Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Jelly Minds

"And [Jesus] said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'"-Matt. 22:37 (ESV)

I remember my very first college class was Intro to Psychology at 11 AM every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on the third floor of the Cook Building. It was the class where I sharpened my academic teeth, took my first college exam, got my first C on a test, and learned that college isn't like in the movies where glorious adventures and wild stories await around every corner. The adventures are what you remember, the main thing is the work. This class paled in comparison to work loads I would have later, yet it was uniquely draining since it was a class over which I had expected to more or less gush. Unfulfilled expectations can really punch a hole in motivation.

One concept which always bothered me was the Nature/Nurture debate. It wasn't because I was very strongly in the biological/cognitive or behavioral camp. Rather, it stemmed from how the debate was framed. After all, we had been told on the second day of class that psychology came from the Greek meaning "study of the soul". It was also supposed to be the fusion of philosophy and science. However, the discipline quickly shed any such "pretensions" to the soul or philosophy because the soul is not scientifically demonstrable. Therefore, the only legitimate realm of discussion within psychology was between those two positions. Had there existed a branch of psychology dubbed "philosophical psychology" as there do "cognitive psychology" and "behavioral psychology", perhaps I would not have been so perturbed. After all, what if people aren't just a product of their society nor of their genes? Could not some fundamentally immaterial thing remain which is the true source of what man is? As Aristotle said, "The whole is more than the sum of the parts." "Maybe so," answers the academic psychologist, "but that question is not appropriate for scientific discourse. And what is psychology but a science?"

I was so bothered by this that I remember bringing it up with a young psychology major a couple of years later. She was a believer and I thought maybe she could shed light on the deplorable lies of her favored discipline. It was a casual conversation and perhaps I was expecting too much, yet I was even more disappointed by her response than by the original dilemma. She replied that she hadn't much thought about it; she simply disagreed, took the notes, and passed the next test.

The troubling thing about this response is not that she didn't freak out and remember it for years to come like I did. The bothersome fact is that she never dealt seriously with the argument presented to her. Rather than dealing with a potential challenge to her faith, she just ignored it. She blew off all the credibility of her instructor and his ideas--whether or not she agreed with him--simply because she found it unpalatable. It wasn't that she had a reason to disagree; it simply made her faith in Christ uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are guilty of having jelly minds. Like a jellyfish, when they encounter some kind of intellectual opposition or challenge, they just drift right past it like no obstruction were there at all. If an answer or resolution to the problem is not immediately forthcoming, they forget about it and drift on with the currents of shallow faith. They don't take it home and wrestle with it. They don't meditate on what a critical impact this might have on their lives as followers of Jesus. They just drift on with their feel-good spirituality. Oddly enough, this isn't how Jesus was.

Jesus found opposition coming from men who had years more experience mastering a subject than He did. In Luke 20:27-40, the Sadducees come to Jesus and try to lay a theological trap. These are men who don't believe the whole Bible, only the Five Books of the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Jesus takes the whole Old Testament (Genesis-Malachi). This means that He disagrees with them on a fundamental level. Particularly in the book of Daniel, there are sections which overtly talk about the afterlife--something the Pharisees didn't believe in at all. Yet Jesus, with little formal education compared to theirs, bests them.

Some will immediately say, "Yeah, but He wrote the thing. And He's God! Of course He knows it better than them. But I'm not God, so how can I be expected to tango with people who know their stuff better?" They're wrong. Jesus is our Christus Exemplar, Latin for "Christ the example" (more or less). That means we're supposed to be like Him. There's huge sections of a decent-sized book of the Bible talking about it (Hebrews). My point is that Jesus didn't do something that we can't do without the Holy Spirit.

So what did Jesus do? First, He met those guys on their level. Rather than quote from Daniel or Psalms or Job or some other book the Sadducees wouldn't agree with, He reasoned from a portion of Scripture that they did believe (that is, Exodus). This is why Christians are wasting plenty of good oxygen by simply pointing at the Bible and saying, "Read this! It has all the answers you need!" If I'm the naturalist arguing that man is just an animal, I'm thinking, "Thanks for ignoring my point. I guess you want me to take and read a book I don't really care about to further convince me how ignorant you are." So don't do that.

Second, He took their charge seriously. He didn't say He'd get to it later. He didn't say that He didn't care. He didn't even say, "Oh well, agree to disagree," without explaining Himself. Instead, He challenged their ideas in a very open-minded yet succinct way. Jesus heard the Sadducees out and then explained why they were wrong. Even though their motives were sinful (since Jesus denounces them just after this), He still addressed their ideas as legitimate.

Finally, Truth can stand up to scrutiny. If you believe that Scripture, right philosophy, and/or just plain common sense teach that man has an eternal soul, then don't retreat! Don't brush aside challenges you shall face in the classroom or in difficult books or from jerkwads on the street with more degrees than intelligence. Because no matter how smart or sophisticated or all-encompassing any explanation of life apart from Truth is, it will fail if it isn't true. Anything that cannot withstand the critical eye isn't Truth at all. Sift through it all and keep what's good.

Like I said when Artery Bloggage started, Truth is personal: the Person Jesus Christ is Truth. A Christian's faith in Him should be steadfast for He shall save us. So don't worry if you're challenged. You might find that you were wrong about something all along. That's what makes learning such a humbling experience and why teachers CRAVE teachable spirits. Be like Jesus; be humbly teachable and eternally dedicated to seeking Truth.