Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vacuously Bright

From the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 4th Edition:

Brilliant adj 1 very bright; sparkling 2 (a) very intelligent; highly skilled or talented (b) causing admiration; outstanding; exceptional

Naïve adj …2 (esp derog) (a) too ready to believe what one is told; credulous (b) showing lack of experience, wisdom or judgment

Highly intelligent people are not necessarily smart. The problem is that there are a lot of nuances of “intelligence.” Just because someone has the highly capable brain function to do well on tests, or to score highly on an I.Q. apparatus, does not mean they operate wisely in the real world. Case in point:

A certain red-headed kid who was one of the highest I.Q.s to ever attend Sweetwater Middle School used that intelligence to break into the school computer system, but then proceeded to royally screw it up. (This same kid—the first time he ever got into a fifteen passenger van—famously shut the door on his own head.)

Many seemingly book-smart people have a hard time with “social intelligence.” They cannot function within basic societal-cultural norms of relationships. The typical “geek” or “nerd” stereotype is more defined by their slow social development relative to their less intelligent peers than they are by their brain power.

However, more important than common sense or social awareness is the ability to think. Thinking is a skill that is developed and improved with practice. Far too many people simply do not think nowadays. The worst part of innately “smart” people is that they think their natural abilities suffice and they feel no need to develop their gifts through habitual thinking.

Rather than read the latest book on the market about how to live a better life or how to do church better, perhaps Christians should spend more time meditating on Scripture and reading the classic thinkers from Christian history. Anyone from Augustine to Lewis would do.

Of course, this issue is also important to secular culture as well. One need look no further than the assumed greatest political figure of our day to see a perfect example of Naïve Brilliance.

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