Browsing Tag



learning the words: wisdom


Today’s guest post is from Physics & Whiskey, who blogs about his journey away from absolute certainty and toward endless curiosity at Science and Other Drugs. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

As far as fundamentalist homeschooling families go, mine was fairly average. We saw a lot of families that were definitely more extreme. Growing up, I felt like my parents had balanced everything out fairly well. They swallowed the Pearls’ teachings on discipline hook, line, and sinker, but they shied away from the patriarchal teachings. All of us envied the sense of community in the local ATI group, but we knew there was something a little off about the whole business. My dad preferred the KJV, but we recognized that the KJV-only dogma of most Independent Fundamental Baptists were ridiculous.

We sampled a little here and a little there, never entirely diving into any one system or group or ideology. Perhaps that’s why the word I’m most thoughtful about is wisdom.

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)

Growing up, this passage always seemed tautological. “In order to get wisdom, get wisdom.” Boy, that sure tells us a lot. Of course, the presupposition of Biblical Literalism obscured the poetic depth of many such passages, but still, it was puzzling.

In our family, wisdom had a very specific meaning. Wisdom was a special piece of knowledge or insight provided by the Holy Spirit apart from any epistemic process.

Epistemology is the study of how we acquire knowledge our information. For example, empirical (observational) epistemology says that we use our senses to arrive at most or all knowledge. An epistemic process is a pathway to making a claim; it follows the basic principles of logic and reason and includes both premises and arguments. Because it has all these elements, a statement based on an epistemic process can be questioned, debated, and ultimately understood.

But wisdom was something different. A piece of wisdom couldn’t be questioned or argued or analyzed. It came from God, so it just had to be accepted. You weren’t allowed to understand wisdom; you just had to follow it.

In practice, this meant that whatever insight my parents gleaned (either from the Bible or from a fundamentalist parenting book or from a pastor or from special revelation during prayer) could not be questioned. According to fundamentalist belief, parents had a special connection to the Holy Spirit which allowed them to make the right decision 100% of the time, as long as they were “trusting God’s Word.” They didn’t have to understand it, they just had to apply it and believe that it would yield positive results. “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Labeling intuition or church dogma as wisdom essentially made it God’s Word; since God is the source of all wisdom, questioning anything labeled as wisdom was tantamount to questioning God. Worst of all, not even my parents were permitted to question it. If my mom said something was wisdom, my dad was duty-bound to defend it; if my dad said something was wisdom, my mom had to do the same. Wisdom could be invoked at any time to end any discussion. If you continued to protest after wisdom had been invoked, the full weight of Proverbs was brought to bear.

“Fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
“He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.”
“A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent.”
“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.”

Oh, and here’s my personal favorite. Any time we tried to defend ourselves: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” In other words, shut up and face the consequences; the more you try to explain, the more foolish you are.

I say “favorite” with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, because nothing could be further from the truth. Even now, I’m having trouble glancing through the book of Proverbs. These passages bring back a lot of difficult memories. My heart is racing and I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Wisdom is hard for me to talk about. I can feel the nervous panic of sitting in my parents’ room waiting and waiting because I had made the painful mistake of “despising wisdom.”

The irony was that fundamentalists prize the doctrine of “solo scriptura to an extreme degree. Scripture is supposed to be 100% sufficient– except when it’s not, and you need to add wisdom to properly round it out. This practice is hard to spot, especially since most “wisdom” consists of Bible verses pulled out of their context and applied liberally to the current situation.

Wisdom was a way of cementing parental authority. “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction.” To question a parent’s wisdom was to rebel against God. It was our responsibility to simply pray until God gave us the same wisdom he had already given our parents.

So it’s easy to see how I might be a little hesitant about using the word “wisdom” now.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

Growing up, wisdom couldn’t be questioned. Wisdom was a guarantee of results. You simply applied it, and it always worked. No matter what.

