Free speech in the Academy: John the Baptist, Allan Bloom, and George Marsden...

[John the Baptist was preaching:] “His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.

But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the wicked things which Herod had done, Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison. (Luke 3:17-20)

(Tim, w/thanks to Kevin) Did you notice John the Baptist was "preaching the Gospel" when he rebuked Herod for "all the wicked things" done by his government? Too, did you notice why Reformed men today don't rebuke Herod?

"He locked John up in prison." Usually things are more simple than we make them--Reformed men, that is--and the avoidance of suffering and absence of faith is the key to understand our silence. Not doctrine. Never ever doctrine, but the absence of faith. Which reminds me...

About fifteen years ago, I drove an hour to take in a lecture given by the eminent historian, George Marsden, at a nearby liberal arts college. His presentation amounted to a very sophisticated wheedling and cajolling of fellow academics to give orthodox Christians a seat at the table, which plea had been the substance of a piece he'd recently published in First Things. We were coming off a bad decade or two during which political correctness had shut down rational discourse in public, private, and Christian higher educational institutions, alike, and Allan Bloom's jeremiad, The Closing of the American Mind, had accomplished little except to earn its author the scorn of the tenured and their administrative masters.

Following Marsden's lecture, one fellow asked him whether Buddhists should have a seat at the table, too?

"Yes--serious Buddhists that is," Marsden replied...

Afterward, I spoke with Marsden privately, asking him what he thought the response of academics would be if, getting a seat at the table, an orthodox Christian expressed disapproval for the wholesale slaughter of unborn babies we refer to as "abortion?"

He responded that any raising of this issue would have to be done very tactfully. Then he went silent.

Pushing on, I asked whether, assuming the most tactful presentation of the concern possible at the table, he thought the others seated at his table would tolerate the subject?

Again he responded that it would all depend upon how the subject was raised--how carefully the Christian chose his words.

"Let us suppose you're the one raising the subject," I responded; "you are the one concerned about the bloodshed. So, as tactfully and respectfully as you're able, you engage your fellow academics concerning this matter. Or take homosexuality: again, you're the one raising the matter and you raise it with the greatest delicacy. How long do you think they'll tolerate you having a place at the table?"

He responded with silence, so I answered my own question. "If you dare--even you, eminent George Marsden of Notre Dame--if you dare to speak against the bloodshed; if you dare to question the feminist ideology at the heart of the modern university; if you dare to oppose sodomy; you'll be gone. Snap! Just like that you'll get the boot. I promise you. It doesn't matter one bit who you are or how diplomatic you are when you raise the subject. If you speak as an orthodox Christian opposing the slaughter of unborn babies or feminism or sodomy; immediately you'll be removed from the table."

Marsden was willing to listen because he knew and respected my father and I'd told him I'd taken my history degree at UW-Madison and was working in Bloomington--both places considerably larger and more hostile to God than the backwater of South Bend. But I note that he had no answer to my dilemma, and that now he's retired and we're left with...

Who?

Oh my. I suppose the closest thing we have to public intellectuals with a commitment to be salt and light within the academy for the sort of commitments orthodox Protestants used to savor their world with are the Mormons and Roman Catholics.

And then, of course, there's the ever-so-delicate and principled disengagement of our own two-kingdom scrupulous ones.

Meanwhile, the show must go on.

 

Comments

Dear Tim,

You said that there are (nearly?) no respectable public intellectuals who have a commitment to be salt and light within the academy (specifically, willing to raise concerns over the millions of babies killed annually, feminism, and sodomy).

Is this only because the public intellectuals who could (should) take that sort of position, that is, the men who are public intellectuals and call themselves Christian and ought to be speaking up against the murder, are too scared ("He locked John up in prison.")? It's also because the men who could be the public intellectuals with a commitment to be salt and light aren't allowed to be public intellectuals, right? When entering a place that says on the door, "Women only", we aren't surprised to find a shortage of men.

If there was a man with the pedigree and clout to be one of these "public intellectuals" who also had conviction to be salt and light to his surroundings, what is the likelihood that he will make it to a position like Mr. Marsden?

Tim,

In fact, aren't they nearly all Roman Catholics, those who have the wit, courage and wisdom to speak out? Even the You Tube woman, little more than a child, who has shocked the country with her videos exposing the lies purveyed at Maggie Sanger's "Eugenics are us" clinics, is Roman Catholic.

Perhaps that is because they remember what some Reformed men deny or ignore - the law is a moral teacher.

Kamilla

Dear Kamilla,

They fear God, too--something largely absent from the Reformed world of grace alone.

Love,

Moving from academic theology--systematics, what you will--into practical theology without veering into the terrain of the "Holy Rollers" and assorted "hyper-pietists" is something difficult for all of us, not just the Reformed.

Of course, adhering to things the Scripture actually commands instead of saying "I don't drink and I don't chew...." probably makes the task a LOT easier. :^)

You wrote, "...now he's retired and we're left with...Who?"
A few off the top of my head are:
Dave Woodard - Clemson University
Thomas Kidd - Baylor University
Mark Noll - University of Notre Dame
Dallas Willard - University of Southern California

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