My father, who was a shoe salesman, was more of an intellectual than the Pope is.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 20, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

My Father Is More Intellectual than the Holy Father

My Dad Is Better than Your Dad was a reality TV show that lasted from February through April of 2008 on NBC. In it, fathers and sons competed in athletic contests, so the "better than your dad" applies to only a limited part of the fatherhood spectrum.

My dad would have stunk at the show. He was a scrawny guy, and he shied away from physical challenges.

He was bolder in the intellectual arena. Let me hasten to note that my father only had a high school diploma and sold shoes. But he read the daily newspaper and weekly news magazines (U.S. News & World Report was his favorite), and he was extremely well-informed on politics, current events, and sports.

Moreover, when large events entered the daily news flow - like the war in Vietnam - my father staked out well-grounded, intellectually independent positions. He felt his mind was his own domain and he had the right to think through any question and come to his own conclusion.

Naturally, my father's outlook colored my own intellectual perspective. I was taught to be a free - even a daring - thinker. I couldn't get in trouble if a teacher complained that I didn't agree with the company, or school, line. That complaint held no water in my home.

On Saturdays, my father took me to work at his shoe store. Sometimes he gave a ride to a man who lived near us and worked nearby my father's small store. One time, this man clucked about a friend's kid who had gone to college - and had come home with a facial tic.

Clearly, this man disapproved of higher education. But my father made clear to me, without arguing with the man, that his claim was nonsense. And, in fact, the data (as I learned to call it when I got my Ph.D.) do not support the idea that less well-educated people are mentally healthier - quite the opposite.

Which brings me to the Holy Father. Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, came to the papacy as a noted theologian - a professor and a thinker - who defends traditional Catholic values. He decries the intellectual secularization that is occurring (more notably in Europe than in the U.S.).

At a youth rally in New York, the Pope said:

What purpose has a freedom which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong? How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life?

Both that man in our car and the Pope feel that learning and thinking are dangerous! My father disagreed.