Some say it’s having a great memory. Others that it’s the ability to learn. Besides these, the dictionary says intelligence is “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment” or “to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (tests).” I believe it’s all of the above, plus the ability to predict outcomes.
People who are successful in horse-race gambling have this kind of intelligence, I suspect. They study a horse and jockey and compare them to other horses and jockeys in the race, track conditions, and other relevant factors. But they also have seen a certain jockey-and-horse combo perform in similar situations and against similar competition and based on their experience, they correctly predict this combo will win, place or show.
Other animals have this kind of intelligence, it seems. A crow in a laboratory knows from experience that if she pecks a red button instead of a black or green one, a treat will flow down a chute.
Not Completely Trustworthy
The predictions aren’t completely trustworthy, of course, and like many attributes, this kind of intelligence, if too dominant, can cause misery. That accounts for the fact that lots of people walk around with a permanent sense of doom. Their minds continually ask, “What if?” imagining the worse possible scenarios. They apply the ability to predict to nearly every circumstance, correctly predicting possible outcomes but always choosing the most disastrous.
That, according to the online Anxiety Network, constitutes a “generalized anxiety disorder” that may be helped by professional mental health practitioners. Anxiety is "a chronic sense of uneasiness about a vague future, a gnawing worry about what may or may not happen," according to an online article by anthropology professor Barbara King. That sets it apart from fear, which is temporary and concrete.
But nearly all humans, I believe, are familiar with a kind of anxiety that may not be chronic. Isn’t it common to have feelings about personal “doom?” That my spouse who’s on her way to the supermarket could be involved in a terrible car accident; that my daughter or son, who are flying today, could die in a plane crash; that working in the yard, I could get my foot caught under the lawnmower.
Then there’s the anxiety that results from “what’s happening in the world:” the consequences of the country’s leadership or lack of it; the unthinkable horror of nuclear war; the seemingly increasing incidences of natural disasters; the perception of an increasing number of mass shootings; the effects of a perceived loss of morality or ethics. In these cases, the ability to predict based on our experience can cause anxiety.
Although these fears may be reasonable, we often exaggerate the risk, usually because we lack sufficient information to properly calculate it.
Take the risk of being a victim of a mass shooting. According to the online Healthline, the lifetime risk of death from a mass shooting is one in 110,154. That compares with a risk of one in 113 for dying in a vehicle crash and one in seven of dying from heart disease or cancer. As for the risk of dying in a terrorist attack, it’s less than being crushed by furniture falling over on you in your own home, according to an article in the Washington Post in 2015.
A mass shooting may cause anxiety apart from our personal risk, of course. We may worry about how it relates to gun availability or the availability of mental health and addiction treatment. Or we have anxiety in realizing that a human could be so bereft of compassion that he would so easily take the life of so many of his fellow humans.
Do What Can Be Done
Healthy people may worry and if they’re responsible, they will do whatever they can to prevent such disasters. But they will get over it and return to their usual low states of anxiety.
So what does any of this have to do with the search for God? It’s just that anxiety, I believe, is a barrier to a relationship with God and each other. Some may view trust in God as a kind of Pollyanna response to our problems and the problems of our world, but trust results in peace, which is among the rewards that are the “fruits of the spirit” mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Galatians.
I thought of the problem of anxiety resulting from current events when hearing another letter attributed to Paul in last weekend’s liturgy, from the fourth chapter of his letter to the Christians at Philippi, the ancient city that is now part of the Balkan region. This is from The Message translation.
“Don’t fret or worry,” Paul urges his readers. “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for the good, will come and settle you down.”