Recently, I came across a clip from an early Joe Rogan podcast where he speaks about religion. It starts around 14:46 in the video:
“I think religion serves as an operating system for a lot of people, and if they didn’t have religion, you would have to explain sh*t to them, and that could get so tiresome. It would get so tiresome to sit around with some blundering moron pontificating on what it means to have a finite life in an infinite universe. And what part of this experience you really do play. What part do you play? And what is your consciousness all about? And why are you so scared of it shutting off? Those are scary, terrifying questions for the average person. And, you know, maybe like…maybe some ditch digger dude doesn’t need to know that. I believe there’s people who have brains that work way better than mine. I’ve seen it. I’ve talked to people…It’s not just a matter of education. It’s a matter of some people are gifted. Some people have little tiny hands. And then there are people who are built like Shaquille O’Neal and he could grab them and crush them. It’s not fair and it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s just the way it is. And I think that there’s some people…They’re living in this life as humans, but yet they’re not quite human. They’re like just below human. Like you talk to them and you’re like, “So what do you think happens when you die?” “Well, man, for sure you go to heaven. You get to be with Jesus. I believed this since I was a child.” You’re talking to them and you know there’s like a weird disconnect with a person like…They talk and it’s not even that…I’ve met some really intelligent Christians, don’t get me wrong. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that there are certain people who are just really dumb. They’re really not capable of thinking about deep shit. They’re not capable of pondering the really insane question of what the f**k this life is. They’re not capable of it. Religion is like a nice scaffolding for people like that…”
It’s not entirely clear what Rogan is getting at here. The main idea seems to be that religion serves a social function for stupid people. But that is not the really problematic thing he says. He says that religious people he regards as stupid are “not quite human. They’re like just below human.” This is astounding. As usual Rogan makes no argument for his views about religion. He gives us no reason for his belief that going to heaven and being with Jesus after you die is a belief which apparently identifies you as subhuman. He’s quick to say that he’s met some intelligent Christians. So he doesn’t seem to believe that it is belief in Christianity which makes people subhuman ( although that does seem to be a part of it). Rather it is the fact that these people have not thought deeply about the issue or are not in the habit of thinking deeply about things, or are incapable of thinking deeply about things. That, combined with their belief in Christianity, makes them subhuman. Rogan also seems to be implying that Christianity is something which resonates particularly with stupid people. And I don’t see a problem with that. Why should it be a problem? I wouldn’t be surprised that Christianity resonates particularly with unintelligent people, because Christianity appeals to those who don’t have what the world values; who don’t have wealth, don’t have good looks, and don’t have other forms of social status. In both Old and New Testaments, God identifies himself with these types of people. The fact that Christianity may attract unintelligent people ( which it may or may not) has nothing to do with whether the claims of Christianity themselves are unintelligent.
I wanted to address this, because I think Rogan’s comments make explicit what is implicit in some of secular culture. The worship of intelligence and of intellectual achievement creates a climate where those who lack intelligence are regarded with contempt, and are seen as valueless dregs. They are seen as appropriate targets of nastiness. In popular culture, villainous characters in movies and novels are often presented as stupid. The stereotype of the “jock” in movies usually includes the idea that they are stupid, while the person they are bullying is inevitably someone intelligent. Think about how the henchmen of evil characters are often portrayed as extremely stupid. And it’s not merely that they are stupid, but their stupidity is seen as appropriate ground on which to belittle and insult them.
This is why stupidity is a common insult and is a means to express contempt for someone. Isn’t that something worth thinking about? Christopher Hitchens used “stupidity” as a type of moral condemnation. When asked what he disliked most, he said, “Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.” Stupidity is seen as a defect of character, something for which you can be appropriately blamed. But this is nonsense. Stupidity, like intelligence, is not something you have any control over. Feeling proud of one’s intelligence makes no sense, because you had no hand in making yourself intelligent. You were born with it, were lucky enough to be fed well in your childhood, and were not exposed to any harmful pollutants like lead. Conversely, intelligence seems to be included in lists of a person’s virtues. But intelligence is not a virtue. Intelligence is a morally neutral trait and it can be used for both good and evil. Intelligence on its own is not an occasion for moral praise. This is like saying someone’s looks or their athletic ability is a virtue. There are plenty of people willing to condemn denigrating someone for being physically unattractive or for lacking physical strength, but denigrating someone for lacking intelligence is ultimately just as shallow and immoral. But while showing contempt for someone for lacking physical attractiveness and athletic ability is regarded as socially unacceptable, showing contempt for someone for lacking intelligence is regarded as acceptable.
Some people define themselves according to their intelligence and their perception of themselves as intelligent. Their identity and self-worth is tied to this perception of themselves as intelligent. And cultural atheist movements, like the New Atheism, see themselves and their members as an intellectual elite. Remember Daniel Dennett’s promotion of the Brights movement? There are also constantly psychological studies attempting to show that religious people are less intelligent than atheists, and online publications who are eager to report on this. And if you define yourself or see your own value as tied to your intelligence, then this is the way you will view others too.
The malice with which the stupid are sometimes treated in a secular culture is not surprising at all. If you had to pick between good looks, athletic ability, and intelligence, everybody would pick intelligence. Intelligence combined with conscientiousness is the best way to ensure that you won’t have an unhappy life. It allows you both to find a high-paying job and perhaps think through some of life’s challenges better than others. And in a world without God, your metaphysical value becomes a matter of your social value. According to Christianity, your value is determined by the fact that God created you and loves you. But in a world without God, what determines human value? Secular thinkers may contend that we are intrinsically valuable, but this idea does not stick. When biology and society is all there is in reality, it becomes not merely logically inescapable but also practically inevitable that people’s value will become of a function of their social status. And social standing is determined by things like intelligence, wealth, good looks, achievement etc. We see a good example of this in the rise of Social Darwinism and Eugenics in the 19th and early 20th century, (which were definitely secular movements). The way eugenics was advocated for made clear that the value of a human being became reduced to what they could offer society. People with genetic makeups that were unfavourable ( which would include things like stupidity) would ( in theory) be sterilized so that they couldn’t have children. Classical pagan societies ( of Greece and Rome) are known for killing off disabled children. This practice is somewhat revived in our own time, given how often Down Syndrome and other disabled babies are aborted.
You might think that a culture that worships intelligence will allow intellectual achievement to flourish. Think again…
If intellectual achievement is regarded as the greatest achievement, then people will pursue it for the wrong reasons ( for egotistical reasons). And when they actually achieve it, they will get a big head. Because they are so admired, they will overestimate their knowledge and insight, and this leads to sloppiness. If you think you’re intelligent, you will believe you can get by through less work and less diligence. And you are more likely to just trust your first thoughts about a matter, without really thinking diligently about it. Intellectual hubris leads to stupidity in the same way that moral hubris leads to cruelty. Intellectual arrogance is the kryptonite of intellectual achievement. And in a culture where intellectual achievement is worshiped, there will be a lot of intellectual arrogance. This is another example of how the worship of God’s blessings rather than God himself, results in a loss of those blessings.
A Nobel Prize- winning physicist is not more valuable than someone who has a low IQ and who can only perform simple tasks. They are valuable because they are loved by God, not because of their level of intelligence, nor their achievements, nor their ability to think “deeply” about things. Their humanity is determined by the fact that they are created in God’s image.