The Weakening of the Modern Mind

by Glenn Conjurske

I have observed for many years that one of the great hindrances to teaching the truth in the modern church lies in the fact that modern man seems to have very little ability to think. For years I was simply unable to understand this. I observed the fact, but was really at a loss to account for it. Years of observation and meditation, however, have given me some concrete ideas as to how the fact is to be explained, but before proceeding to them I wish to touch upon a little of the evidence of the fact.

Many of the highly educated in our day cannot spell correctly, or write correct English grammar. As for the people in general, empty rhetoric is fed to them day and night by politicians, labor unions, lawyers, educators, psychologists, preachers, and news reporters, and people swallow it down without questioning it, and without perceiving the fallacy which is its main element. Men caught red-handed in the commission of a crime are called “suspects.” The crime is called “the alleged offense.” If the whole town saw the man commit the crime, it is claimed he cannot get a fair trial. A level of affluence far beyond anything our grandparents knew is called “poverty.” The people do not think, and therefore believe this rhetoric.

In the recent investigation of the scandals in the White House, it has been repeatedly suggested that it was improper to expect the Secret Service agents to testify in the matter, as this would destroy the President’s confidence in them, which was “necessary” to enable them to protect him. This is empty rhetoric, and I am certain that if such a thing had been broached among men who knew how to think, it would have been rejected with indignation, or laughed to scorn. The Secret Service exists to protect the President from the lawless, not to “protect” him from the law. It is the job of its agents to protect the President from physical harm, not to protect him from the consequences of his crimes. Any confidence which depends upon their concealing his crimes is a public disgrace and a national shame. The upright do not fear to have their protectors near them. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. But the unfortunate fact is, the nation is ruled by such empty rhetoric, and the majority of the people seem utterly incapable of perceiving its fallacy.

I am not concerned, however, with the nation, but with the church, and I see the same weak-mindedness in the church. I know men with high academic degrees who seem never to know what the issue is. Everything must be explained to them as to a child, and still they cannot see it. They seem never to be able to put the proper construction upon the facts, or to perceive the proper bearings of anything. They rehearse the facts, and immediately draw conclusions from them which have no relationship to the evidence presented. Much of the theological writing of the present day is so shallow that it is difficult to believe it was written by adults. The King James Only movement, which has swept away many of the best men in the church, is full of fallacy, at variance everywhere with the facts, and is filled with self-contradictions. And the worst of it is, the more its advocates shore up their lines of defense, the more self-contradictory the whole system becomes. A reader recently sent my review of David Cloud’s book to a pastor friend. The friend returned a critique of my review, which my reader sent to me, telling me, however, that he was reluctant to send it, as it was so poorly done he feared I would accuse him of altering it. He then asks me what I think to be the basic problem with such men.

I answer, the problem is that they have little ability to think. But it would be injustice on my part to imply that this inability to think is confined to the King James Only ranks. It is just as conspicuous on the other side. Some of the shallowest literature I have ever seen—-indeed, painfully shallow—-was written in defense of the New King James Version. But this raises the question, Why does modern man have so little ability to think? What is it which has so weakened the mind in modern times?

The answer to that question is, almost everything in modern Society. We must understand a couple of things here. The first is, the devil has every reason to keep men from thinking. Men who will think will cease to serve the devil. Men who will think will cease to sacrifice future good for the sake of present gratification. Men who will think will give up the myth of evolution, and acknowledge their Creator. It is every way to the devil’s advantage to keep men from thinking, and to so weaken their minds that they are incapable of it. The second thing is, “the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” (I John 5:19). He it is who is in control of the world. He it is who has designed and engineered the world as it is, including all of its modern technology, commerce, education, communications, etc. Doubtless one of his purposes in all of this is to weaken the mind of man, for the weaker his mind, the stronger the hold the devil may have upon him. It is worth observing also that in general the very things which have weakened the mind of man have weakened his morals also. This is the devil’s doing.

