Are Religious Kids Really Meaner than Their Secular Counterparts? A Guest Post

There’s a news story making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter about a study that supposedly shows that religious kids are meaner than non-religious kids. Social psychologist Dr. Chuck Hackney takes a closer look at the study and offers some important caveats about the methodology in today’s guest post.



Here are a few of my initial thoughts on the study:

  1. It is odd that the researchers had to go to a biology journal to get it published, when there are several high-quality psychology of religion journals out there.  Not really an important point, just something to note.
  1. Before anyone gets too excited about the findings, look at the statistics.  This is why I tell my students that it’s important to read the methods and results in research write-ups. It may be the boring technical bits, but that’s where the quality of a study stands or falls.  The standardized coefficient reported by the researchers was -0.132, which represents only a small effect size.  Put another way, the coefficient represents the change in one variable (stickers given to another kid) associated with changes in the other variables (religious vs nonreligious household).  Children were given 30 stickers and given an opportunity to share.  The difference between the average sticker sharing among the religious kids and the average sticker sharing among the irreligious kids was ONLY 13% of one sticker.
  1. The way that the researchers measured religiosity annoys me.  They operationalized their variable by a simple religious/nonreligious dichotomy, which is the crudest and least sophisticated possible way to do it.  Given the easy availability of a wide range of complex multidimensional religiosity measures, speaking as someone who has done psychology of religion research, I am professionally annoyed at such a blunt analytic approach.  The website where I first saw this was a Doctor Who site (yes, I know the story is not about Doctor Who. There is some off-topic discussion going on at that website).  I explained the problem to them this way: Suppose someone wanted to study Doctor Who fandom, but they measured it by asking participants “Have you ever seen an episode of Doctor Who?”, and calling everyone who said “yes” a Doctor Who fan.  Would any actual Doctor Who fan have any respect at all for a study like that?
  1. Another thing to watch out for is big sweeping conclusions based on data that do not actually support such statements.  Looking at the crudity of their measure and the small effect size that they detected, a proper conclusion would be very modestly stated, with a lot of acknowledgements of the limitations of the study.  If you click on the link in the story and get the pdf of the study, looking at the conclusions they draw, there is none of that.  There is no modesty in their discussion, and they close with a claim that this study shows that secularization makes the world more moral.  Talk about overstating one’s case!

Leaving aside the methodological problems noted above, the connection between religiosity and morality is complex and needs a lot more development. To begin with, the results of psychology of religion studies vary widely depending on how researchers define religion. Studies in which the researchers measure religion by asking questions like “how often do you attend religious services?” produce very different results than studies in which religiosity is measured in terms of agreement with theological teachings, and those studies produce different results than studies in which the researchers are looking at religious maturity, or religious motivation, and so on.

It also matters how morality is being measured. Studies that measure morality by assessing endorsement of moral values tend to show that religiosity is strongly predictive of more moral beliefs. Some aspects of religiosity predict more mature and complex moral reasoning while other aspects do not. Generally speaking (there are exceptions), religiosity does not predict more moral behaviour when believers are “in the heat of the moment” (e.g., giving someone an opportunity to cheat on a test), but it does predict more moral behaviour when believers have time to plan for it (e.g., higher religiosity scores predict more volunteerism). Religiosity predicts higher levels of morally-relevant traits such as self-control, gratitude, and forgiveness.

And even then, that’s the simplified version. It all gets complicated very quickly.


Dr. Charles Hackney is Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Department at Briercrest College and Seminary. He is co-host of the Book of Nature Podcast, and author of Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.  He is also married to me!

Psychology and Christianity Conference Announcement

Next week, no rx October 18-20, cure the Society for Christian Psychology is having their annual conference at Regent University in Norfolk, diagnosis Virginia. The theme is Towards a Christian Positive Psychology.

Presenters include psychologists David Myers, Eric Johnson, Julie Exline and Charles Hackney. Philosophers and theologians include Ellen Charry, James Spiegel and Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung.

