Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Keep Those Glasses On

As you may have noticed, I'm having an absolute heyday sifting through the archives of Chemical and Engineering News.  The latter is the official general interest news magazine of the American Chemical Society. C&E News goes back to 1923.  Perusing those back issues, as when reading old newspapers or watching old newsreels, is about as close as one can get to stepping into a time machine.  It's spellbinding to listen to ghosts from the past discuss their world.  The listener never knows what gems he might unearth in the process.

One such gem was written by the famous, prolific writer and scientist, the late Dr. Isaac Asimov.  His paper entitled, "The By-Product of Science Fiction," appeared on page 3882 of the August 13, 1956 edition of C&E News (I was only a little shy of two months old, then).  Dr. Asimov was troubling over the anti-intellectualism rampant in American culture, and how good science fiction served as a stronghold for a much needed respect of intelligence, and a possible model for jump-starting education towards producing the scientists and engineers woefully underrepresented in the general population, yet thoroughly needed to keep America technologically competitive in the world.

Dr. Asimov observed that intellectual pursuits were severely stigmatized, and how the entertainment industry used eyeglasses as a devise in its assault against thinking men and women.  Asimov wrote,

"Glasses in the popular visual arts of today are the symbol of developed intellect (presumably because of the belief on the part of the average man that educated men ruin their eyes through over-indulgence in the pernicious and unhealthy habit of reading). Ordinarily, the hero and heroine in a movie or television play do not wear glasses."

He was right, of course.  I immediately thought of the scene in The Big Sleep where Marlowe goes into a bookshop to get out of the rain and to possibly acquire some information.  He questions the female proprietor, and upon discovering she has a refined sophistication, quickly moves to know her better on a more personal basis, only to insist she first take off her glasses.  She does, lets her hair down, too, and closes up shop for the afternoon.  What transpires next is left to our imagination (an artifice the movie industry would do well to resurrect).

Dr. Asimov provided his own examples of how intelligence, as symbolized by the donning of eye-glasses, was synonymous with being unattractive, boring, and socially suicidal.  He summed up his point this way:

"No, glasses are not literally glasses.  They are merely a symbol, a symbol of intelligence.  The audience is taught two things: a) Evidence of extensive education is a social hindrance and causes unhappiness; b) formal education is unnecessary, can be minimized at will, and the resulting limited intellectual development leads to happiness."

All of which sounds a bit like "ignorance is bliss."  Perhaps it is.  Thinking too much can be depressing; the famous mathematician, Kurt Godel, was found dead, laying in the fetal position.

The stigma of intelligence has, unfortunately, persisted into the present day.  However, it isn't portrayed using eye-glasses so much any more; instead, the media have reincarnated the idea in the stereotypical geek.

Our society has put geeks on display.  Like the freak shows of old, we exhibit our geniuses in cages to gawk at, ridicule, and tease.  At best, we pity their malady; at worst, we despise them for it.  And this happens for the same reason it happened a half-century ago: the belief that intelligence equals dull, uninteresting, and ugly.

I don't know why this is so.  I suspect it is rooted in fear, somehow.  Knowledge and the use of knowledge is power, and people tend to fear power they can't wield themselves.  Alternatively, people might be afraid of what they might discover if they think about anything too intensely, so they avoid it--like turning up the volume on the car radio to drown out the sinister noise coming from the engine compartment.

Sadly, many Christians have bought into anti-intellectualism.  This is a colossal tragedy because our Lord, Master, King, Jesus the Christ is God dwelling with us.  We see God when we see Jesus.  This means we can finally know and understand Truth.  Jesus assures us that He is the only way, the truth and the life.  And He tells us this truth--the Truth--shall set us free.  Among many things, this means we can boldly engage in the myriad thoughts and ideas of this world to reveal truth and dismiss the lies; in short, we can fearlessly be lights shining in a dark world; indeed, that is why we are here.

Therefore, Christians should champion intelligence and the pursuit of knowledge.  Because Jesus the Christ lives and we confess uncompromised allegiance to Him as dwellers in His kingdom, we can confidently and proudly keep those glasses on.


Jeff said...

Great blog this week Bruce! I have been reading a lot about creativity lately and I wonder if Christians don't put "glasses" on art and creativity. Too often Christians are anti art (and anti-science). We expect artists to be strange or dangerous and certainly not believers. Well, God was the original creator and I think we were made to create too!