But I must turn to specific things. The first thing which has contributed to the weakening of the modern mind is modern invention. When I was a boy in school, one of my teachers read a story to the class. I remember nothing of the story, except one incident. The grandmother sent the little girl outside to ascertain the time from the sun dial. The girl, however, used to the clock, did not know how to read the sun dial. “I do declare,” said the grandmother, “every time one of these new inventions comes in the door, half our wits fly out the window.” This is the solemn truth. Every human faculty is strengthened by use, and conversely, weakened or lost by lack of use. And it is a plain fact that modern invention and modern technology have robbed most of the race of most of its wits. Our grandparents knew how to do a thousand things of which we know nothing, and they knew how to figure out how to do them. They had no machines and appliances to do everything for them. They had no factory-made tools for every job which needed to be done. Whatever they needed, they made themselves. If it was broken, they fixed it themselves. “Modern conveniences” have changed all that. Men no longer need to think. We know that the absence of one sense quickens and augments the others. The blind hear better, and the deaf see better, than other men do. On the other hand, the presence of so many artificial helps dulls all the senses, and more than all they dull the wits.

When I was a boy we were poor. We repaired and rebuilt and remade, and, one way or another, made do with what little we had. We did not have many of the modern conveniences. We had no inside plumbing, and no running water. We had a pump in the yard. On one occasion we had a visit from a girl who lived in a large city. She had never seen a pump, and asked my mother where the water came from. “Out of the ground,” said my mother. The girl was a little incredulous at this, and my mother asked her, “Where did you think it came from?” “Out of the faucet,” she replied. This, of course, was mere childish ignorance, in a girl of ten or twelve years, but I think there is something deeper here than mere ignorance. This is shallowness of mind. Surely a few moments of thought would have taught the girl that the water was not created by the faucet—-that it must have come to the faucet from somewhere. But when all is done for us, we need not concern ourselves about the how or the why of anything. We need not think, and therefore we do not think. All is done for us by machines and appliances. And in our own day, the biggest share of the machines and appliances are made on purpose for people who do not think. They systematically exclude the use of our reason, so that if we were not idiots already, we are likely to become so through the use of these modern appliances. All is done for us at the touch of a button—-or automatically, without the touch of a button. Yard lights are turned on and off automatically. If we leave the lights on in the car, a bell begins to ding. We have automatic chokes and automatic transmissions and cruise control. The car will not start unless we have our foot on the clutch. The key will not come out of the ignition switch unless the switch is turned off. Timers and thermostats control our cooking and our heating and the washing of our clothes and our dishes. Electronic calculators do our arithmetic. Electronic word processors correct our spelling. We do not need to think. Therefore we do not think, and therefore we lose the ability to think. We would not pretend that there is no good in any of this modern technology, but whatever good there is has been bought dear. Strength and vigor of mind have been sacrificed to ease and convenience.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” as the old proverb has it. The time was when men were required to exercise their wits in order to accomplish their ends. Now all is done for them, and in many cases automatically, without their spending one thought upon it from one year to the next. From the cradle to the grave, all is made for them and done for them. No exercise of the wits is required for anything. Children need no ingenuity to occupy or entertain themselves, or ever to make a game or a toy. All is made for them in the factories and sold in the stores, from electronic games to lifelike miniatures and working models of everything under the sun. Many of their toys give them nothing even to do, except to wind it up or turn it on and watch it perform. Adults fare no better. Modern recipes consist of “Open one can of this, mix with one box of that, pour into one prebaked pie shell,” etc. If a modern housewife were to read a recipe which said, “Kill and pluck one large chicken, peel three ripe tomatoes,” etc., she would think she was on the wrong planet. And who knows how to make anything today? Women today cannot even make a dress, where their grandmothers made the cloth and the thread and the clothes too, and without a sewing machine. How many men of the present generation have ever made a canoe paddle, a chair, a wheel barrow, an animal trap, a suit case, a musical instrument? The “instrument of ten strings” to which David set his psalms was likely his own creation, but the present generation creates nothing, precisely because it has no need to do so. Even the “arts and crafts” of the day are mostly machine made, needing only to be assembled, or embroidered or painted, following the printed lines. Modern man usually does not even repair anything, but throws it away and buys another.

