Friday, May 15, 2015

Does Jesus = intelligence? A quote from Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard writes: 

"If you play a game of word association today, in almost any setting, you will collect some familiar names around words such as smart, knowledgeable, intelligent, and so forth. Einstein, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and the obligatory rocket scientists, will stand out. But one person who pretty certainly will not come up in this connection is Jesus.

Would you be able to trust your life to such a person? If this is how he seems to you, are you going to be inclined to become his student? Of course not. We all know that action must be based on knowledge, and we grant the right to lead and teach only to those we believe to know what is real and what is best.

The world has succeeded in opposing intelligence to goodness. A Russian saying speaks of those who are “stupid to the point of sanctity.” In other words, you have to be really dumb in order to qualify for saintliness.

Centuries ago, even, when Dante assigned the title “master of those who know,” he mistakenly gave it to Aristotle, not Jesus, for Jesus is holy.

Tertullian, a famous Christian leader of the second and third centuries, asked rhetorically, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?” The correct answer, he supposed, was “Nothing whatsoever.”[1]

Here is a profoundly significant fact: In our culture, among Christians and non-Christians alike, Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. Not one in a thousand will spontaneously think of him in conjunction with words such as well-informed, brilliant, or smart.

Far too often he is regarded as hardly conscious. He is looked on as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, perhaps, but little more.

A well-known “scholarly” picture has him wandering the hills of Palestine, deeply confused about who he was and even about crucial points in his basic topic, the kingdom of the heavens. From time to time he perhaps utters disconnected though profound and vaguely radical irrelevancies, now obscurely preserved in our Gospels.

Devotion to God is independent of human knowledge. Of course, the modern secular outlook rigorously opposes sanctity to intelligence. And today any attempt to combine spirituality or moral purity with great intelligence cause widespread pangs of “cognitive dissonance.” Mother Teresa, no more than Jesus, is thought of as smart—nice, of course, but not really smart. “Smart” means good at managing how life “really” is.

 For all the vast influence he has exercised on human history, we have to say that Jesus is usually seen as a frankly pathetic individual who lived and still lives on the margins of “real life.” What lies at the heart of the astonishing disregard of Jesus found in the moment –to-moment existence of multitudes of professing Christians is a simple lack of respect for him. He is not seriously considered or presented as a person of great ability. What, then, can devotion or worship mean, if simple respect is not included in it? Not much.

The picture the ordinary person today has of Jesus’ surroundings in his earthly lifetime seems largely determined by what this homeland, Palestine, looked like to famous nineteenth-century tourists such as Mark Twain. Their impressions of Jesus’ social setting remains today in the minds of most people. We imagine a desolate land of ruins, perhaps with a few peasants and ignorant villagers, Jesus among them. But here is no truth in this. In fact, his own society should be thought of as the equivalent in its world to Israel’s place in the world today.

In Jesus’ day Jerusalem was a glorious city, routinely flooded by hundreds of thousands of visitors, including multitudes of brilliant people from all over the ”known” world. It was a cosmopolitan environment, interacting with the entire Roman world and more. What was known and discussed anywhere was known and discussed there. It was in such surroundings that, already as a lad of twelve, he held spellbound for several days some of the best minds in the land."  (pp 134-136)

From: Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (1997, New York, Harper One)

[1] Tertullian, “The Prescriptions Against the Heretics,” subsection 7 in Early Latin Theology, The Library of Christian classics p 36. This endnote from Dallas Willard; you can find this on line in a digital copy of Nicene and anti-Nicene Fathers if you need it.

No comments: