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‘The Narrative of Christian Oppression’ (Updated)

A Christian professor at a secular university has had it with the accounts I publish from Christians in higher education. This is a great letter:

I’ve wanted to write to you for some time about your coverage of higher education, but your latest post is the last straw.  I want to say two things.  One, this student who wrote to you would not be rational—assuming he describes events accurately and completely—in leaving academia on the basis of those events.  Two, the way that you write about these things and the stories you publish are destructive.  They are not helping the situation of Christian academics—they are making things worse.  I say this not out of any hostility to you or your blog.  I’ve been reading your blog for years.  I agree with you about almost everything.  My complaint is not about your point of view; it is about how you are expressing it.

I have been in the academic world for almost twenty years; many of those as a graduate student, and many as a teacher and researcher.  I have always studied and taught at secular institutions.  In the beginning, it was by default; I was secular, when I started out.  I converted to Christianity shortly after I started teaching, and from then on it was a choice that I made–more than once–to stay and teach in secular schools.  I have witnessed many incidents that fit well into your narrative, ones that you would quickly publish as evidence of the complete corruption of the academic world and for the necessity of retreating Benedict-style into the wilderness. And yet these incidents are not the whole story.

Take the student’s story that you published today.  Is this a story about the unbearable climate for Christian academics?  In a way, yes.  But there’s another perspective.  In a way, there is no such thing as a ‘climate’.  There are only individual human beings.  This professor is a human being– a bad professor, if he or she is as described.  Why?  For one thing, he has a bad interpretation of the Annunciation. He is (I take it) assuming that the story has its source in pagan myths about the gods raping mortals and producing offspring.  But it is much more plausible to think that the gospel writers, insofar as they have stories like this in mind, are undermining them, are arguing that this God, the true god, does not deal with mortals in this way.  The gospels emphasize consent.  The fathers of the Church emphasize consent.  Nothing could be more important (in a certain respect) to Catholic and Orthodox theology than the consent of Mary.  It is a fallacy to assume that when an author has a source (assuming the myths are a source here) he or she uses it uncritically.  Given that—could the graduate students have brought an alternate interpretation to the professor directly?  Would he have engaged in the conversation?  Will he engage in it now?  Mind you, he might not be convinced, but he should engage.  If not, he is a bad professor and a bad thinker, too wedded to his own views to analyze them or defend them.  The student could find a secular professor (or more than one) who would find such behavior objectionable—it violates common-sense standards.  If he can’t find a sympathetic person in his department, he should transfer out of that program, because it is not one that has any serious standards.

The fact that the chair of the department held a meeting with the TAs and the professor shows that the chair believed that something may have gone wrong.  That is a sign that the ‘climate’ is not quite as the letter-writer sees it.  Now, the chair made a mistake in handling the situation this way.  That’s because everyone knows that grad students are cowards.  They will not state their honest opinion in front of the professor, because, as the letter writer notes, they are afraid that their careers will be damaged.  The chair should have talked to students privately and formed his or her own judgment.  The letter-writer, or the woman who was badly treated, should now talk to the chair privately about how they think the situation was handled.  Perhaps this conversation will not go well.  Perhaps the chair is really deeply unsympathetic to the students and doesn’t care about upholding standards for reasonable disagreement.  In that case, again, find a different department.  In terms of the professor’s outrageous remark to the student to STFU:  how has the student complained about it?  As about the professor’s refusal to engage with disagreement (one issue) or as about inappropriate or abusive behavior (another issue)? Both separately can be raised both with the professor and with the chair.

Notice that none of these possible conversations are about the treatment of Christianity or Christian students.  Rather, they are about 1) the meaning of the Annunciation and the correct representation of Christian theology 2) appropriate ways of responding to disagreement from students 3) effective ways of handling conflict between professors and graduate TAs 4) inappropriate or abusive behavior.

What I suspect has happened instead is that the letter-writer has viewed these events through the lens of the oppression of Christian academics—the Narrative of Christian Oppression.  That has led him to view the situation as hopeless and to fail to try to communicate with the human beings in question in a way that might resolve the difficulties.  Now, I know nothing about the outcomes of these possible conversations.  Perhaps they will end with the professor or the chair saying “You, Christian, do not belong in this department”, or the equivalent.  If so, the Christian student can depart in peace, shaking the dust from his feet, knowing that he has reaching the limits of what he can reasonably do.  But perhaps they will end quite differently.  Perhaps they will not fit neatly into the narrative at all.  The student has neatly skated over the evidence that his department is not as bad as he thinks:  the fact that the chair held a meeting about these events, and the fact that they accepted him into the program, even though he interpreted literature in his writing sample.  Some member or members of the department read that writing sample and thought it was good:  that is a fact.

The way to survive in these programs is to cling to common ground.  Cling to standards, cling to the love of literature (or history or whatever it is).  Cling to the work that you share as a project with your non-believing colleagues and teachers.  Seek out people who value something in common with you, especially if they are not Christian.  Form friendships.  Work together on the basis of those common values.  A standard for behavior or a standard for good thinking is not a static thing.  It is valued in the breach as well as in the observance.  Speak to your teachers and fellow-students as if they, too, can recognize the breach and can respond to it.  Accept their response if they acknowledge the breach, even if the result is not what you wanted.  Forbear some injuries.  Fight when necessary.  Make the choice to stay, make it repeatedly, because of your love of the subject and because you can adequately pursue what you love.

 

When you are in an environment where there is no common ground, where there is nothing you value in common with the others—when you know that not because you read too many blogs but because you have met your teachers and fellow-students eyeball-to-eyeball and forced them to clarify what they accept and what they reject—then it is time to leave.   Or you can choose to leave because for you the pain of the struggle outweighs the joy of the work.  But make no mistake:  that’s your calculation, and it’s your choice.

Having these conversations and forming these relationships is difficult.  It is awkward.  The continual testing of the difficult teacher, the difficult department, is tedious and fraught with anxiety. Engagement involves taking a risk, the risk that the authority figures in question will turn against you, that you may not be able to succeed in the way you set out to do.  But look—if you are thinking of leaving the profession, what difference does it make? If the climate is that bad, you have nothing to lose by engaging your teachers and colleagues.  You have nothing to lose by speaking your mind.  Nothing to lose, that is, but the sense of your superiority to them—the sense of superiority which is the worst temptation of Christian academics like myself.

 

Not only that, but there are always other options beyond leaving the profession:   switching advisors, switching programs, switching fields. Part of the human perspective on these questions involves taking in the massive differences between individual teachers, programs, and fields.  For instance, I suspect English is the worst field for this sort of thing.  History, philosophy, classics, the sciences are generally better.  You very often have the option to switch.  But you won’t think about those options if you are enchanted by the Narrative of Christian Oppression.  You will flee at the first difficulty, just as this student seems ready to do, because you will think from reading Rod Dreher that the whole university system has gone to hell and there’s no hope for any of it.

 

I teach now at the secular liberal arts college where I was an undergraduate.  It has never been a place where religion was marginalized—never.  But over the past few years we get fewer and fewer Christian students.  The student body is increasingly secular.  I wonder if that is because the Christian students and their parents read this blog (and others like it) and think that their only hope is in a Christian college.   This is a terrible shame for two reasons.  For one, it is a terrible loss to colleges like this one.  I would never have become a Christian if I had not forged friendships with Christian students at the secular institutions I attended. Further, how will our tradition of open conversation and real community across differences hold up if there are fewer and fewer religious students and teachers?

 

But there is a second reason that the abandonment of secular institutions by Christians is a shame, and I will be blunt.  Contemporary Christians—taken as a  group—do not have the intellectual heft of their secular counterparts.  The best scholarship, the highest quality thinking, still goes on at secular institutions.  To go to a Christian institution involves—by and large–an intellectual compromise.  (Notre Dame is one exception, but you could argue that that is because it is such a secularized place). The Narrative of Christian Oppression is partly to blame.  Rather than thinking about history, or philosophy, or literature, or any of the disciplines, Christian academics have a tendency to get preoccupied with their correctness, with their superiority to their secular counterparts.  Insofar as this infects the Christian curricula and the culture at these institutions, their precious focus on their disciplines themselves and the excellence it makes possible are lost.  Someday secular academia really may go to hell in a handbasket, and your Benedict Option will be necessary.  But I sure hope that in the meantime Christian academics will carry away as many Egyptian treasures as they can.  What they’d take now sure wouldn’t count for much.

