Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian CallingHabits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling
James W. Sire
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Are Christians called to the intellectual life? Arguing that Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived, Sire explores the moral and spiritual dimension of the mind and encourages you to develop intellectual disciplines and virtues that will further God's kingdom. For thoughtful Christians who want to love God with their heart, soul, and mind. 252 pages, softcover from InterVarsity.

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The Intellect in Love

An intellectual is in love, in love with ideas. Everyone loves something. My wife loves trees and mushrooms. A forest for me is the panoramic vista, the play of color, light and shadow; a forest for her is the trees, even more, tree after tree, specific trees with technical names. The forest floor is a hotbed for mushrooms---fly aminitas, death caps, puff balls. My son loves the fine craftsmanship of woodworking and building construction. When we toured together a few museums in Europe, I perused the paintings; he feasted on the antique furniture. I saw the medieval architecture and thought about its history; he examined the machinery that hung the doors and thought about his own craft of cabinetmaking. Scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi insists that “personal, intuitive ‘intellectual love’” is at the heart of science. Drusilla Scott summarizes his view, noting that intellectual love “belongs in the house of science in all its splendour, and if the rules don’t allow for it they will have to change.”

Intellectuals qua intellectuals love ideas---all ideas, true ideas, false ideas, common ideas, simple ideas, profound ideas, exciting ideas, dull ideas, constructive ideas, devastating ideas. Show me an idea, the intellectual says, and I will salute it, deconstruct it, rebuild it, find its origin and predict its destiny. All the time there will be an excitement that in its quiet way---for the intellectual may all the while be sitting calmly---is like a sports lover’s emotions watching Michael Jordan slam-dunk the final winning basket. Outward calm masks internal turbulence. And all for love, love of ideas. Take this description of Octavio Paz written by a friend in his memory not long after his death:

Conversation with him was a constant exploration. Although he did have the “irritable nature” that Horace ascribes to poets and was invariably serious about all issues, he could also show an almost childlike enthusiasm in the breadth and degree of his intellectual curiosity. Large themes fascinated him and he wrote about them at length: reflections on poetic creation and language; his vision of the course of Western poetry from the enthusiasm of Romanticism to the ironic vision of the modern avant-garde, in which he compared not only works in different languages but placed them against the background of other, non-Western poetics; his thoughts on modern culture, politics, and society, always emphasizing the need for a careful, critical outlook on the world. And he was excited by new scientific discoveries or intellectual inquiries; the latest theory on the Big Bang, debates about the nature of the mind or the decipherment of the Mayan script…Then unexpectedly---and the idea of “unexpectedly” signaled by a sudden change of gesture or of manner marks my memories of him---his conversation would swerve toward unpredictable subjects: French erotic literature of the eighteenth century, the political maxims of an ancient Chinese scholar, medieval theories on love or melancholy.

Here is the quintessential intellectual---excited about almost any idea, any theme, any notion, so long as its tentacles touch something significant in culture.

All intellectuals are in love with ideas; not all intellectuals are in love with truth. Some whom I am willing to call intellectuals do not even believe there is truth of any substantive kind. Everett Knight, for example, asserts, “The hunger for food may be satisfied, not that for the Truth, because there is none; and it is probable that the real revolution of our time is the discovery that while something can be done about hunger, nothing can be done about spiritual hunger.”

Christians need not be---are not!---so pessimistic. We will, therefore, have much reason to return to [the] notion of the “love of truth,” and will do so in chapters five, six and ten.