The Fear of the LORD
Antonio Ciseri (ca. 1860-1880)
The longtime best-selling book of Christian apologetics--C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity--calls for religious nationalism ("all economists and statesmen should be Christians") and argues that God wants men to be the head of the household. These are popular ideals, but they are poisonous and deserve fierce resistance, not complacent tolerance.My colleagues at the University of Chicago would seem, on the whole, to agree. One writes to me, in response to my Sightings article:
As an adherent to the principle of free speech, I also adhere to the notion of a firewall between religious belief--as opposed to analysis of belief--and secular teaching. By my lights, secular, enlightenment reasoning is a very good thing.With the corollary, it would seem, that religious belief is, well, less than a good thing. Certainly, that it has no place in the classroom.
Levinovitz teaches at James Madison University and was trained at Stanford and, for his M.Div. and Ph.D. (2012), our very own UofC. Which makes me suspicious, to say the least, about the timing of his essay for Slate (published March 20, 2017). May I remind you what I said in my Sightings article about being a Christian on campus (published February 16, 2017)?
Judging from my own experience of over 30 years in the academy, it is considered a terrible breach of etiquette, horribly rude even, to mention your religious faith if you are a Christian, never mind suggest it in any way affects your work as a scholar.My former student Miles Hopgood insists that I am wrong. Never in his time at the University of Chicago (B.A. 2010, M.Div. 2013) was he ever made to feel uncomfortable:
As someone who is also part of the academy, I have searched in your piece, and your blog, for a semblance of the academy I know, but I can find none. In my seven years at the University of Chicago, never was I attacked, maligned, shunned, sneered at, or in any way maltreated for my faith.... Never was there a moment of indignation or shaming. Often were there intriguing conversations and pleasant exchanges.... [To] suggest that there is within American academia anything approaching a systematic animus toward Christianity or religious conviction in general is not to tell the truth. Rather, it is to repeat a shameful lie that serves the only agenda Yiannopoulos knows: to anger and divide. I cannot fathom why you repeat it.My guess is that Miles Hopgood never met Alan Levinovitz, although in their time at Chicago they seem to have overlapped. How is it that Miles's experience of being a Christian in the academy has been so different from mine?
I asked my Facebook salon yesterday: "What makes Christians so scary?" Because I have the best friends--all my friends are the best!--there was a lively and intriguing conversation with many pleasant, and some not so pleasant, exchanges, just as Miles says he experienced as a student while at the University of Chicago (perhaps in my own classes?). What there was not was a consensus, even on the validity of the question I asked.
"I don't find Christians scary," one insisted, while another charged me with setting up the question wrong. "Not scary," he responded.
I'd say more tiresome. This question is an object example.... Christians [meaning here me--FB] can get a bit patronizing. Rachel, this is what I find tiresome in some of your posts. I've tried to explain, but it falls on deaf ears. You post things by people who talk about non-believers in the abstract [so as not to make the argument personal?--FB] They talk about non-believers, have all kinds of opinions about them, but seem to have never had a conversation with one of them. They are out there. Some of them are quite vocal, but a great many more won't say a damn thing because all of the above. They know their opinion won't be well received.Ahem. Professor Levinovitz would insist that this is as it should be--with, of course, the positions reversed. After all, C.S. Lewis espoused poisonous ideas which "deserve fierce resistance, not complacent tolerance." Now is not the time, Levinovitz would insist, for allowing positions such as Lewis's a hearing in the academy or anywhere else. Again, in his words:
Progress today depends, as it always has, on the refusal to tolerate falsehood and immorality. In certain circumstances proper intolerance will demand reasoned discourse; in others it will demand shouting and breaking the law. We may disagree about how to fight for what's right, but that disagreement should come in the context of recognizing our proud participation in a long, necessary history of virtuous intolerance. Only then can we hope to defend truth unfettered by hypocrisy and self-contradition."What is truth?," Pontius Pilate asked Jesus when Jesus had been arrested and brought before him for trial (John 18:38). My Christian friends have an answer.
The rules of God are simple--there are only 10 of them. It's the rules of people that muck things up.
The academic/scientific community believes faith to be in opposition to evidence.... Knowing Jesus, however, was never meant to be tested in accordance with the scientific method such that the results could be used to force people to believe something. The invitation is one to experience relationship with a living being, and one who pursues that relationship will experience anecdotal evidence of meeting their creator. Christianity was always meant to be a group of people experiencing universal Truth by anecdotal methods, the only commonality being the "person" of God that they all experienced.
It took me 20 years to realize that God's not on my side so much as I'm on His side. I do things wrong, I get self-righteous, judgmental, I start thinking my opinion must somehow be right because I have a relationship with God, but the truth is, I also do and say things that are definitely nothing to to with God. I finally learned the lesson that I'm not better than anyone else, I just serve a better master.To coin a phrase, it's personal. Not to talk about Jesus is, for a Christian, like never talking about your best friend or your husband, your son or your father. Almost as hard for me these days as not talking about Milo (just ask my friends!). Truth, for Christians, is not a proposition, but a person. What would it even mean to have an intellectual argument that did not take account of Truth?