 

I’ve had my own struggles. I too am continually tempted by the prospect of my own superiority.  I’ve always tried to engage with the secular world.  I have felt sometimes as if the attempt to engage was too draining to be worth it.  It certainly isn’t for everyone.  Members of oppressed minorities, whether they are historically oppressed races, women in male-dominated fields, or Christians in secular schools, they have to take on more strain.  It is harder for us. That strain can make you bitter, or it can be taken up with that cross we are all supposed to take up.  It can, indeed, be a heroic, beautiful, joyful struggle, just as anything worthwhile is, no matter how small or invisible or seemingly ineffectual.

 

If you print this, please don’t print my name, not because I’m afraid of repercussions, but because I don’t want the image of a culture warrior with my students.  At my school we don’t talk about our religious or political identities in class.  That’s because we create real “safe spaces” where students can actually say what they think without any fear of judgment.  My views aren’t secret—I share them with students and colleagues privately—but I do not publicize or flaunt them out of respect for the openness of those conversations.

The professor identified herself to me privately, and her institution. I’m really grateful to her for having written. I don’t know about the climate in higher education aside from what friends within it and readers tell me. More information is better, I think. So, thanks.

UPDATE: Here is an e-mail from the professor who wrote the above essay:

I am concerned that I seemed to be judging the grad student harshly. That was not my intention. I am deeply sympathetic with the grad student and with all Christians trying to live their faith in a secular environment. The approach to conflict that I suggested of conversation, engagement, and civil confrontation is very rarely seen in academia. If the grad student didn’t try it, or didn’t try it hard enough—and that is just my guess based on what he or she said—that isn’t surprising or particularly blameworthy. I know about the power of the Narrative of Christian Oppression, because I’ve fallen prey to it many times, and it has discouraged me deeply and has fed my impulses to leave the profession. But I know, for myself, that to give into that impulse would be a mistake, and I think it is a tragedy if others give into it prematurely or hastily or without looking at their circumstances with a cold eye to the possible.

I didn’t call anyone a snowflake and I didn’t tell anyone to suck it up. Many of these events are real injustices and real outrages. Injustice of this kind can shake you down to your elements. My intention was to encourage: it is worth it, it is worth it—and to give some practical suggestions as to how to move forward. But it was not to deny reality. I wouldn’t read Rod’s blog if I didn’t think he was tracking something real. Academia is in a steep decline. Many corners of it are toxic. Sometimes the approach I suggested will result in rejection and failure. It is very difficult to find a place where you can do your work and thrive. It took me a long time to find mine, and I know well enough there are few like it and that they face a growing legion of challenges. Probably I have been too hard on Rod too. The fact is that journalism might help you track the bigger picture of the state of our institutions. Still, the stories that are most newsworthy aren’t the most representative. That’s why reading journalism can be so destructive for living your daily life. It really can blind you to who is standing in front of you and what is possible with them. It feeds fear and despair. Fear and despair are poison. A touch of ‘damn the torpedoes’ is essential to survive and be happy in academia.

As for the relative quality of Christian vs secular institutions, I meant no offense. Obviously there is widespread stupidity and intellectual dishonesty at secular schools. That was, in fact, a premise of my letter. Still, I spoke too loosely. There are legions of wonderful Christian scholars, teachers, and institutions. In many cases a Christian institution may be preferable. My point was simply that the Narrative of Christian Oppression can discourage attending secular schools in cases when they are, in fact, the better option; that, in many cases, a secular school is a better place in terms of intellectual excellence; and that secular schools can nurture faith for believers and non-believers. My concern is partly too that if we were to all secede, Benedict Option style, we would have a pale and paltry sort of academy, taken as a whole, that the loss of intellectual excellence at this point would be a steep price to pay for independence. I could be wrong about that, but it’s surely worth asking the question of what the Benedict Academy would really look like.

Retreat is not the only response to decline. A firefighter can keep pulling children out of burning buildings even as his resources decline, his equipment decays, and bureaucracy strangles common sense. It’s still worthwhile, down to the last child, if he can stay focused on what matters.

The grad student who wrote the original complaint [1] responds to the professor’s first letter (above):

I understand many of your commenters’ misgivings about the story, including the professor for whom my letter was the “last straw.” I could have elaborated several other incidents in which I was directly involved or witnessed at first-hand, but the one I related seems best to exemplify how bad the situation can be even at “safe” schools. I do recognize that it is a solitary incident, not a pattern of abuse, and one that I didn’t experience directly. These elements of my story are impeachable, obviously. I’m glad that many of your readers expressed their understandable dubeity regarding the story. I certainly don’t begrudge them that.

I would note, though, that incidents of this magnitude don’t happen everyday, of course, but varieties of them do happen everywhere and to a lesser and more insidious extent. What concerns me most isn’t the Christian vs. non-Christian dynamic here; rather, it’s the issue of narratives that have power (and the institutional wherewithal to enforce that power) vs. the narratives that don’t. Perhaps it was irresponsible of me to send along that particular story, and I apologize if it was. Perhaps I unwittingly fanned the flames of the “Narrative of Christian Oppression.” In any event, your readers have made of it what they will. It was merely my small contribution to the discussion.

I would also note, since some readers seemed to mistake me, that I’m not overly bothered by the ham-fisted, “edgy” misreading of the Annunciation narrative. I mean, goodness, we’re in the season in which the astonishingly radical Christian belief in the Incarnation is repackaged and commodified into something that is neither threatening nor even remarkable to polite consumerist sensibilities. This pervasive commercialization of Our Lord’s Nativity disturbs me way more than some prof spouting eisegetical garbage to a room full of undergrads, most of whom were probably paying closer attention to Facebook than to said lecture. The problem has more to do with expectation of TAs’ corporate submission to that secularist reading, which seems much more sinister and problematic.

And please don’t get me wrong: as I noted, [my university] isn’t the worst place in academia. Far, far from it. … Relatively speaking, it is less hostile to Christians and conservatives than elsewhere. I was blessed with a few professors and a handful of classes that were dedicated to true humanistic inquiry rather than proliferating theoretical mumbo-jumbo. “Relatively speaking” is the operative phrase, though; the department is huge, so one is bound to have a handful of professors who don’t fit the mold. And the sympathetic ones are all, not coincidentally, older professors, in part because they have the professional luxury not to put their tenure or promotion on the line.

But younger professors don’t have the same prerogative to step out of line. That’s the case in any hierarchical organization, of course, but the standards–one would think–ought to be higher in a profession that prides itself on fostering the virtue of boundless inquiry. When one looks at what is published in the field, one realizes that the gatekeepers to publication (and thus to professional success) have very little interest in publishing anything that strays beyond a certain, narrowly-construed set of ideological commitments. Prof. Lisa Ruddick’s article in The Point reinforces this point. Some of this is a matter of generational perspective. Having senior professors tell grad students and junior faculty that it’s not really as bad as we’re making it out to be strikes me as a bit patronizing, but maybe that’s just me? I’ll admit that we grad students (and I, the chief of sinners) need to do less extrapolating from, and hand-wringing over, our own limited experiences in the academy.

Maybe I’ve also fallen prey to Special Snowflake Syndrome and am thus willing to internalize and personalize events that are ultimately impersonal. I entertain that possibility. Many of the comments and letters in response to my story were useful in helping me to recognize that I may need to moderate my perspective somewhat. I do worry that some of my thinking in this regard merely serves to reinforce the ghetto-ization of Christian academics. (But then one wonders if the ghetto doesn’t already exist and its boundaries are simply beginning to become apparent to us?) In any case, there are enough other structural problems in academia apart from this issue that have also contributed to my decision to get out (for the moment, at least). At least half of my PhD cohort has left academia for reasons having nothing to do with any of these issues. So it goes. It’s a weird place to be.

