Mensa & C.S. Lewis

crossword puzzleSeveral decades ago, I worked with a Roman Catholic priest, who just happened to be a member of Mensa.

We were good friends, a relationship reinforced by the fact that our bigoted boss thought that both our eternal destinies were in definite jeopardy . . . Pete’s because he was “Catholic,” and mine because Lutherans are “almost Catholic.”

Well, Pete and I got along quite well, although there were two issues we never could resolve. The first was that he smoked large, smelly stogies. Yes, this was long enough ago that you were still allowed to smoke in government buildings.

Even when the rest of the staff successfully begged him to stop parading the halls with his billowing cigars, my friend continued to fill his own office with clouds that would billow out whenever the door was opened.* I had great sympathy for the lungs of the Roman Catholic laity who entered his smoking lounge for counseling.

Aside from the tobacco, there was only a single matter we really disagreed on.

As I mentioned above, Father Pete was a member of Mensa. That’s commendable, in itself. The problem is that he always left his Mensa magazines lying (alone) on the coffee table in the center of his office. He would only smile in a patronizing way when I would (repeatedly) warn him that there could be only two consequences of such brazen self-aggrandizement.

“The first,” I said, “is that they won’t know what Mensa is . . .  and your braggadocio is wasted. The second is worse. They might know what the magazine represents and think to themselves, my, our priest is rather full of himself.” **

At any rate, I have no misconception that I could pass Mensa’s muster. My brain, adequate as it is, simply doesn’t work the way that I guess those of genius’ do. A perfect example of that truth was displayed just a few moments ago, as I read through a few pages of a 2010 Mensa Puzzle Calendar I found among my father’s papers.

I have no doubt that some of you will easily solve this puzzle, but I have to be honest—I missed answering it by a mile.

What do all the words below have in common?









I actually had to look one of the words up. It turns out that “bedcovers” means a bedspread, or anything else one uses to cover a bed. No, seriously, I re-learned that Nunavut is a territory in northern Canada, but I imagine all of you knew that.

Okay, have you taken the time to try to determine what the words have in common? Easy, right?

It turns out that each of them contains a three-letter sequence of adjacent letters in the alphabet, going in reverse. For example, the gfe in “slugfest.”

I doubt I would have been able to figure it out, even if I understood the question, but I must admit my utter ignorance in not even reading the question properly!

I was so enamored by this eclectic collection of words—superficial links between the three combative terms leapt out at me—that I was distracted by seeking bonds between the meanings of the words, rather than in the words themselves. (And, I suspect that may be precisely what those inscrutable devils at Mensa Headquarters intended for simpletons like me.)

Alas, it will take a few days for my bruised ego to rebound. Fortunately, since my memory isn’t as keen as it used to be, I may forget all about this humiliation before the week is out.

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man. I believe he was a genius. I imagine he could have solved this word puzzle with three-quarters of his mind occupied by higher matters, like watching a wary hedgehog scurry between bushes.

Lewis recognized that our minds are, in fact, a gift from God, to be exercised and celebrated. But, at the same time, he knew better than most the dangers of seeking ultimate meaning in mental pursuits that erect nearly impervious walls to God’s gracious revelation of his love in his only begotten Son.

In The Weight of Glory Lewis explains how those Christians who are blessed with exceptional intelligence owe a duty to their sisters and brothers in the faith. (This, of course, has nothing to do with the subject of holiness or spiritual maturity; there is little or no correlation between piety and intellect.) What he says is, however, worthy of our reflection.

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.

Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.

A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age. The learned life then is, for some, a duty.

So, let this be a reminder to those of you who qualify for membership in the aforementioned society, but still love Jesus despite your vast intellects. After all, as Jesus once said, from “everyone to whom much was given . . . much will be required” (Luke 12:48, ESV).


* I must confess this is a slight exaggeration, lest I be held accountable for breaking the eighth commandment (or the ninth, if you are Jewish or a Christian of the Reformed persuasion).

** This might not be a verbatim account of the way I said it, although I’m pretty confident that I did use the word “braggadocio.”

18 thoughts on “Mensa & C.S. Lewis

  1. This was humbling and helpful to read. Lately I’ve been wrestling with intellect and the church (and, to be more specific, my own Bible study). It is easy for me–definitely not Mensa-level intelligent, but I do have some brains–to be dismissive of those who have less knowledge and just go my own way instead of taking the time and effort to help steer people away from ignorance.

  2. Obviously being a member of Mensa only speaks to a person’s intelligence, not their other character qualities, humility being an admirable one that comes to mind. When the Bible tells us of Jesus’ good qualities, it mentions “meek” and “humble,” not “intelligent!”

    1. Just like every other human attribute or skill, it’s value comes in applying it to its proper purpose. Morally speaking, things like intelligence are essentially neutral. They can be instruments for great good (medical breakthroughs) or great evil (criminal activities).

  3. Give me one good reason why God cares if you can recognize a string of words with adjacent letters of the alphabet backwards.
    I used to do kids Mensa puzzles as a girl, but as I matured, it became more and more obviously just a pastime for the smart like video games are for the young. There are too many important things to do with our minds, and if I just want to relax, a good story is much more enjoyable.
    I think I understand now why my dad has such a great relationship with his brain. He’s read a lot more Lewis than I ever did!

    1. I think you are right, in terms of applying our minds to what is important. Also, in recognizing the importance of keeping the mind active, so it increases in ability and health. Exercise is essential. I prefer reading to puzzles. In fact, I don’t even know the rules to the sudoku puzzles, since fooling around with numbers doesn’t appeal to me in the least. (And I fully recognize that millions of people absolutely love them.) When it comes to mind-play, I suppose it’s a bit of “to each his own.”

      1. I like Suduko, but only have a book in the car pocket for the rare times I’m waiting somewhere. One book’s lasted me for years. :-D
        The analogy of mind puzzles and physical exercise is a good one. A little is good, a lot… what’s the point?

  4. I don’t think that pattern recognition is the same thing as intelligence … although, like memory, it is certainly one measurable component of what we are pleased to call intelligence. To believe oneself insufficiently intelligent for failing to recognize those particular letter combinations in that particular list of words until they are pointed out is too harsh. There are many different kinds of intelligence, and many different ways of measuring same.

  5. Every post seems to refine your style a little bit each time. Not to throw too many ashes on your previous posts, but comparatively they had the essence of this stream of consciousness transitional style from C. S. Lewis, personal life and faith. Yet the smoothness was, again, well conceived but simply not up to this quality. Nice post. I am disappointed I’ve arrived to this particular party so late.

  6. I’ve always feared “everyone to whom much was given . . . much will be required” because I have been given so much. It’s the fear of a child who can apparently never be “good enough.” I know, in my mind, that that kind of fear is not from God, and that I am under grace, but the nagging worry never really goes away.

    Excellent points, though. It’s so easy to despise ignorance and low intelligence, but as often as not, I find that people of less academic intelligence than I have other forms of intelligence, and I need them to use their gifts as much as they need me to use mine. Something else I’ve come across is that people who are less educated than I am almost instantly feel threatened/assume I look down on them when they discover the disparity. Society seems to reinforce the intellectual divide.

    1. Sadly, our present society seems to be reinforcing many divides. While giving lip service to peaceful coexistence and unity, secularism (as simply one example) is ever more aggressively seeking to disenfranchise those who speak for traditional values.

  7. Pingback: Using Your Entire Brain « Mere Inkling

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