Intellectuals are all talk

To paraphrase Bill Cosby in “Bill Cosby as Himself”:

“Intellectuals are people who study and read books about what other people do naturally”

I usually lose 2-3 hours a night (after I hit the sack at midnight) thinking deeply about something.  Here’s what keeps me up at night about being kept up at night: What’s the difference between the non-intellectual and the intellectual? Well, one person can defend what they believe better, but what good does that do the world? It seems that if deep thinking has any use, it must lead to action. If all I do all day is think but never act on my thinking, what difference have I made than the person that just does good naturally? If I pound my head over the sovereignty of God vs. the free will of men, but a Calvinist friend is out helping the poor in a soup kitchen, in the end, who is the better person? The one who acts, not the one who simply thinks or talks. Christ says much the same thing when speaking to the religious leaders of the day.

The one thing about people who are legalistic (have a billion rules about what is wrong to do) is that for all their excessive, non-biblical moral rules, they ALWAYS have license – areas of their lives that are grossly amoral. In other words, they are compensating. Christ made this apparent to the religious leaders – they where hellfire sure to tithe down to the leaf of every herb in their personal gardens, but failed miserably to live up to the much more important things – practicing justice, mercy, and faithfulness. “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

About a year ago, I decided that I am prime pickings to be a Pharisee. Its not a matter of attitude, it’s what you become by default if you love learning and studying spiritual things. I now have three whole shelves dedicated to Bible commentaries and philosophical books. Every new book I buy and place on those shelves is another nail in the coffin of who I am becoming if I am not careful. Even the Apostle Paul warns about this before he talks about Love in the famous love chapter quoted in most Christian weddings – Knowledge puffs up. So here’s the damning equation: Love of learning leads inevitably to pride which leads to inevitably to a self-centered life.

Here is what I am prone to do: I sit at my desk or chair with a great book, and my wife works downstairs with the chores of cooking and cleaning and looking after our now two children. I am reading a book on how to be more like God. For God sake, the stupidity! A more godly thing to do would be to go down to her and help her with the dishes and cooking the meal and watching the kids. I just did it again today. I played a video game where I am the hero out to save the world, (which is a great boon to my heart) but in real life, I sit at my computer for hours while my wife who has to nurse our new baby and cook dinner for our hungry daughter. I’m too busy pretending to be brave and helpful to a fantasy world to help even my wife a little in the real one.

I said my wife has done a lot in our community and church and work – its very true. Here’s the funny thing – she really beats herself up for not being spiritual and regularly thinks she’s a terrible Christian and looks to me as being the ideal. I just want to cry when she says that. I’m more to be pitied than to be looked up to. After 7 years of marriage, if she doesn’t see it that way (the hypocracy) then she probably will soon. I’m trying to shape up before she looses more respect for me 🙂 Thankfully, I have a very gracious wife. I’m more critical of myself than she is.

Intellectuals are like legalists, they overcompensate for something they lack elsewhere. Legalists lack morality in some secret or subconscious area of their lives, Intellectuals lack action.

When I talk about action, I’m not talking about gigantic crusades to change our nation or culture. I’m talking about what matters – loving your wife, looking after your elderly neighbor, spending time with your children who are here today and gone tomorrow. I’m talking about unimportant things like doing the dishes, telling your wife you love her, taking out the garbage, cleaning up the house, helping her make dinner. What is the spotlight for except to inspire the best of us to do the smaller things that are the most important, that keep our families alive, that in turn keep our communities alive, that in turn keep our society alive?

I am probably being harsh on intellectuals (meaning I am being really harsh on myself). Maybe I’m the only self-centered intellectual around. But hey, if we love thinking so much and reading about stuff, how about we think about this: stop thinking and start doing. After you’re done doing something, you’ll suddenly have more to think about than you ever dreamed. I accidentally did something once, and can say it was wonderful from personal experience. 🙂

    8 Responses to “Intellectuals are all talk”

    1. Elise

      I’ve had similar thoughts. I don’t like to do things until I’ve read and read and read and read……I think intellectuals are the least spontaenous group of people I know, myself inculded. Planning can be over-rated sometimes.

      I read one of those subjective, anecdotal evidence stories of someone who died and then came back to life, visiting heaven in between. He descirbed the different types of addictions that were tying people to earth (therefore they weren’t ascending to heaven) and he talked about the group who were stuck in a library, chained to shelves of books and had their noses so deep in the pages that they didn’t realize what they were missing. If I had to choose and addiction that would keep me distracted enough to not get into heaven, I think books would have to be it.