My friend and TAC contributor Alan Jacobs, a Baylor University literature professor (who used to teach at Wheaton) addresses this controversy here [2]. In this excerpt, he challenges the Fed-Up Christian Professor’s claim (in the original essay above) that secular universities on balance offer a better education than Christian ones (“To go to a Christian institution involves—by and large–an intellectual compromise.”). Here’s Alan:

I believe the kind of education students receive in the Honors College at Baylor, and at Wheaton, is in most respects far superior to what they would receive at secular schools of greater academic reputation and social prestige. Indeed, in my years at Wheaton I often heard comments to this effect from visitors. I think for instance of a professor at one of America’s top ten universities who said to me, after spending some time with one of my classes, “Your students are better informed and ask more incisive questions than mine do.”

I could adduce more examples, and explore more comparisons, but let me conclude with this: If this professor’s commendation of Wheaton’s students has at least somevalidity, how might we account for this state of affairs? I would point to three factors:

1) At Christian colleges, students and faculty alike tend to think of learning as a project in which the whole person is involved. Information is not typically separated from knowledge, nor knowledge from wisdom. The quest for education is less performative, more earnest than at many secular institutions. People are more likely to think and speak of education as something that leads to eudaimonia, flourishing.

2) A closely related point: Christian institutions tend to think quite consciously that their task involves Bildung [3], the formation of young people’s characters as well as their minds. So in hiring and retention they place a greater emphasis on teaching and mentoring than is common in secular institutions. (There are exceptions, of course, but even the most student-centered secular institutions cannot, because of their intrinsic pluralism, specify what good personal formation looks like.)

3) Perhaps the most important feature: Christian teachers and students alike can never forget that their views are not widely shared in the culture as a whole. We read a great many books written by people who don’t believe what we believe; we are always aware of being different. This is a tremendous boon to true learning, because it discourages people from deploying rote pieties as a substitute for genuine thought. No Christian student or professor can ever forget the possibility of alternative beliefs or unbeliefs. Most students who graduate from Christian colleges have a sharp, clear awareness of alternative ways of being in the world; yet students at secular universities can go from their first undergraduate year all the way to a PhD without ever having a serious encounter with religious thought and experience — with any view of the world other than that of their own social class.

Read Alan’s entire piece here. [2]

And Robert Oscar Lopez, a tenured Christian academic who has been put through professional hell because of his stated views on homosexuality [4], says in the comments section:

I have to break ranks and offer a critical response to this anonymous letter. I think the unnamed author is unfair and condescending. She admits she doesn’t really know the particulars of the story she’s responding to but she presumes that the coping mechanisms that have served her in her apparently fortunate and comfortable situation will work for everyone. Given that she does not reveal her name, which all but discredits her in my view (if she can’t deal with possible resistance to her ideas from other Christians on a blog, why on earth do I think she knows how to deal with serious anti-Christian bias on a hostile campus?) I think her feedback with its somewhat overheated reaction to what she sees as Christian whining is frivolous. I have been in the academy for 20 years, I got tenure, I made nice-nice with everyone and tried going to lunch with colleagues, but in the end, when they came for the Christians, they came for me, and I had to sift through the wreckage. The person who wrote this anonymous letter sounds like the whispering chorus of frightened, cowardly conservatives who have crossed my path over two decades, always hiding in their bunkers and wanting so badly for leftists to really like them and think they’re not like those smelly ones, still “clinging,” as the author puts it, to a mythical meritocracy as if the leftists who have demonstrably destroyed the academy are reasonable people to be persuaded by someone with the right rhetorical gifts. People like Carol Swain, John McAdams and me are under fire–serious, vicious, unyielding attack–and we need bold Christians to defend our faith in the public square, not timid little squirrels offering stale chestnuts under pseudonyms. I am sorry to be so rude, but her letter is rather dismissive and inconsiderate in its own way so I don’t feel that bad.

(This has been such a great discussion!)

 

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94 Comments To "‘The Narrative of Christian Oppression’ (Updated)"

#1 Comment By Mark On December 18, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

I appreciated this letter as one who works at a public university, especially the point about finding common ground based upon our shared humanity. The only thing that made me bristle was this. . .

“Contemporary Christians—taken as a group—do not have the intellectual heft of their secular counterparts. The best scholarship, the highest quality thinking, still goes on at secular institutions. To go to a Christian institution involves—by and large–an intellectual compromise.”

I guess he qualifies that observation with “as a group” but some of the sharpest scholars I have known over the years have been those who profess Christian faith and integrate that in their scholarship. I wonder what TAC contributor Alan Jacobs would say to that generalization?

#2 Comment By Aaron C. On December 18, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

Like many things, I suspect that this is a both/and-type analysis. While there are certainly those individuals like the letter’s author who are willing to do what she describes (with great joy and enthusiasm), her willingness to do so doesn’t invalidate the desire of other Christians in academia to separate themselves from what is fast-becoming a toxic environment. Each course of action is eminently defensible and this blog’s readers will, to various degrees, be persuaded by each camp’s passionate apologia, depending on our own personalities and convictions. Ultimately, every person in such circumstances will need to make the call for themselves AND be supported by the rest of us in that choice.

Of course, both types of individuals will need to be mindful of the consequences of their actions re: advancing the Kingdom of God. For the one who stays, do exactly what the author of the letter says: strive for excellence, cling to common ground with colleagues, and engage with others on behalf of Christianity when presented with the opportunity. For the one who leaves, do so cheerfully, without rancor or resentment, secure in the knowledge that you are leaving to preserve the ancient faith and, hopefully, pass it along to others.

For the one who stays, however, there will of course be additional risks to consider. For example, will you be tempted to compromise key doctrinal positions to keep the peace in the staff room or will you remain silent during those uncomfortable conversations about faith and religion? Perhaps, like Daniel, you can bear this burden alone (or with your own Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), and we on the outside will be praying that you are effective where you have been placed.

#3 Comment By Jesse On December 18, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

Rod has a clearer vision of what is happening than this professor does. The previous post wasn’t valuable because of the integrity of the person who wrote it; maybe he was histrionic as this professor suggests. The point is: For a thousand years, the quality of any individual “professor” or authority figure mattered less because there was a culture in place that was inherently godly and which would have prohibited any individual in authority from opining to those he or she was responsible for forming that God is a rapist. That culture is gone and an inherently demonic culture has taken its place, one that is either indifferent to blasphemy or encourages it. That’s not going away; it’s just beginning. That doesn’t we have an excuse for self-pity; God will no doubt use the tension of this new Middle Ages to form new Christian heros and saints. But the fact that so many readers of this blog are relieved by the possibility of a reprieve – are so naively hopefully that they will find “common ground” proves Rod’s point about the value of the “Benedict Option.” Individual Christians can find common ground, friendship, and collegiality with individual cultural Marxists, but Christianity can find no common ground with the demonic.

#4 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 18, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

John: There is an important point that has not been raised in this discussion, which is that the ideology of political correctness in fact has its origins in progressive Christianity. This is true form the point of view of its basic approach and assumptions, but also in the plain historical sense; it is the fruit of liberal Protestant (and to some extent modernist Catholic) persons and institutions.

Hmm. I doubt you’ll find a more emphatic and oft-times hostile opponent of political correctness than me. I believe I understand your reasoning… but I can’t accept your assertion. I see it as a contributing source, not the originating source.

I prefer to blame — no scare quotes or dissembling here — political correctness on the opening of our societal dialogue to differences and how near-xenophobia controlled the lexicon prior to that. It had its gradual buildups from a variety of sources, but I would point to the 60s as the culmination point where it took on a life of its own.

In short, I’ve seen too many examples of PC that were direct reactions to Christianity’s hegemonic control over society, and the perception that it was per se a source of social tyranny. I am, of course, biased in that view, being a Pagan. In the meantime, though, I will disclose that I am as hostile to PC amongst my siblings-in-faith as I am to anyone of any description.

