Nuancing My View That Christians Don’t Think: Using Christmas as an Example (Miniblog #163)
For quite some time I’ve had trusted friends and mentors challenge me on the same point. They say I need to give your average Christian more credit for how much he/she actually does think. That is, just because it’s not intensive academic discourse doesn’t mean it’s not legitimate contemplation. Having pondered this for several years, I’ve finally come to a tentative conclusion: My sense is that for most Christians meaningful reflection is encouraged, deep thinking is seen as helpful albeit ultimately unnecessary, and rigorous thinking is discouraged. ‘Tis the season for a Christmas example. Every Christian I’ve ever met has valued taking time to reflect on Christ’s birth and savor times with loved ones around the holidays. Some Christians I’ve met encourage others to really consider the reality of the incarnation as not only God becoming man but as a foreshadow of the coming reunion of heaven and earth. Very few Christians I’ve met, however, are keen on seriously reconsidering the New Testament birth narrative(s)–reinterpreting and re-translating this beloved story to reflect the actual world of first century Jews into which our Lord was born. My conclusion, then, is that these friends and mentors have simultaneously been right and wrong. It’s not that most Christians are opposed to meaningful thought. There I’ve been guilty of oversimplifying. Rather, it’s that they’re averse to what might be summarized as rigorous thought. It seems to me that’s an important and helpful nuance. That being said, I maintain the thrust of my criticism. The Church tends to be a lonely, unwelcoming place for those few whose souls are fueled chiefly, or even largely, by rigorous thought. To my eyes it remains an obvious tragedy that Christians so often must leave an institutional church context to vigorously pursue the life of the mind.
Addendum: It’s not uncommon for posts to be misunderstood. That’s part of life as a blogger. This one has been particularly subject to misinterpretation, though. So I’d like to clarify my intentions. My thesis is a nuance to previous observation I’ve made about Christians’ aversion to thinking by clarifying how Christians tend to engage different types of thinking. Specifically, encouraging meaningful reflection, being tolerant of deep thinking, and discouraging rigorous thinking. The closing comments then upheld my previous observation that the Church can be a lonely and unwelcoming place for those who need rigorous thought for spiritual sustenance. I simply didn’t address who ought to practice rigorous thought, what it ought to entail, when it should happen, where it’s appropriate, why it’s important, how prevalent it ought to be within the Church, nor any of those sorts of affirmative suggestions. Those things aren’t present in the content and are being read in by readers.