"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Faith on the Quad

This is interesting: some academic group is calling for universities to engage religion more, both as a part of the curriculum and as part of students' lives. Who knows what this will mean in practice, but as an emphasis, it seems like a positive move. On one particular note, I think it's especially promising. In my teaching, I deal a lot of with religion and thorny moral/political issues it often touches on. What I've found is that students are very reluctant to engage on those issues, largely because they think that you just can't argue about religion - and, by extension, the sorts of moral issues it touches. I think they're making a mistake in equating the truth that we won't be resolving our moral and religious differences anytime soon with the (erroneous) claim that there's nothing to be discussed. But that's how they think. You might suppose that this sort of "method of avoidance" is productive of social comity - but that, too, would be a mistake. Since religion still, perhaps inevitably, shows up in discussions, the fact that people don't have any experience in discussing religion- related things, they have no idea how to do it reasonably and with some civility. I'm not sure that most universities will do that well in fostering civil dialogue, but it seems worth a shot.

25 comments:

connie deady said...

Comparative religions is a cool course. If you mean teaching Christianity in college, to what end? I think courses on Ethics and values are great. I'd love to see them taught from grade school up.

Religions generally form or cultural moral and ethical backbone. Being raised a Presbyterian my ethics and morals pretty much are New Testament in terms of right and wrong. The teachings of Jesus are cool

Tom Van Dyke said...

A great philosopher once wrote that philosophy must be open to the challenge of theology, and in fairness, vice-versa. But when?

Surely in science class there is no place for either. In philosophy class, seldom held, theology is irrelevant. In theology class, well, there really aren't any for those not already converted.

The central thesis is worthy: the purpose of a liberal arts education is to learn to understand our world. Christianity is certainly a big part of it. How can one consider him/her/theirself educated without knowing what's in the Bible?

I'm frequently appalled at being told what I believe (or should believe) based on a pasteboard understanding of the Good Book. Show me where it says that, sez I. Sorry, never actually read it, sez they. It's in there somewhere.

Now, it may be a Catholic thing, but I'm quite inured at this point to the disrespect, irreverence, and frequently pretty good jokes that arise when Catholicism is discussed. Religionists cannot expect any more reverence than they pay to, say modernist philosophies, which I myself find quite a hoot and disparage at any appropriate opportunity, and many inappropriate ones, too.

If religion wants its place at the table, then everything must be on it. I myself am good with that, but we must keep in mind there can be no special treatment.

I'm not sure my fellow religionists are there yet. Certainly not the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Hunter Baker said...

Here is a perplexing problem for anyone who would argue religion is somehow moot:

I have more evidence on hand for the resurrection of Christ than I do for the existence of something called justice. Yet, I am quite sure justice exists and is worthy of being obtained.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hehe. From Richard John Neuhaus:

As you might imagine, I spend a good deal of time talking with reporters. I usually don’t mind it. It comes with the territory. With notable exceptions, reporters are people of good will working hard to write a story that will please their editors. It is true that they are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer. These days most of them have gone to journalism school, or j-school, as it is called. In intellectual rankings at universities, journalism is just a notch above education, which is, unfortunately, at the bottom.


An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. “Is this something new?” she asked. “No,” I said, “it’s been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden.” There was a long pause and then she asked, “What garden was that?” It was touching.


What prompts me to mention this today is that I’m just off the phone with a reporter from the same national paper. He’s doing a story on Pope Benedict’s new encyclical. In the course of discussing the pontificate, I referred to the pope as the bishop of Rome. “That raises an interesting point,” he said. “Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?” He obviously thought he was on to a new angle. Once again, I tried to be gentle. Toward the end of our talk, he said with manifest sincerity, “My job is not only to get the story right but to explain what it means.” Ah yes, he is just the fellow to explain what this pontificate and the encyclical really mean. It is poignant.

connie deady said...

Anecdotal evidence. So probative. It almost makes me feel kinship with the mainstream statistical political scientists.

Those people always were, of course, the enemies of the straussians and the leftists in the field

Matt Huisman said...

TVD>> How can one consider him/her/theirself educated without knowing what's in the Bible?

You would think that this lack of knowledge would at least lead to some level humility when confronting the topic - but it usually does not.

