Friday, June 08, 2012

Spiritual Intelligence

Who would have imagined that we would come to know so much yet understand so little?

For several years now I have had a loosely held theory that part of the reason why some people seem to hunger for spiritual life while others don't seem to be that hungry has to do with what I have called spiritual intelligence.  Right away I want to say that "intelligence" is a misleading word. I use it rather metaphorically.

In educational theory, it has become popular to speak of multiple intelligences. For example we might speak of musical intelligence to explain why some people "get" music readily and perhaps even enjoy making it for hours on end, while others (like me) don't really get music. I think music is fine, it's nice, but I don't normally listen to it nor do I produce it. Music just doesn't do much for me. You might even say I am musically challenged, or lack a high musical intelligence. Other sorts of intelligences that are often suggested are logical-mathmatical, spatial, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, and several more.

Certainly all intelligences can be trained. Although I seem to lack a natural musical intelligence (a naturally low musical IQ, you might say), if I had been raised in a musical family and been taught to make and appreciate music from early childhood, I might probably love it today. But probably, I would have still been the dark musical sheep of the family, enjoying perhaps musical paraphernalia, culture or history more than the music itself. But who knows?

My point is that in the Church there is room for everyone, even those who do not seem very interested. In a culture that emphasizes individual initiative and responsibility, suggesting that the playing field isn't at all level may strike us as heretical. This is especially the case for religion and for those religious traditions (I am thinking especially but not exclusively of my own Protestant background) that believe salvation is attained only by personally (read: individually) accepting Christ. One who has not "really" accepted Christ--almost always manifest by behaviour considered inappropriate by the community--can't be saved according to this individualistic model.  

However, if we think of salvation on the level of a household, we get a different view. The Philippian Jailor, for example, asks St. Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" And St. Paul replies (in the singular), "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). Here we see that the Jailor's faith is sufficient to save his household.  Similarly, when the friends of a paralytic tear open the roof where Jesus is teaching to lower the paralytic before Jesus, the text tells us, "And when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven'" (Mark 2:5). It's not the paralytic's faith that prompts Jesus to forgive him, but the faith of his friends. And one more example: St. Paul says to the Corinthians that a believing wife makes her unbelieving husband holy and the believing husband, his unbelieving wife (1Cor. 7:14).

My point here is not to produce proof texts to argue against personal faith. Personal faith is very important. In fact, personal faith is so powerful that it can influence those who are near the person with faith. I don't think God is so stingy with salvation as many of us think. I will go so far as to say that those with strong personal faith really have nothing to boast in--it is a gift of God and the fruit, the manifestation, that the Holy Spirit is already at work in someone before he or she believes (c.f. 1 Cor. 12:9 and Gal. 5: 22).

One of the powerful aspects of circumcision on the eighth day after birth among the Jews is that it makes a man a member of the covenant community long before he can manifest any of the moral or spiritual virtues of membership in that community. Succeed or fail, virtue or vice, good Jew or bad, the fellow is a Jew. St. Paul seems to imply that baptism plays a similar role among Christians as circumcision has played among Jews (Col. 2:11, 12).  The actions of the Philippian Jailor seem to confirm this, for after he believed, his whole family was baptized (Acts 16: 33). And if this is the case, and I believe it is indeed the Church's teaching, then personal, individual faith--especially faith expressed by some externally identifiable marker--may not be the sole criterion for salvation. Salvation is a gift to the Body, and all those in the Body benefit from it.  

Some have used Noah's Ark as a type of salvation of the body (most notably, St. Peter in 1 Peter 3: 21, 22). All those who are on the Ark are saved even though it is principally Noah who has a faithful relationship with God, not necessarily his sons and their wives.

Some people have more faith than others. Some don't seem to get faith at all. But just as not getting algebra does not make algebra any less real, so not getting faith does not make God and the reality of God known through the Church and perhaps sought and hinted at in all religions any less real. And just as we can all appreciate and benefit from an architect who has trained his already high spatial intelligence, so we can all appreciate and benefit from the Grace of God found in holy men and women, men and women who have trained their perhaps natural spiritual intelligence to be aware of and remain filled with the Holy Spirit.


Ostensive Lyme said...

This is very interesting!
I too began wondering along the lines of a 'spiritual intelligence' a couple years ago. Why shouldn't there be? We know for instance that there is a particular area of the brain that is directly correlated with a "sense" of God. (Certain brain injuries can 'create' profound mystics- people erstwhile unreligious suddenly feel God everywhere and in everything, where this part of the brain has become much more active).

In the perfect universe- the world before apostacy or the Kingdom of God- all human beings can be balanced and ordered such that they know and experience God rightly. However in this world as it is, I see certain 'personality clusters' and similar traits among those who really desire and seek after God. This does not make these people superior at all, and in fact it took me becoming Orthodox to not be threatened by this observation (and thus afraid to think about it).
But if salvation is corporate, and God did not make any mistakes in creating those people who just 'arent interested', then they are to play a role too in this world, and Christ has saved them too. They too can be swept up in the Body by the spiritual work of others who have been gifted with propensity to spiritual intelligence.

I see this quite distinctly in the 'types' of people likely to become great ascetics too.

Anyway, thank you for reflecting on this. I believe there is actually much to learn from the implications of this 'spiritual intelligence', regarding our common humanity and the corporate nature of salvation.
Not to mention, respecting people who are not as fervent or 'into' spirituality. Making room for their being, and their way, and not feeling they need to change. Holiness is also going to look different in such persons, I believe.

-Mark Basil

Ostensive Lyme said...

Here's the clip on the "god brain" that I saw back in a university psych. class.

But more germane to your post is, I think, the difference between the mind and the heart.
Each person's mind has it's various abilities, interests, attractions, aptitudes.
I can think of no reason why some peoples *minds* would not 'get' God, spirituality, etc., more readily and naturally than others. And we like what we're good at (Mathematicians both like and are good at math).

So at the level of the natural intellect, some people are going to be more 'into' God, naturally.
Before I understood the distinction between the mind and the heart, academic and experiential theology, this observation was very unnerving to me. I basically refused to think about it its implications.
Now I see that it's no big deal. The only sadness is that the world (including Christians) actually mistake the 'spiritual intelligence' of human minds for knowledge of the heart. This is especially dangerous for anyone with spiritual intelligence: they receive notoriety in 'spiritual/relitgious circles' and can actually remain limited to the realm of intellectual understandings and persuit of God, while their hearts attrophy and shrivel.
In contrast I have known people who perhaps lack spiritual intelligence (and they way they would talk about God and spirituality bothers me for it's lack of precision and 'correctness'), but who seem just so, well, good. Not moral, but good in a way that seems to flow from the heart, from a heart that is a resting place of the Holy Spirit.
So lacking spiritual intelligence is no barrier to communion and transformation I believe.
What we need, all of us, is each other. God created a social-spiritual animal.

(Incidentally, I have often observed that spiritual intelligence does not line up well with other more academic intelligences. I know a man very well, a brilliant neural surgeon, who reads all kinds of theology/church history, but seems to miss the point of so much of it (he's radically un-orthodox, now). I also used to attend a very 'egg-head' church with many doctors, lawyers, and professors who would always amaze me at what I found to be their lack of spiritual insight. Some had amazing hearts, others perhaps did not but lived in some 'puffed up' illusions about their spiritual knowledge).

-Mark Basil