The Myth of Intellectual Faith


Reading other sceptics’ blogs, I am struck by how often Christians dismiss what they say on the basis they’re not well read enough, or don’t appreciate the subtlety of the cognoscenti’s cerebral faith. ‘If you knew Faith as I do, if you’d read about it as much as I have,’ they say, ‘and approached it with the intellectual rigour I do, you wouldn’t make such juvenile criticisms of it.’

But isn’t the Christian faith meant to be simple? Simple enough for the uneducated and the childlike to understand it? Jesus himself says so in Matthew 11.25:

I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.

As does Paul in 1 Corinthians 1.26-29:

Consider your calling, brethren; there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

And isn’t the Bible sufficient in itself for ‘teaching, correction and training in righteousness’? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 seems to says so. Why then is an entire library of additional books required to make the bible comprehensible? Isn’t that tough on the ‘unintelligent’, ‘weak’ and ‘foolish’?

But I dispute that there’s an intellectual form of Christianity, one that is the result of reading widely and extensively, and comes from thinking through the nuances of a deep and complex theology.

There is no subtlety to a belief-system built on the presumption of supernatural beings. There is nothing intellectual about a philosophy dependent on the irrational interpretations of ‘visions’, dreams and hallucinations. Those who impose intellectualism on such things do just that – impose their own intelligence on something that has none of its own.

So argue all you want that there are subtleties to a transcendent God that those of us (deemed to be) of limited intelligence can’t begin to comprehend and I will show you how those nuances derive from your own mind – you are unable to demonstrate that there is a god, let alone one of almost incomprehensible complexity. Similarly, when you talk about the Trinity, I will show you an idea that is ‘mysterious’ only in the sense it defies all rationality. When you insist on the true meaning of salvation – whether it’s the role of blood sacrifice, forgiveness, works, substitutionary atonement or some other magic that only the initiated can understand – I will show you a book so muddled it presents all of these as incompatible explanations of redemption.

Impose it all you like, denigrate those who dispute it, there is no intellectual element to Christianity (or any religion). Intellectual faith is an oxymoron, comparable with discussions about whether the tooth fairy wears a green dress or a pink one.


5 thoughts on “The Myth of Intellectual Faith

  1. I’ve heard preachers say the bible is so simple even a child or any half- wit can understand it and others say that God made the bible difficult so we’d have to pray and seek him to understand it. Some think all you need is the Holy Ghost while others think you need to know Hebrew and Greek but just a little common sense will tell you it’s all man made myths and superstitions.
    I recently had a conversation with a sweet young lady who told me she’s a believer but doesn’t read the bible or any of that. She has some Christian based tattoos which led to our conversation. I told her I used to be a believer that did read the bible and it was finally because of the bible that I no longer believe. I actually told her that I came to the conclusion that most of the stories therein are as true as the fact that fairies wear boots, to which she giggled. I was glad I didn’t offend her.


  2. It seems to me that God can meet people where they’re at. I came to faith as a young person, and that was real. But, at the same time, I feel as if my faith and understanding has also deepened and matured over the years. I still have a long way to go. 🙂

    To give one example, as a young person, I did interpret certain stories in Scripture in a literal way. But, as an adult, and upon careful study and reflection, I came to understand that some of these stories in the Bible are not meant to be read in this way. They are actually myth which God has used to communicate deep spiritual truth.

    I don’t feel that people who believe otherwise are less Christian.

    But, on the other hand for skeptics to hold up people who feel that the earth was created in seven literal days only a few thousand years ago as truly representative of the belief of the entire church is not being intellectually honest either.

    I’m not saying that you do this Neil, but am simply using this illustration as one example.

    There are many times in reading these various blogs and other articles where people will present a picture of Christian faith where, you know, if I actually thought in this way, I wouldn’t be a Christian believer either, for heaven’s sake.

    I can’t tell if this is always an intentional misrepresentation of not. Maybe they really think this is how all the Christians think. I don’t know.

    There’s plenty of confusion out there, for sure.

    Always appreciate reading your writing. Even though we don’t agree, your sincerity comes through to me, and is thought provoking, a good thing.



    • Hi Rebecca,

      My post isn’t in any way about interpreting, or not, the bible’s narrative literally. Consequently, I can’t see how your comments apply to what I have written; it’s actually about ‘intellectual’ Christians who, presumably, don’t take everything in the bible literally.

      It is these people I’m addressing specifically; those whose defence of the faith is, ad hominem, that those who criticise their beliefs aren’t sufficiently well read or lack the intelligence to understand it properly. As I make it pretty clear that that’s what I’m doing, it’s not reasonable to suggest, as you do, that I’m ‘intentionally misrepresenting’ all Christians.

      Having said that, Rebecca, don’t you think all Christians ought to believe the same things about the bible, god, salvation, baptism, the fruits of the spirit and a thousand other things? When the same indwelling Holy Spirit guides all Christians’ faith, shouldn’t there be far more concensus and a lot less contention? Why are there so many different shades of belief, with a high degree of variance, within Christianity?

      I notice too your support of your faith relies on how you and other believers ‘feel’. Similarly, you start your comment with ‘It seems to me’. I wonder, is such a subjective response to the claims of Christianity really a satisfactory substitute for evidence?


  3. Neil, I don’t think this about you at all, that you intentionally misrepresent Christians. I was not referencing you specifically in my reflection, but thinking of other articles and conversations that I’ve had through the years. I don’t even know that this is always intentional misrepresentation, either. The person just maybe doesn’t know..

    IMO, I think there is variance within Christian faith primarily because people are human, and can still take a hold of spiritual truths and insights differently despite the indwelling of God’s spirit. Also, we have not been given all the answers to every issue and question in an immediate sense. It is not a matter of being spoon fed, but growing into greater insight and spiritual maturity.

    And on top of all that as the apostle Paul writes: For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.

    We are not going to have the complete answer to every question and issue in this life/

    I think it’s good to have humility in these matters, and not suppose that we have everything sewn up into a tidy package. I think there is plenty about the faith that all Christians do understand, and yet, have difficulty putting into consistent practice without arguing and stressing out over our differences, IMO.

    Neil, might I now ask a personal question. It’s fine if you don’t feel that you want to answer this.

    What causes you or the skeptics as a whole to invest so much time and effort in attempting to disparage or to discredit the Christian faith? I certainly can understand pointing out religious abuse or aspects of religion which are clearly toxic and harmful, but why attempt to discredit all Christian faith and the teaching of Jesus in general. Are you able to see any good or positive things that can come from faith in Christ, and a desire to follow Him at all? I wonder if it is possible to find common ground?

    Are you feeling that in the long term atheism will be helpful to people, and make their lives better in some way? Is it just in the interest of truth? Please do not take offense at this question. It is not meant in any sort of disrespectful way.

    I truly would like to know, and to understand this more deeply. I’ll just listen to what you have to say, and not respond further.



    • Hi Rebecca. I’ve published my response to your questions as a blog post. I certainly don’t mind you asking and I’m happy to answer, even if that answer did turn out to be quite long.


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