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On Being Pretentious and a Christian Intellectual.

October 6, 2009

First, a warning about this post. This is going to be a navel gazing, horrendous example of blog self reflection. Feel free to pass on reading this if you don’t like such things. Trust me, I will completely understand.

My parents and friends call me an intellectual. I know they think they are giving me a compliment when they tell me that. And, when I was younger, I loved the label. For a kid who struggled trying to figure out his identity, it was something I could grasp on to and make it a huge part of myself.

But lately, I have been wondering if it really describes me very well. And if it does, I’m not sure that I like what it describes.

I loved (and still do) good, reasonable discussion about deep things. I read three or four books at a time ranging from science, theology, history or novels. I wear a tweed sport coat in the winter. I wear stylish hipster glasses. In short, I look and act the part. I love Indie film and one of my favorite movies is “There Will Be Blood.” Not exactly a blockbuster.

But, then there is the other side of me who watches Dumb and Dumber when he needs a good laugh. Or loves yelling his head off at an Ohio State footbal game, chanting O-H-I-O, or, I cringe as I write this, who actually has a secret love of teen movies. Two of my favorites include Can’t Hardly Wait and Bring it On. Yes, I just said that. I thought that the second Transformers movie was horrible in plot, dialogue and a general brain dead story. But, damn it, it was cool to watch robots crash around. As a pastor friend of mine once said, “Can you really get more male than cars transforming into robots?”

For the longest time, I had a hard time reconciling these two aspects of my personality. I think it’s safe to say the intellectual side of me was ashamed of the “other” side of me. The intellectual side wanted to be cool, hip, knowledgeable, and smart. That part of me is screaming that I just admitted my love for teen comedies.

As I write this, it seems silly and stupid. Why shouldn’t I just be who I am and deal with the contradictions? I think it’s because as a Christian, I have this desperate need to look credible to cool, hip and smart to people. I don’t want to be the typical dumb American Christian who gorges himself at Denny’s after church, then scratches himself as he watches football all day. I keep wanting intellectual types to notice how cool and with it I am, so they know that Christianity has some credibility. I want to impress all of you atheists out there with how hard I work at knowing the latest on science, evolution and philosophy.

This isn’t to say that Christianity shouldn’t strive to be smart and understand it’s culture. I would be the last person in the world to say that, as that’s pretty much what I do for a living. I despise how willfully stupid American Christians have become. Notice, I didn’t say ignorant. It’s not a crime to be ignorant. It just means you lack knowledge in a certain area. But, it is a crime to be willfully stupid about things like many in American Christianity.

But, I sometimes wonder if in the rush not to be “Stupid American Christians” if  me and  my fellow hip Christians are trying too hard. Instead of just being who we are, creating culture, loving smart things and generally being people created in the Image of God, we talk about how smart and credible we are. We whine when we aren’t given “our due” or “equal time”. We talk about culture a lot, but rarely do we actually, in the words of Andy Crouch and his most excellant book, become “Culture Makers”. And more importantly, to focus on the people around us. We have become too satisfied gazing at our navels and loving our own belly button lint as we pick at it.

For me, I live in many worlds. I live in a city neighborhood that is a mix of blue clollar folks, urban hipsters, and intellectual nerds like me. And I love it. I can talk to my neighbor across the street about the Buckeyes and then my next door neighbor about the need for health care reform. I can talk tonight about whether there is one true religion. I can sing  “On Top of Spaghetti” at the top of my lungs with my six year old son at his Cub Scout camp out. It’s in these moments that I stop reflecting on myself as an intellectual or non intellectual to just enjoy the life God has given me. To enjoy the talents and abilities He has given me to love life, create good things and love people.

I really hope I can keep that lesson in mind. Hold me to it, will you?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard Eis permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:21 am

    There is nothing less hip, than trying to be hip.

  2. October 6, 2009 11:34 am

    My wife and I often comment on the crowd at Easton: So many people, trying so hard, to be so cool – and missing. 🙂

    I think the fact that you recognize it in yourself is the first and most important step. I’m just learning the same thing myself (and about myself) from the Atheist side right now, so I don’t know that it’s inherently Christian, if that helps.