The full schedule can be found here.

Chuck’s presentation is on October 20th and his paper is entitled, “Imperfectable: The Importance of Fallenness in a Christian Positive Psychology.”

Sounds like a great conference!

Cage-Fighting, Women Who Kick Ass and Violence: One Woman’s Perspective

Last week I wrote about the new movie Haywire and how there is a new female superhero to add to the ranks of Buffy, see Faith and Sydney Bristow. One person asked me via Twitter if there is a way to celebrate strong women without violence. This month, Christianity Today has an article looking at how Christians should respond to cage-fighting (mixed martial arts). Add all of these things together and I find myself needing to explore my thoughts on violence, martial arts and female superheroes.

I write this as both an outsider and an insider. I am outsider because I am not a martial artist. I have never formally trained in any martial art, nor have I participated in related sports such as wrestling or boxing. I am an insider because my husband is a martial artist. He has trained in jujitsu (the main martial art used in cage-fighting), sword-fighting (through AEMMA), and bujinkan. He is the founder of Caronport’s Bartitsu Society. He has written a book on cultivating the warrior virtues and has written about how training in a martial art cultivates virtues that extend to other areas of life (for example, at risk youth greatly benefit from martial arts training). He has, casually, taught me various stances, holds, and blocks.

Sport violence vs. real violence

Through Chuck’s interest in martial arts I have learned that at the highest levels of training, these sports are not done for the sake of doing violence. Indeed, jujitsu masters like the Gracie family would abhor such a notion. True, there are the punk wannabes who watch UFC and think that its the perfect way to “beat the crap out of someone”, but those who have trained hard know that it is not about violence. Yes, while there may be times where your opponent bloodies and bruises you, at the end of the match, most competitors shake hands and respect each others talents.

Grappling vs. Striking

That being said, I find the grappling easier to watch than the striking. Watching a person hit another in the head over and over again so that they fall over, makes my stomach queasy. Watching grappling, I find myself impressed with the ‘human knot’ — “Now how do I get out of this?” Twist a shoulder here, move a knee, and voila, the knot unties and the two opponents start again. While the grappling may not be ‘showy’ and tends to be a lot more tiny moves that are hard to see on television, the tenacity and patience that is required to get out of an attempted choke is impressive. And though I don’t like the striking aspect, I have to respect fighters like Jon Bones Jones who has an amazing wing span and makes even punching someone in the head look graceful.

Marveling At Our Bodies:
I watch the cagefighters, and am shocked at the things their bodies can do. It’s not CGI. It’s not special effects. It’s years of training and endurance. We can train to do amazing feats of strengths, and yet one well-positioned hit will cause bones to break. Our bodies bend and are flexible, and yet at the same time they are inflexible and non-bendy.
The elbow is extremely flexible with a great range of motion. Except for one angle. If you hyper-extend it, it is extremely painful and could snap. If you kick the knee cap from the front it will shatter, but if you kick it from behind, your leg will buckle and you’ll fall to the ground. If you apply enough pressure on the throat, you’ll pass out, but as soon as you go limp and your opponent lets go, you wake back up again immediately, a little dazed but none the worse for wear. If you hit a person in the shoulder it doesn’t really do anything. On the other hand, if you hit a person in the kidneys, they’ll drop to the ground.
It’s the marvel of our bodies: they are both incredibly strong and incredibly weak.

Learning Self-defense:
Like it or not, it is necessary for every woman to learn how to defend herself. And while we can pray that self-defense techniques never have to be used, the world we live in requires that we prepare to defend ourselves, because we are not damsels in distress. There won’t always be a big strong man around to come to our defense. We need to be ‘Gracie Lou Freebush’ and know how to SING.

