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A Clarification on Academics and People

Let me respond more openly to a comment that Matt Frost made on my last post, and I mean more openly than simply leaving my response and Matt’s comment buried in a comment meta. Matt wrote:

You know, it always bugs me when you say “academic” as though it meant something irreverent. I have a goat, and you’ve gotten it. But it’s equally lazy to critique the laity as indolent and self-indulgent. You’re better than this. Do better than straw-men and stereotypes, or do without and simply argue your point without leaning on third parties.

lecturingMatt must be referring to a proclivity he sees at work in my writing, and one that obviously bugs him.

First of all, it is a sweeping generalization to assert that my ‘critiques’ of either the academic or the laity represent straw people. In one sense it could be a straw attempt to characterize whole swaths of people groups, but in another sense, I don’t think so. Nevertheless, when I make such ‘general’ and sweeping critiques (implicit as they are) myself, I do so from my own perception, my own experience, and do so that critiques a generally perceived ethos (on my part). But I wouldn’t say that my perception is alone, there are many other authors, writers, theologians, sociologists, historians, etc. who have observed the same kind of problems latent to the movement known as American Evangelicalism (and now I refer to the laity). There is a consumerism afoot, an introverted piety at play, that circumscribes much of the Evangelical ethos. Apparently folks like Matt don’t inhabit this type of Evangelicalism, and so it is hard for them to understand someone like me who has the perceptions that I do of my own existential situadedness as an American Evangelical (which I don’t think Matt would describe himself as).

When I offer implicit critiques of academia, I do so based upon two (which is really one) readings of ‘academia’ (loosely construed) that flow from a Dominical (Jesus’) teaching (and critique), and then one that Martin Luther made in his critique of a theology of glory (which finds corollary back in Jesus’ critique of Pharisaism in His day). I am not suggesting that being an academic is inherently distorting, per se; but I am suggesting, and taking note that with academia, comes built into it an added temptation to glory in one’s knowledge and the praise that possessing such knowledge, from others, often brings with it. It is echoing the same critique that Jeremiah makes here:

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.

And that Jesus makes here:

31 “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. 35 He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. 36 But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.37 And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. 38 But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. 41 “I do not receive honor from men. 42 But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” ~John 5.31-47

I am not offering a critique of academia, simpliciter; I am offering critique of the predispositional privation that often, often can attend the academic scene—that is a love of knowledge as an end in itself, and the attendant praise of other men and women, as the telos or purpose of that end. And this critique is so general, as to have the character to apply to not just the academic (even though it does in a kind of pointed way), but also to the so called laity. We all have this innate disposition of inward curvedness (homo incurvatus in se), or we are sinners. So my critique has no appeal whatsoever to the categories of academic or laity, all by themselves; my critique has to do with the underlying disposition that we all have as humans—and then the critique becomes even more pointed as it finds expressions in various forms of both the academic and laos life.

I don’t see how this critique, in general, is off. Unless we aren’t sinners, who also  happen to be academics and laity.

At the end, I guess, my critiques here should also be understood as self-directed.