Archives For Culture

scientismRoger Scruton has an excellent (although long) article in The New Atlantis about how scientism has crept into the arts and humanities.

He describes these fields as scrambling to find a “methodology” which makes their practice legitimate.

I could not help but think the field of biblical studies, especially hermeneutics, has turned scientistic more than they would like to admit. Scruton says:

Over the last several decades, therefore, we have witnessed a steady invasion of the humanities by scientific methodology. This invasion provides us with a useful illustration of the distinction between scientific and scientistic ways of thinking. The scientific thinker has a clear question, a body of data, and a theoretical answer to the question that can be tested against that data. The scientistic thinker borrows the apparatus of science, not in order to explain the phenomenon before him, but in order to create the appearance of a scientific question, the appearance of data, and the appearance of a method that will arrive at an answer.

Scruton goes onto describe what the sure sign of scientism.

This is the sure sign of scientism — that the science precedes the question, and is used to redefine it as a question that the science can solve. But the difficulty of understanding art arises precisely because questions about the nature and meaning of art are not asking for an explanation of something, but for a description.

Why should there be such questions, and why is it that they lie beyond the reach of the empirical sciences? The simple answer is that they are questions that deal with the “spirit,” with Geist, and therefore with phenomena that lie outside the purview of experimental methods. But this is not an answer that would satisfy people today; putting it that way is likely to prompt a wry, skeptical smile.

Scruton then closes:

Like so many people wedded to a nineteenth-century view of science, which promised scientific explanations for social and cultural phenomena, Dawkins overlooks the nineteenth-century reaction that said: Wait a minute; science is not the only way to pursue knowledge. There is moral knowledge too, which is the province of practical reason; there is emotional knowledge, which is the province of art, literature, and music. And just possibly there is transcendental knowledge, which is the province of religion. Why privilege science, just because it sets out to explain the world? Why not give weight to the disciplines that interpret the world, and so help us to be at home in it?

Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

It is my belief that culture in this sense, which stems from the “I” perspective that is the root of the human condition, points always towards the transcendental — the point on the edge of space and time, which is the subjectivity of the world. And when we lose our sense of that thing, and of its eternal, tranquil watchfulness, all human life is cast into shadow. We approach the point at which even the St. Matthew Passion and the Rondanini Pietà have nothing more to say to us than a shark in formaldehyde. That is the direction we have taken. But it is a direction of drift, a refusal to adopt the posture that is inherent in the human condition, in which we strive to see events from outside and as a whole, as they are in the eyes of God.

The world of biblical scholars would do well to consider Scruton’s piece and do some self examination. Or even better, we could even do a scientific experiment and pick up five dissertations and give them a grade on how much scientistic thinking occurred.

 

This is a fascinating video on a newer discipline called experimental philosophy. Josh Knobe asks questions about the true nature of the self. Although it is from a secular perspective it raises a lot of good questions for Christians.

 

Who Wears the Crown?

February 27, 2014 — 1 Comment

Peter Leithart has an excellent article in Canon & Culture (a blog of the ERLC) arguing that according to the Scriptures, the martyrs wear the crown.

American Christians are often dismissive of symbolism in politics. We’re interested in substance, by which we mean the nuts and bolts of policy, law, political principle, message and governance. We’re tempted to dismiss political symbolism as an unfortunate feature of our media-saturated age, when people are too distracted by their ubiquitous glimmering screens to pay much mind to gritty and unglossy realities.

This perspective is deeply unhistorical. Politics always has been infused with symbols. Punishment is as substantial a political act as you can find, as Michel Foucault noted, until the eighteenth-century public executions were forms of drama as much as deterrents. Ancient Romans crucified rebellious slaves, saying in effect, “You want everyone to look up to you. We can arrange that.” Later Romans flayed Christians alive, poured salt and oil in their wounds and burned them at the stake, in a quasi-sacrificial procedure. Christians refused to sacrifice to the emperor and claimed to be “living sacrifices” to Christ, so the Romans designed executions of Christians to parody Christian beliefs.

Leithart goes onto say:

Arguments won’t turn the tide. We need to fight symbols with symbols, stories with better stories, encouraged by the recollection that injustices and tyrannies have been toppled more often by symbols than by swords or bombs.