The potential for its existence has two very prominent examples: 1984 and Brave New World. We are deep into the realization of those two fictional speculations, and neither of them have any grounding in Christianity of any sort.

#5 Comment By TR On December 18, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

I was going to skip this entry. Having lived in the Bible Belt all my life, I find narratives of Christian oppression inherently ludicrous, but I’m glad I didn’t because of the professor’s last paragraph. Her definition of a truly “safe place”–i. e. a classroom where every student can express his or her opinion “without any fear of judgment”– is what every college course should offer. Secular universities are less likely to hold to that ideal now than they used to, but many of the “traditional’ private, denominational colleges recommended in a blog several weeks ago have never held that ideal. One of them, Wheaton, apparently believes a Catholic can’t teach Aquinas.

#6 Comment By Eliana On December 18, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

To me, the perceived need to focus on “correctness” and
“superiority” is also the reason that most attempts at
creating Christian-themed works of fiction—stories, movies, etc., often seem to fall short artistically.

And the perceived need for that same focus is also, to me, why Christian Bible study groups’ discussion content can seem so pale and flabby when compared to, say, a good Torah study discussion group’s content.

Thorough personal engagement in the former often seems rather limited by a perceived need to stay “on message”–the message of correctness and superiority.

What else is Christianity to Christians, beyond the human delight of being under a banner of “correctness” and “superiority”?

That is a question.

I’m afraid sometimes it can be hard for people outside Christianity to tell if it is in fact really about anything more for many Christians.

#7 Comment By JDinsSR On December 18, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

More of this, please.

The quality of the comments are remarkable. Much light; less heat.

#8 Comment By Alan Breedlove On December 18, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

Franklin, I have enjoyed our civil exchange and thank you for taking the time to more fully explain your position. We share a lot of common ground.

I, too, perhaps was too ambiguous, as my self-censorship is not limited to face-to-face encounters, but most especially over cyberspace. I believe comment threads would be much shorter and much more interesting if people had to identify themselves.

As for the anonymous letter that set me off, I was cheering what she wrote and agreed with much of it, and respectfully disagreed with some of it. But she really took that grad student to the woodshed, and by remaining anonymous–and I thought her reason for remaining anonymous was disingenuous–she completely undermined her credibility. If Dragon Rider Jedi Knight slammed another member of your Usenet newsgroup, would that have run afoul of Callahan’s Law? Franklin, best wishes to you. Alan

#9 Comment By James McLain On December 18, 2015 @ 2:57 pm

I have no problem with the thrust of this. However, contemporary Christian institutions not having the “intellectual heft” of their secular counterparts is simply misleading, if not outright false, depending on what schools and what scholarship is in question. The education two of my sons have received at a particular Christian liberal arts college in the Midwest is hands down superior to the one I received at a land grant institution in the next state over. While I share many of the concerns with the writer, and we certainly want Christians engaged on all fronts, this contention just doesn’t work.

#10 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 18, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

“Contemporary Christians—taken as a group—do not have the intellectual heft of their secular counterparts. The best scholarship, the highest quality thinking, still goes on at secular institutions. To go to a Christian institution involves—by and large–an intellectual compromise.”

This in itself, is an assertion untethered to anything other than the temptation to regard one’s own choice of teaching venue and exclusive experience as the superior. Rah Rah my school.

“I too am continually tempted by the prospect of my own superiority.”

And giving in to it.

#11 Comment By BlairBurton On December 18, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

You know, C.S. Lewis experienced bias because of his Christianity from his colleagues at Oxford, to the extent that he had to go to Cambridge to be appointed a professor. So such bias isn’t new. Some would say it was because he was active in Christian apologetics and in broadcasting, as Tolkien, equally devout, doesn’t seem to have suffered any career limitations because of his Christianity. It may be that it was Lewis’s fame that rankled, fame not centered in his academic field. Tolkien’s fame as a fantasy author came later in his career.

#12 Comment By Chris Atwood On December 18, 2015 @ 3:51 pm

“Seriously: Go read this article in Slate — not from a Christian anti-intellectual, but a voice from the inside — and tell me this is a community where you’d like to spend the rest of your life living and working. Is this a paradigm of healthy academic excellence that Christians should be chided for neglecting? Or is this a cautionary fable about what we should be trying (as BenOp scholars singularly interested in defending the relevance of academics to public common life) to desperately avoid?”

OK, so I go to the article Edward Hamilton recommends, and what I see is the usual common piece about how unpleasant conferences can be when you don’t have an academic job yet and aren’t sure you’re going to get one.

Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt. I still have vivid memories of trying to introduce myself to Professor X from Y university who’d written this great book on Z which had really helped me think through some issues as I was trying to turn my dissertation into a book. He’s talking with these people . . . and I introduce myself and he turns and he looks at me like I’m a bug, says a few polite words, accepts the off-print of my latest article, and goes back to talking to the people he obviously thinks are more interesting than this prematurely balding, chubby shlemiel in a frayed sports jacket.

Did he really think I was a bug? Who knows? I felt like it, of course, because I was really worried and needed to get a permanent job. When you’re worried and anxious you often don’t see things straight.

But all that this article proves is that academia is a COMPETITIVE environment in which there aren’t positions enough for everyone, and that getting your first job is really tough. If someone wants to point that out, with the constructive purpose of trying to make things better–while maintaining standards–I think that’s great. And if someone is making jokes about it (as the Slate article is) to laugh off the stress and anxiety, then I’m happy to join in the laugh. But if someone wants to use the stress of job-hunting to say, this proves academia is a bad place that no one should want to join, then I have to point out: your problem is not with academia, your problem is with difficult, competitive professions in general. You seem to want a world where you can have your work publicly recognized as superior by a broad community–without ever feeling stress, anxiety, sentiments of “I’m not good enough.” Well, ever since Eden when God told us we’re going to have to win our bread by the sweat of our brows, that’s not been on offer in this World.

Let’s say you give it up and want to be culture-wars journalist. Look at someone who’s good and publicly recognized in that field like Rod. Well, look at the stress and anxiety and health issues and pain he goes through to produce his books. Does everyone want to do that? No, sir. But does he think its worth it? Yes. And if you have a calling to do original research, then academia should also be worth the pain it takes to do it. And that pain alternates with a lot of pleasant arbors as well.

#13 Comment By Charles Cosimano On December 18, 2015 @ 3:53 pm

“LOL. I was under the impression that one of the founding principles of evangelicalism was, you know, no requirement to submit to central authority, i.e. the whole soul competency thing. Wheaton College, quite obviously, is under absolutely no obligation to listen to the Pope.”

Hector said it before I had the chance. I was laughing too hard. Quoting the Pope to a Wheaton College audience? Try quoting Mohammend. They would be more inclined to listen.

Oh and I’m on the phone with a friend of mine who is a professor at the University of Chicago. As a bit of a lark I just asked her what she thought of Notre Dame as a university. If she stops laughing long enough to answer I might find out.

But she liked Carlo’s little talk too.

#14 Comment By anonymousdr On December 18, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

@Chris Atwood

Area studies based on a difficult language remind me of what Tom Wolf once said in “The Right Stuff” about the Air Force compared to the Navy. The Air Force has none of this “officer and a gentleman” crap–if you’re a lieutenant and can really fly, nothing but gross character flaws will keep you from rising up in the ranks. Really talented airmen are too rare to throw away. Just so, if you’re really good at reading Ge’ez documents and relating them to interesting questions, nothing but gross character flaws will keep you from finishing your dissertation and getting a job–serious non-mainstream humanities chops are just too rare for any field to risk throwing them away, no matter what your ideology.

I am a physician in training in a highly respected, and technically/intellectually challenging field of medicine, in a highly competitive program, and my experience parallels yours 100%.

In medicine (most of it outside of some academic primary care positions/much of psychiatry/and OB at non-Catholic hospitals), there is no real party line to toe. If you can do the operation, learn the material, get the research done no one cares if you are a devout Muslim who goes and prays 5 times per day, or if you are Traditionalist Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox Jew etc (those are all real examples). One of the section heads in my department is a fairly open Evangelical, and he is nationally renowned in the field. A new hire in another section is a young LDS hotshot.

