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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, September 27, 2013

My Religion Is Smarter Than Your Religion

David Denison has written an article for the online magazine Relevant called, Why Aren't More Intellectuals Believers. This is based on a review and summary of research from the University of Rochester and this work is summarized in this link from the Examiner. The short of it is that quite a few studies support the point that atheists are more intelligent than believers. Of course, neither this article nor review that the article linked to provided any specifics as to which believers were deemed less intelligent than nonbelievers. Comparing carefully defined subsets of believers might help us better understand why the data indicates this. But my guess is this, the more conservative believers tend to score lower in intelligence than more liberal believers who tend to score lower in intelligence than atheists.

What could explain this disparity? While Denison sees two possible explanations for the difference, the researchers saw three. Denison thinks that one of the reasons for the difference is due to prejudice against theism in higher education. He cites the work of Dr. Brent Slice as evidence. The second reason Denison gives for the lower scores in intelligence is the negative disposition that Church culture often has toward "intellectual scrutiny."

In the article that Denison cited, the researchers found 1) that intelligent people resist conformity and thus reject religious dogma; 2) the thinking analytic thinking style of intelligent people weakens or sabotages religious belief; and 3) that religiosity and intelligence promote shared characteristics and thus intelligence can diminish the need to be religious.

Is there another way of looking at the differences? Yes, but we should first narrow down the people to whom we are referring.  Assuming that the more religious a person is, the more a religious conservative that he/she is, we could isolate two reasons for the religious person's deficiency in intelligence. First, religious conservatives flock toward authoritarianism. Authoritarianism in religion says that truth is determined by the credentials of the speaker or writer rather than the facts and logic involved in what is being said. This means information from trusted sources will be more readily accepted as being true while information from non trusted sources will be considered suspect if at all. And the only way that the passive authoritarian will consider information from non trusted sources is if it fed to them by trusted sources as a parent bird would feed a baby bird.

There are 2 roles to be played in the authoritarian model. There is the active role, the role played by the person who seeks the position of being a trusted source while the passive role is played by the person who seeks to be guided by the trusted source. The payoff for the person desiring to play the active role is prestige and power. The payoff for the person seeking to play the passive role is maintaining a childlike assurance of approval for following orders and the relief that comes when a heavy load of responsibility is lifted. That load of responsibility would be having to make the decisions. Rather than thinking through an issue and choosing an option whose value might be murky, the passive authoritarian neither thinks for themselves nor takes the unnecessary risk of making the wrong choice. 

That last point should not be underestimated because if the possibility of making the wrong choice is eliminated by choosing the correct trusted source, the only requirement left to the believer who follows God is sincerity. Thus sincerity, along with loyalty to the correct trusted sources, replaces reason in the decision making of the believer and we see a demotion of the role of reason in the life of the Conservative Christian. Though Denison does not explicitly mention the role that authoritarianism plays in reducing the believer's reliance on reason, he does refer to and remedy the ill-effects of exercising the passive authoritarian role, the bastardization of "childlike faith," by mentioning the model established by the Bereans.  The Bereans compared what Paul preached with what was written in the Scriptures before believing.

An example how authoritarianism works here can be seen in the application of the Just War Theory. In an online debate I was involved in, I suggested that in the light of the inevitable proliferation of WMDs that the Just War Theory be modified. This theory had already gone through an evolutionary process. The conservatives participating in the discussion objected. They felt that the theory itself was adequate to stand forever. And this shows the conservative approach to the subject of war. To determine if a particular war or intervention is justified, the Conservative Christian will tend to examine the situation in light of the Just War Theory (JWT) and decides whether the war or action fits the criteria of a very old theory. The more reasoned approach might consider the JWT as one of many sources of input, but it will not only see if the particular war or intervention fits the criteria of the JWT, it will look at the validity of the theory itself. My point in that online discussion was that the inevitable proliferation of WMDs makes modification of the JWT necessary. Conservatives argued that such was not significant enough to change the theory.

This loyalty to trusted sources and the shunning of all others leads into but does not exhaust the next reason why intelligence and believing does not mix well for the Conservative Christian. Conservative Christianity tends to be ingrown. The second reason for the deficiency in intelligence is that the Conservative Christians have become so engrossed in their own spiritual condition and faith and then in the community of those who are like them that they shut themselves off from how the outside world sees reality. Such a myopia hurts how Conservative Christians see the world and how the world sees them for the obvious reason that Conservative Christians block a very important source of information--information from the untrusted sources from the outside world. And what really hurts the reputation of the Gospel is that Conservative Christians not only refuse to examine invaluable input from the outside world, they tend to scoff at it.

Thus Conservative Christians deemphasize intelligence and the role of reason by entertaining a more homogenous and simplified world view, the view of those who are likeminded, and a refusal to consider challenges to both the inconsistencies that Conservative Christians exhibit and the world view Conservative Christians embraced.

But following a limited group of influences is not the only small circle that Conservative Christians participate in. Their concerns show that, generally speaking, they are concerned only for a small circle of people and groups. Again, Conservative Christians tend to stay with likeminded people both in terms of religion and politics. So Conservative Christians first look out for their own concerns, especially the spiritual ones, and then they are loyal to likeminded people including both fellow Conservative Christians and patriotic Americans. And outside of that circle and Israel, the rest of the world can either get their due or come for help. So Conservative Christians tend to stay in a bubble. Their homogeneous environment limits the variety of inputs they receive and thus has a way of simplifying the world. This simplification removes intellectual challenges.

Denison does say part of what has been said in this post though not as explicitly or completely. Again, his comments on the bastardization of "childlike faith" express many of the concepts posted here. But while Denison puts some of the responsibility for the lower intelligence scores on the bias of outsiders, I see no point in doing that. Why? It is because there is nothing that us Conservative Christians can do about that. All we can do is address our own weaknesses.

How is all of this related to peace? Many Americans currently play the role of the Christian Conservative when thinking about international affairs. They limit the sources of information by paying attention only to likeminded, trusted sources of information and by having a partisan circle of concern where they only concern themselves with the welfare of America and its allies. This adherence to an authoritarian mindset as well as caring solely about and remaining loyal to a small circle of likeminded nations not only models how many Conservative Christians are, it makes Americans less intelligence than others when it comes to international affairs and possible issues of peace. And whether America can positively contribute to the world will depend on how informed its citizens are and their willingness to push their government into taking certain stands.

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