Friday, January 04, 2013

The Intellectual Laziness of Us Americans

America is in trouble. The freedoms we have known for over two centuries are fading fast. Many are sounding the alarm, but the vast majority of Americans remain unconcerned. Like many ancient civilizations which have come and gone, physical comforts and sensual pleasures are the primary focus of  most Americans. Rather than comprehending the importance of knowing, most Americans care only for the experience of feeling. It is as if comfortableness has exalted itself to the throne of the American heart. As a result, the intellectual strength needed to sustain the civil freedoms that produced American's societal comforts in the first place has disappeared like a morning mist. Knowledge is power, and most Americans are losing their power because we have lost our knowledge. Whereas most elementary school students in the 1800's learned Latin, Greek, philosophy and the natural sciences, most American adults today could not tell you the philosophical basis for what we call Western civilization.

I want to show you in this post how three contemporary men--Socrates of Athens, Ezra of Israel, and Confucius of China--advocated learning as the answer for the problems in their respective civilizations. These men and their advocacy of life-long learning had a profound effect on their countries and the world at large. Much of what they advocated has been lost in our culture. As long as Americans are only concerned with comforts, we will see very little need for stretching our minds to understand the concepts that built our comforts. In my opinion, one of the best things that could happen to America in the next five years is a total economic collapse which would wipe away all the comforts that cause us to ignore life-long learning. History is repeating itself, and for our American way of life to continue we are going to need some people who are invigorated with the challenge of intellectual pursuit.


Athens  during the 5th century BC is considered the birthplace of what we call Western civilization. Socrates (c. 470-399 BC), the son of a stone mason and mid-wife, possessed a remarkable intellect and became convinced at an early age that learning was the path to virtue and the surest road to happiness. Perhaps the emphasis on mental training arose because Socrates was an ugly and uncoordinated man physically, at least by the contemporary standards of his fellow Athenians. The Olympic Games had begun in 776 BC, and Grecian culture was all about molding the finest male physical specimans in their gymnasiums in order to attain victory for the gods.  So in an age where male physical beauty and prowess was esteemed, Socrates was indeed an outcast. This seemed to bother Socrates little. Though he exercised throughout his life, Socrates developed a paunch in his thirties, and with his distinctive bowlegged walk, the people of Athens often made cruel jokes about him. When asked why he did not resent being mocked, Socrates said, "If a man slaps my face, he does me no evil, only himself."

Socrates decided early in life to be a teacher of others. In 5th century Greece, education was handled privately, among individual families, and it was mostly the privilege of only the wealthy and upper class. Socrates, a middle-class man himself, strongly felt that education for the poor was the only way Greek states could ultimately succeed against invasion attempts by rival nations, especially the Persians. Socrates took no pay to be what he called "an examiner" of men. For this reason, Socrates learned to live on the bare necessities of life. He is famous for sayings like, "Some men live to eat. I eat to live." "Greedy people do not appreciate delicacies." "Those who drink a lot don't relish rare wines." "Poverty is a shortcut to self-control." "Nothing is said to be in favor of riches and high birth, which are easy roads to evil."

Socrates star pupil was a young man named Plato (c. 427-347 BC). The central event of Plato's life was being taught by Socrates. Since Socrates himself never wrote anything down, the only way we know of Socrates is through the writings of Plato and others. Plato is considered the first professional academic, for after Socrates death in 399 BC, Plato founded the Academy in a suburban park in Athens. The Academy was the first for-pay university in Western Civilization. A seventeen-year-old young man named Aristotle (384-322 BC) traveled from Thessolonica to study at the Academy. After Plato's death, Aristotle founded his own university in Athens called the Lyceum, a rival to the the Academy. The competetion among universities that we experience today officially began with the Lyceum's founding in 335 BC. Aristotle's star pupil was Alexander the Great, who would conquer the known world militarily. Thus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are considered the triumvirate fathers of Western philosophy and Western civilization.


