Academic Job?

We’ve been talking about the Book of Job and more generally about the problem of evil in my freshman course on Faith, Doubt and Reason. It struck me that one can make a point relevant to academic assignment writing from the Book of Job (although I wonder how appropriate it is to do so). One of the main reasons that Job’s friends are criticized at the end of the book is presumably that they simply defended their existing belief, without allowing room for new evidence, and cutting short or not taking completely seriously objections that could be or were being voiced.

When it comes to the academic study of religion, many fall back on the views that they have inherited when confronted with challenging perspectives – such as those offered in J. L. Mackie’s classic article on the problem of evil, or the objections raised by Ivan Karamazov in the excerpt from Dostoyevsky’s novel, both of which we’ve read this semester along with the Book of Job and much else.

Presumably, lest a professor give the impression that they are deifying themselves, it might be best not to put it this way: just as God was not pleased with Job’s friends for simply defending their traditional view (and God!) and cutting short discussion of other views and possible objections, so too professors will not be pleased when students do much the same thing when addressing challenging religious topics in their academic assignments.

What do others think? Is the analogy with Job’s friends a useful one when it comes to academic assignment?

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  • Jamesbradfordpate

    I don’t think a student should be graded poorly for doing that, just as long as he or she tries to understand where others are coming from.

  • Anonymous

    Academics don’t make value judgments about “faith claims”. What is found to be true is true, period! “Faith” is above the “pay grade” of the Academy.  Students who are taught to spout “faith claims” “cut short” investigation, qualification, because they are “sure of answers” before facts. When faith is irratonal, then it becomes dangerous to “self or others”, or at least, disadvantaging to self or others!

    • Anonymous

      I say disadvantaging, because those that have a “supernatural faith” might limit or discriminate against those who don’t.

  • James F. McGrath

    Angie, I think that you are treating the distinction between “faith claims” and “what is found to be true, period” as more clear-cut than it is. A simple observation such as that a shirt is blue involves the use of senses, and if we had the ability to see in the ultraviolet range, we might see patterns and shades on the shirt that human eyes cannot. 

    Appeal to “faith” in the sense you seem to be using it, as a shortcut to “knowledge” that bypasses questions of evidence, does indeed need to be problematized in an academic setting. And faith in other senses, such as Tillich’s, not only is not above the pay grade of the academy, but is arguably a product of the academy!

    • Anonymous

      Yes, there are ways of understanding how men have come to “theorize God”. And there are many ways of approaching that subject to “explain it”. But, just because human believe in a “God”, doesn’t prove the reality of “God”, does it? But, it might say something about Man. The question then becomes is the human propsensity to understand, explain, and “know” “God” something to be affirmed or dis-affirmed! Which is better, a world with religion or a world without religion?

      Science says that the belief n “God” is just an attempt to explain “the natural world”, or an attempt ” to cope” in the world, which explains “evil”. Is it productive to further beliefs that make humans passive in their understanding of the world, or spout theological “futility” about “evil”? Is it “moral” to make people “DEPENDENT”?

  • Anonymous

    Paul Tillich’s “Ground of All Being” is a way to philosophize everything under “God”. This is acceptable if one wants to promote a connection in a religious setting that would not otherwise allow one to “speak”. But, what is the reality of the statement “Ground of All Being”, really? Some sense of unification or “globalists’perspective”? What is the real reason to pursue “faith”? The danger is always there that when one believes beyond evidence, that one will think, do and say things that are not “good” for others! (but it will be viewed that way, because believers believe what the “know or think” is all that “should” be.) There are numerous ways of “seeing things” and I like that diversity myself. why? Because it is more likely that when there are different approaches to a problem that the problem will be solved!

  • James F. McGrath

    Are you familiar with Tillich’s definition of faith as “ultimate concern”? Tillich’s view is that there aren’t really any atheists since everyone has ultimate concern. Tillich’s point about God as the Ground of all Being is that God is not a being alongside the others in our universe, but Being itself. To have faith in God in a Tillichian sense means to make the truly ultimate your ultimate concern, rather than the competing idols which are not truly ultimate, whether they be one’s nation or the Bible.

    • Anonymous

      “Idolatry” is a way to scapegoat another in the name of “God”, or “God’s will”. That means that idolatry can be attached to anything and often is, as a means of controlling another’s life, vision, purpose or function within a society or organization! Free societies allow choices of value, they do not predetermine another by a narrow or confined definition about “the good”, or “God”!

  • James F. McGrath

    I don’t think you’ve grasped the nature of Tillich’s critique. Idolatry is precisely a criticism of the absolutization of ideas of God and sacred texts, as well as demands for allegiance to national and other ideologies, by highlighting that they are not ultimate and will inevitably disappoint those who grant them their devotion. 

