Welcome to this week’s Week in Review! If you have your own link or suggestion, please add it to the comments, or email it to Tom or Mike.
Change or Die: Scholarly E-Mail Lists, Once Vibrant, Fight for Relevance (Jeffrey R. Young, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/29/2009). Do you agree with T. Mills Kelly, an associate professor of history and associate director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, who argues professors are shifting their on-line communication from e-mail lists to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and social networks like Facebook?
No Smiting (Paul Bloom, NY Times, 6/24/2009). Has anyone read The Evolution of God by Robert Wright? The NY Times has taken interest in it with interviews (Questions for Robert Wright: Evolutionary Theology and Book Review) and a NY Times Sunday Review cover article by Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale. Below’s a section I find of particular interest. How do you respond to the assertion of an evolving God who may in a some vague way exist beyond us, but in the practical realm is shaped by the experience and the marketing of dedicated practitioners?
For Wright, the next evolutionary step is for practitioners of Abrahamic faiths to give up their claim to distinctiveness, and then renounce the specialness of monotheism altogether. In fact, when it comes to expanding the circle of moral consideration, he argues, religions like Buddhism have sometimes “outperformed the Abrahamics.” But this sounds like the death of God, not his evolution. And it clashes with Wright’s own proposal, drawn from work in evolutionary psychology, that we invented religion to satisfy certain intellectual and emotional needs, like the tendency to search for moral causes of natural events and the desire to conform with the people who surround us. These needs haven’t gone away, and the sort of depersonalized and disinterested God that Wright anticipates would satisfy none of them. He is betting that historical forces will trump our basic psychological makeup. I’m not so sure.
Under age binge drinking on campus: You may remember last year’s Rethink the Drinking Age Campaign Taking on 21 and College Presidents Take On 21), in which more than 100 college presidents and chancellors called for reconsidering the legal drinking age, which since the 1980s has been set at 21 (by each and every state). Why? Is it a desire to move beyond in loco parentis entirely? What will be their response to the new research and conversation regarding colleges being the only environment in which binge drinking has increased over the past several decades? What is the situation on your campus? Is it more prevalent among men? Note: A few articles on this topic include: Inside Higher Ed’s Failing Grade on Alcohol, NY Times Op-Ed Binge Drinking on Campus, and Science Daily’s Higher Drinking Age Linked To Less Binge Drinking — Except In College Students.
An Academic in Afghanistan (Chronicle, $) – William Corley, who has been involved with ESN from the beginning and usually serves his country as an English professor at Cal Poly Pomona, has spent the past year stationed in Afghanistan as a military analyst. His recent essay in the Chronicle starts memorably:
First light on Memorial Day, 2009. I’m awake without an alarm at 4:53 a.m. After a quick visit to the gym and a short run, I put on my uniform and go to work. Day 208 in Afghanistan begins.
It’s a great perspective on both the military and academia, and I hope that you have access to the Chronicle so that you can read the whole thing. Here’s a paragraph I especially enjoyed, comparing his military writing to that of his “real” job:
If I wrote as much in the States as I do here, I would probably be tenured already. Scratch that — I’d be an academic superstar. Even more ironic for a professional writer, the papers I produce here, despite the inevitable sequestration due to classification levels, circulate more broadly and are read more closely than anything I’ve ever published as an academic, notwithstanding the aforementioned Cassandra caveat. Would I produce more popular work if I limited myself to two pages when writing on an academic topic? Perhaps the MLA should look into this.
More on justification – As if N.T. Wright and John Piper weren’t big enough guns to weigh in on the doctrine of justification, now the Pope is offering his (new? old?) perspective, too. Scot McKnight helpfully summarizes Pope Benedict XVI’s view of justification, from the Pope’s new book, Saint Paul. (BTW, in case you don’t already know, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had long been an important theologian and scholar – check out both the number and variety of his writings and be suitable humbled.)