Above all, we need to grasp the political potency of courageous testimony or, to use the biblical term, martyria.

Anyone who witnesses against this tyranny risks paying a heavy price. Speak out against sodomy, and you’ll lose your cooking show and never be a reality star on A&E. You’ll risk being labeled a bigot and having your reputation and life shredded. The GOP will buckle; if you pay close attention, you can hear it buckling as you read. Pastors and other Christian leaders will be tempted to hedge and accommodate to the new sexual orthodoxy. Christians who hold to biblical sexual standards will be mighty lonely.

But faithful witnesses will speak, and they will speak knowing that lasting political effects go to those who are willing to sacrifice reputation and stature and even their lives to tell the truth to and about power. Ultimately, the martyrs will wear the crowns.

C.S. Lewis on Writing Narnia

February 13, 2014 — 17 Comments

Many artists want to communicate a message, and then they add their art form to this message.

But this is not how C.S. Lewis wrote Narnia.

Some people think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them.

This is all pure moonshine.

I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

Dorthy Sayers makes exactly the same point as Lewis in her essay Are Playwrights Evangelists?

First of all she says, playwrights are playwrights. Because they are Christians they also desire to make the gospel known, but a Christian cannot decide to write a good evangelistic play and then produce a good play. The inspiration for a play has to come first, and only later does the possibility of communicating the gospel enter the process.

Logical Firsts?

But I wonder if it is wrong to do it the other way around? Might it not depend on the personality or how one processes things? What Lewis and Sayers said sounds good, and artists who take such an approach will applaud such paragraphs, but might not things be more complex?

The danger of course in having the message first, is that the art form or the medium may become the unnecessary topping. No longer is the medium the message, but just a husk that can be discarded to get at the kernel.

When we think of Jesus sharing his message in poetic ways, did he first have a message or did he first have a form?

The problem is many times there probably is not a “first” but they come together in a way that cannot be described in logical steps.

 

See Jerram Barrs in Echoes of Eden, 97.

Haiti-adoption-programJ.I. Packer once wrote:

Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. . . . If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.

Adoption is one of the many images the Scriptures use for our salvation.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans (John 14:8). The Father sends his Spirit in our hearts so that we can cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6). God is a Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows (Ps. 68:5).

It is a glorious thing that many churches have begun to promote adoption and even fund it. There are now conferences on adoption, books on adoption, and help for adoption.

Corruption

However with all this attention, there is also the danger of corruption. I have known for quite some time that there is at least one, maybe multiple, adoption agencies that are unethical at best, and probably nefarious.

I have personally heard testimonies of babies being stolen from families for adoption agencies so that the agency can get their money. This information was substantiated by private investigators.

This has been an ongoing issue that the media has been investigating.

A story is finally airing about this disconcerting news on CBS’s “48 hours” on Saturday, Jan 18 at 10 p.m.

Maureen Maher and 48 Hours investigate the sometimes-shady business of international child adoptions and the lengths families will go to bring children home to the United States in “Perilous Journey,” to be broadcast Saturday

The investigation reveals the extraordinary journey of one family to adopt two children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the questionable practices of the U.S.-based adoption agency they’d chosen, as well as the harrowing story of one woman’s attempt to adopt a child from Guatemala – through the same agency – and allegations of child trafficking against Guatemalan nationals that emerged afterward.

Maher follows Owen and his wife, Jeri Lynn, who live at Fort Campbell, Ky., with three sons of their own, as they travel to Kinshasa and discover just what a perilous journey overseas adoption can be. The Owens began working on the adoption through Celebrate Children International (CCI), a small Florida agency, run by Sue Hedberg.

 

For Christians this is troubling news for a number of reasons.

First, because this corruption is pure evil, there is no other way to put it. There are multiple innocent parties that are being taken advantage of. The original family, the child, and the new family are all victims. This is the devil’s work if it is true. Psalm 10:8-11 is very relevant to this situation when it says:

He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Second, it is concerning because although this news should be revealed, the unintended consequence is that it could make the process of adoption harder and also bring hesitation to adoption if fraud is revealed. It may begin to raise questions in the broader cultural conversation about adoption which might put a halt to some innocent adoptions.

