If only you were more educated, then you would agree with me

January 3, 2011

I was sitting with a woman—a Mainline Christian woman—and we were chatting about my background. I explained to her that my family is politically and theologically conservative but that I had changed many of the views that I grew up with as a young adult. She shook her head, sighed, and said, “Well, people just need more education, that’s all.”

It’s a common mistake that progressives make, but I really wish we would stop it. More education did, indeed, make me become a more progressive Christian. But I always cringe when I hear progressives say, “Well, they just need more education” when it comes to political, sexual, or theological issues. Why?

•We are assuming that conservatives are uneducated, and that is not true. We are way past the point in our country when we can make those assumptions, and it’s naïve to do so. In D.C., there are plenty of conservative religious think tanks, with highly skilled and educated men and women who have been pumping out articles for decades. But I cannot think of many progressive religious think tanks. Only a few come to mind. Please correct me if I’m wrong about this…but religious progressives seem to be woefully inadequate in this area.

•When we assume conservatives are uneducated, that makes us arrogant and unattractive. I write for the Huffington Post, and often, when I put up a positive article about religion, inevitably a rash of atheists will break out to tell me how unintellectual I am. The logic is that if I were educated or if I were an intellectual, then I would think like they do.

Does this make me want to run out and join the Dawkins book group? No, it does not. It just makes me roll my eyes and think rather poorly of atheists. Which is too bad, because I rather like the atheists that I know in real life. I am not anti-intellectual, anti-science, or anti-education, and false assumptions that I am are annoying.

We do the same thing as progressives. Imagine a Midwesterner who went to work as a car mechanic instead of going to college, because he realized that he could make a whole lot more money as a mechanic in his town, and come out with a whole lot less debt. Would it be attractive to him if we said to him, “If you had an education, you would think like us”? No, it would not. We need to begin to accept people for who and what they are. We don’t need to go around imagining that if they would better themselves than they would look like us.

•If we really believed it then we would be better at resourcing education. If you’re a church professional who has been to seminary, it’s easy to find wonderful, scholarly work on all sorts of areas that are important to progressive ideals.

If you want to hand something to your members, if you want to educate them, you’re out of luck. I often hear people on Twitter asking, “Does anyone know of a progressive resource for (fill in the blank—marriages, same-sex partners, parenting, finances, devotions)?” And then the only response is “if you find out anything, can you let me know?” When I bring this up to people who might provide the resources (scholars, publishers, etc.), they say that they don’t want to “dumb down” their material. They are providing resources for a scholarly audience.

The problem with this idea is that the people in our pews are not dumb, they are just not educated in the same things that we are. I could not pick up a biology textbook and get much out of it. Why do we expect that the biologist in our pews should have to pick up a theological text, written for a handful of people at AAR and expect to understand it? Why do we expect that mechanic–who can fix my car when I have a difficult time finding the dipstick–to understand it? Sometimes the books only seem to be written so that other scholars can check the index to find out if their names appear in it.

When I met a representative from our denominational publisher, the first thing he told me was, “We would never publish one of your books.” It was a strange thing for him to say, since I had never sent in a proposal or even made an inquiry. I mean, to get a rejection out-of-hand like that seemed odd.

I laughed and said, “Why?”

He answered, “Because we only publish scholarly work.”

On one hand, it felt like a personal rejection that I’m still reeling from a couple years later (I’ve told the story countless times to others who have received rejections). But on the other hand, it was a clear statement of strategy on behalf of our denomination and its publishing that had nothing to do with me, personally.  And so it also made me wonder a deeper “why.”

If we believe so much in education, if we believe that it is transformative, why aren’t we providing education for anyone but those who are already highly educated?

Originally posted at Tribal Church.


Higher education

Carol, I grew up in a very theologically tolerant family, respecting all faiths. That belief didn't sit well with many of my Southern Baptist sisters and brothers (mainly brothers). I have turned 180 degrees and now I believe I am a progressive. I thought conservatives were "uneducated" with certain subjects. I too, have been guilty of the sin of being "haughty" and "proud." I too, believe that higher education is for all. As the AA folk say,"Take what you want, and throw away the rest."