Academic Bait-and-Switch – I enjoyed and was challenged by this pseudonymous essay in the Chronicle by “Henry Adams” (as in, “The Education of…” I assume), which describes the author’s rude introduction to the graduate school TA system by teaching freshman comp at “Elite National University.” He describes the system as “bait and switch” because the “Elite” students came to campus expecting to be educated by the top scholars in the country, and instead find themselves taught by greenhorn TAs just a few years older than themselves.
From the Community
In response to last week’s week-in-review about Galileo, Hannah referred us to Peter Harrison’s The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, which Ted Davis also recommended (though be sure to read Ted’s comments about the book).
In response to Tom’s April post about End the University as We Know It, reader Clint shared a link to his own blog post about the topic, “Restructuring the Humanities.”
This is Mike here. I spent last week at the 2009 Midwest Faculty Conference with John Sommerville, and I’ll write more about that experience next week. In the mean time, I’ll mention two books that came very highly recommended at the conference, both of which weigh in at under 200 pages, which relate to topics we’ve discussed here online.
At the conference, Sommerville led a seminar discussing Culture Matters by T.M Moore. I bought a copy but have not yet read it. Subtitled “A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement,” Moore
sketches the ways in which Christians engage, resist, escape from and try to change the culture in which they live (Richard John Neuhaus, from the Foreword).
Moore examines these ways through the cultural activities of specific Christians, comparing both classic and contemporary exemplars: Augustine, Celtic Christians, John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, Charles Colson, Phil Keaggy, and Czeslaw Milosz. I’m looking forward to Moore’s chapter on Milosz, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, whom I had the fortune to hear read a few years before his death.
The second book, which was highly recommend by InterVarsity’s own Tom Trevethan, was Naturalism by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro. The book quickly sold out at the conference (OK – there was only one copy for sale), but here’s what John Milbank thinks of this book:
“Demonstrates with succinctness, brilliance, and precision that modern Anglo-Saxon naturalists are not rationalists but . . . are, in fact, the enemies of reason, which can only have any reality if the physical world has a spiritual, rational source.”
About the author:
The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.
I have to admit, the description of the teaching program in the “Bait and Switch” article fills me with horror and disgust. I really hope that what “Adams” experienced is not the norm any more. I’m a grad student who until very recently taught Freshman Comp, but my program does a really spectacular job teaching its TAs how to do their jobs. And whoever designed the Writing Center policy at that University (only three students per course can be sent to the WC) deserves to be fired.
Re: “The Evolution of God”
My small group is reading a book about evangelism and postmodernism. It makes the repeated assertion that “postmoderns” like to say that they believe in all religions, because there is no such thing as absolute truth, only personal truth. Maybe it’s because I’m a rational engineer, but I just don’t think that’s true. I think people say that they believe in all religions either because
1) they’re too lazy/noncommittal to want to even wade into religious thought, or
2) they don’t think it’s possible to ever know if any of the religions are true. So the next best thing is to ask if the religion is useful, and many people do think different religions are useful as a moral tool in society. For some people this is an unconscious thought process, but it seems Robert Wright has fully embraced it.
While I understand how easy it is to reduce religion to a moral toolbox. But it reminds me of the parents who want to bring their child to church just because they want to teach their child good values. That has always felt to me like such an empty gesture.
Mike Hickerson says
Amy, I think I agree with you that “postmoderns” don’t believe that all religions are true. For one, there are some religions which “everyone” agrees are false (or at least subjects of ridicule).
In addition, most people I encounter know next to nothing about world religions, so they assume that other religions are more or less like whichever one they grew up with. On another blog, I was having a conversation in which Wright’s book also came up – in that instance, the bloggers (who are atheists) were holding it up as a great example of thinking about religion. Problem is, they admitted that they were very ignorant of world religions and what people around the globe and throughout history actually believe and practice. They simply had to take Wright at his word about God’s supposed “evolution.”
As a wiser person than I once observed, many people think that religions are different on the surface, but the same down deep; in reality, the exact opposite is true – they are very similar on the surface (in terms of morality, clergy, prayer, etc.), but radically different from one another at the core.