Actually, prior to developing an understanding of the Bible, I would be content if you could find people who had a thorough understanding of the foundations of their own worldview. There's this amazing notion out there that we can somehow be worldview neutral - that we are not on any 'side' - and that we can exist without a worldview shaping our thoughts/lives. I think those that work out their understanding of the world - a real understanding - would at that point approach Christianity with a little more humility and be more willing to consider what it has to say.

connie deady said...

Now that I agree with Matt. I'd love to see philosophy/ethics be a required subject.

I have a strange attachment to knowledge and thinking. One really interesting question is wy people find it so interesting to discuss religions, and as Michael Simpson points out, the moral and ethic issues it touches.

What place should religion play in our personal lives, our social lives and in our public and governmental lives? A person's religion, or lack thereof, defines his or her world view very much.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Re: Neuhaus's story of the dimbulb reporters, this is one reason I have always tried approach popular reporting about Islam critically. I've seen the hash they make of relatively simple tenets of Christianity, and I assume they're perfectly capable of doing the same to the Koran.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There's this amazing notion out there that we can somehow be worldview neutral - that we are not on any 'side' - and that we can exist without a worldview shaping our thoughts/lives.

Quite so, Mr. Huisman. And even if a neutrality could be achieved, is that what we want?

It's a current meme among modernists that we should order our society according to the dull dictates of social science statistics.

(Unless of course, it gets in the way of a good time.)

connie deady said...

It's a current meme among modernists that we should order our society ccording to the dull dictates of social science statistics.

No, a thousand times no unless you are just throwing labels out there, as I'm not sure what you mean by "modernists". But there is more to the battle than morals versus science. I understand that Strauss and his progeny were upset that social scientists were teaching numbers without values, but it's not either or.

I seriously believe that one flaw that religionists have is in understanding that non-religion does not mean lack of ethics. We aren't all followers of Neizchte (I'm too tired to spell it right).

A lot of post-modernists are extremely values laden, you just won't see it. A lot of scientists have strong religious convictions.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I for one am quite aware of the moralizing from modernists and postmodernists. They seem to be quite values-laden. Perhaps it goes in one ear and out the other, because as our Mr. Huisman astutely writes:

I would be content if you could find people who had a thorough understanding of the foundations of their own worldview.

What is the foundation of modernist morals? Or yours, if you consider yourself a child of modern philosophy and a rejector of both religion and classical philosophy? So far your attentive readers have only been given reports that you were raised in the Christian tradition, and that you consider yourself a moral person. Are the two connected, or have you invented a morality of your own apart from the autobiographical details you've offered?

If the latter, are others free to reject that morality or are they bound by it? Is the United States Constitution or the UN Charter to be their new Holy Book, or is your lingua franca the Bible? What is the foundation of the worldview that serves as the fulcrum of your very interesting albeit increasingly hostile posts?

(Since you wrote over the weekend that you believe George W. Bush is a mass murderer, an inquiry as to your philosophy if not your mental health is not out of order. Cindy Sheehan has been more temparate in her remarks, and she is considered by most people, even Democrats, as wack.)

JC said...

Good questions, Mr. Van Dyke. I'll be interested in the answers.

connie deady said...

Tom, you'll never get it because you don't try. It's so much easier just to make fun of and insult what others believe because you are so sure that you are right.

To quote Pedro Cerrano "I like your He soos". The New Testament presents a really nice philsophy to live one's life by. I honestly think my favorite story was the rich man who had many sheep but he took the poor man's one ewe. Makes me cry. Compassion, desire not to destroy the one good earth we live on, and fairness and the golden rule work well for me.

What do you believe in? Murder, lies and deception. You support King George.

I don't pretend to me mainstream democrat, nor am I a leader. I can be as whacked as I choose.

I know my daughter will need to bury me rather than scattering my dust to the winds, she's a Catholic. I hope she puts on my tombstone that I did more good to my fellow creatures than evil. I know I never kill a spider, but release them outside as atonement for my pulling the legs off of daddy longlegs as a child.

Over and out

Tlaloc said...

You all seem to be discussing something very different from the article here.

And while this may be a shock I agree in general with Tom's first post. He's right that an introduction to christianity is a very good idea in a liberal arts education because it does indeed play a huge role in history. Similary there should be introductions to a host of other big religions: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and so on.

I also agree with Tom when he says: "Surely in science class there is no place for either."

However look at the actual article and what they say: "Students must learn the relevance of religion to all disciplines — sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences"
They are unambiguously calling for the injection of religion (by which they of course mean only christianity) into science class.

