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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Introduction to Theology Texts, Fall 2006 
5th-Apr-2006 01:09 am
Marquette University
Well, staying right to the basics for the reading for the first Introduction to Theology courses I'll be teaching next year:




* Note: I couldn't find an image of the Marquette Department of Theology Introduction to Theology reader, but in doing a Google search for it, I did find this pixelated bad picture of me (looking to my eye strangely like Steve Taylor here) talking with Prof. Bryan Massingale at the opening party from this school year, so I substituted with this for no real reason.
Comments 
5th-Apr-2006 10:26 am (UTC)
What we read of Mere Christianity was badly argued and illogical.
5th-Apr-2006 11:15 am (UTC)
Um... not to be rude or contrary.... From your responses when you reported on it earlier, it was more just a problem that you guys tended to misunderstand it a lot: the subject matter seemed to be so far off your beaten path that you tended to read the worst possible misinterpretations into the text. I was at times aghast at what you thought you had read, and so you kept arguing with things that weren't there. But that's only beginner stuff: it's hard going to try to feel out the core of an entire science without an instructor, and even reading a basic introduction can leave you flailing about like that. I'm sure you see the same thing in your field with people ill-prepared to handle it from the beginning, much less master it. Remember the grief you gave the science reporter who said that bit about the Chinese rocket "begin affected by Earth's gravity?"

The reason I'm inclined to use it is that after asking around, I've heard that the more formal introductions to theology tend to be even more difficult for undergraduates just because there is such an absence of any kind of philosophical and theological formation through elementary and secondary education; even a text this stripped-down needs a lot of coaching from an instructor in such an odd educational situation.
5th-Apr-2006 11:45 am (UTC)
But surely logic is logic in any discipline? A well though out argument is just as vaild in your field as ours. Plus, did he not write it as a book for the average person, not scholars? And therefore as such, it should be clear and concise and not cointain hidden and subtle levels of meaning. So I would argue that as an introduction to Christianity for the average person, this books fails, because we are those average people, not religious scholars, and we found it confusing and illogical.
5th-Apr-2006 12:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, absolutely! And one can argue with his argument at different points, or with his logic, just as with anyone else. But prior to that, you have to correctly understand what is being proposed, otherwise you're arguing against something that isn't there, or worse, against a straw man of one's own devising. Yes, at that point, as an educator, it was just obvious to me that you guys were more arguing past him rather than with him. Given the anti-intellectual point we are at in Western intellectual history with regard to these things, that's not terribly unusual.

However, I dare say that in my classroom under my dynamic pedagogy and and insightful commentary, you guys, like my students this fall semester, would doubtless be able to read the text without the beginners' hiccups disrupting your reading nearly so badly because we can deal with those as they come up. You know how much of a difference a competent instructor can make in guiding you into seeing something in a minute that you could have wasted hours with the textbook or formulae trying to work out on your own. But I'll still suspect that I can break through with the basics more easily with this text than with others. I thought about using Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict's 1967 or 68 Introduction to Christianity but one of the profs here who has used it said that that one had proved to be too hard for freshmen, and now too much removed from its European context. I know this text, though, and I know what I can do with it, so I'm pretty confident, even despite seeing the problems.

But again, you have to understand: I've been dealing with all of this in one way or another, starting as a student of ancient history, for well over a decade now. I know all the stereotypical intellectual prejudices at their most lofty and their most popular. So all the assumptions: that Christianity is incompatible with the scientific worldview (despite creating it); or that "religion" is a subject about which the less you know the more informed or "neutral" you are (unlike everything else in reality); or that "religion" is a pure social/anthropological construction and therefore can't be true (as though this weren't circular reasoning) and cannot/ought not to be investigated in an academic fashion (again, unlike everything else in reality)––this is all very, very old hat to me. I could hardly be a believer in my mode if I hadn't thought through all the arguments a hundred different ways. It's been years since I've met a dogmatic atheist who can attack Christianity more competently than I do pretty much every day. So yes, I can understand your critique of the book as not having sufficiently achieved its goal of being utterly popularly accessible, but you have to understand that even in the sixty-odd years since it was written, our cultural self-censorship regarding these subjects has become much stronger, even moreso in the U.K. Try to imagine what state physics (and its attendant technologies) would be in if it had been subjected to such a constant social pressure to not even think about such subjects, much less build a strong cultural basis for discussing them in detail and depth. If people constantly told you smugly that since physics is all just a matter of opinion anyway––and they couldn't be bothered to put in the years that it might take to learn how to analyze it competently––and that just because you're an "expert" in it, that doesn't make what you have to say on the subject any more informed than what they want to say about it, you'd be astounded. That kind of anti-intellectual obfuscation is everyday work for my field, given the odd cultural turns in the last two centuries.

Even with overt hostility to Christianity, yes, it's a great deal of work to have to try to break things down to the level of the beginner because I've so dealt with that stuff for so long. I'm sure in your own teaching, you struggle too when you realize some of the utterly simple models of physics students have in their heads--if they have any model at all! Nothing's more befuddling than when you thought you've broken things down sufficiently and you suddenly discover that the students are at some more beginning level of imagining what you're talking about.
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