And in this sphere modern wealth goes hand in hand with modern invention. “Poverty is the mother of all arts,” the old proverb says. Poverty and necessity require us to exercise our wits, and exercising our wits strengthens them. Wealth and technology put them to sleep. Another most excellent old proverb says, “Poverty is the sixth sense.” Poverty sharpens all our wits. Affluence puts them all to sleep. Poverty forces us to think. I can offer an example in illustration of this. Thirty years ago I pastored a very small church in a very small town in western Colorado. My salary was zero dollars per year. The church provided me with a house in which to live, but a number of mice were determined to share the place with me. I could scarcely afford a mouse trap. My poverty, therefore, required me to think. I put a light aluminum pie tin on the edge of a counter, half of it protruding over the edge, with just the balance of weight on the counter. A few crumbs in the outside edge of the pie tin, and a bucket of water on the floor under it, completed the operation. When the mouse stepped out into the overhanging half of the pie tin to get the crumbs, his own weight tipped the whole thing off the counter into the bucket of water. I had tried it first with an empty bucket, but found that the mouse could jump out of that. The lives of our forefathers were characterized by such thinking. Every man was his own carpenter and tinker and blacksmith. They made do with what they had. Alas, they thought too much, or too well. Their poverty and their necessity was the mother of a myriad of inventions, which left their children with no need to think at all, and therefore the art of thinking was lost.

The worldliness, or perhaps I should call it the Epicureanism, of modern man is also a major factor. The hurried life which that worldliness has produced leaves men simply too busy, too preoccupied, to think. They are too intent upon the pursuit of money and goods and pleasures to give much thought to the pursuit of wisdom. Even the educational system of the present day is a mere means to the acquisition of goods and pleasures. When I was in high school it was repeatedly drilled into my head by the teachers, “Get a good education”—-not to attain wisdom or to cultivate the mind, but—-”so you can get a good job and make good money.” Young people do not go to school to cultivate their minds, but to qualify themselves for the “job market,” and the pursuit of goods and pleasures. Alas, so infatuated with education is modern society that the qualification for many jobs has nothing to do with knowledge or competence, but consists of an academic degree. It is of course assumed that those who have the degree have the competence, but this is as great a myth as trolls and tooth fairies. The young people’s aim in school is not to learn, much less to learn how to learn, but to pass the course, or to pass it with honors, and it is quite indifferent to many of them if the honors are well-deserved, ill-deserved, or stolen. “Good grades” are all, and wisdom is nothing.

The Bible says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:7), but who in our day lives by this standard? Most of the getting in the world is of money and goods and pleasures, while wisdom is little thought of—-and there is little difference in this respect between the church and the world. The mind is but little used, and therefore it never gains any proficiency.

Another major contributing factor in the weakening of the modern mind is doubtless modern pride. Modern man is thoroughly puffed up with the illusion that he is enlightened and educated. This illusion pervades the church as well as the world, and with the same evil effect. Men are lukewarm and complacent. There is perhaps nothing which will so quickly and surely secure the deterioration of man’s abilities in every sphere as the notion—-whether well founded or unfounded—-that we have at length arrived. When this notion takes root in the mind, labor and diligence are at an end, and deterioration and weakness necessarily follow. And observe, we live at a time when this self-complacent pride has prevailed for perhaps a century and a quarter, in both the church and the world. The diligence which made many of our forefathers great is therefore practically unknown today.

And modern pride contributes in yet another way to weaken the mind. The self-complacent pride of “modern scholarship” quite generally despises the work of the great men of the past. Modern “scholars” read modern books, and the books are as shallow as the “scholars.” I have read a great deal of late on the Bible version controversy, and I must say that I am often much impressed with the depth and wisdom of things which were written concerning the old Revised Version, in 1881 and 1882. On the other hand, I am equally impressed with the extreme shallowness of most of the modern writings on the subject—-and that on both sides of the controversy. The advocates of the modern versions are just as shallow as the King James Only folks. Neither of them know what the issues are, and the arguments on both sides are unworthy of the human mind.

