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geniusesI’m not a genius, in case you hadn’t noticed. I suspect most of you had. I’m not even “highly bright.” I am somewhat highly motivated to learn things. It just seems the smart thing to do, and besides, it’s interesting.

We’ve been talking here a bit over the last week or so about the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in this country. As I stated before, it’s well documented. The question is why it exists.

On the one hand are those who are religiously boxed in. Their understanding of their faith means that when science or advanced learning in say history, literary criticism or any such things, appears to them to butt up against their theology, the science has to go. It has to because their theology must be right, otherwise it’s all a fraud, faith is meaningless. So they think. This usually only happens to those folks who have decided that the bible is some perfect wonder book.

On the other hand, are those who through lack of interest or financial inability haven’t had the benefit of higher education. They can sometimes not understand the “big words” or the framework of discourse that makes them feel, rightly sometimes, that they are being talked down to, or being “dealt” with by those who don’t think they should be part of the process. They begin to distrust people of education, especially when it butts up against their cultural norms. Like faith, the norms give them a framework within which to exist and it is mighty uncomfortable to let go of what gives you security.

I didn’t become “changed” by education if you mean, I went from being a certain type of Christian to another, or that I changed political parties as a result. I was a Democrat going in, and fairly liberal, and I came out the same. Mostly I ignored most of that stuff and got on with making my way in life.

When faith came to me in my early 40’s it had to subsist with my scientific sensibilities, since I could never believe in a God who let the world “appear” to be one thing when it was utterly the opposite. Catholicism required no such suspension of belief in normative sciences like evolutionary biology, or astronomy. In fact the Big Bang theory was coined by a Catholic priest. Same for geology, anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, medicine, and who knows how many other scientific disciplines that are interdependent on the evolutionary model and the astrophysics conceptualizations, both of which depend on the earth being billions of years old.

My academic history was devoted essentially to securing a means to make a living. I don’t say that in an admiring way, I’d rather it had been different. But I certainly came away with a firm and utter conviction that science was correct, with its overwhelming mountain of evidence on these points. What in fact kept me from faith for so long was that I was only introduced to fundamentalist concepts and I could never accept the creation story as fact any more than by age 8 or so, I could believe that Santa Claus visited every little boy and girl during one night.

Faith found purchase on my soil when I was finally told that there was a huge difference between God inspiring writers to write honestly and spirit-filled, and dictating a book of life. The more I have learned over time of course has only cemented that more firmly. The more I learn about the bible, the more I respect and am in awe of it, but the more also, I am convinced that it is the work of human beings, inspired though they may be.

So for me, education, learning, and God have never been in tension. I have never had to dismiss what my senses tell me is true in order to continue in my faith.

What education has in the end done for me, is something that really didn’t occur until I got in graduate school. There, I interacted with religious women and priests in the Catholic church who were highly educated themselves, and didn’t seek to impart their beliefs on me, but rather something vastly more important.

They taught me to think critically. It has not been an easy thing for me to do, since I have something of a love affair with books, and have a tendency to think them valuable because they are bound. But I’ve gotten better at it over the years. When first I spot a book,  that suggests something interesting, before doing another thing, I search the inside back cover. Who is this author, what does he/she believe in. Credentials tell me a lot, but not everything.

Just this last week, I e-mailed a fellow parishioner, asking his opinion on a author on the subject of Genesis. I was unfamiliar with the author, and sought someone who had more of a background in Old Testament studies. There is much out there to read, no point in wasting time with authors who are either outdated in their conclusions, or on the fringe of what is normative in the field.

That lesson, critical thinking, of course has wide spread application in all manner of things. One can look at sources cited, and get a fair idea of the value of what is contained therein. I can determine that the “birthers” have no real evidence, but only racial hatred to motivate them. I can learn that the “deather” arguments are worthless as well. I can determine that there are significant points to be argued about financing health care, and that the right has contributions worth listening to there.

You don’t have to be especially smart to be critical in your reading. It’s just like many things, it improves with practice. Much of what we call education can be acquired on one’s own, without benefit of universities. Sure, you will miss some nuances, in fact a lot of them. And things like philosophy, and within that theology, are better dealt with in a classroom setting. But I learned a lot of astronomy and paleontology with out benefit of much college work. I learned a lot about art without formal classes.

It all depends on learning who can be trusted to have the credentials to offer you help. Read their books, read others, compare, contrast, develop your own ideas. It’s no different in how we determine what websites we can trust and rely on for news and information. Nothing scary about education folks, just learn how to use it.

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