Are Christians anti-intellectual?

The ThinkerOne common objection formed against Christianity is the idea that Christians abandon intelligence and knowledge in favor of unreasonable, blind faith. If Christians really thought through and questioned what they believe they’d see that there is no intellectual basis for their faith. Yet instead of embracing reason, Christians choose to blindly cling to their beliefs, willfully disregarding knowledge in the process. This is a serious objection that deserves a thoughtful response.

Are Christians anti-intellectual? Do we sacrifice knowledge on the altar of blind faith?  As a Christian, how do I respond to these objections?

There is no denying that many Christians have refused to think through and question what they believe and why. Some have chosen to accept their faith blindly, Others have gone through the motions of questioning their beliefs and have chosen to walk away from Christianity, while still more have found that their faith grew stronger in the process of questioning.

The real issue is not whether Christians have thought through their faith (and I firmly believe every Christian should!), but whether their faith rests upon a reliable truth. The truth and intelligence of Christianity does not rely upon the questioning of the Christian any more than the truth and intelligence of Atheism rests on the questions of the Atheist. Christianity does not stand or fall on the shoulders of ignorance or intelligence; all the honest questioning in the world will not change this fact: either God does or does not exist.

This means that the Christians’ ability to wrestle well with their faith should not be the determining factor in one’s rejection or acceptance of the Christian message.  There are people who ignorantly believe the truth, just as there are intelligent people who believe a lie. We must test the intellectual truth claims of Christianity itself to decipher whether they are true or false.

It’s also worth mentioning that many of the most intellectually brilliant minds of the past, and present, have been Christians who proclaimed their faith heartily, not by rejecting knowledge, but by fully embracing its importance. Christianity is not a faith divorced from intelligence and reason. Rather, it rests on the belief that true faith is intelligent, and that knowledge points to Jesus Christ and not away from him.

Ultimately, the truth or falsity of Christianity is not dependent upon the intellectual capacity of its followers. The heartbreaking reality that some Christians dismiss knowledge does not mean Christianity rejects knowledge and is a faith with no evidential basis. For example, some Muslims are terrorists and some Atheists are very angry. But to jump to the conclusion that ALL Muslims are terrorists and ALL Atheists are angry is simply wrong. In the same way, it is wrong to jump to the conclusion that ALL Christians are anti-intellectual (and therefore Christianity is false) because some Christians have decided to believe without questioning why.

In conclusion, it is true that there are some Christians who are anti-intellectual, refusing to question their faith while dismissing knowledge. Yet there are many Christians today, and throughout history, who have discovered that the pursuit of a rich intellectual life and asking the hard questions of faith does not weaken the Christian message but actually gives it strength. Yet ultimately, the truth or falsity of God’s existence and Christianity does not rest upon the intellectual capacity of any person. Christianity is either true or it is false. Therefore, it behooves us to look into what Christianity actually says and ask, is it reliable? Is it true?

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18 thoughts on “Are Christians anti-intellectual?

  1. Nice one, tho’ of course it’s only an intro to the actual job of testing the claims/evidence base. For a couple of angles on that process, see what you think of the following posts. The first is on the the discovery of the Higgs Boson/God Particle, but the second half of it considers whether it renders God redundant, and it (and the debate which follows in the comment section) considers the relationship between faith and reason, especially underlying assumptions of the latter. The second is a more in depth treatment and asks why the universe is understandable at all…. Hope you like one or both:

    http://t-rinder.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/through-a-particle-accelerator-darkly.html

    http://t-rinder.typepad.com/blog/2010/08/what-are-little-boys-made-of-the-lightness-of-being-2008-frank-wilczek.html

    Feel free to jump into the debate in the comments section.

    • Thanks for the links! And yes, this post is just an intro, so to speak. The question, “Is Christianity itself anti-intellectual?” is another post for another time 🙂

  2. Looking forward to it. Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” has gotta be the landmark work in this territory – up to this point of course 😉

  3. Have you noticed that many of the apocryphal stories of apologists (like Ravi Zacharias) tend to involve some plucky Christian facing off against a cynical professor? There’s a definite trend of distrust there.

    • Absolutely. There’s a dubious appeal to supporting the underdog, when the issue is really over how we arrive at reliable knowledge. If Christians are not engaging properly with the latter, they kid themselves and display a lack of integrity which is unworthy of the Spirit.

    • I personally cannot remember hearing Ravi share such a story. Can you give me an example? And how do you think this impacts the discussion on if Christians are anti-intellectual?

  4. I don’t think Christians are anti-intellectual in fact I think of opposite and I was reading Mere Christianity some days before so I am quoting from it:

    If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way round. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.- C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

    • This is a great quote from C.S. Lewis. I think Lewis is pointing out that true Christianity is very intellectual, which I agree with. And while there are many Christians who are all for using their intellect, you will find some who fall on the opposite side of things. But that is not the way it is supposed to be, and we shouldn’t rule out the message of Christianity because some haven’t thought through what they believe and why.

      • Sarah, I agree with your last comment, but I think there is more that needs said. The Lewis quote might be correct, or it might not, but at the end of the day it is an assertion. An intellectual (or even just a rational) approach is then to look at and assess the validity of the assertion. I happen to agree with it, but just because anyone (including CS Lewis) said it doesn’t mean it is valid intellectually or rationally.

      • I agree. In fact, your comment seems obvious, to me at least 🙂 My point was that I agreed with the Lewis quote, not necessarily WHY I agreed with it.

  5. I wonder if those that grow up in a Christian bubble help foster the anti-intellectual image. It is hard for people to engage with the world if you are only reading books sold at a Christian bookstore or you are only interacting with church people. Their ability to discern is never nurtured, so they choose to only read books by like-minded people.

  6. Pingback: Are Christians anti-intellectual? | Truth2Freedom's Blog

  7. Interesting thoughts. As someone who is involved in science apologetics (having an MS in Geology), it is frightening how shallow many Christians are. Christianity is all of what C.S. Lewis says it is, but many Christians just rely on their blind faith. Although their faith is blind, Christianity is true and based on fact. Like my pastor recently conveyed to me – my pursuit of the intellectual puts me in the minority of Christians. All they need is the Bible.

    • Its true that many Christians have not taken the time to really think through the depth of their faith and why they believe. That means those of us who have, have the privilege and responsibility of encouraging and helping them to do so!

  8. Hm, one does not have to be very intelligent or dig very deep to realize that the so-called evidence in favor of Christianity is … flimsy stuff indeed. I’ve studied Ancient History and traveled to the Holy Land and, yeah, the evidence is pretty thin on the ground, even where it should be richest. Christianity is called a faith for a reason – you have to suspend disbelief to take it seriously. With so little evidence, it’s next to impossible for a sincere Christian to NOT be anti-intellectual. To be Christian one has to close one’s mind to knowledge and cultivate naivety.

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