Quote of the Week: Gregg A. Ten Elshof on Ressentiment and Anti-Intellectualism

Christian Quote of the Week

So it goes in ressentiment. We adjust our preferences and values to accommodate whatever is realistic for us.

In the decades leading up to the turn of the twentieth century, ideas emerged in the centers of higher learning that seemed to many people as though they threatened the tenets of Christian orthodoxy. Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to call into question the Christian narrative concerning the nature and origin of man. At about the same time, “higher criticism’ of the biblical text seemed to call into question the Christian narrative concerning the inspiration of Scripture. To some it seemed that more learning made the traditional Christian story less plausible. It began to look as though the flourishing of the intellect carried with it the rejection of traditional Christian narratives.

Well-intentioned Christian people found themselves with a perceived choice between full engagement with the growing body of knowledge in the main centers of higher learning and fidelity to their Christian commitments. Many of them chose the latter. And they cried sour grapes about the now seemingly unavailable life of the developed and educated mind. Like Aesop’s Fox, they walked away from mainstream higher education muttering to themselves that the educated mind is a sour thing anyway.

So was born a pernicious anti-intellectualism in many corners of the Christian world that, in various forms and degrees, lives on to this day. In its more overt manifestations, it appears as an outright suspicion of higher education. It is nicely embodied in Flannery O’Connor’s barber who “didn’t have to read nothin’. All he had to do was think.” In his tirade against education, he explains, “that was the trouble with people these days – they didn’t think, they didn’t use their horse sense…. Nossir! Big words don’t do nobody no good. They don’t take the place of thinkin’.”

In its more subtle manifestations, anti-intellectualism discredits the life of the mind under the guise of super-valuing something else — usually something legitimately valuable like faith, relationship, or “the heart,” as if
these could flourish without the development of the mind.

-Gregg A. Ten Elshof in i told me so, Kindle, 700-711, 716-717.