While I was in college at the University of Michigan, one of my professors pointed out that throughout much of history pastors and priests have come from the brightest and best. In a world where education was rare, pastors were educated. In a era when many could not read and write, priests could often do so in several languages. Thus the past blooms with wonderful writers, thinkers, poets and even scientists who also happened to be clergy.
My professor then lamented that this is no longer the case. Now, to be fair, he didn't come out and call us stupid, yet it was clearly implied that our educational process had been compromised, that our writing skills were on par with teenage love poetry, and that our brainial capacity had lost a quart (or a liter if you prefer the metric). That statement challenged me then, and it remains a challenge to me now.
But I have learned a lot since those college days. I have learned that Christian theologians are just as intelligent as they were in the past -- I have equal difficulty reading Aquinas, Hegel, Tillich, Pannenberg, and Reuther. These people are so smart they make my brain hurt, so you could say that the branches at the top of our trees are providing the same high quality figs as they did in the past. I also have met a number of pastors who can capably debate philosophy, read Hebrew and Greek, all while operating a motor vehicle. Most exciting of all, there are among us great writers of inspirational stories, music lyrics, and poetry. So many of the middle branches are pretty healthy too.
But my concern comes with those lower branches in the tree: the ones that seem to be filled with howler monkeys screaming anti-intellectual, monosyllabic dogma. I worry that if they keep hollering and hooting like they have been, that slowly Christianity will fall into a subculture of stupidity. For example, the sudden surge of home schooling among conservative Christians, so that their kids don't learn objectionable science, and are protected from the evils of independent thought. My experience tells me, how shall I say this without sounding rude, that most parents who try to do this can't compete with the quality of our public school system. They may be able to handle the three r's of reading and writing and righteousness, but they don't remember enough from high school chemistry, calculus, or literature to teach it ably.
Further, many Christians have come to view the scientific community with unhealthy skepticism. We have people that believe that dinosaur bones are the creation of Satan meant to lead the faithful astray. We have people that believe that evolution is an unproven theory on par with the idea that we are all inside 'the Matrix' and are experiencing a virtual world. We have people that would believe that there is some secret group of illuminati out there manipulating scientific "discoveries", rather than admit that it may have taken more than seven days for the sun, the earth, and the moon to form.
What happens if this trend continues for five or six generations?
What I foresee is Christianity becoming a subculture of people who slow slip out of the realm of human progress and revert to medieval doctrine. I see a group of people who become more and more out of touch with reality, because they won't admit the truth that they may be wrong.
Several years ago there was a petition to get 10,000 pastors to sign a document that stated that a person can believe in evolution and still be a faithful Christian. I don't know if the petition got enough signatures or not, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that disputing the scientific facts of some parts of the bible doesn't make us heretics; in fact, it requires us to think about our world, to discern what religious truth is, and to strive for a deeper understanding of God. I believe we need to reclaim our curiosity, regain our love for education, and allow ourselves to think; or else, face extinction as a people of faith.
So there's my two figs flung into the fruit-salad of philosophy -- waiting to hear the howler monkeys complain.