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“SMART IS NOT GOOD
(BUT NEITHER IS STUPID)”
A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, January 23, 2011
Smart is not good. No, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that smart is bad. I’m just saying that smart isn’t the same thing as good. It gets confusing, especially since one of the greatest complements you can give parents is to tell them that their child is smart. As if smart were a moral attribute approximating good.
But – and here’s the thing – neither is stupid good. Fasten your seatbelts, because I’m going on a rant here. Stupid, lazy people have seized upon the first chapter in First Corinthians to proudly pass on a doctrine that cannot be called anything but “mindless Christianity.”
It goes something like this: [Rick Nanez, Full Gospel, Fractured Minds?]
* Many American colleges were founded in an attempt to educate ministers. Washington and Lee, Dickinson, Hampden-Sydney, Brown University, Rutgers, Dartmouth and Columbia were all founded to train ministerial candidates. The connotation, of course, is that there were a great many uneducated ministers and those who could not afford to go to school remained so. It became a sort of “mantle,” passed on from one uneducated generation to another that education was a waste of time. The one, needful thing was to have a calling from God.
* Why? Because, brother, you’ve been “baptized by the Holy Spirit!” What else do you need? Doesn’t the Bible teach that the Holy Spirit “teaches all things” and “leads into all truth,” delighting in using “ignorant and unlearned men”? So spirit-filled believers use the doctrine of baptism by the Holy Spirit as a crutch to obviate the requirement for demanding thought and study.
* As a result [Os Guiness], many suffer from a form of what ancient stoics called “mental hedonism” – having a fit body but a fat mind. Here’s the upshot of a fat mind: one is filled with sentimentality and shallowness and Christianity comes off looking more like Hallmark card than anything else. The question is, are the gifts of intellect and Holy Spirit mutually exclusive or do they come from the same source?
* Another peculiarly American idea is that of “the Rapture” – when believers are gathered up in the end times, leaving only heathens and apostates behind (get it, “left behind”?). If you believe that the end is near, will happen very soon, that time is running out, how much of a leap is it to think of hard work and study as a waste of time? Or, as they say, why waste time and energy rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?
This contempt for education has led to a rampant anti-intellectualism among the underclasses. So, I guess the question for us is this: is this what Paul meant when he quoted Isaiah in saying, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart”? Is this what Paul meant when he wrote, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom”?
Well, consider the context, the people to whom Paul is speaking. It’s that darn house church in Corinth – again. They’re quarreling. They’re choosing their favorite homey theologians. They all think that they are right: “I belong to Apollos.” “I belong to Cephas.” “I belong to Christ.” Children, please.
Paul is manifestly not saying that smart is bad. It’s more like, “you think you’re so smart.” “You think you’re so smart, and therefore, superior. Don’t you know that the “A” Number One concept here is unity? So being smart and thinking that you’re smart are not the same thing.
But here’s the thing: you can also think you’re so smart by advocating unity. In Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Bhagavad Gita, we find Krishna, assuring Arjuna of his omnipresence:
There is nothing more
than I, Arjuna: all worlds
all beings, are strung upon me
like pearls on a single thread.
I am the taste in water,
the light in the moon and the sun,
the sacred syllable Om
in the Vedas, the sound in the air.
I am the primal seed
within all beings, Arjuna:
the wisdom of those who know
the splendor of the high and the mighty.
A bit later, Krishna states:
I am the ritual and the
the medicine and the mantra,
the butter burnt in the fire,
and I am the flames that consume it.
I am the beginning and the end,
origin and dissolution
refuge, home, true lover,
womb and imperishable seed.
Inspired by this piece of inscrutable Eastern wisdom, Belgian poet Jacques Crickillon penned a couple of quick lines that were all the rage of international poetry in 2002: "You are the bread and the knife/The crystal goblet and the wine." Well, American poet Billy Collins couldn’t stand it. So here’s his riff:
You are the bread and the knife/The crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass/and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker/and the marsh birds in flight.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.
I love it. There are lots of ways of saying, “You think you’re so smart.” So the next time you hear Paul extolling the virtues of ignorance, just remember that that’s what he’s saying. Smart is not good. But neither is stupidity. Only good is good. You can be smart…and good. Look at Albert Schweitzer. And you can be stupid…and good. Look at Forrest Gump.
Use what you have. Just be good.