When good and intelligent people say stupid things


This will probably be a rather unfocused post.

Something that has surprised me over the last few years is how often I see otherwise good and intelligent people say or write things that are – to be perfectly blunt – stupid. This is frustrating for a few different reasons.

First I take it personally. “This is stupid. And you think I should nod along and say oh yeah this is so smart and clever and profound? Do you think I am stupid? This is an insult to my intelligence”. That sounds a little arrogant and perhaps overly sensitive. But I am being honest here.

Second it forces me to reconsider my opinion of that person. “You are intelligent and well educated. You have a good reputation as a pastor minister whatever. Why did you think this was a clever or intelligent thing to say? If you were an undergraduate student taking one of my classes and you wrote something like this on an exam it would hurt your grade. This is a terrible argument. And no not simply I disagree with your position. But this argument does not hold up well at all. Almost anyone can see right through it. It is not logical. It would apply to other things that make no sense. And/or you do not know what you are talking about. You talk as if you are oh so well read on this subject but this is garbage. In five minutes I can check standard works on the topic and show that you are just blowing smoke”.

(This happened somewhat regularly at the church where I served for 18 years. People who thought they were so smart and well informed and said things during Bible studies that made no sense and/or were just plain wrong according to my understanding of biblical scholarship. However I felt unable to challenge them publicly and it was difficult to have a fair and honest conversation with them. On one occasion I checked what a standard textbook said and it was almost the exact opposite of what was said earlier that day. I was surprised to discover this person who clearly fancies himself as a kind of great teacher did not know what he was talking about.)

This one is tough. Because to be perfectly frank this happens sometimes. It has been happening recently. Good and intelligent church leaders writing things (on the subject of sexuality and marriage) and what they write is pretty bad. Again the issue is not oh I hold different views and I cannot handle another point of view. I can handle differing opinions. I dealt with that all the time during my nine years at Cornell University. I can handle a different point of view if that person knows what s/he is talking about and makes a good case. I have over the years changed my mind about certain issues.

On one occasion it was a rather abrasive fundamentalist pastor that many of us thought was a bit of a twit. He made a good argument about grammatical versus ontological gender. I had to pause and reconsider. And he persuaded me.

The dirty little not so secret is that sometimes people might be correct about some question or issue. However they make a terrible case for it. I plan to write another post about this soon. Sometimes people might be right but for wrong reasons. (I see a lot of this right now within the United Methodist Church regarding the “presenting issue” of sexuality and marriage.)

Third is that it forces me to reconsider my opinion of the person who says “hey check out this blog post or article or tweet”. That person is good and intelligent and has a good reputation as a church leader. And s/he encourages us to read some half baked drivel that a bright middle school student could tear apart. Oh and then – thinking of a recent example – that person says “no hate no trolling be respectful”. Which almost sounds like saying “do not give it the critical response it might deserve”.

So they are allowed to say “you guys are wrong and have been wrong about this for the last two thousand years until we came along and said something that of course everyone has been aware of since the beginning of history”. But somehow it is rude or disrespectful or hateful to say “this is bad this is a terrible argument frankly you should know better and you honestly thought we would be impressed or even persuaded?”

I admit this is venting. It is frustrating and discouraging when good and intelligent clergy offer and/or promote deeply flawed and terrible arguments. And they expect us to smile nod and say “wow this is so good”. Their arguments neither impress nor persuade. And leave me wondering why they expect the rest of us to go along with them.


About Rickwright67

I am the pastor of a Methodist church, spent 18 years ministering with internationals, as an adjunct taught Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew, husband and dad, love astronomy, space exploration, science-fiction, computers, animals, cinema, and more.
This entry was posted in Bible, Ethics and Morality, Hermeneutics (Interpretation), Logic and Reason, Methodism, Ministry, Same-sex, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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