The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (Free Press, 1992), by Samuel Oliner and Pearl Oliner, was a groundbreaking statistical study of German and Polish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. It showed that higher levels of education were negatively related to the propensity to rescue. The study lends credence to the idea that intellectual fluency allows people to rationalize inactivity. The greater the intellect, the greater the ability to justify one´s natural tendency to be selfish rather than altruistic.
The study is evidence that self-deception is the great vice of the elite. What makes educated swindlers more dangerous than uneducated ones is their greater ability to tell more believable lies. The tragic plight of the educated elite is their greater ability to fool themselves with greater aplomb. Take for example law students.
As a second year law student, I have described law school as a “seminary of the devil.” The reason for this can be explained by considering the first words of the devil revealed in Scripture: “Hath God said?”
A less educated fiend would have failed to persuade Adam and Eve that what God had said was not what God had meant. But in the devil we have the heart of pure evil with the mind of sheer brilliance. The result is the devil´s incomparable ability to tell rational lies to great effect not only to Adam and Eve but to himself as well. How else can one explain the devil´s persistent but futile efforts to topple God´s reign unless the devil truly believed that he could actually beat God.
Law schools teach how to be like the devil, how to argue both sides, how to rationalize even the morally indefensible. You can be certain the participants who argued and decided Roe v. Wade and Dred Scott were educated at the elite schools. Less intellectually able people would have been unable to pull off such terrible swindles. (Outside of law school, Darwinian evolution also comes to mind.)
The effect of all this on the Christian law student is immense. Law students in general are more puffed up than other people because law schools are preparing them for an elitist profession that society esteems. The difficulty for a Christian law student to repent of this pride is exacerbated by the training he is receiving in the art of rationalizing. For law school not only puffs its students up, it trains them to justify not only arguments but themselves as well.
That is why Christian meetings at law schools are rarely beneficial. A meeting where students – trained to be like the devil – teach each other the truths of God usually ends merely with many self-justifying arguments and no changed opinions. The believer struggling with fornication challenges, “Hath God said that sex outside of marriage is a sin?” The believer struggling with greed challenges, “Hath God said that one cannot serve both God and mammon?” The more effective the law school, the more impenitent the struggling student is to the truths of God expressed by his fellow students. We are more prone to defend rather than change our wrong positions, and challenge rather than accept the Biblical views of others. That is after all what we are taught to do well in law school. The important thing is not whether we are right or wrong but whether we win or lose the argument.
The terrible plight of the believing law student is that he is enabled to provide himself with more sophisticated excuses to do what he already naturally wants to do, that is, sin, and not to do what he already naturally does not want to do, that is, repent.
The common idea that higher education somehow produces more moral people or more mature believers is utterly naïve because it underestimates man´s proclivity towards sin and ignores the connection between the mind and sin. People by nature are selfish, and if they can somehow make themselves believe that their selfish behavior is less ignoble than it truly is, then such people will act more selfishly because they can give into their craving with less guilt.
Therefore it is no surprise that higher levels of education have been shown to negatively relate to the propensity to rescue. They are better at fooling themselves out of heroism than others are. I do not think it is mere coincidence that most of the 300 firemen who fatally ran up the Twin Towers had average educations, or that those brokers who trampled over others to get down the stairs graduated with higher educations.
The adage “Know thyself” applies more to the educated than to the uneducated because the elite know the most about everything but themselves. Educated believers must be especially wary against self-deception. Though we are in the unique position of doing much good for society and the church, we must begin by recognizing that we are as equally in the unique position of being more susceptible to self-delusions where sins may more easily remain entrenched.