Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Confessionalism in Higher Education

SWNID works in the "church-related" end of American higher education. Our institution is "confessional"; that is, one must adhere to a specific confession of religious faith to teach at our joint. If one departs from that confession, in the judgment of faculty colleagues and the trustees, then one no longer teaches there.

Many in the rest of American higher education sneer that confessionalism has no place in higher education, which is all about free inquiry and other highmindedness. Real higher education takes place in institutions that would never and could never exclude someone from the university community because of aberrant beliefs.

Enter Naomi Schaeffer Riley, WSJ columnist and part-time, paid (how does one get paid for doing this?) blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Our Republic's premier publication for news and opinion about higher education. Or at least she was a blogger for the Chronicle. Until yesterday.

Ms. Riley recently posted brief remarks questioning the academic significance of certain dissertation titles featured in a Chronicle article. Per her description of the aftermath, she immediately and overwhelmingly was savaged by commenters, and the Chronicle's editors finally handed her over to the pitchfork-and-torch-wielding mob, ending her occasional employment.

Had Riley questioned whether theological dissertations were worthy of academic attention, her post would have yielded gentle protests from the small band of academic theologians who monitor such remarks. But mostly she would have gained approval. But instead, she questioned the legitimacy of certain dissertations from departments of Black Studies. So, you know, she's a racist.

There are many points that could be made about this affair, but we'll make the one that hits the SWNIDish self most directly. It's high time that the American academic community owned up honestly to its unwritten creeds and quit posturing about academic freedom. Those of us who write our creeds down deserve some credit for a margin of honestly that the rest of academe could learn from.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Point Made, We Suppose

Our little blog has now passed into a new realm of significance. Once we got a link at Slate. Here and there we've been linked at other big-time sites for silly reasons. For awhile a picture that we had reposted of a certain gigantic, outdoor sculpture in our area climbed to the top of the "Google Images" listing for a certain set of key words.

But now Ken Ham has taken us to task on his celebrated blog. After years of openly criticizing Answers in Genesis when it suited the SWNIDish purpose, we have been "refuted" (the term of a staffer at AIG) by Mr. Ham. He left a comment here and then developed it at his own blog, which as far as we can tell doesn't receive comments.

What to say about all this? Well, we make it a point not to respond point by point, and it's especially apt not to do so when Mr. Ham is as demonstrably stubborn in his views, persistent in his tendentious interpretations of what he reads, unable to engage in thoughtful discussion of issues, and unaware of the way that he functions socially. That is to say: (a) we know that we won't persuade him: (b) he misunderstands us about as much as he misunderstands the Bible, though with less consequence for the former than for the latter; (c) in responding as he has, he confirms for those not already persuaded by him that he is aggressive in his own criticism of others but unable to accept any criticism of himself; (d) he is somehow persistently unaware that he cannot say that people are unfaithful to God's word because they disagree with his views and at the same time say that he isn't making his views a test of faith.

But there is one point to be made, we suppose. Ham and those who follow him style Christian criticism of their organization as placing "stumbling blocks" before what would otherwise be a more effective evangelistic ministry. We're on record as disagreeing with that, most vociferously. By feeding the media machine a steady diet of press releases and events presenting an extremely young earth as indisputable biblical truth, Ham himself sets a stumbling block for anyone with the scientific savvy to understand just how unlikely such a thing is. There's no way to count such things, of course, but one doesn't have to go far to see Christianity ridiculed for believing what interpreters of the Bible as early as Augustine understood that the Bible does not say.

We think that Ham is so convinced that his approach to creation issues is so consistent, so logically watertight, that he need never give a thought to the merits of others' positions except to "refute" them. He seems frustrated by the fact that other people who claim to believe the Bible disagree with him, we suspect because he cannot fathom that others are not as persuaded by his views as he is.

Very well. We mock ourselves with the title of our blog and the pompous persona with which we write. Others may act on whatever measure of self-awareness they possess on such matters.