What He Said
Aristotle statue Thessaloniki.jpg

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
— Aristotle

Surely the ancient Greek god of philosophy is right. To “entertain” a thought or an idea—let’s say, for example, a book, a film, a song, a political viewpoint, a scientific study, a civic policy, an educational curriculum, a law, so on and so forth—is not the same thing.

It is not the same thing as “accepting” the full measure of a thought. Or condoning (completely) an idea. Or recommending and endorsing such thoughts or ideas.

So on and so forth.

Standing before a stereotypical high school bulletin board, in the echoing halls of a Christian liberal arts prep school, I had just finished a substitute teaching gig in a Modern Literature class. Eleventh graders. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How to write a literary analysis essay.

Aristotle spoke from the grave and the bulletin board.

Unbeknownst to him, he was still teaching. In one sentence, in fact, he had explained several chapters of the story that is my Christian faith, including, among other things, my lover’s quarrel with American evangelicalismthe version of Christianity once delivered to me during the late 20th century.

I looked around. Was anyone else seeing this? Was anyone else hearing this?

Aristotle was waxing philosophical about a large swath of American Christianity—in the halls of American Christianity!

For me—again, not that he would know it—Aristotle was offering up a concise summation of modern “evangelical culture.” He was collating the particularly glaring weakness of evangelicals: a kind of intellectual bankruptcy that impacts their capacity to be genuinely culturally influential. This, despite evangelicals’ affect on U.S. politics.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Why does the Christian tribe from which my faith derived have such trouble entertaining thoughts or ideas that are disagreeable or conflictual with its centering worldview or guiding belief system?

Is it fear?

Is it moral self-righteousness?

Is it willful ignorance?