Where is the one who is wise?

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Tuesday in the week of Proper 19, Year 1 (Pentecost 16, 2015)

1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ~ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Is it possible that our current American era, in which ignorance is extolled and foolishness seems to run rampant, results at least in part from a “biblical literalism” and belief in scriptural “inerrancy” which leads to a misreading and misunderstanding of passages such as this? Thirty-five years ago, Isaac Asimov wrote in Newsweek magazine, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

Recently on the internet (on Facebook and other forms of social media) an advertisement for a “Bible Believers” church has been making the rounds; it asks if the reader is tired of preachers using “Greek translations” and promises exclusive use of the “King James Version.” Such things do make one wonder, “Where is the one who is wise?”

But churches alone are not responsible for the “cult of ignorance” seen by Asimov. American educational institutions and our business enterprises must also accept responsibility. In an effort to create a workforce of specialists, prepared for specific careers meeting the needs of corporate America, our colleges and other schools seem to have abandoned broad-based curricula.

When I was an undergraduate in the decade before Asimov diagnosed that “strain of anti-intellectualism,” my college laid out a program of “general education requirements,” a core curriculum which every student had to pursue before specializing in a major. My first term (we were on the quarter system) my class schedule included calculus, physics, a course called “The Humanities” (a series over six terms which included the literature, history, art, philosophy, and so forth of specific time periods; the first, entitled “The Jews and the Greeks,” covered classical antiquity), an art course, a language course, and a class in developing study habits. For the next two years my course schedule was pretty much determined by this program of core requirements; there were very few electives and there was no emphasis on specialization. This was a broad-spectrum, “Renaissance” education.

Today, as an old curmudgeon parish priest, I talk with the young adults from my congregation and find that they are being asked to make life career decisions as high school sophomores and juniors, to decide at age 16 or 17 what they will do for the rest of their lives. Their guidance counselors then funnel them into programs designed to prepare them for specific colleges which will give them those career skills, and only those. I know recent college graduates whose education is so narrow and so limited that they are truly ignorant outside of their major. For example, I know a young person who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business who took no biology course during college, who read not a single play by Shakespeare, and whose only exposure to the French Revolution was the music of Les Mis . . . .

How have we come to this point? How have we arrived in world where ignorance and foolishness, not the foolishness of God but the intractable folly of humankind, are order of the day? Have biblical literalism, a belief in scriptural inerrancy, and a system of “higher education” catering to the needs of corporate business conspired to “dumb down” America?

This is sort of thing is not, of course, what Paul was addressing when he wrote to the church in Corinth, but it’s what is on my mind this morning as I read both his epistle and a newspaper report of yet another politician answering a question with the opening line, “Well, I’m not a scientist, but . . . .”

“Where is the one who is wise?”