Few Christians realize that Ezra the scribe (c. 493-440 BC) was a contemporary of Socrates.  Ezra was born in Babylon (modern day Iraq). King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had invaded Judah and carried off Hebrew captives while destroying the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (587 BC) nearly a century before Ezra was born in Babylon. After the fall of Jerusalem (587 BC) the Hebrew captives were held in Babylonian slavery until 539 BC when Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, invaded Babylonian and defeated the Babylonians. Cyrus issued a decree in 538 BC that some of the Hebrews could return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild their Jewish Temple.  Ezra was born in Babylon four decades after those first Jews returned to Jerusalem to begin their work. As Hebrew young men came of age in Babylon, many of them were sent to help their fathers and grandfathers rebuild the Temple and the city walls.

When Ezra grew to be a Hebrew man, he refused to return to Jerusalem and stayed in Babylon to study and learn. He, like Socrates, believed the education of the mind was more important than the comforts of the body. It was only in 458 BC, the year Socrates turned twelve years old in Athens, that the educated and erudite thirty-five-year-old Ezra left Babylon for Jerusalem. Rumors had reached King Artexerses that the Hebrew men in Jerusalem had begun marrying pagan women, had become sloven in their work, and were in need of reform.

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he was shocked by what he found. You can read about Ezra's discoveries in the book of Ezra, chapters 7,8,9, and 10. The Hebrews were not keeping the Law of God. They were more interested in their personal comforts and daily sensual pleasures than any discipline of the mind. They intermarried with women from surrounding pagan countries, and any semblence of morality or moral education was gone. Judaism credits Ezra with establishing the Great Assembly of scholars and prophets, the forerunner of the Sanhedrin, as the authority on matters of religious and Hebrew cultural law. Similar to the Plato's Academy and Aristotles Lyceum, Ezra's Great Assembly raised the educational level of the Hebrew culture. Ezra is considered metaphorically by the Jews as "the flowers that appeared on the earth," signfying the person who led Israel in a springtime rebirth of learning and education.


A few years before Socrates was born in Athens, and during the time that Ezra lived in Babylon, a man named Kung Fu-tzu, (known by the Latinized Confucius) lived in Shantung, China. Born in 551 BC and dying at age seventy-three in 479 BC, just twenty years before an adult Ezra left Babylon for Jerusalem (458 BC), Confucius, whose name Kung Fu-Tsu means "Philosopher Kung," became the Chinese equivalent of the Hebrew Ezra and the Grecian Socrates.

Confucius devoted his life to the moral and cultural transformation of his society by stressing the importance of all Chinese people--rich and poor, young and old--learning the six intellectual arts of Chinese culture: ritual, calligraphy, arithmetic, music, archery and charioteering. Contrary to the Chinese beliefs of his day which emphasized only the latter two, Confucius believed that no amount of physical expertise could ever replace the importance of intellectual learning.

Confucius taught that a person should be "so deep in study that he forgets to eat, so full of joy in learning he ignores all practical worries, and so busy acquiring knowledge he does not notice old age coming on. Education, for Confucius, was the process whereby civilization, and the minds and bodies of those privileged to enjoy it, breathed and lived" (see Paul Johnson, A Man for Our Times).

The descendents of Confucius live today in the same area their forefather was born seventy-six generations ago. Much of Chinese culture today is indebted to the emphasis Confucius placed on learning. Israel in our modern times, much like China, is saturated with a culture of learning. Western civilization, from Europe to South America, is indebted to the Socratic and Platonic influence of 5th century Athens.

America, however, is going downhill fast.

As a follower of Jesus Christ I could advocate that what is missing in our culture is what we Christians call "revival." But as one who understands that there have been great cultures in this world that have never been influenced by the Christian faith, I will settle for a secondary advocacy as a hopeful rescue for our country. We need Americans of all ages interested in learning.

Sadly, it seems we have raised up several generations of Americans who care more about video games than reading, more about pop-culture trivia than philosophical truth, and more about personal comfort than societal concerns. We are about to lose all our American comforts. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. When we do, don't despair.