It is easy to see how many would find this way of talking tiresome (again, just ask my friends about Milo and me). Who wants to hear yet another story about how amazing your boyfriend is? And yet, Christians will insist on talking about their Master, much to the frustration of those who don't see him this way.
Worst of all, according to my friends, Christians can be somewhat...pushy in their enthusiasm for talking about Him, even with fellow Christians:
There have been many very devout Christians who really believe my life would be better if I would listen to the words of Christ. And they are welcome to believe that. I just don't, and won't. For some, Christianity is what keeps them stable and afloat in the right directions. Kudos to Christianity for helping those people. But one size doesn't fit all.
I get really mad at people for knocking on my door about God...I think it is highly presumptuous. Who is anyone to think they know about anyone's relationship with God? I try to be tolerant, but I usually feel judged, which makes me big mad.
I have been accosted at home, on ski lifts, at work, walking my dog in the city. Mormons ride their bikes to our suburban neighborhood. Witnesses give me copies of the Watchtower. White guys wanna talk about Jesus instead of the snow conditions on the trail. Most are ok, but some can get very aggressive when I want to stop the conversation, however polite I am.
Prior to becoming a practicing Catholic, I wouldn't say I considered Christians "scary," but I was sometimes afraid of feeling awkward lest they try to "witness" to me or to evangelize. Actually, I'm still afraid of that haha.
Evangelism is a problem for me. It is an inherent disrespect for other people's choices. It is a form of intolerance.
A big issue for me is that most Christian denominations, to one degree or another, proselytize/evangelize. Many state clearly they believe non-Christians are damned. Obviously, there's a spectrum of such belief across denominations and among individuals. The only other major religion whose members proselytize is Islam, but I've never had a Muslim try to convert me. I've had Christians corner me and tell me I'm going to hell many times.What was it that my colleagues said about what I argued in Sightings about Milo? Oh, yes, I'm going to hell.
What makes Christians so scary? My Facebook friends had a range of answers: Christians, particularly as crusaders, have themselves engaged historically in atrocities. Christians are anti-science. Christianity is an organized religion. Christians require those who would be Christian to believe nonsense about virgin births and bronze-age sky gods. Christians are obsessed with the afterlife and their own souls. Christians are hypocrites. Christians act like they have all the answers. Christians are cliquey. Christianity has become too politicized.
None of which applies at all to my experience in academia. I'm wrong, my colleagues tell me, about pretty much everything. I'm wrong about the basis of reality, I'm wrong about the climate of the academy, I'm wrong about who is actually in power (there, I grant you, they may have a point). After all, there is nothing organized about our educational system, no pressure on me to believe nonsense about the rate of rape on college campuses or my salary relative to that of my male colleagues, no concern about personal identity, no hypocrisy in the way in which my non-Christian colleagues behave, no insistence that they have the right answers, no politicization of our academic work, no cliques. And of course no Christian roots to the way in which science is pursued in the Western tradition to which we as scholars adhere, never mind no intellectual basis for the many atrocities committed in the cause of atheism since the French Revolution. (Sorry, I think I just hurt myself with the irony; I'll get up off the floor now.)
What I said in my Sightings article and continue to reiterate is that we in the academy are caught in a crisis of religion, that is, a crisis of fundamental belief. Under such circumstances, any alternatives to the prevailing orthodoxy will be taken as existential threats, not just opportunities for reasoned debate. Professor Levinovitz is quite clear: he thinks that Christian views on society, economics, and family relations like Lewis's should not be tolerated at all. Like Nancy Frankenberry, one of the respondents to my Sightings piece, he would most likely agree that multiculturalism is not a perspective on the relative value of differences in culture (what I meant when I called it an example of the academy's "bad religion"), but "simply [our students'] milieu"; that "race, class, and gender are their analytical categories, not their politically correct avoidance of critical thinking"; and that it is not "secular ideals of socialism and Marxism" that hold sway on our campuses, but capitalism. (Here, I grant, I think she is right, if not in our faculty lounges, at least at the level of our administrations, which has its own problems.)
What makes Christians so scary to my colleagues in academia? Christians, from my colleagues' perspective, are heretics, and so must be expunged, if necessary, by force, because Christians present them with a wholly alternate worldview. As one of my Facebook friends put it:
Um duh. It's our worldview and source of morality--God. They deny His existence and their accountability to anyone because they're still enslaved to and under the curse of Sin. Do you know what all that means? Jesus said they hated Him because He exposed their wicked deeds and hearts (either overtly, or by the demonstration of His own good life an deeds). And so they hate us. All the other reasons and excuses--what some Christians have done to them, or in the past...are still not the underlying issue. It's terror of judgment they know they're under because they have no atonement. That's where Jesus comes in and saves the day!To those with a different worldview, such ideas sound not just crazy, but dangerous. Much as my colleagues' ideas sound crazy and dangerous to me.