Women Who Kick Ass:
But of course watching cagefighting, and learning self-defense techniques are not the same as watching Buffy, Faith, Sydney or Mallory. Some people are uncomfortable with the storied violence in shows like Buffy and Alias. Sometimes it is because people argue that women aren’t supposed to fight. I call this the ‘double standard’ position, because the same people who argue that women shouldn’t fight are the same ones who will go see The Expendables twelve times to see a bunch of over the hill old guys try to reclaim the glory days of the action hero movies of the 80’s.
Other times it’s because people argue that violence serves no narrative or redeeming purpose.
Buffy and Faith fight fairytale monsters, not real people, and we cheer when they dust the uber-bad-vamp of the week. Sydney fights in three-inch heels while napalm explodes around her. It’s not real. And yet it serves to tell a story. What would Buffy be if she didn’t slay vampires? Can you imagine a show about a teenaged girl who is shallow and fashion-obsessed and who hangs out with her friends trading witty dialogue? Oh wait. That would be “generic teen comedy”. What would Alias be if Sydney just sat behind a desk reading intelligence reports? Pretty darn boring.

And of course this is where the issue of the Christian ethic comes in. We are called to suffer, to not retaliate, to ‘turn the other cheek.’ And yet, is it possible to have Christianity without violence?. The violence that Christ endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers and on the cross was horrendous. To sanitize it and romanticize it cheapens the sacrifice that Christ made on behalf of the world in his quest to bring reconciliation and redemption to humanity. The violence, whether we like it or not, is part of THE story.

So maybe just as cagefighting is not violence for violence sake, Buffy, Alias, and Haywire aren’t either. An example of violence for violence sake would be torture-intensive horror films that try to find new ways to shock and sicken their audience without the need for a story. The reason why I can uphold Buffy, Faith, Sydney and Mallory as heroes and examples of women who kick ass, is because their kicking ass tells a story and is not the story in and of itself. And part of that story is that women are strong, beautiful, resourceful and don’t need to be rescued by men who think they are white knights in search of stranded damsels. These stories tell us that in the face of adversity women don’t have to sit back and just watch from the sidelines, as window-dressing, eye candy and ego boosts for the macho guys. These female characters actively participate in, and lead in the struggle against evil by using their gifts and talents of not only karate chops and vampire stakings, but also of situational assessment and creative “strategery”.

“I’ve been through more battles with Buffy than you all can ever imagine. She’s stopped everything that’s ever come up against her. She’s laid down her life -— literally -— to protect the people around her. This girl has died two times, and she’s still standing. You’re scared? That’s smart. You got questions? You should. But you doubt her motives, you think Buffy’s all about the kill, then you take the little bus to battle… I’ve seen her heart, and this time, not literally. And I’m telling you, right now, she cares more about your lives than you will ever know. You gotta trust her. She’s earned it.”
Xander (BtVS — Season 7 ‘Dirty Girls’)

Laundry, Dishes and Gender Roles — Part Two

Yesterday I posted about my reactions about the ongoing conversation related to Owen Strachan’s post on ‘Dad-moms’.

Today, physician it is Chuck’s turn.


Complementarian? Egalitarian? Comgalitarian? Egalmentarian? Maybe I’m just confused.

In response to Amanda’s post concerning the latest round of cyber-debate over gender roles, I’ve been giving the matter a bit of thought. Bear in mind that this is coming from a Christian social psychologist; I am neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar.

Looking over the options that have been presented to me, I find myself in partial agreement with both camps, leaving me with my usual sense that I have a lot of reading to do before I declare myself an official partisan of either side.

Areas in which I find myself in sympathy with the complementarians:

1. Gender differences are inherent.
Actually, it’s considerably more complicated than that. We (social psychologists) have a boatload of research evidence that differences between the genders are biologically-based, involving differences in brain structures and functioning and differences in psychologically-relevant hormones. However, we also have a boatload of research evidence that our concepts of masculinity and femininity are cultural, and that gender identity is influenced by the messages passed on to us by parents, peers, and the media. What I share with the complementarian camp is the recognition that no amount of political activism or theoretical hand-waving will eliminate the role of biology in gender differences.

