Weekly Meanderings, 16 December 2017

Weekly Meanderings, 16 December 2017 December 16, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 7.40.39 AMBlessings on your Advent Season!

Adam Laats on conservative reaction to elite universities:

As I argue in my book about educational conservatism, if we hope to make any sense of today’s conservative anger at elite higher ed, we can’t start with the 1970s. We need to begin in the 1920s, when conservative intellectuals had their first experience of exile, when the tropes exploited so powerfully by Kristol and Bloom were first developed.

It was not in the 1970s, but in the 1920s that conservatives developed their deep abiding anxiety about trends in elite higher education. Consider a couple of examples.

In the early 1920s, for example, anti-evolution celebrity William Jennings Bryan railed against trends in American higher education. In one public dispute with University of Wisconsin President Edward Birge, for example, Bryan offered the following memorable proposal. If universities continued to promote amoral ideas such as human evolution, Bryan suggested, they needed to post the following notice:

Our class rooms furnish an arena in which a brutish doctrine tears to pieces the religious faith of young men and young women; parents of the children are cordially invited to witness the spectacle.

Elite schools, Bryan warned, had begun actively to teach “moral laxity and corrosiveness.” Universities needed to warn parents that they no longer taught students right from wrong. This sense of conservative outrage at higher-educational trends was a driving force behind the culture wars of the 1920s. [HT: JS]

AP News:

NEW YORK (AP) — Fossils from New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as a grown man, roughly the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The creature was slightly shorter in length and about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) heavier than the official stats for hockey star Sidney Crosby. It measured nearly 5 feet, 10 inches (1.77 meters) long when swimming and weighed in at 223 pounds (101 kilograms).

If the penguin and the Penguin faced off on the ice, however, things would look different. When standing, the ancient bird was maybe only 5-foot-3 (1.6 meters).

The newly found bird is about 7 inches (18 centimeters) longer than any other ancient penguin that has left a substantial portion of a skeleton, said Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. A potentially bigger rival is known only from a fragment of leg bone, making a size estimate difficult.

The biggest penguin today, the emperor in Antarctica, stands less than 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall.

Mayr and others describe the giant creature in a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature Communications. They named it Kumimanu biceae, which refers to Maori words for a large mythological monster and a bird, and the mother of one of the study’s authors. The fossils are 56 million to 60 million years old.

Russ Moore on guns and bumper stickers:

American evangelicalism is old and sick and weak, and doesn’t even know it. We are bored by what the Bible reveals as mysterious and glorious, and red-in-the-face about what hardly matters in the broad sweep of eternity. We clamor for the kind of power the world can recognize while ignoring the very power of God that comes through Christ and him crucified. We’ve traded in the Sermon on the Mount for slogans on our cars. We’ve exchanged Christ the King for Christ the meme. And through it all, we demonstrate what we care about—the same power and self-leverage this age already values.

Often our cultural and moral and political debates are important. Offering one’s opinion is fine and good, sometimes even necessary. But if our passions demonstrate that these things are most important to us, and to our identity, we have veered into a place we do not want to go. The most important word we have for the world around us, and for the soul within us, can indeed fit on a bumper sticker: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And, I might add, he doesn’t need your gun.

[Is it not ironical that this guy is employed to further the political interests of conservative evangelicals? I like the guy but this post strikes me with irony.] Here’s what he says about himself on his About page: “Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.”

Scott W. Sunquist:

It was three decades ago that I began teaching Asian Christianity to Asians in Asia. I had not even finished my PhD, I knew nothing about the local churches in Southeast Asia, and I was struggling to help the family adjust to a tropical climate while finishing the last four chapters of a dissertation and teaching four courses a semester. In the midst of these tensions a great revelation came to me: Asians would rather study western Christianity than Asian Christianity. Western Christianity, especially the Christianity of the Empire (Great Britain) was so much more attractive to my students. They loved talking about the Reformation, Puritans, the early Methodists and even Plymouth Rock. Frankly, I enjoyed that history also, but it seemed so inappropriate on the equator in Southeast Asia.

When I asked my students why they were so interested in western Church history, but not in Asian there response was consistent: There are so many books and other writings on the western church, but there is hardly anything written about Asian Christianity.

That was thirty years ago. Today things have changed some, but there is still the issue of scholastic imperialism, whereby the power of western scholarship is attractive to the former colonies. Even now in the twenty-first century, I know of many good Asian Christian scholars who would like to dedicate their lives to studying issues that are not their issues. And here is where I begin my reflections and suggestions for scholars of Christian history today. [HT: JS]

John Hawthorne:

This raises an important social psychological question: when would theological views ever act as a legitimate predictor of behavior or attitude? I addressed this in this post from nearly three years ago:

But it seems to me that much of what is called “religious beliefs” are more peripheral in nature. They are positions we choose that may be derived in some fashion to a belief in the authority of scripture, but only in a very loose sense. Sometimes those beliefs are so peripheral that there is little attempt to create a cognitive linkage to central belief systems.