Closely associated with modern pride is modern lukewarmness. The same pride which says “I am rich and increased with goods,” says also “and have need of nothing,” and is of course apathetic about the acquisition of anything. No one seeks what they think they already have. Now it is held (and quite rightly) by almost all Evangelicals that the present day is the age of lukewarmness, and this is every bit as true in the world as it is in the church. Men who suppose themselves enlightened and wise do not seek wisdom. They do not use their minds, and they therefore lose the ability to use them.

Modern liberalism doubtless contributes also to the problem. It is the prevailing doctrine of liberalism that everyone has the right to everything, whether they deserve it or not. The lazy and the improvident have a right to financial well-being, medical insurance, proper housing, etc. The lazy and incompetent have a right to a good job. And those who fail the course have the right to pass the course. It has long been the policy of many of the public schools in the land to “flunk” no one—-that might damage their self-esteem—-and all are passed on from one grade to the next, though they learn nothing and know nothing. This policy of course destroys initiative, and cannot help but weaken the mind of the nation as a whole.

In this connection I must mention also modern laziness. Modern invention and technology, national sweepstakes, television game shows, state lotteries, Indian gambling casinos, government grants, food stamps, welfare checks, Social Security, employees”’benefits,” unemployment checks, workman’s compensation, and shameful victories in shameless lawsuits, have all conspired together to create an atmosphere in which everyone expects to get something for nothing. Or to state it in its mildest form, everyone hopes to get as much as possible for as little as possible. Hard work is regarded as unnecessary, and this thinking prevails in the intellectual realm as well as everywhere else. Laziness prevails, and hard study is as rare as hard work. The mind is no more exercised than the muscles, and both become soft and inefficient.

But it must be understood that I would not suggest that all of the things which I have mentioned contribute in an equal measure to the problem. Certainly not, yet they all contribute their share, and as I survey modern life it appears that almost everything in the modern world has conspired together to weaken the mind of modern man, each contributing in its own way, some more and some less. The greatest contributors, however, we have yet to mention. One of those is certainly the motion pictures.

When motion pictures were a new thing on the earth, some men had wisdom to perceive whereto they would tend. The following I quote from Moody Monthly of 1926. It was written by Sanger Brown, Chairman of the State Commission of Mental Defectives for the state of Massachusetts. He says, “Moving pictures are undoubtedly the easiest conceivable manner of registering impressions upon the mind. To sit for hours watching a procession of visual images that are poured into the brain, certainly is the equivalent of bringing up a spoon-fed mind. The exercise that a mind gets in making its own associations—-for instance, in summing up its own visual images to illustrate stories read in books—-is lost, and with this loss of exercise comes probably a lessening in the power of the mind to make these associations. I should say that continual attendance at the movies might make just the difference in a normal individual between a good mind and a very mediocre one, or an average mind and a poor one.

“I believe children lose a great deal if they are permitted to form their early impressions from the screen, rather than from their own observations of the world and the people around them, or from their own powers of imagination.”

And understand, the motion pictures of those days were a minor influence compared to what they are today. No one then sat in the theater day and night every day. An occasional hour or two was all that most people would have spent at the shows. But today the theater is in the living room, and perhaps the kitchen and the bedroom also, and people in general, especially children, see more of motion pictures in a day than most of them would have seen in weeks or months in 1926.