Also, in medicine name brand credentials seem to matter less than they do in law or the humanities because there are generally agreed upon standards of success. Basically, at a certain level the skill set is so difficult to acquire that you can pretty much do what you want. I’ve met some Cardiac and Neurosurgeons who are true sociopaths, but they get the job done at 3 am when no one else will, much like the Air Force pilot in the seat of an F-15.

The problem with the humanities (which I studied at an elite secular LAC) is that there often aren’t any technical skills, like knowing Ge’ez, so your chances of success in the field are often arbitrary–did you go to the right college/grad school, do you say the right things, are you a member of a minority group that the faculty is really keen on, whatever.

My advice to young people/people with kids is that if you want to work in the wider secular world, to get a job where your skills matter, rather than how well you promote a particular world view. Become a welder, or a plumber, or a master carpenter. Or become a surgeon, a dentist, a fighter pilot. Learn a difficult, rare language. Get really good at biostatistics. Learn how to sew or fix shoes. I don’t know. This is especially true if you want to participate in elite institutions and your world view is outside the mainstream, which I think one can argue that Christianity, and a certain type of conservatism is.

If you do want to be a general Humanist who promotes a specific world view (Evangelical Christianity, Judaism, or Leftism), don’t expect that institutions run by people hostile to your world view are really going to want you around. Much of mainstream humanities scholarship is not technical in nature, but is an extended argument within a tradition by people who already share many presuppositions in common. The Berkley english department doesn’t want Traditionalist Catholics who hate nominalism? OK. Well go over the Bay Bridge to UCSF and fix baby hearts.

#15 Comment By GSW On December 18, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

“There is a perfectly good reason for professors to remain anonymous in their personal lives, and it has nothing to do with fear of tenure or loss of job… Rather, I don’t want my personal views expressed outside of classroom in a non-academic setting to affect my students’ view of me and what I teach. They can read my articles, listen to my presentations in and outside class, or even go out for beer (in a group) after class to discuss the subject matter of my course. But my personal views about this or that issue of social policy is of little moment to what I teach and not at all relevant to my students.”

Amen.

Throughout my career as a (now retired) university professor with four decades of full-time teaching, I felt it highly unprofessional to reveal “my personal beliefs” about either my subject matter, or life in general, in the classroom. For example, I refused absolutely all media interviews, even from Journalism students preparing assignments for their university instructors, that were not closely related to my technical expertise and therefore could be understood to be non-partisan.

Enquiring minds need space to learn and grow.

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 18, 2015 @ 6:49 pm

This was an excellent antidote to at least five brands of prevailing hysteria. The letter our gracious host had kindly and sensibly presented at length is exactly what we need to restore a sense of sanity, not to mention the substance of sanity.

#17 Comment By Lisa On December 18, 2015 @ 7:22 pm

John said, “She should try publicly stating that sodomy is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance (see the Baltimore Catechism), that state recognition of gay ‘marriages’ has no legal existence because it is contrary to natural law, and that abortion is the murder of innocent human beings and an unspeakable crime. Of course she should back these statements up with reasoned argument that does not base itself on religious faith, and be courteous and fair in addressing her opponents’ points. See how far that gets her.”

Even if she believed all of the above, why should she be talking about it at work, if it doesn’t have anything to do with her job? Unless she is teaching subject matter that is directly related to abortion or SSM, why would she be spouting off about it to students or colleagues? I

#18 Comment By Robert Oscar Lopez On December 18, 2015 @ 7:22 pm

I have to break ranks and offer a critical response to this anonymous letter. I think the unnamed author is unfair and condescending. She admits she doesn’t really know the particulars of the story she’s responding to but she presumes that the coping mechanisms that have served her in her apparently fortunate and comfortable situation will work for everyone. Given that she does not reveal her name, which all but discredits her in my view (if she can’t deal with possible resistance to her ideas from other Christians on a blog, why on earth do I think she knows how to deal with serious anti-Christian bias on a hostile campus?) I think her feedback with its somewhat overheated reaction to what she sees as Christian whining is frivolous. I have been in the academy for 20 years, I got tenure, I made nice-nice with everyone and tried going to lunch with colleagues, but in the end, when they came for the Christians, they came for me, and I had to sift through the wreckage. The person who wrote this anonymous letter sounds like the whispering chorus of frightened, cowardly conservatives who have crossed my path over two decades, always hiding in their bunkers and wanting so badly for leftists to really like them and think they’re not like those smelly ones, still “clinging,” as the author puts it, to a mythical meritocracy as if the leftists who have demonstrably destroyed the academy are reasonable people to be persuaded by someone with the right rhetorical gifts. People like Carol Swain, John McAdams and me are under fire–serious, vicious, unyielding attack–and we need bold Christians to defend our faith in the public square, not timid little squirrels offering stale chestnuts under pseudonyms. I am sorry to be so rude, but her letter is rather dismissive and inconsiderate in its own way so I don’t feel that bad.

#19 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 18, 2015 @ 8:42 pm

Alan, my hypothetical DRJK would get the same disapprobation as anyone for breaking the etiquette, though having his/her posts ignored would be the most common response. The “Law”, by the way, is an observation rather than a rule. If you enjoy good storytelling that partakes of mild science fiction tangents, and you can at least tolerate punning, find a library or used copy of Robinson’s first collection of his Callahan stories Time Travelers Strictly Cash. He puts his “Law” into action in every story. He is one of my two or three favorite authors just for the strength and depth of his characters… and, being an incurable punster myself, well… 😀

#20 Comment By Darth Thulhu On December 18, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

Hector_St_Clare wrote:

LOL. I was under the impression that one of the founding principles of evangelicalism was, you know, no requirement to submit to central authority

Which makes it the essence of hypocrisy for Wheaton to present itself as a central religious authority that requires abject submission. Why not quote the Pope, or the Catholic magisterium, as a well-argued analysis of the Unity of the Syriac Christian concept of Allah and the Shi’ite Muslim concept of Allah?

Do you care to try to explain how a Trinitarian God who incarnates Himself can be usefully seen as ‘the same’ as a Unitarian God who doesn’t incarnate Himself? This is a matter of simple logic.

Logic isn’t your strongest suit. But since you did ask, here goes:

1) There is always and everywhere One and Only One God, a Divine Sun “above” this world that none can see (imagine God like a star in the middle of a vast flat-land sheet of Dyson Sphere, with us as 2-dimensional entities incapable of looking “up” into the 3rd dimension).

2) God at one point “emanated” the shell of the world we are in. It is impossible to discuss God in terms of the 2-dimensional shell we are in. The God-“Star” could be a 0-dimensional point, a three-dimensional spheroid, or a 20-dimensional hyper shape, or something weirder still. We simply are not equipped to understand the nature of God, and we never will be while residing in this world.

3) God’s “sunlight” radiance is the Holy Spirit. Through this Holy Spirit, God pervades every single part of this world we reside in (and countless other translucent shell-worlds), but our physical 2-dimensional material selves simply cannot ever “perceive” that light. It is literally orthogonal to our understanding.

4) In being “made in God’s image”, there is a part of our existence as humans (rather than merely as animals) that is like unto God’s radiance, capable of perceiving that radiance and experiencing it, even though our material bodies are not capable of doing so.

5) Think of that part of us, as humans, as being somehow able to “pitch” and “swivel” outside of this 2-dimensional world of our bodies, and orient toward the God-“Star” … or away from it.

6) Think of that pivoting part of us, more than merely materially natural, as being capable of glimpsing and absorbing and reflecting that Divine “Light”. Like a tarnished mirror.

7) Any given fragment of the Unknowable God-Star’s Light is not the totality of the God-Star, even though the totality of all of that radiance is an integral part of what that God-Star is doing. Any distorted reflection of the God-Star in any given dirty-and-misaligned mirror is, likewise, not to be confused with the actual Unknowable God-Star.

8) Better, cleaner, more-directly-aligned mirrors will be exceptionally radiant and Godly, but regardless, no merely mortal mirror can ever be a perfect reflector of God’s Light. Those better mirrors, highly radiant, may be saints and prophets, but they cannot ever perfectly reflect God.

