Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Why is this?

Pious scholars rare--Blaise Pascal.


J.L. Hinman said...

Scholarship by its nature leads one to be double minded. Scholars have to doubt, it's part of a good scholary method.

Mike said...

Call me a cynic, but perhaps part of it (in our pragmatic culture) is that there's no money in it. We talk about suffering artists - 99.9% of them - but not much about suffering Christian intellects. Too much suffering and not enough money?

Plus, as Harry Blamires said, "Hence the perhaps peculiarly modern problem - the loneliness of the thinking Christian." (HT: The Christian Mind. It can be a lonely vocation, even when one is (as am I) merely a pseudo-intellectual.

burttd said...

Piety requires humility - the sort of humility that a sharp intellect is tempted to abandon for intellectual pride.

It is humble to admit that one does not have all the answers. (It is also a simple acknowledgement of the truth.) It is also poor form in the scholarly world to admit this. And injurous to the ego.

Susan said...

Amen to Blamires' observation, a worthy lament. Woe to those who dare seek the company of those who are at once pious, intelligent, and humble. It is hard enough to be in one's own company with that as a criteria for fellowship...

Ted Gossard said...

Isn't it true that the more one learns the more they ought to be in awe of God- and also the more they realize their own finitude (and how much they don't know)?

This begs, for me the question- what is our attitude toward knowledge and how do we see that in relation to God and to ourselves. We ought therefore to hold, it seems, to all truth firmly with certitude and also with deep and sincere humility.

By that measurement I know and have known some that I think are in that category.

James D. said...

For some reason the book of Ecclesiastes always comes to my mind with matters of scholarship.

From the first chapter: "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."

From the last chapter: "And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh."

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I agree with Metacrock, Scholars have to doubt, it's part of a good scholary method. No assumptions; everything has to be demonstrated to be true.

Expressed another way, scholars have to maintain a degree of emotional detachment from the subject they're investigating. And piety requires engagement, not detachment.

Somehow the great Reformers, like Martin Luther, pulled it off, though.

Carl E. Olson said...

Many good observations. But I wonder if it could be that pious scholars aren't so much rare as they are unheard from or ignored because of their piety and humility. The scholars/"scholars" who get the most attention, headlines, and airtime (the Jesus Seminar comes to mind) are usually arrogant and eager for adulation and praise of nearly any sort. Our culture rarely recognizes sober, mature scholarship, but instead chases after fads, sensationalism, and brashness. Meanwhile, the pious scholar works away, often not discovered or appreciated until he has left this world.

Carl E. Olson

Weekend Fisher said...

I wonder how much temptation there is to idolatry of scholarship -- making the pursuit of something other than God the highest goal of life.

David said...

I think this is an extremely important topic to discuss, and the answer may be a combination of Burtt and Carl's insights.

In my own experience, the most obnoxious and unsensitive Christians are usually apologetic-types who care more about proving the argument rather than doing so with gentleness and humility.

I know sometimes I am guilty of that sin, and it makes me sad that we Christian scholars (if I dare call myself one) fail to be more virtuous in our various practices.

Because we are very much on the frontlines of representing Christianity as a reasonable faith, and so we will have a tremendous impact on how non-Christians view the church as a whole.

nancy said...

Carl may be on to something with regards to those eager for the spotlight...

How do our times and culter differ from those of Pascal? Do we expect more honor from scholars than we expect from lawyers and politicians? Are not scholars equally suceptible to the "sinful nature" that plagues us? Perhaps I should research the context of this quote to more fully appreciate Pascal's lament.

Carl E. Olson said...

This important topic is an ancient one. Think of Socrates/Plato and the Sophists. There are always sophists among us: pseudo-intellectuals/"scholars" who revel in attention, more attention, and (of course) material gain. Not that making a living from scholarship is bad, or that getting attention for good scholarship is wrong. But our culture thrives on quick answers, sophisticated (there's that word!) spin, and "experts." Come to think of it, that's what Paul and the other apostles had to combat in the first century. Truly an ancient, but ever-new, problem.

Carl E. Olson

Douglas Groothuis said...

"Pious scholar rare." Why indeed?

1. True scholars are rare.
(2. Pundits are pseudo-scholars and abound in popular culture. They typically screen at each other on TV. This we can do without.)
3. Pious people are rare, especially those pious by biblical standards.
4. Popular culture rewards neither the scholars nor the pious. See Ken Myers, "All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes."
5. Scholars have a tendency to be intellectually proud, but need not be. Jesus was not; Paul was not.
6. Piety, in American religion, is usually equated with anti-intellectualism or even misology. See Mark Noll, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" (Baker, 1994).

7. For Pascal, the order of "the heart" was broader than "the mind," although they are not utter opposites. The heart was the faculty by which one intuited certain basic beliefs (including religious beliefs). The mind trades more in discursive analysis, working with what is intuited rather than producing it. This is an oversimplification of Pascal's epistemology, of course. For more, see my "On Pascal."