“So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.” ~ Bertrand Russell

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Detail from “Interior with Three Oranges” — oil painting by Frank Baker Holmes (Used with permission)

That’s a most interesting comment, Mr. Russell. On one level it reveals a value system that is common among many intellectuals. Intelligence has high value.

But in the Gospels, there are other values of importance. Being good, for example. Or being compassionate. Or being wise. There are so many educated fools that the very expression has become a byword.

I remember listening to a mean-spirited diatribe by the late Andy Rooney against Mel Gibson and his film Passion of the Christ a few years back on Imus in the Morning. Rooney essentially dissed Gibson and the film because “the smartest man of the last century, Bertrand Russell” was an atheist.

So there you have it. A smart man’s ideas are more valid than a holy man’s. What do we do, then? Give everyone I.Q. tests to decide who gets to declare what we should all believe? It’s nonsense. Newton was a smart man, and a Christian.

Sir Isaac Newton has been near universally ranked as the greatest mathematician of all time. Of Newton, Einstein said, “Nature to him was an open book, whose letters he could read without effort.”

So?

This only proves that smarts does not bring us all into agreement. One difference between Newton and Russell, however, might be that Newton was quite humble about his smarts. Before his death he remarked, “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” I doubt either claimed to have perfect knowledge. And maybe Russell would have been embarrassed to have Andy Rooney put him on a pedestal such as that.

There was a time when I thought being smart was the thing to be. I looked down on people who couldn’t spell. Then, in college I met a guy who was valedictorian in his high school and lo, he was an atrocious speller. I learned this when he wanted to co-write a play with me. I asked why, and he said it was because I was an excellent speller and he felt I could communicate his message more effectively than he. This threw a monkey wrench into my notion of smarts.

By what measure, then, should we be measured? I can’t recall anyone saying Mother Teresa, St.Francis of Assisi or Gandhi’s significance had something to do with I.Q. Where did this strange measure come from?

There are other faulty measures of value, too. But it’s getting late, and before too much fog settles in I’m going to pass on that.

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The ideas in this article post originally appeared in November 2008 at my Ennyman’s Territory blog.

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