8) Now and again, however, the God-Star can manifest among us a Perfect Mirror.

9) Each such Perfect Mirror is not actually the God-Star, just as the endless sphere of radiance is not actually the God-Star. There is and always will be only one Unknowable God-Star.

10) Regardless, each such Perfect Mirror can, and does, Perfectly Reflect the God-Star. Staring at the Perfect Mirror will perfectly reflect (a tiny subtraction of) the Light of the God-Star, and in that Perfect Mirror those with eyes to see will directly see the God-Star.

11) There is always and ever only One Infinitely-Alien God of Light.

12) There is also and always a shell of limitless God radiance pervading every part of creation (the Holy Spirit), and a series of Perfect Mirrors (the Son/the Word) perfectly reflecting that radiance so that we can “see” the Light of the Holy Spirit and thus “see” the One God.

God is “an infinitely distant Truth we cannot begin to Know” (Father) as well as “an all-pervading Light around us and in us at all times” (Holy Spirit) as well as “a perfect set of Persons/Revelations each showing us the fullness of God” (Son). God is a One Giant Unknowable, as well as Three Barely-Conceivables, as well as an endless litany of Perfect Reflections.

One can whine about Muslims not worshipping a given Perfect Reflection of the God-Star as a Perfect Reflection of the God-Star, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t actually worshipping the same God-Star … they’re just making it harder on themselves, not being able to approach the Father through the form of (that) Son.

Likewise, one can whine about Christians not worshipping the Perfect Reflection of the God-Star made manifest to Muhammad, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worshipping the same Light and the same Source of that Light … they’re just making it harder on themselves.

Regardless, God is One, and God’s Manifest Nature is Three, and God’s Manifestations in this world are Infinite and Unending.

#21 Comment By anonymousdr On December 18, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

I should rephrase one part of the above comment:

“and OB at non-Catholic hospitals”

should read:

“and OB at all hospitals secular or religious”

#22 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 18, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

@Joe M:

Nor are Christian truth claims as viable options.

Well, they can’t be, really, because if a secular university accredits the truth claims of a particular system of faith — making these the basis for judging other scholarly claims, or for evaluating a professor’s fitness for the job, or what-have-you — by definition it ceases to be “secular” and becomes a university expounding that faith.

@Bobby:

Walking the line in secular academia is tough. But at least you will get some measure of due process before you’re placed on administrative leave. At least the professors believe in something akin to academic freedom, and are wiling to defend professors who may express views that go against the views held by donors. There’s a reason why there are no R1 Christian universities (with the possible exception of Notre Dame): The intellectual climate at Christian universities is actually far more rigid than in secular academia.

The last part of this may be right, but I would not count on due process or defenses of academic freedom from secular universities these days. The result, and maybe the point, of the continuing move toward “adjunctification” is the abolition of these features, or their reduction to dead letters that exist only as nice words in some faculty handbook but not in reality.

@Michael Guarino:

There is consistent mention of lack of respect, but to me the most obvious concern is that the direction of the academy, especially in the Humanities, is tending towards untruth. That is, what is being taught and what they will ultimately need to teach, is profoundly misguided and that they are largely powerless to right the ship.

If that’s the concern, then I’m even more doubtful that the concern is fully justified. One thing that for sure remains possible, despite the piling-up of the kinds of nonsense we’ve been discussing, is publishing what you regard as truth. Take a work like How Dante Can Save Your Life. An academic press would not publish such a book as a study of Dante under that title or with the explicit purpose of spiritual self-help. But all the points it makes (AFAICT) about what Dante is saying, how the poem is structured and why it’s written the way it is, and — crucially — how the spiritual issues discussed in HDCSYL animate The Divine Comedy and explain what’s going on in it and what’s motivating its characters, and what we gain from seeing all this from the same medieval Catholic perspective in which Dante saw them: all those points would be perfectly legitimate scholarly insights and would not be difficult to publish within the usual conventions of academic writing. You just leave it as an exercise for the reader or student to take the next step and apply it all to one’s own life.

In the classroom, too, you could present all this — in fact you could assign a book like the one I’ve just described — as good, sound analysis of a work that remains well positioned in the canon and curriculum even in these latter days. That is, there are few deans or department chairs who would question the inclusion of The Divine Comedy on a syllabus for a course with a suitable topic. Indeed there are whole courses just on that work and on Dante. Google the names along with the word “syllabus” to see lots of examples, instance [5] from Yale, or [6] from Penn State, with a course description beginning as follows:

Welcome to Dante in Translation! Join us on Dante’s journey through the realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise and face the same dilemmas and controversies he does in his Divine Comedy. (emphasis added)

That sounds not terribly unlike a description of HDCSYL, even if this professor’s particular emphases might be different at points.

Of course, again, in the classroom, you normally wouldn’t be explicitly urging Dante on people as a way of “saving their lives.” That’s not the role of secular higher education. Even so, a professor who felt that kind of personal “ownership” of Dante and his message could all but say it will save your life; she could say, for instance, “You can see here, especially when we consider Dante against the backdrop of medieval Catholic thought and Church tradition, why this would have struck people as spiritually essential and why it came down to us with the high reputation it has.” Those are perfectly respectable “secular” insights and would fit in even within today’s American English departments.

#23 Comment By TR On December 18, 2015 @ 9:17 pm

I can’t help making two further comments:

Most commenters here are careful readers, but everyone who commented on the professor’s anonymity overlooked the pedagogical justification she provides. She doesn’t want her students to identify her with a certain position. I saw the effect of this again and again when I was overseeing younger instructors. One would report that his whole class dug this or that latest theory. “And did you tell them you identified with it?” Reply: “Yes.” Not all students are scholars, but most are not fools.

2. Ammo for the Oppression freaks. I once was on a dissertation committee for a woman teaching at a fundamentalist college. Her topic had something to do with a Christian theory of literature. Her defense was presided over by our Dean, who happened to be a Baptist and a member of the Religious Studies department.

After the defense, he told me his department would never have approved the dissertation since it was not “objective.”
I told him that if we allowed Freudian and Jungian and Derridean dissertations, I saw no justification for not allowing a partisan religious one.

#24 Comment By Chris C. On December 18, 2015 @ 9:28 pm

Franklin Evans-“I’m not being hostile, I’m wondering how you reconcile that bit of apparent hypocrisy in your complaint about anonymity.”

Who says I was complaining about anonymity? I have no problem with it. I know why I do so. I owe no explanations. The question is why did the author do so? She told us and I recounted her reasons in my post-“I don’t want the image of a culture warrior with my students.” She’s self censoring so as not to jeopardize her career. It would look bad for her to be thought around campus as a “culture warrior.” That contradicts her point that the oppressed Christian narrative is false. Nice misdirection though.

#25 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 18, 2015 @ 9:52 pm

@Chris Atwood:

Oh, and as for that grad student who wanted to teach “Laurus” and knew departments would never allowed him to say what he wanted to say about it–well, if he was good in Russian and understood modern Russian novels AND medieval Russian hagiographies, you know what? Any good Slavics department in the US would be happy to put him in front of students and have him talk about it, in addition to teaching the language or the required Russian civ survey, or whatever. And really, if he doesn’t know Russian, the Russian novel or medieval hagiography, what can he really say about it that’s not already obvious to the casual reader? And why does he need to be paid to say what a casual reader can pick up on his or her own?

What you, Rod, did for Dante is great–but I would not want to send my children to a university that would put you, without Italian as you are or any deep knowledge in Dante studies, in front of a classroom to teach Dante, day in, day out. Journalism is one good, valuable, and important thing and academia is another good, valuable, and important thing. They’re not the same.

