Controversy brings out the best and worst of us. Sadly, it does more of the latter. Since Americans have a tendency towards superficial understanding and a tendency to believe someone is attacking us when they disagree with our viewpoint, it adds a further impediment to productive disagreements.
Paul Griffiths, who recently resigned from Duke Divinity articulated sharp disagreement with a training program to increase understanding of racism. I’m not sure Professor Griffiths conveyed his concerns in the wisest way (he has said as much), but there is an important lesson for all of us: sharp disagreements can be very productive. Here are some of Professor Griffiths reflections:
Harsh and direct disagreement places thought under pressure. That’s its point. Pressure can be intellectually productive: being forced to look closely at arguments against a beloved position helps those who hold it to burnish and buttress it as often as it moves them to abandon it. But pressure also causes pain and fear; and when those under pressure find these things difficult to bear, they’ll sometimes use any means possible to make the pressure and the pain go away. They feel unsafe, threatened, put upon, and so they react by deploying the soft violence of the law or the harder violence of the aggressive and speech-denying protest. Both moves are common enough in our élite universities now, as is their support by the powers that be. Tolerance for intellectual pain is less than it was. So is tolerance for argument.
For me, the sky-flower has fallen to the ground, its petals scattered but bearing still the beauty of a remembered reverie. I bear responsibility, of course: my class, my intellectual formation in the snidely and aggressively English dialectic of debate, my eye-to-the-main-chance polemical temperament, and no doubt other deep and damaged traits of which I’m scarcely aware, all had their part to play in bringing the sky-flower to earth.
The rest is here: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/university-love
Interview with the eminent philosopher, Martha Nussbaum:
Name a writer or publication you disagree with but still read.
This strikes me as the most hilarious question, given that I’m a philosopher. Philosophy is all about respectful disagreement, and learning from disagreement. No decent philosopher simply parrots some other philosopher, so there must be disagreements somewhere in every case.
I disagree less with J.S. Mill than with any other major philosopher, but I still disagree with Mill a good deal. Aristotle is insightful on some matters, not so insightful on others. As for Plato, Kant, Bentham, Sidgwick, and Rawls, my disagreements are larger, but still compatible with thinking that in some very major ways they were on the right track. I would not say that about Lord Devlin or James Fitzjames Stephen, but I still teach both, in order to learn from their arguments.
If I didn’t disagree with a philosopher it would hardly be worth engaging with him or her, because there would be nothing to learn.
The entire interview is here:
There is an irony of sorts with the quote below. Greg Boyd, who mentioned it on his Twitter account, is a pastor and scholar. He holds to Open Theism, a position, I do not. Boyd wrote a terrific book called The Myth of a Christian Nation. I recommend it highly.
Lesson: All of us must be careful to listen and learn from others, even when we are predisposed to write them off.
“You are truly open minded when, instead of looking for what’s wrong in your opponent’s position, you’re looking for what might be right.” (Greg Boyd)
The comment below is to a friend about one of his friends. It is easy to know what the friend of my friend doesn’t believe (it includes some of the silliness I don’t believe), but tough to know what he believes. Here’s the analogy I came up with:
At the end of it all I scratch my head every time wondering what he still believes. He states various presuppositions, but it seems he holds to a faith so tentative that it is difficult to see any scandal of the cross. Lots of bad meat is sliced off the theological turkey, but it seems we won’t be eating any meat at his house. Instead, it looks like he is only keen on using the carcass for spiritual soup.
I trust several of you are wrestling with what Rod Dreher has dubbed The Benedict Option. Much needed conversation, with quite a bit of feisty debate is being spawned by Dreher’s book. I will be reviewing Dreher’s book and a few others which are being called “alarmist” by some, but for now let me direct your attention to a terrific essay by Alan Jacobs (my gratitude to Bill Bridgman for bringing this to my attention). If you don’t read the entire thing, then chew on this:
In 1974, when the great bishop-theologian Lesslie Newbigin retired from his decades of labor in the Church of South India, he and his wife decided to make their way back to their native England by whatever kind of transportation was locally available, taking their time, seeing parts of the world that most Europeans never think of: from Chennai to Birmingham by bus. Newbigin would later write in his autobiography, Unfinished Agenda, that everywhere they went, even in the most unlikely places, they found Christian communities—with one exception. “Cappadocia, once the nursery of Christian theology, was the only place in our whole trip where we had to have our Sunday worship by ourselves, for there was no other Christian to be found.”
If the complete destruction of a powerful and beautiful Christian culture could happen in Cappadocia, it can happen anywhere, and to acknowledge that possibility is mere realism, not a refusal of Christian hope. One refuses Christian hope by denying that Jesus Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, not by saying that Christianity can disappear from a particular place at a particular time.
As quoted in Alan Jacobs, “The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange,” First Things, March 20, 2017
There are many things that certainly could be debated about what was said in Trump’s speech. One is not debatable, at least among Christians. Trump mentioned that God will protect us. Yes, we should pray for God’s protection, but we can’t simply invoke that God will protect us. Did God protect us on 9/11? If the answer is yes, then what does protection mean? If the answer is no, then how can we be confident God will protect us now?
Many Christians are in great need of a slower read through the book of Jeremiah. We are not Israel (or Judah) to be sure which actually makes the point above. If God did not protect the only nation He ever chose to be a light to the Gentiles, how can we believe God is indebted to protect us?!
In my own interactions I’ve found the hardened categories of liberal and conservative, or left and right, to be confusing and not helpful. Too many claim these labels without knowing what they mean.
I’ve never had difficulties interacting, even debating, with liberals in the best sense of that word, or conservatives in the best sense of that word. I have had much difficulty with illiberals who think they are liberals, and conspiratorial folks who claim conservatism. Neither are very knowledgeable of political philosophy or history.
From Alan Jacobs:
Long ago Thomas Kuhn introduced into the history of science the concept of incommensurability: theories whose premises are so radically divergent that adherents of one theory simply cannot speak coherently and usefully with adherents of another. Alasdair MacIntyre would later, in After Virtue, apply this concept to debates in moral philosophy: “Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another…. It is precisely because there is in our society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable.”