2. Gender differences should be celebrated.
In the 1970s and 1980s, certain psychologists argued that psychological androgyny (possessing equally-high levels of both masculine and feminine traits) should be held up as the ideal, and that parents should isolate children from any media messages that might cause them to develop a gender-specific identity. Research on gender and mental health, however, combined with the current influence of evolutionary psychology on the psychology of gender, has sidelined androgyny. The current approach more often takes the perspective that masculinity and femininity have their own strengths and weaknesses, which fits well with the complementarians’ position. For myself, I am a frequent reader of the blog The Art of Manliness, the intended audience of which is men who are not interested in media images such as the metrosexual or the manchild, but instead want to enjoy being manly in healthy and prosocial ways. Similarly, many women hold the position that becoming strong and capable does not require them to abandon their femininity. Complementarians often point to the great potential for happiness and fulfillment that can come when men are empowered to be manly, and women are empowered to be womanly.

Areas in which I find myself in sympathy with the egalitarians:

1. Gender differences are not categorical.
There is a tendency when discussing gender differences to interpret them in a rather absolute manner. If, for example, women are shown to be better than men at emotional communication, many people take that to mean that men are utterly incompetent in the emotional realm, while women are blessed with superhuman Heart Powers. The reality is far less dramatic. When studies reveal a consistent gender difference, what we see is a general trend in average scores, with a considerable amount of overlap between the genders.

So, perhaps, ON AVERAGE, women TEND TO outperform men on emotional tasks, but that does not mean that emotionally-competent men do not exist, or that emotionally-incompetent women do not exist. It also does not mean that emotionally-competent men are womanish men, or that emotinally-incompetent women are mannish women. This is an error that I sometimes see among complementarians; treating displays of behaviors at which the other gender more often excel as violations of the essence of their own gender (e.g., A man who changes a diaper is not just changing a diaper, he is acting womanish).

2. The descriptive is not the prescriptive.
Finding a statistically-significant difference between two groups does not necessarily mean that the difference becomes a moral obligation. This is an error in logic sometimes called the Naturalistic Fallacy. The difference might be celebrated and enjoyed, but the existence of that difference does not necessarily become a standard of evaluating group members’ goodness. Cross-cultural research has shown that, on average, members of Western societies tend to have a more individualistic self-concept, while Easterners tend to have a more collectivistic self-concept. Does this mean that a Chinese man must not have any sense of himself as an individual, or that an American must not have strong family ties? Geographical research within the US using the Five-Factor Model of personality shows that residents of North Dakota have the highest Extraversion scores, while residents of Maryland have the lowest Extraversion scores. Does this create a moral obligation for North Dakotans to be socially outgoing, while a Marylander is obliged to be introverted? (We actually have a lot of fun with this argument, since Alaskans had the lowest Conscientiousness scores. This would mean that Alaskans are morally obligated to be unprincipled? 🙂 ) Similarly, the existence of gender differences does not necessarily create a moral obligation to act in accordance with those differences. Men tend to outperform women on mental image-rotation tasks (This and all following examples are drawn from this 1992 Scientific American article). This does not mean that a woman who plays Tetris is usurping a God-given masculine role. Women tend to have higher verbal fluency scores than men. This does not mean that men who want to honor God will stop writing books. If we use established gender differences as a part of an argument that God has purposefully equipped one gender for one set of tasks, and the other gender for a different set of tasks, then this means that God does not want women to do laundry (men outperform women on visual tasks involving folding), play darts (men outperform women on projective accuracy tasks), read “Where’s Waldo” books (men outperform women on perceptual disembedding tasks), or do accounting (men outperform women on mathematic reasoning). It also means that God does not want men to play matching games (women outperform men on rapid image-matching tasks), work on assembly lines (women outperform men on precision manual tasks), or analyze crime scenes (women outperform men on tasks that involve noticing when objects are missing). Why is it only the gender differences in agency and communion that are relevant?

