4 January 2005 - Tuesday

Breaking free from the bloc

A friend and I recently had a conversation about my plans for graduate school. I outlined some of what I will need in order to qualify for a doctorate in history. She warned me that I should be careful -- I could suffer burnout, "or worse."

Burnout does not particularly worry me. I am far less likely to burn out in academia than in (for example) retail work, judging by my experiences so far. However much I seem to punish myself in school, it is far more attractive to me than the alternatives.

"Or worse," I found out, meant becoming a liberal.

Where I come from, turning into a liberal (culturally, politically, or theologically) is about as desirable as (and possibly tantamount to) signing a membership card for the CPUSA.

Nervermind that, these days, "they" are supposed to include everybody from devout Muslims to totalitarian atheists to libertarian agnostics to mainline Protestants to journalists (the lot of 'em) to Republican diplomats who opposed the invasion of Iraq. It's still us versus "them" collectively -- red states versus blue.

Anyway, I tried to point out that evangelicals have done well for themselves at some of the most prestigious schools in the world. I also pointed out that some intellectuals who are liberal by the standards of American evangelicals (I gave the example of C. S. Lewis) are highly regarded by the evangelical community.

I am beginning to detest the "conservative" versus "liberal," "us" versus "them" dichotomy. First, it glosses over the true philosophical divisions involved: we often misapprehend entirely the motivations and convictions of our ideological opponents.* Second, it politicizes things that should not be politicized: we tend to substitute bullying for valid argument. Third, it makes us paranoid: we trust no one except those who already agree with us on particulars. (And when I say "we" are vulnerable to these problems, I mean everyone who adopts the mentality, whether characterized as conservative or liberal.)

The common perception among the evangelical Christians I know is that the world's universities are run by the enemies of the evangelical faith and of healthy values in general. But if this is so, I maintain, evangelicals can only exacerbate the problem by being scared of it.

Unless we can make an honest effort to understand the ideas of those who disagree with us, in order to develop and maintain respectful dialogue, we will remain intellectually crippled. Whether or not those who disagree with us are willing to make the same concession, we must make it if we are to make any progress at all. We must also foster freedom of thought within our own community; we cannot afford to push aside brothers and sisters who question. A good start would be recognizing that it is possible for people of similar ideals to disagree about methods.

I like the academy. There are very few places I would rather be than university (and most of those other places are found near universities). I love what the academic world stands for. I especially love what the liberal arts stand for, even when I disagree with ideas that are commonly held within the liberal arts community.

And I, as a member of that community, plan to influence your children. You'll enjoy it all much more if you try to work with me than if you worry about how dangerous it might be.

*For one example of how conservative Christians can misinterpret opposing thought, click here.

| Posted by Wilson at 19:22 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Education Desk