Archived from The Magdalene Review on Friday 16 December 2005

Jeremy over at Fantastic Planet posted a moving, insightful observation to his blog yesterday, about the practice of looking down on others, whose perspectives we do not value, as ignorant (“You Ignorant Bastard”). The primary example he cites is Richard Dawkins, a biologist and author of several titles including The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins, in making his case for atheism, treats those who are theists as naive, self-deluded “bumpkins,” as Jeremy put it.

The light in the post came when Jeremy used his Dawkins example to launch into a discussion about how not only are atheists capable and prone to judging theists as, well, dumb, but those of us who are theists have a tendency to do the same exact thing to other religious groups and individuals whose beliefs and opinions we do not appreciate.

The problem I can see, though, is that this self-satisfied, smug approach to conversation can very quickly cause an anti-intellectual backlash. When we don’t acknowledge that other individuals are just as capable of learning as we, our pseudo-superior attitude can really detract from whatever message we’re trying to relate and turn our fellows against us.

I’m reminded of a French movie I watched recently called The Dinner Game. In this film, a group of intellectuals have a weekly dinner, the goal of which is for each regular attendee to bring a guest who will trump all of the other guests in idiocy. Whichever intellectual manages to bring the biggest idiot wins. The story picks up when one intellectual in particular finds his idiot in a man who builds world landmarks out of matchsticks. During one conversation, the idiot reveals to the intellectual that his wife left him for his best friend, who was an idiot. The intellectual thought this quite amusing, that an idiot would feel superior to another idiot. The story moved on, but that scene stayed with me.

Everything is relative. Who is at the top of the intellectual food chain? Who knows with certainty that they are above reproach, by someone, for foolishness? Certainly, I know my place, and have been reminded of it quite recently. If I am guilty of condemning anyone else for their idiocy, I place myself at grave risk of being thought a joke for not recognizing my own recklessness. But here is where the joke gets really good: I’m aware of my shortcomings. That, in itself, doesn’t make me better than anyone, but I’d like to think that it prevents me from becoming too prideful. I’ve accomplished what I’ve accomplished through hard work, sacrifice, and by the grace of God, for which I’m thankful. I would rather be a humble idiot than an mean-spirited intellectual.

As the old song goes:

‘Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free,
‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be…

Maybe it is also appropriate here to include a quote of the day as posted by Jim West:

We may love those who doubt the love of God so that we may be a help to them in believing that love is still the only ultimate truth. The more we love, the less they can doubt God’s love. — Emil Brunner

With this in mind, I’ve decided that one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to approach my work with more compassion, love, and humility. Thank you, Jeremy, for your keen and timely post.

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