I am actually somewhat amazed to hear the posters here be so, well, reasonable in rejecting a claim they themselves seem to have made time and again (c.f. Intelligent Design).

Tlaloc said...

"I have more evidence on hand for the resurrection of Christ than I do for the existence of something called justice."

No you don't. The ressurection is supposed to have been a physical thing, and there is no evidence of it at all. Justice on the other hand is a mental construct and as such we have reams of evidence that people believe in it.

See the difference? A mental construct exists iof people believe in it but the same is not true for physical actions and effects.

JC said...

The posts have gotten a little off topic, but the discussion is worthwhile so I see nothing wrong with it. In terms of the original discussion, I'd be happy to see religions studied more in schools, though my experience in college was with an extremely biased religion department. (No exaggeration; our department is well-known for both disparaging and perverting Christianity while promoting just about everything else.) It's tricky to have a civilized and reasonable discussion about religion, because pretty much everyone has strong feelings one way or another.

I am actually somewhat amazed to hear the posters here be so, well, reasonable in rejecting a claim they themselves seem to have made time and again (c.f. Intelligent Design).
The apparent contradiction is resolved by observing that you think ID is only a religious idea, while some others believe it has merit as a scientific theory.

The New Testament presents a really nice philsophy to live one's life by. I honestly think my favorite story was the rich man who had many sheep but he took the poor man's one ewe. Makes me cry.
I think Mr. Van Dyke's point is that you are essentially creating your own religion with this philosophy, on the authority of only your own emotions---if it makes you cry, then it's bad, etc. The question he raised is whether you think your values are binding on others, and if so, then by what authority. The possibilities are:
1. Yes---but then how can they be binding on others if they are based only on your gut feelings? Sure, you like some of the teachings of the New Testament, but if you're picking only the things you like out of it, then you have rejected its authority. Instead of "The teachings of Jesus are cool," you might have said "Some of the teachings of Jesus are cool." How reliable are your emotions and personal preferences as a source of morality? If you change your mind about a particular issue, does that mean that what was wrong yesterday is right today?
2. No---then why waste your time calling people murderers? Murder is unjustified killing; if your definition of justice applies only to yourself, then you have no basis for accusing others of murder.

I suspect you do believe your values apply to everyone, but (like Mr. Van Dyke) I'm curious to know why. These questions aren't meant to insult you; please do not interpret them that way.

Tlaloc said...

"The apparent contradiction is resolved by observing that you think ID is only a religious idea, while some others believe it has merit as a scientific theory."

Except that it is concretely not a scientific theory. That is proven. It is an established fact due to the nature of science. That being the case we have two options:

1) posters here really don't understand science and thus don't know that ID isn't science.
2) posters here don't care that ID isn't science and want it in the biology classroom anyway.

while 1 is possible I don't think any of the posters here is per se stupid and there is ample evidence of the science experts explaining (painfully) why ID is not science.

In that regard 1 is terribly unlikely. That makes 2 the probable choice.

JC said...

Those who think ID is a scientific theory are wrong because it is proven that ID is not scientific.

That's circular reasoning.

This isn't the thread to debate the merits of ID. Let's just agree that some of us think ID is a scientific theory and some of us don't.

Tlaloc said...

"Those who think ID is a scientific theory are wrong because it is proven that ID is not scientific.

That's circular reasoning."

No it's not because scientific hypotheses have certain defined attributes that ID fails to meet. Therefore those who think ID meets them are simply wrong. That's a straight condition-evaluation-conclusion statement. Nothing circular about it.

JC said...

Then you're committing the (related) Fallacy of Many Questions:

(from Wikipedia)
Many questions, also known as complex question, presupposition, loaded question, or plurium interrogationum (Latin, "of many questions"), is a logical fallacy. It is committed when someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved — i.e., a premise is included which is at least as dubious as the proposed conclusion.

JC said...

To clarify, you're asking,
"How can you think ID should be taught in a science class when ID isn't science?"

connie deady said...

JC, goodness me, I've never disputed that I have a world view and it is equivalent to a religion in that it provides the guiding principles that I try to live my life by. You must have missed the part about my having political philosopy as a major in grad school. We are our epistemology.

Ya'll weary me at this point. You are profoundly ill-informed about liberals, relativism, post-modernism, etc. If that sounds rude or elitist, I certainly don't mean it that way, I'm just not sure if any of us have any desire to be educated about or understand other people's positions.