  3. AdamK permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:48 am

    Great post.

    Intellectual honesty is what impresses me, not intellectual work per se.

    Love reading about what it feels like to be a christian from the inside. Much more than hairsplitting argumentation.

  4. AdamK permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:50 am

    Are these people pretention christians or stupid ones? Both?
    http://crooksandliars.com/nicole-belle/and-jesus-said-love-thy-neighbor-unl

  5. thomas2026 permalink*
    October 6, 2009 12:04 pm

    Adam,
    I think these folks would qualify as the stupid ones. No question about it.

  6. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    October 6, 2009 1:11 pm

    Most people who have seriously analyzed who they are have found they are multi-faceted.

    I’m a Wisconsin redneck, educated in the very liberal city of Madison. I can wield an ax pretty well while simultaneously discuss the finer points of composing for an orchestra or even troubleshooting a network. Note, I can’t drink beer and wield an ax well like some of my fellow rednecks. I live in t-shirts and jeans, yet still own a pair of 3-inch spike heals that are terrible to walk in, but do what they’re supposed to do with a dress (make guys look, that’s their only purpose). I make awesome homemade beer and crème brûlée. Whether I’m smart or not really depends on the time of day and whether my brain really feels like functioning at that moment, which is becoming less and less as I get older. Somehow I can dress and act the right part to talk to millionaire investors and a few hours later look perfectly at home in a trailer park. Oh, and once when completely drunk, I tried to prove to a friend that I could keep a Linux network running just fine in that state. I don’t remember enough though to know if I was even remotely successful.

    My point in mentioning all this? Just to say you’re not the only one. There is no official title for whatever it is that I am. Very few people fully fit any one stereotype. Anyone who can fit one single stereotype would seem to me to be a very pathetic, narrow-minded person.

  7. Fauxrs permalink
    October 6, 2009 3:43 pm

    I think you are assuming too much about the label “intellectual”. I doubt very much that to be an intellectual requires that one practice “intellectualism” 24-7.

    So watch your dumb-and-dumber and belt out enthusiastic copies of on top of spagetti. It doesnt by definition disqualify you from being an intellectual.

    However you might want to seek counseling regarding the teen movie fetish 🙂

  8. thomas2026 permalink*
    October 6, 2009 4:16 pm

    Fauxrs,
    Lol, yeah, Im sure it’s some arrested adoloscent want to be the cool kid thing.

  9. Andrew permalink
    October 6, 2009 11:28 pm

    I was amused to see this:

    Mark 2:6-8, ESV:

    6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?

    Mark 2:6-8, NIV:

    6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

    Mark 2:6-8, Conservative Bible Project:

    6 Yet among the assembled scribes were those who thought to themselves, 7 “Why is this man speaking such blasphemy? Who can forgive our sins but God himself?” 8 Jesus perceived immediately what the intellectual types were thinking, and he asked them, “Why are you so hostile to this?

  10. Matheus permalink
    October 7, 2009 1:07 am

    @Andrew
    Evolution of religion 😉

  11. October 7, 2009 10:29 am

    I think a little of what you see in yourself is in all of us. The question you have to ask yourself is when you are trying to be cool or intelectual who are you trying to impress, the world or yourself. Are you trying to build yourself up by others seeing you as cool or intelectual. I decide long ago to forget myself. I write all types of novels, adventure, science fiction, romantic with the goal of subtly promoting Christion values. That’s what I believe God wants me to do. I don’t care to impress anyone and I don’t care if I make money out of it. I just like doing it. All I care is that God loves me. It is an added beifit that my wife loves me too.

  12. October 8, 2009 12:30 pm

    Strangely enough, I have a lot of female friends who are HUGE Transformers fans, and they hate the movies with a passion. Partly because yeah, robots crashing around is awesome and that would have been amazing, but what Michael Bay gave us was vague clouds of random junk hanging together in vaguely humanoid shapes and filmed in Confuse-O-Vision ™.

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