But in Matthew 11, Jesus says: “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Even Jesus, who metaphorically embodied wisdom, didn’t act as though he was above question. He didn’t say, “I have divine wisdom on my side, so I’m right no matter what.” No, he said that wisdom was identified by what it actually did, not where it came from. If actions bear good fruit, they were wise; if actions bear bad fruit, they were unwise.

Wisdom isn’t magical. It’s the result of experience and reflection. If something works, it’s wise; if not, it isn’t.

If I want to be a wise father to my son, I can’t depend on “wisdom” as a fall-back that will guarantee the proper results if I don’t know what I’m doing. Finally, I understand what Proverbs 4:7 means: In order to be wise, I have to get wisdom. I have to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t; I have to be willing to change if my intuitions are leading me the wrong way.

“Test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

That’s wisdom.


uphill battles and feeling like Sisyphus


I went to my county library’s “MEGA Book Sale!!!” (at least, that’s what they called it in the e-mail I got), and I came home with a trunk load full of books. Not an exaggeration. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to fit them all. They did, with some finagling. I joked that we should have brought my station wagon and gone back for more.

We spent most of our time browsing the non-fiction section, as I’m one of those types that eagerly anticipates the release of my sci-fi/fantasy novels and buys them as soon as they come out, so most of the time I’m good for fiction (although I did look for Tamora Pierce and the Abhorsen books . . . no luck, Hilary and Little Magpie– but I will keep looking!). My husband is obsessed— still not an exaggeration– with fighter pilot books. So non-fiction is where it’s at, for us.

I nabbed some real finds– Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegitable, Miracle, which I’ve been looking for, and Reading Lolita in Tehran, which sounds like it should be a fascinating read. I eventually wandered over to the Religion and Philosophy section, which was pretty much the entire back corner. I was hoping to find a few of the great philosophers’ works– I’m dying to get my hands on Kierkegaard, and I loved reading Kant in grad school but didn’t really have the time to really dedicate myself to understanding him.

Sadly, the “Religion and Philosophy” section was really just the Religion section, and even books representing religions besides Christianity were scarce. They had piles and piles of Billy Graham books. Max Lucado books were scattered everywhere. I found three separate stacks of Joel Osteen’s books. Joyce Meyer’s face grinned up at me every few feet. I picked up a book whose title intrigued me and set it down because Rob Bell was one of the authors.

I barely glanced at them.

And not because they weren’t what I was looking for. Not because “inspirational” books aren’t really my speed.

It was because I instinctively did not trust them.

And not because I’d read them before and decided I didn’t agree with their theology. Not because I was familiar with their writing style and didn’t care for it. Not because I knew anything about these men and women.

It was because I had been taught that these writers are wrong. These writers have purposely dedicated themselves to destroying the “true Christian faith.” They are liberal. They accepted and encouraged corruption in their theology. They’re extremists. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Without even realizing it, I completely disregarded five leading authors simply because of what I’d been taught. Not because of facts, or research. Not through personal discovery. Not because I’d had an open mind at one point and decided I didn’t much care for them.

That process was completely preempted by my indoctrination. What I’d been instructed in the course of being taught “discernment” over-rode my ability to make a conscious decision. I didn’t even realize that this was happening until hours after I got home.

This frightens me, sometimes. I worry about where else this is happening in my life– sometimes, my indoctrination feels like it’s slapping me in the face because, in the middle of a simple, rational discussion I become intensely emotional when I realize the ground has fallen out from underneath me. I frequently find that whatever I’d been “arguing” for had no rational support whatsoever, but it was the only thing I’d ever been taught, and I had been taught to cling to it. I automatically clutch my indoctrination harder when it’s challenged and defend it vociferously . . . only to later realize that what I’d been defending was absolutely horrifying.

This is why my journey is so important to me– because I feel like the inside of my head is a minefield. But, I’m routinely going through as many things as I can– reading and researching and talking and writing– and sometimes, a mine explodes. I’ll cry, or I’ll get so angry I’ll storm out of the room . . . but it will pass, and then I’ll have a gaping, scorched hole in the ground to fill in with soil. And I’ll make sure to replace it with something worthwhile– sometimes, that’s a simple “I don’t know.”