I was out sharing a meal with my wife and a mutual friend, and our friend mentioned an NPR broadcast she had heard. According to her, the journalist was interviewing researchers who asserted that intelligence and religious belief are inversely correlated. In other words, the more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to be committed to your religion. Well, I had heard it all before. Religious people — particularly religious Christians — are “poor, uneducated, and easy to command,” as reporter Michael Weisskopf wrote in a front-page article in the Washington Post in 1993.
But I got a surprise. Our friend had been equally surprised. She related that the researchers uncovered an anomaly. The more intelligent a Christian was, the more likely he or she was to be a committed Christian. According to my friend, the researchers were at a loss to explain this.
Is my friend’s memory accurate? I searched in vain for this broadcast on NPR.org. Well, I can’t prove her memory is correct, but I see no reason on earth why I shouldn’t comment anyway, just in case she remembered the broadcast accurately and the researchers would like a little unsolicited help.
But first, are Christians poor?
Well, of course they are! Jesus loves poor people. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Christians have taken after their Lord by starting hospitals, opposing slavery, condemning gladiator combat, and providing for the poor. I’m a little surprised that Mr. Weisskopf used poverty as a sneer against Christians. I thought liberals respected poor people. Perhaps the liberal position on poverty is more nuanced than I knew.
Are Christians uneducated?
Well, some certainly are. Christianity is simple enough a child can understand it and be saved. You don’t have to be a genius to understand God. That was rather the point. Had the Almighty made faith difficult to grasp so that only the intelligent could understand Him, He would have excluded much of His creation.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians “For … Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified … to Gentiles foolishness.” He went on to say “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble….” Christianity has never been for the “wise.”
Despite this, education has always been important to Christians. Many of our more prestigious Ivy League colleges started as seminaries. (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.) The fact that they have been taken over by secular liberals doesn’t negate that history. The much maligned Puritans started schools to ensure everyone could read the Bible.
So, some Christians are educated, they just don’t consider that to be as big a deal as faith in God. And they don’t consider themselves better than someone because they are more intelligent.
Are Christians easy to command?
Again, some probably are. I’m sure there are one or two secular liberals roaming the planet who are easy to command, too. Yet, this might be the truest of the slurs. After all, Jesus referred to us as “sheep” because we need a shepherd. Like sheep, we want to be led.
And yet, I’ve been around Christians long enough to know that we will all speak up if we believe the topic is important enough. I’m sure Pope Leo X wishes Martin Luther had been a little easier to command.
So, why are more intelligent Christians more committed Christians?
Here’s my admittedly biased guess: faith is not incompatible with intelligence. There is nothing in Christianity that shocks reason. Christianity is simple on its surface, but God has depths to satisfy even the most rigorous intellect. Once you’ve met God, all else pales.
Or, as H.G. Wells put it, “If there is no God, nothing matters. If there is a God, nothing else matters.”