Just maybe God will show us grace and raise up an American Socrates, an American Ezra or an American Confucius. God knows we need one.


Bob Cleveland said...

Sadly, that's leaked into the church, in areas where church folks ought to be educated, too. To me, that's the same thing that happens when the pressure outside a vessel exceeds that inside, and the vessel is leaky.

Our spiritual pressure needs to be a lot higher in the Evangelical Church. Like it is in, say, the Jehovah's Witness bunch.

Wade Burleson said...

Bob, I agree.

I'm not so sure about the Jehovah's Witness comment - maybe I've missed something.

My experience with JW's, in general, is that they are on the opposite end of the spectrum of encouraging intellectual pursuits.

Pege' said...

Wade, 100% in agreement. I was speaking with an Egyptian friend about what was going on in his country and his family there. Made me weep to hear the truth. He said he tried to tell Americans the reality of what is really happening and he said they argue with him and do not believe him. He says most folk believe the sound bites of the news channels and the American propaganda. In his assessment Americans have stopped thinking and have become lazy intellectuals. Ready to argue at the drop of a hat about things they think they know but are truly ignorant of. His prayer is that people in America start thinking again. I do not think one man/woman is what we need such as the sages of old. It is WE who need to take the offerings of there labor and many others who have lived after them and sit at their feet. Read, ponder, meditate and gain wisdom to change our own lives and then others. Consider the first step to be self governance. “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius
“It's time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, "We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves. (October 27, 1964)”
~ Ronald Reagan, 40th US President
So I would like to propose the foundation of thinking and wisdom is self control. I will take your challenge. I will not be " the one" but one who strives after wisdom, self control and a life of learning.

Wade Burleson said...

Excellent comment Pege.

Bob Cleveland said...

IF JW's aren't actively engaged in the work of the body for 30 days (as I've been told, at least), they're taken off the membership roll. In fact, one of the ladies that visited our home last week was reading from notes for most of her presentation .. obviously in training. She did OK until I asked a question about my own salvation, at which point the trainer stepped in and the conversation got interesting.

Or maybe I should have said fun.

Wade Burleson said...

Understand! Thanks, Bob!

Ramesh said...

From my experience, both in USA and India, it is the men who are not learning. But the women of both countries are on a tear to learn and leap frog men.

Pege' said...

Thy Peace, I am not refuting your experience in any way, and I am not saying ALL women, but I find there are 3 camps in the USA. The women who learn and become very prideful about it and berate their hubbies with the word and those who learn and go by feelings. The 3rd are learning and becoming humbled and strengthened in the truth. There are many men who are studying the word and are also being changed. I think it is unfair to say that men are not learning. I have a very amazing husband who is a student of the word of God and I know many men like him.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating article. Enjoyed it very much. You' re right of course about America on the whole. It's the dumbing down of America. Frankly, I think it was part of the plan. You can't control a population of literate free thinkers. We were a far more intellectual population who grew up with the 3 R's, the Bible, the sense of being one nation as we pledged allegiance to the flag in school. What we have today didn't happen overnight or accidentally. It's a lot easier to hold on to values than to reinstill them when they are all but gone. Insidious is the word.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered if an economic collapse might not be needed to slow folks down. Maybe then they might have need and time to consider the more important things of life. After over 32 years of hard work toward comfort/success I find myself now wanting to learn things bypassed before.

Anonymous said...

It's the dumbing down of America.

It began in the pulpits with Pastors abandoning the Word of God for the most part. Expository preaching is a dying art in many pulpits. Pastors no longer know how/care/can take the Word of the Lord and break it open for the laity. They have become much too worldly in their preaching trying to be "relevant" all the while becoming irrelevant.

Sermons like good christian diets, or how to be happy in life (its ok to be happy, but God prefers us to be obedient) permenate the American Landscape and it is being exporte missionally to other countries in the name of the Gospel.

I work with overseas pastors who have never read the Bible from cover to cover one time (they were apparently told that it was unnecessary)from American "Missionaries" who were/are intellectually lazy and without understanding. These men/women are basically starting at ground zero with who God is and again -they are pastors!