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Not spontaneous – that’s a good way to describe me when something important needs to be done. Just recently, I’ve begun helping people broken down on the streets where I live instead of just driving by. Its funny – I finally decided to help one guy, and then I noticed that I got 2 more chances with one year to do it again. It’s been really fun! All this reading about doing good, but actually doing it is really a rush. 🙂

      I’m with you on the book addiction. 🙂 It seems to me that a year or so ago I entered a point in my life where I have been forced to act instead of just read and study. It’s almost as if God is saying – Ok, time to put that learnin’ to good use! Time to start living!

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    3. Johnny

      I have been meaning to comment on this post for some time. I very much agree that intellectuals are very much detached from the practical life which is the real root of human flourishing. I will say though, that intellectual contribution does make a difference overall to the health of a society. Most intellectuals merely assist our society by teaching, whereas there are some people who make great contributions to the human race by their disinterested intellectual inquiry.

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    4. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Great to hear from you. I like what you are saying – There are people who’s lives and gifts revolve around thinking, reflection, and teaching. Then there are people who act, but they need inspiration. Society at large is better off when the these two kinds of people come together. I agree. C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors who has had a tremendous influence on me sounded like he lived just like I do… consumed with reading, writing, and reflecting. Not surprisingly, he was a professor. He did not do a lot of social action from what I read in his autobiography, but his positive influence has been instrumental in shaping modern intellectual Christianity and philosophy.  He also enjoyed a good beer now and then.  I wish I could have known the guy.

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    5. aaron bentley

      i have simlar experinces and i must sllep with the telly on so i cant allow me self to think about morality, dont u ever think that some day we as life force will end or even commit suicide because we wanta realse from pain, because if we do “asscend” to be higher beings wont we eventually get bored and live out every possibility, and i know there are infinete possiblity in every but i hope u understand what i mean and can any of u offer any advice to me thx

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    6. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      sounds like we are alike! I started this weblog so I could stop staying awake late at night trying to figure things out by doing all my thinking while I write, but instead I have managed to pass on my obsession to others, and am still up late at night with the same million unanswered questions.

      I’m definitely in agreement with you regarding the pain of living. Whatever there is afterwards, it seems like this life is fundamentally painful and messed up. I am so frustrated with not only the pain I receive from others, but the pain I cause others. It seems like I do more harm to others than they do to me. I am so discouraged with my rampant immorality, it brings me to tears to think about it too much. Just the other day I made a list of all the stupid things I’ve done in the last 15 years, and it really discouraged me. I still think I’m discouraged about it today – it was a painful exercise.

      For the rest of your comment, I think I know what you mean, but I’m not terribly bright, so I will probably guess wrong, but I do have some thoughts about the subject that may be revelant to you.

      There are many ways we can decide to live our life with the full understanding that life seems meaningless and painful. Recently, I read a book about the spiritual life – entitled “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen. It startes with the realization that we are dearly loved by the One who made us. This is very important to realize, because without this internalized understanding of your identity, you will walk through life thinking it a random series of painful and uncaring events. Instead, you realize that you are dearly loved by God, who is trying to train you for the bittersweet spiritual life.

      What is the ultimate way to live? According to Henri, the goal of the spiritual life is to give it away. To live your life for others. This is what our spiritual hearts will forever crave to do. This is a lifestyle choice – it is a non-selfish focus that must be chosen each day as we get out of bed and live life again. It is not about us, it is about others.

      I often think about what people will think about when they come to my funeral. Will they remember me as the opinionated, self-centered prick that always wanted to be right in every argument, or will they instead see how I left myself behind and instead reached out to others, put my family first, decided to love instead of hate, to reconcile instead of turn away, to forgive and restore relationships instead of ending them in anger.

      My heart wants so badly to give up my life – to instead live for others. To restore, to rejuvinate, to bring hope, to leave the people I meet happier and with more hope then before I knew them. I look at the fruit of my life and see evidence of my heart being good- I have been a best man in about 8 different friends’ weddings. I have been a groomsman in about 8 more. I guess I have made some kind of impression on people even though I am so hard on myself.

      You are so important. There is no one like you or ever will be again. You must really believe this. And then you must give yourself away. There is more joy in giving presents to others on Christmas than to receive, and so it is with your life. Our society needs men such as yourself so badly. Keep searching Aaron – you are on the right track realizing the problem of pain in this life. I hope so much you will see yourself for who you truly are.

      Please keep coming back and talking! Its great to talk with other people like myself who stay awaking thinking about things until all hours of the night. We have a passion – we desperately want to understand the broken people we are and the broken world we live in.

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    7. Garrett

      In the first sentence of the paragraph, you insulted your wife while using “loose” where you probably meant “lose” (or you need to explain what is meant by “loose sleep”).

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    8. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Point taken. I definitely don’t want to insult my wife. I reworded and fixed the spelling. Thanks!

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