Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings."

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘On Stupidity’ (Letters and Papers from Prison)

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

One of the things I loved most about attending Quaker churches--including ones that had pastors--was that plenty of space was made for anyone to speak.  The hope was that those who spoke had done some personal due diligence of discernment so that they weren't just expressing their own thoughts but were relaying something they had received from Spirit.  Things didn't always work out that way, but there was plenty of grace and patience extended.

I recall one Sunday morning when a dear woman from a Charismatic Christian background stood in the midst of a Quaker meeting and began excited recounting a story about a miracle: a person who's amputated arm grew back, while up on stage at a Pentecostal revival meeting in Africa.  The woman at our meeting recounted the story with great passion, almost as if she had been there and seen it herself.  But she hadn't been there and didn't see it.  The story came to her from a well-known evangelist who's local revival meeting she had recently attended.  The evangelist had likely heard the story from someone else, who likely heard it from someone else.  The tale was likely embellished along the way.  Who knows what actually, originally occurred (or even if there was an original, actual occurrance).  But our dear Friend was excitedly telling us the tale, as if she had seen it herself.

This is an example of what has been labeled as "Anecdotal Christianity."  Anecdotes are passed around and accepted with little scrutiny.  To question, to critique, to ask for proof or compelling evidence is looked upon as having a lack of faith.

This anecdotalism is particularly prevalent in the Charismatic and Pentecostal sectors of Christianity.  As a result, wild claims are made and then swallowed whole and then later regurgitated and spread around.  Skilled tellers of tall tales (aka bullshit artists) can draw crowds and build ministries for themselves.  Doubters tend to keep their doubts to themselves, not wanting to suffer ostracization for having "little faith."

These anecdotes aren't just tales of amazing, physics-defying miracles (always occurring somewhere far off where cell phone videos aren't yet available).  They also often spill over into urban legends, political rumors and conspiracy theories.

I've often wondered why (based on my experience of 25+ years in that subculture) Charismatic/Pentecostal Christians seem to be so prone to imbibing and repeating tall tales and outlandish conspiracy theories.  Did these folks become Charismatic/Pentecostal because of their susceptibility to uncritically believe anecdotes?  Or did their tendency to uncritically believe anecdotes develop as a result of being in a Charismatic/Pentecostal form of Christianity?  Or is the correlation merely a product of my own perception?  I don't know, but please don't ostracize me for asking.