According to 63 studies conducted over the last 80-some years, Atheists are OFFICIALLY smarter than people of faith. Officially. I read that this week.
My first reaction was to take offense. I mean… I’m a reasonably intelligent person. So are (most) Christians I know. So are the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddists… I mean, I’ve got no gripe with people who don’t align themselves with a belief system, but seriously; how does faith (or lack thereof) speak to smarts?
For my money, that just cannot be measured. Whatever the research may say, intelligence is not entirely quantifiable. After all, it takes a certain degree of intelligent imagination to believe in that which we cannot see; to place faith in a higher power, regardless of what we can touch, taste, and prove with our own systems and in our own limited functions. You can’t sum that up in a standardized test. So there’s that.
But then, we also have to admit this: When Christians ARE stupid–cause I can only speak for Christians here and, Lord help us, sometimes we are stupid–perhaps we tend, as a group, to be more vocal about it. Our stupid is louder, prouder and stretched over more of our history than our more subtle intelligence will ever be. Traditionally, we have valued being right over being just; and therefore, we have valued the correctness of our own doctrine over that which IS, in fact, evident in the world around us. Fair enough, brainy smarty-pants science guys. You’ve got us there.
Maybe it’s not that Atheists are smarter, categorically, than Christians; maybe it’s that certain tenets of the Christian message have been so repellent to thinking people, that we have effectively weeded some of the brainiest folks out of our communities. By not welcoming their questions, their doubts, their challenges to our certainty, believers have maybe self-selected a STATISTICALLY less intelligent demographic.
I am NOT saying that people of faith are less smart. I’m just saying, maybe we sometimes reject uber-intelligent people without even realizing it.Every time a religious leader or person of faith does one of the following things, somewhere a physicist jumps ship, and our collective IQ drops a few points. Like when we:
-Insist, against all tangible, quantifiable research to the contrary, that the world is NO MORE THAN 5,000 years old;
-Doggedly argue that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a disorder–even when medicine, psychology, biology, and pretty much all the other smart things tell us otherwise;
-Embrace a prosperity gospel that treats prayer like a daggone Sear’s Catalogue, with God as head of the customer service department;
-Reject deeply spiritual teachings and practices of other world religions, because if they don’t include the words of Jesus, they must be of the devil. And we are super scared of the devil;
I’m not saying that all people who embrace a more conservative brand of faith are of lesser intelligence; but I will say that, over the past 100 years or so, the Church has definitely lost some smart people to this short-sighted gospel.
And yet, for all the ways we push the Brainy-Mc-Smarty-Pants types right out the door…it goes both ways. I also see in this article a very limited understanding of what faith IS, and what it means in the life of people who practice it. Speaking of that which is not quantifiable; one of the authors of this study speculates that ‘intelligent people have less of a need for religion.’ They base this theory on an assumption that religion provides people with self-esteem, perceived control of troubling life situations…basically, the comfort of being told what to do and how to think. You know, we simple-minded types need that sort of structure. It comforts us.
Science is not God. Religion has its limitations, but so does research. I don’t entirely buy the conclusion that ‘atheists are smarter,’ even if smart people say they can prove it. But what I REALLY don’t buy is the assumption that faith is comfortable; that it provides easy answers to difficult questions and sets our minds at ease; that it somehow quantifies the unquantifiable, keeping us passive, happy and small. That is not what faith is. And if that’s what people outside of the Church think faith is, then shame on us for having marketed our gospel for the lowest common denominator.
Yes, faith gives us comfort. Yes, it invites us into a community of support and love that enriches, encourages, and strengthens us to deal with all the uncertainties and hardships of life. But it is so much more than that. Faith inspires and challenges in a way that science alone cannot do. Faith encourages hard questions, even if it can’t promise easy answers; real faith invites doubt. The God that I know gave me the brains in my head, which maybe some people think they can measure. But also, God gifted me with a sacred imagination; an artful way with language (some days); the gifts of instinct and logic (possibly not in equal measure); the capacity to care for others; a prophetic voice; and a sense of vision that reaches beyond the limits of what science and reason can prove to me.
Some of the most intelligent people in the world don’t possess these gifts. Some really simple ones do.
The good news is that God does not care how smart we are, as long as we seek to know Him/Her. Using faith as an excuse to turn off our brains is sinful. Using Science to reject faith? Well…maybe that just misunderstands the nature of faith. Ultimately, we all ‘need’ community; we all need a sacred story; we all need to know our Creator, while being fully present and awake to the world around us; and God is in every bit of it. Unquantifiably so, and beyond even our most smartest, sacred imaginations.
Maybe we’ve just all got a lot to learn.