I agree in part with this, as my last comment indicated: you could teach Laurus in the secular academy. (Professors still have remarkable freedom to choose what to put on their syllabi — and rightly so, since they are the local experts on what counts as legitimate subjects for study in their field. They can also make clear that they think a given work is good or important.) But I think the situation is even better from the traditionalists’ perspective than Chris is suggesting. You don’t need to be an expert on Russian to teach Laurus or on Italian to teach Dante in interesting ways. As I pointed out, something like Rod Dreher’s approach could well be the basis of a course in the secular university or for a book from a secular academic publisher, although it would need to leave the “saving your life” part implicit rather than trumpeting it in the title. (That said, I have nothing but the highest regard for “area” experts and the more specialized knowledge of theirs that Chris is talking about.)

But if someone wants to use the stress of job-hunting to say, this proves academia is a bad place that no one should want to join, then I have to point out: your problem is not with academia, your problem is with difficult, competitive professions in general.

This is an important point that I agree with completely. Medicine, law, investment banking — these are all highly competitive, and the junior / aspiring / apprentice members of all these professions are often treated like dirt, from what I hear. That’s not a problem with academia as such, although there is perhaps a special fault in any discipline that calls itself “the humanities” if it’s pointlessly and indifferently cruel to people.

#26 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 18, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

I see that one of my links in a comment above was broken. Trying again:

[7]

It’s a syllabus for a course called “Dante in Translation,” Italian 490, Spring 2015, Penn State University. Anyway, as I said, there are many more examples that immediately turn up in a Google search.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 18, 2015 @ 11:05 pm

Do you care to try to explain how a Trinitarian God who incarnates Himself can be usefully seen as ‘the same’ as a Unitarian God who doesn’t incarnate Himself?

The Incarnation, like most of the non-mundane content of the Bible, is an attempt to explain to us something we cannot possibly understand. It is necessarily metaphorical and allegorical, not because it “isn’t real” or “nothing really happened” but because “you cannot see my face and live.” If we paid more attention to the meaning of “transcendent” we’d stop running around crying “anyone who does not believe this cannot be saved.” Reading Athansius drove me to consider myself an Arian until I read what Arias actually wrote, and the Pope’s critique of Arias led me to the read up on the Sabellians, but they were really loony. Its all rather irrelevant to both what God wants us to know, and what it takes to be saved.

#28 Comment By Bobby On December 18, 2015 @ 11:32 pm

Jacobs’ comparison is inapposite and disingenuous. The anonymous professor is referring to graduate programs, not undergraduate programs. No one doubts that one can probably get a better undergraduate education at a school that focuses on undergraduate education than at a research university.

The events of the last week make it fairly clear why Wheaton College could never have a functioning graduate program in the humanities. In a school that bars faculty members from the classroom for expressing beliefs shared by millions of evangelical Christians–including Miroslav Volf and Jacobs’ colleague Roger Olson–it’s hard to imagine that one could ever carry out the kinds of research that humanities researchers generally carry out.

#29 Comment By Bobby On December 18, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

Atwood said, “But if someone wants to use the stress of job-hunting to say, this proves academia is a bad place that no one should want to join, then I have to point out: your problem is not with academia, your problem is with difficult, competitive professions in general.”

BINGO. When I was in law school, the folks who complained about the school’s liberalism were invariably in the bottom half of the class. While law school classroom discussion often trends in a liberal direction, the exams rely on fairly run-of-the-mill fact patterns that don’t offer much chance to show off one’s political views. And the grading is all blind. So, even if the professors are liberal, there’s no reason why that bias would cause conservative students to receive low grades.

In my experience, a lot of conservatives tend to think about things in very black-and-white ways. They treat law like it’s accounting. They have difficulty arguing both sides of an issue because they’re rigid thinkers. That also explains why the far-left folks also tended to get low grades, and invariably blamed it on the school’s conservatism.

Silly put, if you took the MBTI and scored a J on the J-P scale, you probably need to forget grad school, and opt for a graduate degree in accounting or engineering. Disciplines that require open-ended thinking, like law, science, the humanities, etc., are not for you.

#30 Comment By Chris Atwood On December 19, 2015 @ 1:04 am

Eamus Catulli,

Sure, Dante can be TAUGHT in translation–probably that’s the majority of classes in the US on his work. But the professors are generally expected to be person who can control the original language, who can have a professional opinion on what the best translation is, for example, or why this passage is ambiguous in the Italian, for example. The course you linked to, for example, is taught by Sherry Roush, and she is a PhD in Italian and a published translator of medieval Italian poetry. See here: [8] . I would HOPE that most classes on Dante are taught by similarly qualified persons.

#31 Comment By icarusr On December 19, 2015 @ 2:00 am

Professor Lopez:

“wanting so badly for leftists to really like them”

This is a variation of the Georgetown cocktail circuit canard that far right so-cons use against even the likes of Dreher and Larison – a silly sort of argument to make, and in fact precisely the same sort of condescension the author accuses the original writer.

#32 Comment By pj On December 19, 2015 @ 3:23 am

OK, so I know I can’t speak to some of the more anti-Christian stuff believers may suffer in the liberal arts and humanities because those fields have been so flooded by a subjectivist worldview. Being a scientist, my side of the world tends to behave more systematically based on specific objectives. If one is publishing in your field and bringing grants in, most people really don’t care what weird darn thing you believe. The chemistry department I was last in had a right wing Catholic Rush Limbaugh listener who was also a birther who spent much of his lunch hours arguing with a left-wing hippy leftover from the 60s who believed that 9/11 was an inside job and the towers were brought down on purpose by Bush to start a war. Both are good scientists with major grants funded by NSF and NIH, both publish a lot, and both are tenured. This is how science happens. Literally everyone of us is a weird flavor of Sheldon Cooper.

But even if the humanities are less tolerant of weird (in this case Christian) viewpoints, the original letter from the grad student struck me as mistaking much of the normal crap that goes on in academia as specifically anti-Christian crap. If you go hang out on the Chronicle forums, they will give you the standard advice to ALWAYS STFU if you are a grad student or untenured faculty. This is inherent to the job description. You have no power until you have tenure, so you make your case but then you eat it if you don’t succeed in convincing whomever it is. I understand that this piece of advice may fundamentally conflict with the Christian call to let your light shine. I understand this piece of advice may completely tick you off because you think the prof is teaching something wrong. But until you have his title and tenure, you have to suck it up. Once you have that, you can do it your way. Trust me, there are things worse in the academy.

As to the whole Christian school…secular school argument. Well look, the whole argument is moot. The academic job market is brutal across nearly all disciplines–sciences, engineering, humanities, and arts. You’re talking 200-500 applicants for every position and maybe dozens qualified. I recall reading somewhere that the only degree that pretty much guarantees a tenure track position is accounting because of the shortage of PhDs. But then you’d have to do a PhD in accounting, and who wants to do that? If you choose a route in the academy, when the time comes, you will take what you can get. That’s reality. Which really gets to the only point that a Christian academic should be pondering. Have you prayed about your career choice? Whether your inclination is to stay with it or abandon it? I mean really prayed? This should be obvious, but I know so many for which it isn’t. If you are a Christian, then you believe God is in control and he will open the doors for you if he wants you in this path and make it a bearable one. Now it may not be the doors you expect; it wasn’t for me. But something will open.

#33 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 19, 2015 @ 10:13 am

She should try publicly stating that sodomy is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance (see the Baltimore Catechism), that state recognition of gay ‘marriages’ has no legal existence because it is contrary to natural law, and that abortion is the murder of innocent human beings and an unspeakable crime

I’m a biologist. I don’t generally talk politics or religion at work more than I can help, and especially not with superiors, unless they bring it up. But on occasions when it’s come up, I’ve never concealed the fact that I think abortion is ‘the killing of human beings and an unspeakable crime’. I don’t think I would get into much hot water, either professional or social, for sharing my views about abortion. Now, gay marriage and homosexuality in general are, yes, in a different category, and I think if I opposed homosexuality- especially since 2008 or so- it would probably make waves and make things quite a bit more difficult for me, including in the workplace. Make of that what you will, but I think there’s definitey more complex picture here than is being portrayed, and that the prevailing liberal milieu in academia (at least in the sciences) is much less tolerant of nonliberal thoughts about homosexuality than nonliberal thoughs about abortion.

