Today, Eric Metaxas published an article at CNSNews talking up Christian colleges. The major talking point is that Christian colleges are well rounded while secular schools are one-dimensional. Actually, in the article, he reported the views of NY Times columnist David Brooks. Speaking of Ivy League students, Brooks says:
“They’ve been raised in a culture,” Brooks says, “that encourages them to pay attention to the résumé virtues of how to have a great career but leaves by the wayside … time to think about the eulogy virtues: the things they’ll say about you after you’re dead. They go through their school with the mixture of complete self-confidence and utter terror, afraid of a single false step off the achievement machine.” It’s flat, lifeless, and soul-killing.
But Christian schools attempt to educate their charges in three dimensions. Brooks told Christian college leaders that Christian universities “are the avant-garde of 21st century culture.” Christian colleges “have a way of talking about and educating the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion and intellect. [They] have a recipe to nurture human beings who have a devoted heart, a courageous mind and a purposeful soul. Almost no other set of institutions in American society has that, and everyone wants it.”
I can’t agree or disagree with Brooks about Ivy League students, but I can say he is close to the mark on the place where I teach.
It interests me that Metaxas resonates with Brooks observations. Recently on Twitter, Metaxas has blocked several Christian college professors who have publicly expressed concerns with his newest book, as well as his support for Donald Trump. To David Brooks observations, I would add that several of the Christian colleges that I know well are not intimidated by the celebrity culture which marks evangelical Christianity. We encourage students to question the status quo both in and outside the church.
Over the past couple of months, Metaxas has blocked Messiah College history prof John Fea, Oklahoma Baptist University English prof Alan Noble (recently unblocked), Tyndale University College Philosophy prof Paul Franks and me. There are others but these are the ones who came to mind. It isn’t a major thing to be blocked and my point isn’t to gripe about that. My point is that in addition to the virtues identified by Brooks, many profs at Christian colleges seek the truth wherever it leads, even when that upsets a few big name apple carts.
Brooks is a good writer and makes a good case for what I consider to be the right position.
In essence, he says evangelicals have lost the culture war over sexual matters, and so should consider being more like the Salvation Army than the Moral Majority. Become useful again. Actually, there is a lot of that going on and Brooks says evangelicals should become known for our good works of community as opposed to outrage over gay marriage.
It is hard to look at the ministry of Jesus and find fault with Brooks’ suggestions. Christians getting all mad over losing some political power doesn’t look like the New Testament to me.
Speaking from experience, the other culture war was exciting. There was a feeling of doing something important and meaningful. I thought the objective of defeating the godless liberals was a noble cause. Being a part of the in-group is a power social experience. However, I believe there is a better way to live.
Culture warring (on both extremes I think) requires lots of confirmation bias and self-deception. As I began to raise questions about the intellectual honesty of, for instance, the evangelical positions on the causes of same-sex orientation and the lack of change really happening, I was strongly discouraged from going there. I went there.
After I went there, certain evangelicals demanded my college fire me, my family was lied about and various other in-group rejections happened. I still believe in the same Jesus and still sing from the same hymnbook, but you can’t be an A-List evangelical unless you’re willing to believe a particular set of premises. Nothing much has changed; if you go after sacred cows, the cows’ caretakers get angry, often in Jesus’ name.
I write all of this because I fear that, without some kind of retraining, the hard core evangelical culture warriors may not be up to what Brooks says is a struggle for which social conservatives should be well-equipped:
The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable.
Brooks’ suggestions are good, but there are practical problems. Evangelicals can’t even agree that it would be a good idea for a Christian to serve all comers in our businesses. We can’t even agree that being hospitable and Christlike means bakers should bake a cake for gay customers. The culture warriors applaud the person who takes actions which are inhospitable. Currently, evangelicals need to own our part in rendering society “atomized, unforgiving, and inhospitable” and to repair our own community, before we can help anybody else do it.
Moderate David Brooks takes on the issue of Sarah Palin’s experience in Monday’s New York Times. He raises the question of whether or not Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice-President without raising the more important question of whether Barack Obama is qualified enough to be President.
What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.
How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.
So what is our alternative, Mr. Brooks? A half-term Senator has prudence? I suppose one could make the case that Palin and Obama are about the same in the experience category, but I think this misses two points. The first easy point is that Palin is the running mate and not at the top of ticket. A corollary is that past Vice-Presidents have been relatively inexperienced but gone on to serve quite well (e.g., Harry Truman).
Would Brooks suggest Republicans and moderates vote for someone at the top of the other ticket who has only a bit more time in public life? Second, questions of how much experience is necessary are hopelessly confounded by policy positions and ideological commitments. To many voters, where people stand on the issues that matter to them will influence (bias?) how much experience is deemed necessary.
It is one thing to raise a point and it another to make a point. I am not sure what David Brooks is advocating. Given where he ends his op-ed, perhaps he would like a reduction in smugness. My perception is that this election presents many voters with a compromise choice. They can easily find fault with aspects of both tickets but what would he advocate given the choices available? By raising Palin’s experience as inadequate, he also raises the question of Obama’s experience which is left unexamined.