When Smart People Are Stupid

We’ve been doing a mini-series at church based on Mark Meynell’s excellent book A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again In A Cynical World. 

I was struck by something Meynell observes about the power of propaganda. He says the following:

‘We might assume we are immune to propaganda, but as renowned French sociologist Jacques Ellul warned, it is the educated who are most vulnerable to its effects. Because they absorb more secondhand and unverified information than others, they like to have opinions about everything while at the same time entertaining a high view of their own ability to make judgments. What Ellul grasped, and what countless others have exploited, is that when reality is mediated (as it must be in a world of mass communication), the potential for deception is great. Of course, some argue we are more sensitive to this now, but even that is problematic. The greater our sensitivity becomes, the greater our anxiety about being able to discern the “really” real.’ (pp. 45-46, emphasis mine)

Ouch! The smarter you are, the more susceptible you may be to imbibing secondhand unverified information and passing it off as your considered opinion, in essence, to make yourself look clever.

One of the main lessons I learned in doing further study is that you come to see just how much you don’t know. Every foray down a rabbit hole reveals a hundred tunnels, each with a hundred more, that you simply don’t have time or capacity to explore. What you come to know is how much you don’t know. This is, I’m sad to say, a lesson I forget too quickly, and to which I need to keep returning.

I need, by God’s grace, more humility, more discernment, and the peace to rest content in the things I can know – his liberating truth (John 8:32).

4 Replies to “When Smart People Are Stupid”

  1. Thanks for this blog. Out of interest what are the pro’s and con’s of doing a PhD in Theology? Or study beyond a BA?

  2. Good question – here’s my very personal sense of pros and cons

    – more time and money (someone has to free you up and pay for you to study some more)
    – stress (depending on how you handle the workload)
    – learning more languages (hated French and German!!)
    – You can become so focused on something so specialist that it may (just may) become little use to anybody

    – developing more tools for the bag in terms of becoming a life-long learner
    – most PhD students (myself included) would say its actually a broad education (though the thesis will be fairly narrow)
    – Deeper and broader learning in a variety of fields
    – equipping to be not just a learner, but a better teacher of others
    – input helps output – in a sense we should all be constantly learning – a PhD just puts more structure into that
    – pleasure – I genuinely enjoyed my further studies – and that’s not nothing.

    I’m sure there’s more could be said (I suspect a google search will find plenty more) – this is just off the top of my head, based on personal experience. I’d encourage anyone thinking about it to give it a serious look. It’s not for everyone, but don’t dismiss it because others have an inverse snobbery or suspicion.

    1. Thanks, I’d add that we need conservative evangelicals in academia simply because their are false teachers in academia.

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