On the What’s Hot and What’s Not List of our culture today, reason is somewhere in the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic. Deep thinking and the disciplines required to sustain a vibrant life of the mind are not “in.” Our reasoning powers—given by God for His glory—are under threat from many fronts. I briefly highlight four:
1. “Doctrinal Doo-Doo”
On one side our minds are threatened by the kind of faith captured in the words of a popular worship leader:
The Lord is saying, ‘I’m bypassing your mind and going straight to your heart’ [because] the heart is what matters to the Lord.
It is as if our minds somehow don’t matter to the God who made them. In this anti-intellectual landscape Christian celebrities shout, “Don’t give me that doctrinal doo-doo! I don’t care about it” (an actual quote from Paul Crouch, founder of TBN). We end up in what George Barna describes as America’s “crisis of biblical illiteracy,” in which over 50% of graduating high school seniors think that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife, 12% of Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and over 50% cannot name the four gospels.
2. “The Science of Arresting Human Intelligence”
In addition to this anti-reason rendition of faith, our God-infused intellects are under assault by the “I consume, therefore I am” worldview. Big businesses pour billions into advertising, which has been well-defined by Stephen Leacock as “the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” The advertising genius behind the Jolly Green Giant, Marlboro Man, and Tony the Tiger, Leo Burnett counsels, "Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” Experts have estimated that over sixteen thousand advertisements bombard the average American in a given day (The Consuming Passion: Christianity & Consumer Culture, ed. Rodney Clapp, InterVarsity). That’s nearly six million simple, memorable, inviting, and fun things each year clamoring over the voice of reason.
Lexus, for example, has advertised four thousand pounds of moving metal with the slogan, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness isn’t spending it right.” Axe Body Spray sells canisters of cheap cologne with ads of scrawny white kids running down the beach hounded by a heaving army of scantily clad models. Carl’s Jr. sells burgers with Paris Hilton drizzling a Six Dollar Burger over her electrical tape bikini. With such ads, it is not reason that sells units.
3. “Media Hyperactive Ignoramuses”
We could also list entertainment among the forces stupefying our God-given intellects. Who knows how many brain cells are spent passing levels in the virtual worlds of video gaming, or how many of our great ideas get swept away with the endless flow of streaming movies and viral videos? As my friend and colleague Doug Groothuis observes:
This media milieu leads a generation of well-informed and media hyperactive ignoramuses. This idea of being simultaneously well-informed and ignorant is not contradictory. Having information dancing around in one's mind-usually factoids or sound bites-is not the same as possessing knowledge.
Novelist Chuck Palaunuik (author of Fight Club) was right to observe that, “The question of our generation is not ‘what’s the ultimate meaning of existence?’ but ‘what [movie is] that from?’” Or as my favorite Radiohead T-shirt reads, “Most people gaze neither into the past or the future; they explore neither truth nor lies. They gaze at the Television.”
4. “Death to the Mind”
As if religion, advertising, and entertainment weren’t enough to lull us into an intellectual slumber, there are powerful worldviews at work in our culture to do the same. There has been an influx of Eastern perspectives telling us that our minds are not a gift from God but our biggest obstacle to enlightenment. There is the legacy of gurus like Rajneesh whose “goal is to create a new man, one who is happily mindless,” and Timothy Freke’s Zen Wisdom focused on “wiping off the dirt of intellect.”
Then there are certain atheistic worldviews in which our origins are traced not to a thinking Being but to mindless matter. We are told that we are “just an aggregate of trillions of cells” (Jean Ronstand), “a self-compulsive bundle of 126 instincts” (William Costello), “a kind of miscarriage of the ape” (I.I. Metchnikoff), “a digestive tube,” (Pierre Cabanis), “the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process” (Paul Churchland), “packages of tepid, half-rotted viscera” (Louis-Ferdinand Celine), and our “beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms” (Bertrand Russell). Look long and hard into this worldview and you will find little reason to be reasonable. As Charles Darwin asked,
Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws … grand conclusions?
Darwin asks a great question. Can you really trust a mind that is not a truth-knowing mechanism gifted to you by a Mindful Being, but a mere survival mechanism put in you by a mindless process?
"The Mind of Christ"
Religious and secular, eastern and western voices in our day have all joined in the mantra of hippie icon, Timothy Leary, chanting, “Death to mind!” What is urgently needed to reverse our slow descent into idiocracy is Christ-followers who are passionately serious about developing “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Rather than Leary’s “Death to the mind!” as a means to self-liberation, Jesus calls us to foster the life of the mind as a means of God-glorification.
How specifically does Jesus model a vibrant intellectual life for those of us trying to resist the brain-freezing forces of our culture? Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Don’t Be An Idiot!”