Understand also, the motion pictures of those days were slow and tame in comparison to those of the present. The old movies of course depicted motion in the scenes displayed, but modern television constantly changes the scene itself. One scene after another is flashed before the mind, in rapid succession. I have no television in my house, and indeed, in a life of fifty years I have never lived in a home with a television set. I first learned of this rapid change of scenes when I was out knocking on doors, perhaps ten years ago. As I stood at the door, my partner meanwhile speaking to the resident, I observed a television set in the room, constantly flashing new scenes. I timed them, and was amazed to find that a new scene was presented at the rate of once every second. The rate of change will of course vary from one show to another, but it is undoubtedly rapid in most of them. With a view to the writing of this article I spent a little time recently at a local department store, timing the rate at which the scenes were exchanged on the programs which happened to be playing. I counted the changes of scene in about a dozen short segments, usually of twenty or thirty seconds. The lowest rate of exchange which I found was 17 changes of scene in 40 seconds, which means that each scene remained on the screen just over two seconds. The greatest rate of exchange which I found was 45 changes in 27 seconds, which means that the scene was changed every six tenths of a second. In some cases, of course, it was much more rapid than that, as once in six tenths of a second was the average over a period of 27 seconds. Other segments yielded a count of 30 changes in 30 seconds, 24 changes in 21 seconds, 17 changes in 20 seconds, 15 changes in 20 seconds, 13 changes in 25 seconds, 24 changes in 35 seconds, etc. In some segments the changes of scene were so rapid at times that I could not be sure that my count was accurate. With such constant changes of scene flashing, flashing, flashing, flashing before the mind, concentration or sustained thought is a simple impossibility. The mind necessarily becomes passive, inoperative, and inert. It produces nothing. It does nothing, and indeed most of the motion pictures give the mind nothing to do, all the appeal being to the passions. It is impossible for the mind to produce anything under such circumstances. Meditation is an utter impossibility. And when we consider the fact that many modern Americans spend a large portion of their leisure time watching television, it is no wonder at all that they have lost the ability to think. It would indeed be a great wonder if they retained it.

And bad as the movies and television are in this respect, the radio is worse. The motion pictures are necessarily restricted to leisure time. Men cannot work and watch television, but the radio goes with them everywhere at all times, constantly pouring into their minds a heap of shallow trish-trash, which appeals almost solely to the passions, and absolutely precludes any sustained or serious thought or meditation. And in this respect Christian radio is no different from secular. The mind is constantly stimulated from without (if stimulation it can be called), so that it is rendered passive and inert. It produces nothing itself, and loses the ability to do so.

I have a sign painting business, and a while ago I was working in a large garage, lettering a truck. After I had been on the job for perhaps an hour an electrician arrived, to do some wiring in the place. He was thirty-five or forty years old. For perhaps half an hour he was walking in and out, carrying equipment, singing the whole time in a high falsetto voice,

”Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee are where the deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeals are:
Smith Brothers’ Ford.”

It soon became evident to me that here was an inert mind. He was obviously repeating over and over the last thing which he had heard on the radio on his way to work, and this was as far as his mind could go, until something else was poured into it. After a while he settled in to go to work in the garage, and immediately turned on the radio. I protested, and asked if that was necessary. He assured me that it was—-he couldn’t work without it—-but did me the favor not to turn it to one of the “hard rock” stations. The radio began to play, and this gave to his mind the needed stimulation to proceed beyond “Smith Brothers’ Ford.” He was now in his element, and seemed as happy as a lark. He knew every song on the radio, and sang along with it all morning. I would rather have listened to a lark, but I made the best of the situation, and studied the inert mind, a mind absolutely devoid of thought, the product of modern technology, and the modern entertainment industry.

What an absolute contrast between this and the days when men used to follow the horse-drawn plow hour after hour, or keep watch over the sheep on the hillside day after day. There the mind was free to work, free from all of this artificial stimulation which renders it weak and passive. There the mind was free to meditate, free to produce something.

But is there no cure, no hope? For society in general I am afraid there is no hope. It will never give up its lusts and pleasures to gain heaven, much less to regain its vigor of mind. For the godly I believe there is more hope. Though I hardly expect a complete cure, there are certainly some things which serious souls may do.

First, and most important, turn off the radio and the television. Next, turn them out, the same as you would turn out any other thief. You would not allow a thief of your goods to abide in your house. Why should you allow a thief of your time and your mind? If you can tame the radio, and keep it as a servant, to bring you the weather forecast, the cattle prices, or the bulletin board, well. Otherwise, turn it out.

Next, take seriously the command of God, “With all thy getting, get understanding.” Read books, and read old ones. Read books which make you think. Put away the shallow “experience” books of the modern church, and read some solid doctrinal treatises. Seek solitude and meditation. Pursue your unanswered questions. Study. Discuss. Exercise your mind.

It may be that all of this put together will never recover all that modern technology and wealth have robbed you of, nor all you have thrown away by countless hours of indulgence in radio and television, but surely you can recover something. It is certain also that, so far as in you lies, you have a solemn responsibility to God to do so.

Glenn Conjurske