I guess my point is that what we believe/live is what we send to the mission field and from my overseas connections-it is not well.


Romans 5:1

Pege' said...

Wade, I am having a problem with the "BLAME GAME". We all have Bibles. If we are ignorant of its contents it is our own fault. the word says 1 John 2:27 "But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him." If there are truths we would want to know there are sooooooo many resources literally at out finger tips to explore and discover the truth. Look at the research you do is proof. If I am ignorant and stop thinking regardless of my education, television, multi- media, I AM TO BLAME!! ME! I think your article here means to encourage us as individuals to take control of our own lives (self control/self government)and become wiser. HOW can we do this? What ways do you do this? Any ideas??

Anonymous said...

It isn't just Bible knowledge going the way of the dodo bird, it is ALL knowledge.

What my dad learned in 8 grades in the 1930's the local kids don't get in gifted and talented programs in the local high school.

Logic is a foreign language and they haven't learned it.

Not only do we as a nation not know what to think, we no longer know how to think or even want to tackle the task of thinking.

I think, personally, Pastor Wade is right and we are headed for a collapse of our culture, and it is for sure gonna hurt.

But there just might be blessing in it if we let it wake us up.

Pege' said...

Anon...I do not think we are headed for a cultural collapse we have already had it. The financial collapse is looming. If we are not careful for ourselves there will be a moral collapse. I am just so tired of the "world" getting blamed for this . The "world" getting blamed for that. "Look at what the lost are doing". " Look at them over there".
I am a part of this country. I am apart of the educational system. I am part of the financial system. I am part of the culture. I am either contributing to its down fall or strengthening it. I am either being ignorant or striving to be educated. My kids learned logic at home by starting to play chess and other mind challenging games.We as parents have the responsibility to train our kids brains, hearts and minds. The do do bird died because he became useless and did not change. Time to step up and change and take responsibility to learn back form others and be responsible ourselves.

Anonymous said...

As an interesting aside to the conversation try to catch the newest episode of Frontline--The Education of Michelle Rhee.

Rhee was, if you remember, the subject of the documentary "Waiting for Superman." A film covering her heroic plan to reform DC's public school system.

Anyway, she has not succeeded, and many say she's done more harm than good. The

The reason I bring it up is it's a fascinating case study on what it takes to give learning traction in this country.

-Jay Risner

Anonymous said...

Pege--glad you are teaching your kids logic at home. Just be aware many of our school systems, under the guise of pluralism or multiculturalism, will unteach what you have taught.

Case in point: our kids didn't like math but learned it just fine. In a base ten system two plus two equals four. UM, unless your school district in the interest of diversity decides that is a western contruct along with linear time, and teaches what the locals on the rez we were near taught: two plus two in base ten equals four today. We have to wait until tomorrow to see what it is then.

And of course, tomorrow doesn't follow today necessarily, since time is circular. Maybe tomorrow is yesterday revisited.

I agree totally individuals have a responsibility to be educated. That is what used to make a Baptist a Baptist: the responsibility under God to know and understand the Bible rather than wait to be spoon fed.

But we dare not avoid changing the system when the system is broken.

Linda (anonymous who forgets to sign her name sometimes)

Pege' said...

Linda, All of my kids are finishing up college or in it. We have had our ups and downs with continuity considering we have moved many times in their education. We also went from home schooling, to christian ed then to public ed. I have to say the public ed was the best and I wish I started there form the get go. I believe this with total conviction, if the Christians did not pull out of society, in this case, education, our public schools would be so much better. Believers have isolated themselves from the culture years before I even was born. Some Christians have stopped being the salt and light and have become spectators and complainers.Condemning all they see and judging all they could make a difference in. Home schoolers use fear to push their agenda, christian schools produce one to many pharisees and performance out shadows character. In Public school my kids were allowed to be kids. they were allowed to fail and not shunned if they did. They had many a wonderful Christian teacher who inspired and encouraged them with their walk of faith in reality. We as parents were there the whole way. We knew their teachers. We knew the principles because we made it a point to know them. There were problems. We did not live in nirvana. Over all they received good educations academically and for life. Learned how to live in the world. We have been kicked in the pants many times because we sent them to public school by believers (the Lord leas us this direction) and how we get an ear full for allowing them to go to secular colleges. Some Christians have cloistered themselves in their safe little environments in the attempt to control everything and to "not be of the world". Jesus even said "Father I ask that you not take them out of the world..." Thinking has been replaced with fear, superstitions, myths. Out here in the mud where the real life is... you think or you perish.