  • Anonymous

    A free society such as ours allows for diverse views about “God” and limits the State’s interference with the “personal” lives of its citizens.

    The modern State is how we have constructed the world, and though it has it limitations, it also limits transcendental claims to absolute allegiance, as it allow for a individually constructed conscience! When there is ONE absolute, then there will always be problems, because we don’t live in a Utopian “ideal, whether State or Church”. Such individuality allows for diverse views, opinions and commitments.

    America is not a Religious State, but is a Christian nation in the sense of religious identification. Israel is a Jewish State, in a similar sense, and the problems that have occurred in Middle East have been because negotiation isn’t able to bridge the gap between those that demand an “ideal” solution.

    States protect, defend and maintain social order by their laws. The problem with Shairia is exactly that it doesn’t allow for modernity at all! It is all about “God”. Our laws protect the human, as it is all about the “human and humane”.  Our laws allow for “legitimacy”, as to government, and allows for resistance to authoritarianism. Not so with religious absolutist!


  • James F. McGrath

    Can’t even allegiance to a modern democratic state such as the United States become idolatrous, as unquestioning patriotism veers into worship? It seems that Tillich’s emphasis on the idolatrous character of making the non-ultimate one’s ultimate concern can be a useful antidote to that.

  • Anonymous

    James, the attempt to “globalize” one “ultimates” is really the issue, isn’t it? That means that alturism is really the interest of those that want to promote a certain way of living. Why not affirm self-interest, as we are all self interested, even in alturistic concern (as an ultimate)? because those that are alturistic think everyone should have this as their ultimate, otherwise the “weak and despised” won’t survive in this world.

    There is nothing wrong with those that choose that as their “ultimate”, but don’t make it a universal for everyone! This is when science does wrong to diverse interests and confines it to a narrowed focus of political correctness! Then all of us can be taxed for that which is to be “the ultimate”!!!

  • EdwardTBabinski

    Happy Blasphemy Day!

    I think Heinlein’s Book of Job is more relevant than the Bible’s.

    “Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything… just give him time to rationalize it.”
    Robert A. Heinlein, Job: A Comedy of Justice

    There is an old, old story about a theologian who was asked to reconcile the Doctrine of Divine Mercy with the doctrine of infant damnation. ‘The Almighty,’ he explained, ‘finds it necessary to do things in His official and public capacity which in His private and personal capacity He deplores.”              
    Robert A. Heinlein (1907 – 1988) Methuselah’s Children c.1941

    “Whores perform the same function as priests, but far more
    Robert Heinlein

    “The nice thing about citing god as an authority is that you can prove anything you set out to prove.”
    Robert A. Heinlein, from  “If This Goes On-”

    “The faith in which I was brought up assured me that I was better than other people; I was saved, they were damned–we were in a state of grace and the rest were heathens. Our hymns were loaded with arrogance–self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty, and what hell everybody else would catch come Judgment Day.”
    Robert A. Heinlein, (Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land)

  • EdwardTBabinski

    Job is too crazy.

    God placing bets with Satan. Great explanation of “evil.”

    Or God boasting of Behemoth’s tail (euphemism for penis), and saying, “Hey, don’t you question ME!” Great answer, God.

    Or God showing himself like that to Job when Moses had to hide behind a rock and cover his eyes merely when God’s backside walked past. Sheesh. Where do these stories come from?

    As for Job’s friends, I like that fact that they had so many ready explanations for evil, pious explanations still used by today’s evangelists. Secret sin. Or as they call it today “original sin.” Or as Calvinists say, we should just be happy God doesn’t crush us all in anger, the real question is why God doesn’t. This is all theological tripe of course. There is no explanation.

    Does God have free will? If so, then by definition God must be able to do both good and evil. Or does God lack free will? What will prevent humans and angels in heaven from ever choosing evil for eternity? Or will they lack free will too?

    If everything came solely and directly from the power, mind and compassion of an infinitely perfect Being (as theists presume)
    then what room was there for imperfection to arise? There was no eternal substance nor eternal space that lay outside this perfect Being because everything came directly and solely out of the mind, power and compassion of this Being, and no place else. And this perfect Being remains everywhere and in all things. So if you begin with an infinitely perfect Being out of which everything arose and which is in all things, then you cannot explain how that left room for imperfection, nor provide a rational explanation as to how something that arose solely and
    directly from such a Being, and in which such a Being remains, could “chose evil.”

  • James F. McGrath

    Of course, at the end of the book, God is made to declare that he prefers Job’s questioning and complaining to his friends’ attempts to defend God’s reputation.

    The best explanation I have heard for why God talks about natural phenomena at the end of the book is irony. Wisdom literature eschewed appeals to revelation, and so the author comically has God appear at the end, only to describe the sorts of observable phenomena that the Wise focused on in seeking of make sense of the world.