A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Do You Ever Wish You Hadn't Asked That?

On Tuesday, MSNBC journalist, Contessa Brewer, interviewed GOP Congressman, Mo Brooks (R-AL) on the current situation with our national debt and spending. I have watched Ms. Brewer on occasion. She is competent and intelligent, even if she periodically forays into commentary on things in which she is uninformed.

During the interview with Rep. Brooks, she asked a condescending question that I'll bet she wishes she hadn't asked:

According to RealClearPolitics, Brooks does have a degree with honors in economics. Indeed, Brooks graduated from Duke University in three years with a double major in political science and economics. Moreover, he has a law degree from the University of Alabama.

The point of this post is not to focus on Brooks' contention that without the economic stimulus package a few years ago, the United States would not have entered into another Depression. Reputable economists have differing opinions on this. The point I want to make is to dispute the idea that one cannot comment authoritatively on a subject without formal education in that subject.

The irony of the interview is that Ms. Brewer has obviously drawn her own conclusions concerning the economic stimulus package. It would have been interesting at that point to ask her if she had a degree in economics. Of course, that was really not the motivation behind the question to the congressman. The purpose of the question was to belittle his views by informing the public that he is not credible on the issue of economics. Whether Mo Brooks was right or not, he all of a sudden became credible when he had an unexpected answer to the question.

In my experience, I have encountered this before. In academia, a professor gets exasperated at a student's continued questioning and stifles the debate by appeal to her credentials, which of course is a not-so-subtle way of reminding the student of his lack of formal training. I have seen it in church meetings when someone creates silence in a meeting by reminding everyone the he is the expert. Such questions do not deal with the substance of the debate. They are not intended to. Their purpose is to belittle others into silence and acquiescence.

Don't misunderstand my point: we need people trained in the many and various academic disciplines and vocations, and this is particularly important for those of us who put our views out in public. We need to consult such individuals in order to comment competently. But the reality is that everyone comments on all kinds of subject matter all the time in which we have no formal training or experience. If we have to wait to have an opinion on issues until we are formally educated in them, there is very little we will be able to converse with one another on at the coffee shop, in the meeting, and in interviews. We must always listen to the "experts," but the truth of the matter is, they don't always have it right either.

If journalists want only the formally trained to comment, then I would ask that journalists refrain from their frequent commentary on matters of religion and theology unless they have formal seminary training.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.


Chuck Tackett said...

Excellent post Allan, thank you.

I find the religious arena to be particularly susceptible to this. The opposite is also true, of course, where people refuse to listen despite someone's credentials.

Ultimately experience is more important than education. I meet people often, and have done this myself, where because a person has read something they feel qualified to comment.

I will take the observations of an experienced person any day.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Hey, Chuck...

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, experience is important, but I do not like the sharp distinction we often draw between the two, as if education is somehow not experience. I can tell you from personal experience that education is its own kind of experience.