Areas in which I remain confused:

1. Okay, there’s actually only one area. All the above is fine as long as I am looking at this as a social psychologist. Will anything change when I look at this as a Christian? Both complementarians and egalitarians claim to be grounded in the best-quality biblical scholarship, and accuse each other of letting social constructs (patriarchy, feminism) cloud their vision. I don’t know who’s right, and arguments in the blogosphere too often end up being nothing but a restatement of one’s own position and irrelevant character attacks on one’s opponents. I need better arguments than “Complementarians are right because we’re right and you’re wrong.” Diving into the literature on this topic is on my To Read list (along with all the other stuff that’s on my To Read list, a list that seems to be growing much faster than I can read my way through it). Where is the really good scholarly work on this topic? Whose books should I be reading? No cheesy polemics; solid scholarship.

In the meantime, I do the best I can to be a good husband and a good father. I take Jesus’ servanthood as my model (not that I always live up to it). If he emptied himself for our sakes, I should be emptying myself for the sake of my wife and our cheeselings. If that means that I take on some extra burdens, and encourage my wife to do what she is clearly gifted at (preaching and teaching in a pastoral role, being a grad student and eventually going into doctoral studies, etc…), then that’s what I should be doing.

Mis-Reading Star Trek? Exploring Danna’s Chapter in ‘Religion and Science Fiction’

First, diagnosis let me say that I am awesomely impressed with this book. James McGrath has done an awesome job pulling together different scholars to examine the interaction between science-fiction and religion. Stay tuned for several posts on this book as I work through the various essays.

Today, buy viagra we look at Elizabeth Danna’s essay, diagnosis ‘Looking Out for No. 1: Concepts of Good and Evil in Star Trek and The Prisoner.’ I suggest that Dr. Danna has mis-read, or over-read some aspects of Star Trek in two places in particular: her analysis of the episode “Mirror, Mirror”, and second, her analysis of Captain Kirk’s name.

But to do justice to this analysis, I must call on my resident TOS expert. My field of expertise lies with TNG and DS9, and so I turn to one more qualified to look at these issues.


In the classic TOS episode “Mirror Mirror,” Kirk et al. find themselves in a parallel universe, switched with their counterparts by a malfunctioning transporter. In this mirror ‘verse, the Federation of Planets never existed, and a tyrannical Empire rules in its place. The crewmembers from “our” universe cope with life in the cruel mirror universe (promotion by assassination, Spock with a beard, etc.) while their Imperial alternate selves fail to cope with the Federation’s way of running a starship (and a beardless Spock). Federation Kirk talks Imperial bearded Spock into leading a revolution, while Imperial Kirk rants and rages at Federation beardless Spock. Once everyone is eventually returned to their native universes, beardless Spock gets to take yet another verbal jab at human nature (“brutal, unprincipled, uncivilized, treacherous; in every way splendid examples of homo sapiens. The very flower of humanity.”), and everyone learns a valuable lesson (such as avoiding the dang transporter; that thing is more trouble than it’s worth).

It seems to me that Elizabeth Danna saw a valuable lesson that wasn’t there, and it had nothong to do with avoiding the transporter. In her chapter, Danna contrasts the presentations of evil (and how to deal with it) in the TV shows Star Trek (TOS) and The Prisoner. Most of her TOS analysis is unproblematic: The episode “The Enemy Within” (oh look, another transporter malfunction) tells us that humans’ “negative side” is the source of our drives, and that the solution is for reason to rule and properly order it. “The Alternative Factor” creates the powerful image of a man locked in eternal battle against his evil self. “The Savage Curtain” shows that the line between “good guys” and “bad guys” is not as clear-cut as an alien rock-monster might want it to be. “Day of the Dove” shows us that racism can be overcome by a sufficient quantity of hearty manly (and Klingon-ly) laughter.

