Cracking the Code

Nicholas Kristof is ready to “step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life.”[1] With a profound sense of relief, Kristof welcomes Obama as the first “open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual” to occupy the Whitehouse since John F. Kennedy.

We’ve grown accustomed to reading this kind of drivel from the New York Times, with its stable of Harvard-trained, Rhodes Scholar, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers like Kristof. It serves only one purpose: to perpetuate the myth that liberals have all the smart people.

To make his point, Kristof goes on to bash President Bush for rejecting the advice of “reproductive health specialists.” Those are the same specialists, by the way, who want to create human life in the lab, destroy that life, and do it all at taxpayer expense. So far, only the executive orders of Clinton and Bush have held the murderous barbarians at bay. But decisions coming from just one man (or just one God) threaten liberalism’s commitment to radical self-autonomy. Consequently, in a very short space of time, we can expect to see those orders rescinded. The gates will be opened. The hordes will rush in. We’ll hand over the keys to the treasury. To protest the intrinsic value of all the city’s inhabitants, including its unborn children, is to betray a profound and cruel ignorance—or so we have been told.

This topsy-turvy morality reminds me of a scene in The Princess Bride. Bad guy Vizzini repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” in totally inappropriate places. Inigo Montoya finally tells him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Kristof is suffering under a similar delusion. Apparently, he thinks that saying “stem cell research” is the same as saying “the latest, and greatest medical science.” But this is not true. Scientists, who represent a fair share of the world’s intellectual capital, have found a better way to create stem cells without destroying human embryos.[2] To push embryonic research at this juncture is not only a waste of life, it’s a waste of science. In Kristof’s lexicon, “anti-intellectual” becomes a code word for “pro-life” or, broadly speaking, anyone who reads their Bible and goes to church.

Just to emphasize the point, Kristof takes a swipe at national leaders who display excessive amounts of “moral clarity.” Perish the thought that presidents should know right from wrong. Partially delivering a baby and then killing it in a most gruesome fashion is vaguely wrong, or vaguely right, or of no moral concern whatsoever. No one really knows anymore. If you think you do, you better not say it out loud.

Media elites revel in the moral ambiguity of popular culture, from movies like Million Dollar Baby to games like Grand Theft Auto. There is nothing nuanced about putting an injured boxer “out of her misery” (in the first case), or killing people in a senseless and disturbingly realistic crime spree (in the second case). The anti-hero is just a sinner we admire, and “moral ambiguity” is just a code word for “bad behavior.”

Unfortunately, there are times when we aid and abet the myth of Christian anti-intellectualism. One small congregation I know had one adult class, until they started a quarter on Christian evidences. Then, and only then, there had to be a “real Bible class.” With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder our kids are losing their way in the spiritual wilderness of state universities. At the level of the local congregation we are doing little to foster a healthy life of the mind and a healthy life of the soul. We need both.

In his far-ranging mission work, the apostle Paul became “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22). His sojourn in Athens is a great example (Acts 17:15-34). He visited the Jews in their synagogues, the average Athenian, and the educated elite atop the Areopagus. We can’t hope to match his gift of ministry, but we still need godly elders, preachers, and teachers who are ready to address the soul-destroying challenges of our current age. The liberals don’t have to have all the smart people.

[A version of this article appeared in Think, January 2009, p. 39.]


[1] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Obama and the War on Brains,” New York Times, November 9, 2008.

[2] Patrick Barry, “Potent Promise: Back to the Womb,” Science News, September 13, 2008, pp. 16-21.

© 2008 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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