The Double Standard of Anti-Intellectualism

Within the past week or so, I’ve had two conversations during which someone accused me of trying to prove I’m smarter than other people. It puzzled me.

The first was a conversation about evolution on my dad’s Facebook wall – a conversation that began with his statement,

“I do not understand how anyone with any intelligence can believe in evolution.”

I replied,

“It would definitely take more faith to believe in evolution as understood by creationists than to believe in 6 day creation.”

Both messages were longer than that, but that’s pretty much the core.

A former Sunday School teacher of mine chimed in,

David, this is not a post of proving or disproving intelligence. It is simply you’re [sic] lack of wisdom and respect in your constant effort to try to put down and your father in order to make yourself appear more intelligent and highly educated.” (emphasis mine).

A long-time friend unfriended me on Facebook this week for similar reasons. Our subsequent conversation was much longer, but the core piece I’m interested in is this:

I’m not letting your take over my posts and disrespect me and bring up all your ideas and make them like you’re right and everybody else is wrong on my post… (emphasis mine).

As you can see, both share those themes of disrespect (for disagreeing) and trying to look intelligent. I admit, I do try to look smart, but I think the core is that my friend and former Sunday School teacher believe I’m actually not very smart, because how can I be? I’ve come to the wrong conclusions!

I think they would agree with Charlie Brown’s retort to Lucy: “You’re not always right, you know. You just sound right!”

Anti-intellectualism rears its head often in Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but only on certain occasions. I suspect the reason has something to do with the fact that conservative Christians already know the answers. So if someone shows up with new evidence that demands a verdict other than the one already agreed upon, that person is just trying to make people think he or she is intelligent, and they’re being disrespectful to boot.

The Thinker, Rodin

The double-standard here is intellectual evangelicals. They’re always welcome to be intelligent and to dazzle us with their brilliant awesomeness. Why? Because conservative Christians know their intellectual awesomeness will not challenge The One True Correct Answer. They have the right answers, and if conservative Christians listen to their debates and talks, one day they too will have their skills to skewer those horrid evolutionists and atheists and Muslims.

Ravi Zacharias, for example, spends plenty of time and energy bringing up all his ideas and trying to make out like he’s right and everybody who disagrees with him is wrong. He constantly uses big words and logic to make himself look intelligent and highly educated, but nobody seems to be accusing him of either as though it’s a bad thing.

C.S. Lewis also used big words to make it look like he is right and everybody who disagreed with him was wrong, but is generally lauded as a hero of the faith by conservative Christians who haven’t bothered to read The Great Divorce.

To be fair, though, I do think I’m right and people who disagree with me are wrong, but if I thought that they were right and I was wrong, I would simply adopt their beliefs and be right. I suspect we’re all in that boat.

But I suspect those who disagree with me believe they’re right and I’m wrong more strongly than I believe that I’m right and they’re wrong. At least I hope so. I think that’s why it bothered these two people that what I said sounded right and they couldn’t find a compelling response to it. I think that’s also why they resorted to accusations about my character rather than engaging with the content of my responses.

The moral, I suppose, is that if you acquire an education or are gifted with any level of intelligence, make sure to toe the party line, or you too will be charged with “showing off your intelligence and education,” and with being disrespectful.

If you think I’m coming across as a know-it-all and seem to be overly obsessed with my own intelligence and learning, please ask me a question about evolutionary biology, astrophysics, or algebra. My ignorance will likely dazzle and astound you.

About David M. Schell







6 responses to “The Double Standard of Anti-Intellectualism”

  1. Scamper4 Avatar

    I run into this all the time. My favorite is you’re going to hell. Or the responder changes the topic or makes a statement that has no relation to the subject being discussed. SIGH!

    1. Timber St. James Avatar
      Timber St. James

      When talking about death and heaven/hell, I like to say: “Remember that time, you know, before you were born?”

      No? That’s impossible, you say? Okay, then I’m going to go with that’s what it’s like being dead, too.

      Or if it’s my wife: “Honey, if I ever die, you will be FILTHY RICH.”

  2. English Deer Avatar
    English Deer

    This post resonates with me. I am currently getting my PhD at a prestigious school. I rarely get into out and out arguments with people, as I am a conflict-avoidant coward (trying to work on that), but I often feel like somehow I have to apologize for my education. The fact that I am educated to a higher level than many of my peers makes them uncomfortable.

    I used to go to a church that would talk about people being ‘educated beyond their intelligence’– as though higher education would somehow corrupt a person’s thinking and mind wash them. I feel like a lot of people like to indulge in this type of belief because it makes them feel less inadequate. It’s almost as though they think that their opinions must be right simply because of the fact that they have less formal education.

  3. Timber St. James Avatar
    Timber St. James

    I can definitely recommend evolutionary biology/psychology. Especially if you want to shake out more fundy cobwebs still sticking around. I’ve always been an incredibly curious person and for some random reason found education to be more interesting (just to me personally) than status-increasing.

    But then I went to grad school and found out Mrs. St. James has a BIG education fetish and resented that I had a Masters degree and she only had a Bachelors. Took us years to work that out (helped partly by the fact that my earning power immediately took a leap forward).

    1. David M Schell Avatar

      I just spent a week’s worth of walks listening to the evolution 101 podcast. It was fascinating, but useless for debating creationists.

      I take it Mrs. St. James remedied her lack of a Master’s after you did? 🙂

      1. Timber St. James Avatar
        Timber St. James

        Trouble is, we all believe the same starting position: bang, there was light. I mean, knowing something as simple as how our solar system works, I could totally believe in Something.

        For example, without Jupiter with its precise gravity field and orbit, our planet would get pummeled with meteors and we’d be dead amoebas long before we could be dead humans.

        Mrs. TSJ did not attend grad school, but still might in the future. She makes too much money to take the pay cut for the degree she desires.

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