Third, a story like this is likely to cause heartache to those who have adopted. Many families will begin to question their adoption. They may have used either this agency (CCI) or other agencies and begin to wonder if their child was obtained unethically.

God Will Arise

I pray that this story is not the whole truth, but I fear that it is. I am comforted by the fact that in Psalm 10, after the Psalmist has questioned why the Lord stands so far off, urges the Lord to arise and break the arm of the wicked.

“Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:12–18 ESV)

 

Teaching with Twitter

January 2, 2014 — 9 Comments

twitterI have been rolling over in my mind how one could use Twitter to enhance teaching.

Thankfully, I am not the only one to think this way. I did a simple search for how teachers are using Twitter and found many resources.

The best article I found was by Josh Eyler. He says:

If you had told me three years ago that I would someday not only be using Twitter in my classes, but that I would also be writing a blog post on what an incredible experience it’s been, I probably would have told you a thousand reasons why that couldn’t possibly be true.

Yet here I am.

This is my second year of incorporating the social media platform in my classes, and doing so has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a teacher.  Why?  The level of student engagement in these classes is the highest I’ve ever seen, and–as a result–students have been performing exceptionally well.

He goes onto to give an example of what he puts in the syllabus for his students.

The social media site Twitter has been gaining tremendous currency in the academic world as an instrument for sharing information, commenting on issues related to higher education, addressing issues in one’s particular field, etc.  As such, it has achieved acclaim for its use as a pedagogical tool to extend the work of the classroom.  We are going to use Twitter in this course as a complement to our other activities and to augment the analytical work of the class.  Beyond its relevance to the coursework, though, you are encouraged to explore the site as to its possibilities for professional networking for yourselves.  Certainly follow me (@joshua_r_eyler) and the other members of the class, but also follow leaders in your field.  Make connections!

Although we will sometimes use Twitter in the classroom, the bulk of your Twitter activity will take place outside of class.  You will be required to tweet a minimum of five times per week.  The only guidelines for tweets are:  1) they must have something to do with the class (i.e. a response to the reading, a link to a related article, a question, etc.); 2) they must be substantive; and 3) they must be respectful.  In addition to reading your tweets on a regular basis, I will be using an online archiving tool to keep track of Twitter activity.

You must use the hashtag #LitMA320 in your tweets so that they register as being a part of our class discussion.  Any tweets that do not incorporate this hashtag will not be counted, because the website will not record their activity.

I will hold a Twitter tutorial on the second day of class to answer any questions you might have.

This Twitter activity will be graded on a pass/fail basis.  If you tweet the requisite number of times (5 tweets per week X 15 weeks = 75 total tweets), then you will receive an A for this assignment.  If not, you will receive an F.

Twitter seems to be a great way to keep your students thinking after class and interacting with you and one another. Teachers may be fearful that this could take over their life as class discussion is suddenly with you all the time. It is like the class never ends!

But if one sets some boundaries with responses then this problem is gone, and hopefully some teachers will want to invest as much as they can in each student, and be glad that the class is constantly interacting.

It is necessary that everyone use the same hashtag for the class so that people can catch up on what they missed.

Although many of the articles recommend using Twitter in class, I actually think this is a time to not use Twitter. Twitter allows interaction when you are not together, but when you are together there is no need to use the technology. (I can foresee rare circumstances where large classes did use it occasionally in class.)

Of course one of the main barriers to this is that some students (or teachers) may not use Twitter at all. One solution to this is to make it optional, but then the engagement and production may not be as beneficial.

Here are ideas for using Twitter outside the classroom.

  • Students can tweet questions/comments about their assigned readings.
  • Students can tweet points of disagreement with their assigned readings.
  • Students can tweet questions or comments about the lecture after the class.
  • Students can simply share quotes or insights about what they are learning about.

Here are some other articles I found on the subject.

  • Structured Twitter Assignments – Examples of how Twitter is being used in innovative ways in higher education. [Agile Learning, by Derek Bruff, Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics.]
  •  Teaching with Twitter – Twitter allows me to stay in touch with my students quickly and easily, it fosters discussion in the classroom, and it helps to create a community among my students.