My disagreement involves her treatment of “Mirror Mirror.” Danna argues that “Mirror Mirror” is a lesson in the necessity of an outside force that will defeat human evil. In this case, Imperial bearded Spock must overthrow Imperial Kirk and take command of the Enterprise; in essence, deal with Federation Kirk’s evil twin for him. I see this as reading too much into the episode. “Mirror Mirror” does provide us with a couple of opportunities to reflect on human evil (if Federation beardless Spock is right, then we are savages at heart, and it is only the laws of civilization that keep us from that fate), but the most salient message appears to be one of identity: Spock is a man of integrity in both universes, but Imperial Kirk is quite comfortable as a merciless thug. What does that say about the factors that make us who we are? And there is some commentary on society and the inherent instability of tyrannies. But using Federation Kirk and Imperial Kirk as representatives of the good and evil within the human heart goes too far beyond what is written.

Speaking of reading too much into things, there is the matter of Kirk’s name. Danna claims that “James Tiberius Kirk” represents ambition and deviousness (“James” as an Anglicized “Jacob,” he of the stew-for-birthright scam) balanced with moral discipline (“Kirk” being the Scottish word for “church”) with a touch of Roman profligacy tossed in the midst. The fact that Captain Kirk was named “James” after Gene Roddenberry’s uncle (and also for an old boyfriend of his mother’s), and that “Tiberius” was chosen because GR’s grandfather was fascinated with Roman history (and that Kirk’s middle initial was “R” instead of “T” in the second pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) seem to lessen any possible deep symbolism implanted by GR in the name. The formal “meaning” of characters’ names does not always provide us with a peek into their souls. After all, “Gomer” means “famous battle,” but that doesn’t provide any insight into Gomer Pyle.

A Study in Combat Sport Psychology

If you are a student of the martial arts: karate, clinic jujitsu, malady bartitsu, boxing, etc., Dr. Charles Hackney is doing a study and would like your help. If you have a few minutes, please fill out the survey. If you know of anyone who is studying martial arts, please pass this information on.

A Study in Combat Sport Psychology Survey.

Any inquiries about the study should be directed to:

Charles H. Hackney, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology Briercrest College and Seminary
510 College Drive Caronport, SK S0H 0S0
(306) 756-3263

Manly Manliness

An article appeared in yesterday’s Globe and Mail about the nostalgia for manly men. Chuck, malady being very much into chivalry and warriorhood, ask eagerly read the article, sickness and came a way just a little bit disappointed. Read the article: Guy Guides: Nostalgia For When Men Were Masters of the Universe.

Below is Chuck’s response. He was going to send it to the Editor of the Globe, but they have a 150 word limit for letters to the editor. So I’m posting his entire response here.


In his recent article, Russell Smith passes judgment on “how-to-be-a-gentleman guides” (Nostalgia for When Men Ruled, April 14th), arguing that these guides are “maniacally conservative” escapist fantasies grounded in a “nervousness” about gender, and a nostalgic desire to return to the days when “men were masters of the universe” and women knew their place.

Anything can be “psychologized” away (a variant of the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy sometimes known as “Bulversism”or “Appeal to Motive”) if one tries hard enough. A psychologist who studies terror management theory could try to explain away the desire to be a good parent, for example, as nothing more than reacting to existential anxiety by focusing on the survivial of one’s offspring, and Freud might have described writing an article for the Globe and Mail as a sublimation of neurotic sexual conflict. Smith’s attempt to reduce the desire to be a good man to nostaglic crypto-sexist neuroses is just such a maneuver.

Regarding the charge of sexism, Smith offers no evidence in support of his accusation. He makes no attempt to deal with the fact that current contributors to this discussion, whether we are talking about Kate and Brett McKay’s book The Art of Manliness or Scott Farrell’s “Chivalry Today” podcast, explicitly sever considerations of gentlemanly behaviour from any implications of male superiority. Smith states that “in discussion of gentlemanliness there is no mention of how best to divide child care,” which is flatly incorrect, as can be seen in the discussion of stay-at-home dads at the Art of Manliness website, for one example. And Smith’s charge that behaving like a gentleman is about trying to assert dominance shows a lack of understanding of gentlemanliness. In my book on warriorhood (a topic associated with manly stereotypes if ever there was one), my research into warrior codes both past and present showed the core of martial greatness to be servanthood rather than masterhood, and Scott Farrell’s application of chivalric ideals to today’s gentleman is grounded in the relinquishing of dominance.

