Saturday, November 26, 2011



  1. And now, for a little social commentary.

    This is how we used to advise people to solve their problems. Look towards yourself to find the answer. Sure, other people might create the problem for you but that doesn't mean that you simply blame them and be a victim.

    Also, every answer in an advice column would refer to professors as the reader's intellectual superiors.

  2. "It is unfortunate that some college professors imagine themselves theologians?"

    All the faculty in my graduate theology department certainly seem to.

  3. As do mine; yet like the experts Socrates consulted, people very skilled in one subject matter consider themselves eminently qualified to pronounce judgment on everything, usually according to the same standards and methodology of their own disciplines.

    This is not just limited to religion; that just seems to be one topic on which my colleagues feel no shame when demonstrating their ignorance and ineptitude.

  4. I love Billy Graham. This is exactly what needs to be said. It seems absolutely progressive, and yet he wrote those words half a century ago.

    If your faith is shaken by the opinions and knowledge of others, perhaps your faith isn't strong enough.

    It's the student's faith that is inadequate if they are offended and cowed by college, and college professors are not demonic tyrants attempting to win souls to hell.

    And I say that as a Christian, with a deep faith in Christ, and a college professor, who knows that such faith is not grounded in reason.

  5. I'd like to know who has been doing research in the newspapers of the 1950s and 1960s of late; that's the third old article post we've had.

    Ah, but such great commentary on society. Billy Graham, you big SOB. I wish Dante's circles were real so we could watch you wallow in your own excrement, blinded by your pride and vanity.

  6. II've never read anything by Billy Graham before, and I'm surprised by how respectful, sensible and moderate it is. He is respectful of professors who are the student's "intellectual superiors" even if they are 'confused' about spiritual matters because they are under the impresison that they understand theology (when, presumably, the ones he's talking about are not actually theologians); but rather than telling the student to remove himself immediately from this pit of vipers whose influence will infallibly send him straight to the eternal flames of Hell, and suggests that the student look within himself and consider his owh faith.

    I wasn't expecting that. I suppose I have been affected by what Graham's successors have become.

  7. Merely,

    Are you not from the US? I can't imagine you haven't read anything by Billy Graham; surely you've heard of him at least.

  8. Graham also publicly opposed segregation even before Brown vs. the Board of Education, refusing to separate the races during his crusades, even in Jackson, Ms.

    By his own admission he's a flawed human being, but he's certainly not of the ilk of Falwell and Robertson.

  9. It certainly reads like a blast from a more-civilized, less-polarized past -- a place that (at least in this respect, not in many others) I wish we could get back to.

    The part that feels a bit jarring to me (a practicing Christian, but admittedly a somewhat intellectual one) is the shift from talking about professors and theology and being "well grounded in your faith" to insisting that the only way to be "well grounded" in the faith -- or perhaps to have faith at all -- is to "have a personal experience with Christ." Part of the issue is that, while I consider myself a Christian, and even one with a reasonable amount of faith (a very necessary component when we're talking about believing, on some level, in a supernatural realm, unprovable, by definition, by any usual human means), I cannot say that I've had a personal experience with Christ (except as experienced through other human beings, which strikes me as a pretty good way, but not, I suspect, what Graham is talking about), and I don't expect to have one. I suppose I could always be surprised, and I'm open to that, but it's not really part of my (God-given?) temperament to have that sort of experience, and it's definitely part of both my temperament and my theology to be more than a bit suspicious of human beings' ability to tell the difference between God's messages and their own flawed human desires. I'm also deeply aware that equally-committed Christians sometimes believe they are receiving diametrically opposed calls from God (150 years ago, it was, as Lincoln pointed out, about slavery and the Civil War; today, it's about the place of GLBT people in church and society, among other matters).

    I also find myself thinking that the professors mentioned in this column might actually be, if not convinced by, then respectful of, a student who could speak in an informed way about the intellectual traditions of Christianity and how they address the issue(s) the professors were raising. But I can't see anything very productive coming of a student trying to tell a skeptical professor about his/her "personal experience with Christ." To me that isn't theology, it's testimony, and, as Graham realizes, theology is what *might* work in an intellectual realm. Testimony tends to fall flat unless you're among fellow believers.

    All of which goes to show, I guess, that there are nearly as many divisions within the Christian tradition as between the Christian tradition and other religious, non-religious, or anti-religious traditions.

  10. I've heard of Billy Graham of course, and my grandparents were fans of his writing; but I had never read any of it myself, and wasn't aware how sane he sounded. Particularly compared to the Falwells and Robertsons and Oral Robertses.

  11. As one of those horrid atheist profs, I'll sign on with Cassandra here. There is room in my classroom for various perspectives. I appreciate and often mobilize for the good of the class the greater knowledge of religious issues that students of faith bring to the topics we discuss in history and literature.

    But a "personal experience with Christ" is not terribly valuable here. I have never had a student argue this way in class, so I don't know how I'd deal with it. I don't have a reaction planned. What I usually encounter is Bible quote mining to defend some particular theology (a decontextualized theology proposed now as "what the Bible as such really means" as opposed to what a particular text might have meant to a particular audience), highly problematic Bible history (like the supposed remains of Egyptian chariots found at the bottom of the Red Sea) or just an annoying "Jesusification" of every imaginable topic (like attacking the Spartans as immoral because their way of life was not "biblical").

    The Sunday school version of reality is not terribly useful in the college classroom, but I'll admit that it can be just as bad when people in class don't even know the basic outlines of the Judeo-Christian story.

  12. It occurs to me that another reason many of us may find Graham's answer appealing is that he is putting responsibility for maintaining and maturing the student's faith squarely on the student: no complain to your parents/the Dean/the President/the papers stuff here. Professorial authority is firmly in place.

    Actually, looking back, I see that's pretty much what Ben said. Well, I agree.


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