#34 Comment By IowaGreg On December 19, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

Good G Will article about humanities vs sciences in many of these issues. Not totally relevant to this article but may be of interest:

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#35 Comment By steve On December 19, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

At our medical school, the chair of our department holds Bible classes early in the morning in the cafeteria. Physicians and/or nurses not uncommonly pray with patients before surgery in common areas. I have held hands and prayed with patients in the OR. The closest thing to Christian Oppression I have seen or heard in 20 plus years (as vice chair I run day to day operations and hear all of the complaints, no matter how trivial) is one of our advanced practice nurses complaining that one of our docs insisted that evolution is true.

Steve

#36 Comment By Michael Guarino On December 19, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

Eamus Catuli,

So, I really don’t know enough about English to speculate about its direction, but clearly a number of the people Rod has been mentioning consider it to be in desperate decline, intellectually and institutionally. I don’t think this is really that controversial either. Take this quote from the original student, which makes my point for me:

hat concerns me most isn’t the Christian vs. non-Christian dynamic here; rather, it’s the issue of narratives that have power (and the institutional wherewithal to enforce that power) vs. the narratives that don’t.

His main concern is with the regnant narrative, and perhaps he is right to think that fiddling in the margins is useless in such a culture.

The area of the humanities I worked the most in was philosophy. In Anglophone countries, there is basically one brand of philosophy: Analytic. It has a few key qualities; heavy empiricism (often with some tacit materialism), focus on philosophy of language, distrust of metaphysical claims, and often distrust of ethical claims (although this has softened considerably). A lot of this brand of philosophy has been moribund since the ’30s or so. Hume’s fork style empiricism is almost provably false given developments in metamathematics, the old philosophy of language (reductively focused on logical forms) was borderline boneheaded, in many ways metaphysics has turned out to be both necessary and highly logical (theories really do have metatheories, and a lot of metaphysical terms like “possible worlds” actually have rigorous formalizations.). And the distrust of ethical claims strikes me as being largely due to the sloppy commitments discussed already more than a serious analysis of moral language.

Now there are philosophers bucking those trends in every case. There are epistemologists who try to move beyond pure empiricism, there are ethicists who are reviving virtue ethics, there is resurgent interest in metaphysics. But the discipline is still as I described, even when anyone with one eye open could see that much of those commitments were pretty mistaken. A narrative of decline seems to be very fitting to the realities of that school of thought. And philosophy is not nearly as politicized in the Anglosphere; it is much worse on the continent.

#37 Comment By Michael Guarino On December 19, 2015 @ 2:29 pm

Silly put, if you took the MBTI and scored a J on the J-P scale, you probably need to forget grad school, and opt for a graduate degree in accounting or engineering. Disciplines that require open-ended thinking, like law, science, the humanities, etc., are not for you.

Wow. Just wow. Someone really used the MBTI for something more than smalltalk.

#38 Comment By Michael Guarino On December 19, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

The events of the last week make it fairly clear why Wheaton College could never have a functioning graduate program in the humanities.

Wheaton does have graduate programs, all related to Christian ministry in some way. They know exactly what their identity is.

#39 Comment By panda On December 19, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

Good G Will article about humanities vs sciences in many of these issues. Not totally relevant to this article but may be of interest:

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Yeah, George Will, the guy who thinks the entirety of climate science is a product of a conspiracy to get grants, is going to teach us about respect for objective truth now. Some people simply lack the capacity for shame- and why should they, when there is always market for their crap?

#40 Comment By Turmarion On December 19, 2015 @ 4:25 pm

Siarlys: The Incarnation, like most of the non-mundane content of the Bible, is an attempt to explain to us something we cannot possibly understand. It is necessarily metaphorical and allegorical, not because it “isn’t real” or “nothing really happened” but because “you cannot see my face and live.”

I’m not sure I’d use the terms “metaphor” or “allegory”. Usually, those tend to mean that X is like Y, but not not “really” Y. E.g., “My love is a like a red, red rose.” (I know it’s technically a simile, but bear with me) “Rose” represents my love; but she’s a human, not a flower.

With “Incarnation”, “Trinity”, etc., I think it’s more like stating something that is intelligible but inexplicable. E.g. in quantum mechanics, a photon can be a wave or a particle. Not “thought of as” or “metaphorically” or “allegorically” or “appear to be”–actually can be a wave or a particle. If you use a counter and shine a light on it, you see, real, individual photons. If you use a double-slit experiment and send a single photon at it you get a real interference patter indicating a real wave.

Thus, light is a wave phenomenon and a particle phenomenon. That’s perfectly intelligible and can be demonstrated. Now how something can be both a wave and a particle–a wave-particle–is totally impossible to understand, totally inexplicable in terms our minds can grasp. Nevertheless, it’s true.

Thus, to say “Jesus of Nazareth is True God” and “Jesus of Nazareth is True Man” and “Jesus of Nazareth is True God and True Man simultaneously” is perfectly intelligible and no more metaphorical than it is to call light a wave and a particle simultaneously. Not a bit of metaphor or allegory. However, just as with “wave-particle”, “God-man” is never going to be comprehensible or explicable to us.

Now whether or not anyone accepts the Incarnation, or Trinity, or other doctrines is a separate issue. I’m just saying that “metaphor” or “allegory” is not the appropriate term.

I think one can make cogent arguments for some views of Christ against others (e.g. the Incarnation against the Arian view); but on the other hand, I don’t think God damns people for honest disagreement on abstruse dogmas most people don’t understand, anyway. In short, I think one can argue that certain dogmatic views are important and superior to others for cogent reasons without thinking we should go drumming out those who disagree.

#41 Comment By Donald On December 19, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

Roger Olson, an evangelical Christian professor who blogs at Patheos, has a somewhat jaundiced view of academic freedom at Christian schools. I would suggest reading not only his post here, but also his comments, notably the one near the top of the comment thread. I tried linking to that one in particular, but don’t know how.

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#42 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 20, 2015 @ 6:03 pm

Turmarion, that is a well-crafted analogy that lacks only one element to be a perfect explanation… I know of no experiment by which to view God through a slit and establish empirically that He is in fact three persons, one God. Nor could anyone have run such an experiment to prove that Jesus was in fact True God and True Man.

In other words, here, unlike quantum mechanics, we are seeing “through a glass darkly” (not an original observation on my part). But this is not the day I wanted to quarrel over the Trinity or the Incarnation.

I was just thinking this morning, listening to a well-organized children’s Christmas service (done by the children, for the adults): Let’s just relax and celebrate the stories. Never mind whether each one is empirically true, whether one could have scientifically verified them if only the right instruments were teleported back in time, whether each sentence in the Gospels is observed historical Fact, just celebrate the stories, which were given to us for that purpose. It matters — just not empirically.

#43 Comment By Turmarion On December 21, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

Siarlys, of course one cannot establish the Trinity–or for that matter the existence of God at all–empirically. My point was to argue that, whether one believes it or not, the Trinity is intelligible, not just a “metaphor” or “allegory”.

Your overall outlook fits the classical Greek model well (ironically, since you’re a bit allergic to Hellenism!), along the lines of the saying, “What never happened but is always true.” I don’t think that works completely with Christianity. I’m OK with viewing most or all of the OT as metaphor or allegory or “stories”, if the archaeology indicates that. I’m OK if the Infancy Narratives are not literal (the monumental Birth of the Messiah, by Raymond Brown, is essential reading on this). I would say, myself, though that 1. The existence of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, and 2. His resurrection literally (not some “He lived on in his disciples’ hearts and changed lives” crap like what Bishop Spong spouts) are rock-bottom, non-negotiable requirements for actual, real historicity. Some people might be OK with Jesus’ resurrection or very existence as a metaphor; if I thought so, I’d be joining a different religion. YMMV.

#44 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 22, 2015 @ 12:05 am

His resurrection literally (not some “He lived on in his disciples’ hearts and changed lives” crap like what Bishop Spong spouts)

No, I’m not trying to retread Bishop Spong. I’m just taking a step back from the “did it REALLY happen” question. Who cares? We can celebrate the story without unduly worrying about the empirics.