Bragging About Ignorance or Smart-Shaming

Jim West, the guy who single-handedly made Zwingli famous again, noted that people are bragging about not reading Karl Barth.* I have to agree with Jim, bragging about ignorance is awful. Being ignorant of this or that fact is fairly neutral. Even not knowing about something that you refuse to learn about for practical purposes (I don’t know about certain aspects of pop-culture because I do not have time to know them). But, claiming to be a theologian and then bragging about not reading a theologian who has, based on the testimony of thousands, helped many pastors preach the gospel more clearly is stupid.

Refusing to read Barth because you’re focusing on biblical languages, busy proclaiming the gospel, visiting the sick, having a family, reading Brunner, memorizing big chunks of Bible, praying, etc makes sense. It’s the apparent pride in ignorance on the part of those to whom Jim refers.

The point isn’t Jim West or Karl Barth though. Its a weird culture of smart-shaming. It’s thankfully not super widespread, but here are examples of its ubiquity:

  1. Students who act put off by teachers who want them to know things. Children will act like it is uncool to know things.
  2. Adults who make fun of people who read often.
  3. Dismissing somebody who has acquired a difficult to obtain intellectual skill as weird, crazy, or otherwise marginal.
  4. Making fun of people who can do things you can’t. I’ve been called “the encyclopedia” in a diminutive way in a calculus class and I was called “the Greek guy” in Bible classes in seminary. I don’t mind, it is easy to ignore those things or turn them around. The issue is that it is considered cool enough for people to not know things that some use it as a signifier of social dominance.

So, what to do about smart shaming:

  1. Make smart-shamers look stupid. “Answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 24:6).”
  2. Ignore smart-shamers and like a bad smell they will eventually go away. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly lest you share in his foolishness (Proverbs 24:5).”
  3. Continue learning the art of intellectual excellence because though it is God’s glory to make a world full of hidden matters, it is a kingly glory for a man or woman to search out that knowledge.

*There is apparently some dispute in the comments about whether or not the people are protesting for a supposedly good reason.

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6 Comments

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