There are people with stellar IQs who are short on common sense. People who exhibit genius within the narrow bandwidth of their expertise but lack any breadth of cultural literacy.
Conversely, there are human beings who will never be labeled brilliant by societal standards, but who startle us with insights about life. I know this firsthand as Father to a “special needs” son. Kristoffer often voices simple nuggets of wisdom that awaken me to what is truly important.
I believe there is one definition of intelligence that is sorely needed in ALL of us. It is the ability to get outside ourselves and our given culture. The ability to see our reality in time and place, then respond (not react) to it with a fresh, objective perspective.
Sociologists say that when it comes to our cultures, we are like fish in water. We swim in the conditioning of our upbringing, our genetic makeup, our juncture in history. Often, we never rise above these determining factors. We never decide what to claim and what to reject, what to shed and what to make part of our flesh. Examples are rife in our world.
- People who adopt the spoon-fed religion of their tribe or nation, then wield it as an exclusive truth that trumps the faith and beliefs of others. James Fowler, in his Stages of Faith, called this Stage Three—Synthetic-Conventional Faith—a closed mindset that prevents us from celebrating the mystery of spirituality in all its diversity.
- People reared with a righteous sense of patriotism, an idolatry of their country’s identity and flag. American Exceptionalism is a tragic example, but history is replete with examples of dangerous nationalism.
- People indoctrinated with racism, sexism, or homophobia who never rise about the fear that promotes their exclusion and hatred.
- People whose skin color or class has afforded them a privilege that traffics, consciously or not, in systemic injustice.
- People raised to put their trust and security in material things.
- People trained to gauge their worth by the hollow standards of power and prestige.
In his clandestine meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus famously said “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:7) It’s a pity that these words have been coopted by Christian fundamentalists, a pat phrase that means conversion to Stage Three Christianity.
I see them as a deeper call to wake up, to be born outside the determinates of our lives, to recognize the timeless existence of God’s liberating presence that permeates everything around us.
When this happens, the scales fall off our eyes like they did with the Apostle Paul following his conversion. I believe we ALL need this transformation. It helps us evolve into citizens of the world, not just the territories of our genetic and cultural conditioning.
This is hard work. It begins with a sobering analysis of our own habitual thinking. It often requires repentance, amends, even restitution. But the resulting freedom is well worth the effort.
How did Jesus describe this freedom? In that same conversation with Nicodemus, he said “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Or, as my son, Kristoffer, recently said, “Dad, there will never be peace unless people change.”