Intellectual Cowardice

A friend of mine tells me he is agnostic, though I'm fairly certain that with his 'hip' friends he claims atheism. He suspects I would forcibly take him to church for the sake of his eternal soul, but he would be wrong. I'm Presbyterian. He doesn't discriminate between denominations; he thinks we are all trying to abscond with his soul and/or his money.

He never passionately argues his beliefs, but he does like to trot out the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Church of Google and Westboro Baptist Church. And in justifying his non-belief he, of course, leans heavily on the Earth being more than 6,000 years old, that the story of the Flood was stolen from the Sumerians and that what Jesus wouldn't do is invade Iraq. But there is no passion in his arguments because it's not personal; a personal argument would require a thorough self inspection, which is difficult to do.

I've often thought that people who subscribe to this sort of "easy answer intellectualism" were just being lazy. They get news and opinion, in a highly digestible format, from Jon Stewart and David Letterman, and stimulating policy discussion from Bill Maher and Oprah Winfrey. Environmentalists get all the science they'll ever need from Ed Begley, Jr. and Al Gore. Religion? The obvious experts would be Madonna or Tom Cruise, but for the more discriminating there is always Bill Moyers . If Jason Bourne can summarize Sarah Palin's entire faith into a question about dinosaurs, I mean, come on, how much analysis do you really need to do?

The laziness excuse, however, seems a bit simplistic. I see people investing enormous amounts of energy every day into evaluating MP3 players or researching the nutritional content of dry dog food. The mental gymnastics required to economically justify the purchase of a hybrid car, or to convince yourself that George W. Bush is a war criminal, may be based on figments, but they are probably not from mental fatigue. Apathetic people don't put forth the intellectual effort to delude themselves, like we saw in the hopey-change of this year's election, but frightened people do.

Frightened people, like my agnostic/atheist friend, don't do a lot of in-depth self analysis. They are looking for someone to save them, like the scientist or the government, because saving yourself is hard and you might have to make choices you don't like. Hopefully their savior has reasonable answers that won't require too much individual effort. In fact, it's best if the answers only require effort from others, like taxing those bad rich people, or legislatively hamstringing those evil, polluting corporations. Advocates of change are almost always wanting someone else to change, because they, obviously, are already enlightened.

My argument here is that easy solutions are cowardly, because they do not require introspection or sacrifice. You can argue against the existence of the soul with rational tools like the scientific method, but are you willing to make those same arguments when you or a loved one is dying? You can argue that mortgaging the economic future is acceptable because the economy is in crisis now, but how shallow will those arguments sound when your children cannot reach their potential?

If you believe in God, don't take some pastor's word for it, own your faith. If you believe in America, don't adopt some celebrity concept of political correctness, be committed to what is fundamental and important to being an American*. If it's not personal, in either faith or politics, it's not true. The hard part is finding the truth within. Don't be an intellectual coward. Don't be frightened, be desperate. Figure it out for yourself.

* Adlai Stevenson said to the American Legion in 1952 ... "Men who have offered their lives for their country know that patriotism is not fear of something; it is the love of something."


  1. you don't SOUND like a Presbyterian......see you tomorrow, cheers!

  2. Too many coincidences lately. Our lesson in church last week was fear is the opposite of love, note hate. Did you hear a similar sermon or did you figure it out by yourself - of course you did - well said. Maybe that's the reason I can't understand liberals, it's not personal with them - especially responsibility. Thanks.

  3. Just saw the date that you wrote this - you're scary ;-)