As much as we want theology to frame our thinking, I fear that it is largely compartmentalized or at best held in the loose sense I describe above. Social psychological research suggests that a belief must be activated in some manner and then connected to the question at hand through some logical progression. Given the lack of theological depth of many Christians (not to mention biblical illiteracy), it’s not surprising that they find it hard to make coherent arguments.

This is a project that churches and theological educators need to take on. We need far more depth in our theological understandings that move beyond affirming the rightness of our team’s position. We need serious conversation about the religious implications of political positions (as opposed to simple conversations of “what Christians believe” about the politician or position).

So, while the answer to my title question is “no”, it’s a dissatisfying answer. The whole point of Christian formation is that our faith commitments should make a difference in the way we live our lives. [HT: JS]

Far Right, Far Left, all the same, both intolerant:

Hateful white nationalists comprise a tiny but exceedingly loud minority of people on the Right. The analogous group on the Left is the virulent social justice crowd. Those who would have us destroy Martin Luther King’s dream comprise a small but disproportionately loud minority of people on the Left. Also, we would argue that “Right” and “Left” make little sense in either of these contexts. Both fringe groups, extremists wherever they are found, are more accurately described as authoritarian.

We come from the Left, and our values and worldview have not changed. But our understanding of the landscape has, as has our understanding of who is most likely to be interested in pursuing democratic goals through democratic means. A democratic system needs intelligent dissent, which means that it must create and protect the conditions in which people can learn how to think critically, and how to critique ideas and proposals. Those are longstanding values on the Left, but today, they are hanging by a thread.

At Evergreen, a small fraction of students was the face of the protests, some even going so far as to patrol campus with baseball bats, threatening people, and vandalizing property. But the vast majority of students were not part of the protests. Some were yelled at, insulted, assaulted, even battered. Some left the school. Some graduated. Some are keeping their heads down, angry and scared, until they, too, graduate, while they wonder why their experiences are apparently of no interest to the college administration.

What of Martin Luther King’s dream? Why are we being advised by the social justice crowd that we shall not focus on the content of our character, but instead must focus primarily on the color of our skin (and our gender identification, sexual orientation, and various other signifiers of intersectional oppression)? This would be MLK’s nightmare. Why is it being handed a megaphone?

We are honored to be part of the nascent Coalition for Free Speech and Civil Rights, spearheaded by 1960s-era civil rights activist Bob Woodson. At a meeting this fall in Washington, Pastor Darryl Webster, who runs an organization that helps men integrate with family and community, made clear an important distinction in these discussions. There are those who would have us concentrate on historical and current inequities that provide people different leverage in life; and there are those who argue, no matter what hand you were dealt, to look forward, and make the most of your cards. The distinction is an important one as the conversation moves forward.

Left and Right historically disagree on the extent of current inequities in the system, and on the wisdom of solution making. Those on the Left tend to focus on the inequities in the system; those on the Right tend to argue for personal responsibility. The Left tends to see structural unfairness, and is inclined to intervene. The Right tends to see a landscape of opportunity, and fears the unintended consequences of new initiatives. Both positions have merit and, despite the frequent tenor of conversations between factions, they are not mutually exclusive. Wisdom is likely to emerge from the tension between these worldviews, uniting good people around the value of a fair system that fosters self-reliance as it distributes opportunity as broadly as possible.

✦✦✦

So, is this present uprising Maoist? Are the inmates running the asylum? Has the extreme Left gone off the deep end? A bit, a bit. But with apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien, we offer a different analogy: One script to rule them all, One script to find them, One script to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

For today’s social justice warriors, only one narrative shall be allowed. It is unquestionable. Those who dissent are guilty. The “equity and inclusion” movement, cloaked in words that sound benevolent and honorable, is a bludgeon. To the outside world, Evergreen’s implosion looked like a student-motivated response to conditions on the inside. But the terrible conditions don’t really exist, and the real power dynamics, between administrators and faculty, were obscured by a narrative constructed to make resistance impossible.

The script showed up at our public, liberal arts college, and we, the evolutionary biologists, are now gone. It showed up at Duke Divinity School, and Paul Griffiths, a Catholic theologian, has resigned after being vilified for questioning training in racial equity. His words are to the point: “Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.” [HT: CHG]

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