That makes me sad, too, because I figure that earth's future depends upon our understanding those who are different, not trying to kill them. Unlike Howard Dean I don't think Republicans are horrible or evil.(I do reserve a place in my deist hell for Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. I don't think Bush knows better). I think a single mind set is dangerous and the checks and balances of having different ways of looking at the world has held America in good stead.

I find monothinking to be dangerous and figure our founding fathers would roll in their graves at the abuses of power perpetrated by the Bush people. I don't abhor their ideas, I abhor their abuse of process, power grab and what I consider pure charlatanism in the name of lying and deceiving their way through governing.

But you don't want to hear because you have your preconceived notion of what I believe just as I have mine of yours.

If we could get past seeing each other as enemies, or if my ideas would quit being accused by Tom of being partisan politics and actually examined on their merits, we could probably find out that as Americans we agree on more than we disagree.

But we can't get past the climate of hate. And I include myself when I say we.

Tlaloc said...

"It is committed when someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved"

Put it this way: it has been proven and accepted by everyone who knows what they are talking about. Seriously what is your goal here? To argue that we can't resort to expert opinion?

I feel fine introducing an argument about the round-ness of the earth even if you are a flat earther because frankly in that case your faulty opinion doesn't matter. The issue is settled. The earth is round. The proof is there whether or not you can correctly read it. The same is true of ID's science-ness.

JC said...

JC, goodness me, I've never disputed that I have a world view and it is equivalent to a religion in that it provides the guiding principles that I try to live my life by.
I realize that, and I don't doubt the sincerity of your beliefs. The next question, though, is why anyone else should be bound by your "religious" beliefs. Is murder wrong because you think it's wrong? Or because there is some universal moral standard that rejects murder? How can we learn of this standard?

You are profoundly ill-informed about liberals, relativism, post-modernism, etc. If that sounds rude or elitist, I certainly don't mean it that way, I'm just not sure if any of us have any desire to be educated about or understand other people's positions.
I'm sorry you feel that way. I have had many civilized and profound discussions on philosophy even with liberals and relativists. I do desire to understand other people's positions. That's why I keep asking questions. Unfortunately, since there is such a wide chasm between us philosophically, some of the questions may appear ignorant to you.

I think a single mind set is dangerous and the checks and balances of having different ways of looking at the world has held America in good stead.
I agree. I don't think that this means everyone has an "equally correct" or "equally valid" view in every discussion, as I hope you would agree. That would be relativism at its most extreme, and I have met people who actually believed that.

But you don't want to hear because you have your preconceived notion of what I believe just as I have mine of yours.
Ironically, you're telling me what (you think) I believe in that very sentence. The only answer I have is a direct contradiction, which you may ignore if you wish: Yes, I do want to hear and understand. Please correct my notions of what you believe when they are wrong.

If we could get past seeing each other as enemies [...]
But we can't get past the climate of hate. And I include myself when I say we.

I don't see you as an enemy. Please speak for yourself only. If I decide to hate you, I'll let you know.

connie deady said...

JC, other than the first paragraph, my dispairing rant was more a generalized "you" than directed at you.

The next question, though, is why anyone else should be bound by your "religious" beliefs. Is murder wrong because you think it's wrong? Or because there is some universal moral standard that rejects murder? How can we learn of this standard?

That's sort of one of those crazy circular arguments. Belief that I can't impose my belief system on others (secular) is sort of a belief system.

I have no problem with universal moral standards. I think pretty much every society on this earth has the same standards. But do I believe in them as absolutes, no, that's why I'm a philosophical relativist, mostly of the interactionst viewpoint.

I see the world being changed by our interactions with it. An absolutist/rationalist type sees the world as a fixed set of laws that we reason to or alternative are given down to us through faith. The empirical scientist sees a fixed set of laws that we discovery by scientific testing and measurement. I see reality as a process in part, and that we have a limited ability to understand the truth because our own observations, thinking and interactions distort and change it.

In terms of civil society, there are a lot of issues and beliefs that there is pretty much universal agreement on. The problem is those issues where we are greatly divided.

I believe the founding fathers set up a system where you didn't have tyranny of religious views of a majority over a religious minority. Persuasion is good, force by legislation is bad.

Hey, my grandfather was a missionary who set up a Presbyterian Hospital in Thailand. I have no problem with proselytizing. Persuade me what is moral and right.