Smith also claims that the proliferation of gentlemen’s guides are the product of nostalgia, as evidenced by the anachronistic language used by most popular books on the subject. Given the attention paid by the media to the “metrosexual” and the 30-something who still plays Xbox in his parents’ basement as images of today’s man, and the often-heard claim that chivalry is dead (or at least badly wounded), it is not surprising that current thought on gentlemanliness often involves a desire to reconnect with something that is perceived to have been lost. However, the publication and popularity of the guides themselves cannot be attributed to mere nostalgia. From Geoffroi de Charny’s 14th-Century manual of chivalry to the writings of US President Theodore Roosevelt, men have always sought the advice of other men on the topic of how a man might live well, in the same way that women have always sought advice from other women. The current crop of “gentlemen’s guides” are no different.

Charles H. Hackney, PhD
Author of Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage, and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors (2010, Charles E. Tuttle Publications)

In Response to: Academics in the Church

Chuck left this huge comment on my post this morning. It was so large, search that it would be better presented as a blog post on its own. With his permission, I present his critique. Full disclosure: Chuck is one of those dreaded educators that Donald Miller is railing against.

Dr. Charles Hackney is Associate Professor of Psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary. He is also the author of the book, Martial Virtues.

In response to Academics in the Church:

Oh for goodness’ sake. Where to start?

What we need is more scholarship in the church, not less. More scholarship in the church, and Mr. Miller might have known that one of the most common terms used by people to address Jesus was “Rabbi,” and that “Rabbi” means “teacher,” not “counselor” or “social worker” or “buddy” or “he-don’t-know-much-but-bless-his-heart-he’s-trying.”

More scholarship (in this case, church history) in the church, and Mr.Miller might not be under the impression that the church was an arm of the government until the printing press was invented. More scholarship in the church (in this case, basic history), and Mr. Miller might have known that clerics were in fact NOT the only ones in the ancient/medieval church who knew how to read.

And, speaking as an academic, I am offended at some of Mr. Miller’s characterizations of academic work. As a professor, I do a LOT more than just lecture and study for my next lecture.

Mr. Miller describes academic development as a “distortion” of true spiritual growth, saying:

“If you want to grow in Christ, you should study more. Christian growth, then, is an academic path. And like educators, we only advance to become higher level educators. The point of learning is always teaching which produces further learning and then more teaching. The only difference between the church and another educational institution is that nobody ever graduates from the church. We just keep going to school.”

How is it a bad thing to study the Bible deeply instead of shallowly? How is it a bad thing to grow in knowledge and then pass that knowledge along?

And how is it a bad thing to have the attitude of always learning? Mr. Miller presents “graduation” as if it means the end of learning and the beginning of work. That is precisely the wrong attitude. Graduating does not mean that you know enough, it means that you are equipped to continue learning.

One of the great things about being married to a grad student in theology is that every conversation has the potential to open my eyes to new ways of understanding theological issues that I used to think I fully understood (and I’ve been reading the Bible since I first learned to read). This attitude of perpetual study has actually helped me to overcome denominational differences, rather than worsen them, because I can have a better understanding of why my brothers and sisters in other churches do what they do, and that they are not necessarily wrong (Mr. Miller, if you don’t understand your Lutheran friends, maybe the solution is to read a book or two about Lutheranism).

And where does this leave Christians who have an aptitude and inclination toward academics? CS Lewis once said, “I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Would Mr. Miller argue that Lewis’ take on intellectuals’ spiritual growth is a distortion? Should thinkers turn off their brains when they enter a church? Maybe at least Mr. Miller would suggest that we should avoid church leadership, because the last thing we want in a leader is someone who thinks too much.