule just this once to show you how dishonest you are. I was quoting you, for Heaven's sake, and from this very thread! To wit:

"But to do so is really an appeal to personal bias and not very productive. ... simply an undisciplined ad hominem made for no reason other than to impugn his character with a spot of self-justificatory malice."

The "sputter" was to show your total and complete incomprehension as to what we were talking about, as pointed out in Dan's earlier posting.

And the inclusion of you at all was merely (in fact, solely) to point out how utterly unhelpful your entire "contribution" to this discussion has been. So now, I return to the Paps Challenge... starting, now.

Crude said...

Dan,

I think I understand what you mean a bit more.

I can agree with a criticism of 'moral sentimentalism' if that cashes out to 'I'm a good person because I did some extraordinarily lightweight thing'.

A couple problems, though.

It provides someone with the false comfort that despite everything else, at least I am moral, and I have the power to get other people to recycle/bicycle/buy organic.

Here I get confused. What's wrong with viewing yourself as having the power to persuade some people? And what's wrong with having the view that you yourself are moral or are doing the right thing, in and of itself? I can understand if it's, again, a really lightweight thing like 'I threw my empty soda cup in the trash, so really I'm helping clean up Detroit.'

A concrete example of moral sentimentalism in a Christian context would be the preacher who convinces his parishioners that they are moral because they believe that abortion is wrong, that gays are bad, and that sex should be done the missionary way. Or, for balance, the preacher who convinces his parishioners that they are moral because they believe in social justice, etc.

Are you drawing a distinction here between belief and act? Would it be moral sentimentalism if the parishioners donated their money and time to adoption centers, etc, out of their abortion opposition? Or is the criticism here only at belief without act?

Papalinton said...
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Papalinton said...

""But to do so is really an appeal to personal bias and not very productive. ... simply an undisciplined ad hominem made for no reason other than to impugn his character with a spot of self-justificatory malice."

No,Bob. That statement was specifically a comment on the manner in which Lindsay Wheeler was characterized. Out of all that has been said about anti-intellectualism Lindsay Wheeler was picked and verballed. No different really than a group of thugs just smacking someone around just for the hell of it.

Why name people personally in absentia when they cannot defend themselves. One point that I will make is that your particular comments were significantly less spiteful than other comments. Nothing to do with christians. Nothing to do with their character.

The persecution-complex is an internally derived conflict. Why else would you say,"Linton: Sputter... Wha? I mean, all Christians are biased, undisciplined, and full of malice!". Dan is not a christian. And while he hates me, we are basically on the same side, except he is a deal more compliant, congenial, certainly more accommodationist than I. I just don't think it is right.

So unless I actually said those words then I too have been verballed.

im-skeptical said...

"Anti-intellectualism can be seen in this blog when each post starts with a good question, some interaction with the issue, then devolution into name calling,ad hominum arguments, and exits in a huff."

"Linton: Sputter... Wha? I mean, all Christians are biased, undisciplined, and full of malice!"

And so it begins ...