Anonymous said...

Pege, I've no idea why you think we are not in the real world.

Both my kids are self supporting adults, one with a state school AA and one with a state school BA, private school MA.

I totally agree with you that parents need to take responsibility. But with one of my kids a public school teacher, I can also absolutely stand up and testify that the education is just not up to the par it used to be. Not only are kids not getting the full knowledge base, they are not being taught reasoning schools well at all.

So we get adults that doe not know that correlation does not mean causation, have trouble placing our nation both geographically and historically, apparently think the KJV dropped out of the sky somewhere near Jerusalem, and are more concerned with whether or not eating organic food makes them feel good about what they feed their kids than they are about is it better for them in reality.

We've become a nation of "make me feel good about myself and my choices" rather than a nation that makes good choices. We have a whole generation or two of young males still living at home with mama far past the age they should be making it on their own.

As a group, we seem to have stopped learning, stopped asking questions, and just assume someone will make things work out ok somehow.

So I totally agree with you parents have to step up to the plate to change things.

I just think one of the things they have to change is the quality of a public school education.


Pege' said...

Linda, I apologize if I am coming across to you... that you "do not live in the real world". I can see how I have written to elude to that. I agree public ed/private/christian/home school can be more challenging and raised to a higher level. Congrats to you and them for the success of your children. What frustrates me Linda is how fast others are blamed. "Society/them/they/the preachers/the leaders" are blamed for so many of the ills we have today. I would again like to propose that we Christians have abandoned the "ship" so to speak. Public education is one example. If all the christian schools here where I live all close their doors and all the people from the top down administrators, teachers, parents, children even the janitors and lunch ladies became an active part of the local schools... well the difference would be staggering.( Since it has been quite a long time since our influence would once again meet with resistance of course but by staying committed and engaged change would take place and get better.) The whole system would improve because of our salt and light we bring. With the original topic, education, wisdom, learning are wonderful healthy things. It has been the agenda of social change proponents to dumb down the culture and Christians have played right along by cloistering themselves in isolation and with drawl from society instead of being the righteous influence we are meant to be. I am not saying all...and there are wonderful teachers who are making such a difference now. I think we must as believers come out of our cocoons or protection and engage the whole of society once more.Application of all our learning in daily interaction in all venues of our lives would get us back into contact with people who need to hear about Christ.When hearts are changed by God society is changed and raised to a higher level.

rixshep said...

Wade, have you seen the Thomas Jeffeson quote that I use as my personal mission statement when it comes to politics and education?

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson - 1820

I have often talked about the educational level of the Founders and even the general population of their day, compared to us. We arrogantly think ourselves educated if we even know the names of the major philosophers and mere sound bites of their basic teachings. The people of the American Revolution knew these works intimately, and often in the orginal languages, be it Greek, Latin, German, French, etc!

Professors often tell their GRADUATE students they have a long way to go to reach the educational level of the typical 18th century New York farmer, and prove it by challenging those students to read and understand the Federalist Papers, which were written for the educational level of that 16th century farmer!

To read more about the environment that created our original society, and the great achievements of their day, check out this:!/notes/rick-d-shepherd/first-session-of-readdiscuss-group-on-declaration-and-constitution/488322090068

Unknown said...

I enjoy learning and will be a student til the end of my life. I do not enjoy the laziness of people. They do not want to know the truth about anything and become offended when you correct them on the simplest things such as how to spell a word. My comment is get over it and stop being so lazy.