I've never thought the problem was "education"

I grew up with schoolmates who were and are mostly conservative. Most are about as well educated as I am (I have a Master's Degree). I keep in touch with many. None are stupid.

One religiously conservative fellow was molded into what he is by his religious nut mother. Another with a junior college degree also had a religious extremist mother and years later spoke of "becoming a Christian" in adulthood the way a pilot might say "graduated from flight school". He was an unsuccessful drunk as a youth - a few beers made him vomit painfully - and he seemed to regard egaging in heavy petting with girlfriends in full view of whomever as just business as usual. My parents were conservative in some regard, liberal in others.

My take is we become what our parents want us to be except when we don't, and the amount of innate reistance we have to such things varies greatly. I have a lot - those two guys I mentioned had very little, or else wasted it on consuming cheap beer and romancing lovers easy to dominate.

The fact is it is just human nature that we will never have a society with progressive majorities without cultivating self-interest,as European social democrats have done. America is just too mired in the John Wayne ethic.

It is facinating how

It is facinating how progressives so easily put conservatives into nice tidy little boxes. I don't fit your stereotype, nor do most of my conservative friends. It might just be that we have looked at the issues as thoroughly as you and yet have come to different conclusions. Being a progressive does not make you any smarter. It merely means you have a different view of society than I. Why must you bring a condescending attitude into a discussion such as this?

Education vs. Populism

It's not that I believe that politically conservatives are uneducated, in the past I've enjoyed listening to well thought out arguments from the conservative point of view. As a "progressive" thinker, I believe that listening to all points of view help to bring about rational, informed conclusions. Even, religiously conservative thinkers help shape my understanding of faith, theology and scriptural integrity.

However, what's seem to occur during the last decade or so, with 24 hr. talking heads and the anti-anything that might smell of establishment, i.e. government or religion, as well as a public "war on culture" proclaimed by the right-wing media is a populism comprised of those who take the inflammatory religious and political opportunist as the gospel, instead of the Gospel as the Gospel. As a result, the educated conservative voices are being drowned out by those who profit from, and incite those who are intolerant, under-educated, or intellectually incurious.

It's not the job of those who govern, educate or preach to shape complicated questions into answers that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead, we should, dare I say, ask what Jesus would do.


I agree. As a progressive I often wish for material suitable for lay people. But now the modern technology gives us the tools - self-publish; form a web group who publish. See the work of some of the liturgists who are online and some university lecturers lie Bill Loader in Melbourne.
We no longer are dependent on the major print media or it's distribution methods.
Ron Cook.
(Published from my iPhone while waiting in a doctor's office)

Thank you for your

Thank you for your intelligent post. I have been accused of being uneducated because of my conservative religious views even though I have a doctorate! Some of us have read extensively, studied the Bible along with other Christian texts and have come to the conclusion that conservative views fit us better than progressive views. Each side has issues that leave me scratching my head: conservatives need to do a better job of feeding the poor and showing concern for those who are less fortunate, progressives need to stop navel-gazing and get in touch with the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many other areas where each side can improve. It would be SO nice to carry on intelligent conversations with people from both sides so we could work towards a better, more Christ-like form of Christianity.

Conservatives and education

Well I'm smart, I have a PhD in engineering, and I used to be a religious conservative precisely because I was ignorant and un-critical on the subject of the Bible. Then I took a deep breath and read about modern scholarship and have quite changed my outlook. I now think religious conservatives are either 1) ignorant of the findings of scholarship, or 2) delusional and in denial (especially if they're smart, intellectual, etc). To be a 'modern' Christian requires being willing to accept what has been learned in the past 200 years instead of pretending these findings don't exist or pretending they are wrong.


For the most part, the most conservative people I know are well educated. For example, my pastor is quite conservative politically but he earned his divinity degree from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He even admires the work of Edward Scribner Ames. Being progressive, liberal, or conservative now is a complex matter influenced by many factors.  

I consider myself to be a liberal Christian but a political conservative, but for me being conservative means my rejecting libertarianism and neo-conservative militarism. I simply look for localism as an important locus for societal formation. The terms we use are ambiguous.  For me, the current Republican presidential candidates are not conservative in the way that I am.