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Monday, August 09, 2004

Confessions of a So-Called Intellectual 

by Mathew
I don't consider myself an intellectual because by now I've known too many genuine intellectuals and I know that they are in a different class. They are almost always people I admire, not just because they are well read, erudite and full of interesting ideas, but because of the way they lead their lives. In Russian the phrase used to describe this is "lives intelligently"—an idea that has captured my imagination for nearly a decade. To live intelligently is something that I aspire to, but from which I am very far from achieving.

I honestly cannot ever recall having ever referred to myself as an intellectual. That said, I have to admit that I have been called intellectual by acquaintances (not recently—but five or six years ago) and am certain that someone, somewhere took the liberty to call me an intellectual. So here I am—a self-confessed so-called intellectual.

Being a so-called intellectual isn't bad—you still get to eat the crumbs that have fallen from the intellectual feast going on just out of reach. You waste endless hours reading the Wall Street Journal, the Times (as we like to call it), The Economist and, most deliciously, The New Yorker. Best of all, you don't actually have to write anything—leave that to the real intellectuals. Instead of writing, it has been my experience that so-called intellectuals gain an expertise in something useful and make a good living (as opposed to our true intellectual cousins).

Along with the good, however, comes the bad. So-called intellectuals are sometimes singled out in church talks and are often viewed as a subversive element. I agree that I and my fellow so-called intellectuals are, as a group, not subversive. Unfortunately being thought of as such for so long has led some to fancy themselves as fringe church members who don't really fit in. And I believe that for people of my generation, this causal link is a fact that has resulted in apostasy as some so-called intellectuals have taken the bait that was placed in front of them and left the church in righteous indignation over the three Ps: polygamy, patriarchy and pop synth. But most of us are happy to be in the center of the church—our spiritual home, testimonies intact, where we continue to wonder about interesting bits of church history and gay marriage.

Our intellectual dilettantism bothers some people who use self-serving rhetorical devices in an attempt to rein us in and otherwise make Sunday School the boring slog it "ought" to be. This usually takes the form of name-calling—often with a hyphen stuck somewhere in the mix: so-called intellectuals, pseudo-intellectual trappings, self-important etc-etc-etc.

We probably deserve at least some of this. Unfortunately the net is often cast too wide and true intellectuals are caught in it. Perhaps it is not the villain-rhetor's intent. Perhaps the speaker-monster added an obligatory reference to 2 Nephi 9:29—but many of our brothers and sisters, unused to nuance that so-called intellectuals value so highly, indiscriminately apply it to anyone saying unfamiliar things or otherwise using the English language for effectively communicating. This is where I have to object—for there is such a thing as a true intellectual. There is even such a thing as a faithful intellectual who earnestly seeks to learn and share gospel knowledge—and such people deserve better.

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