Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Estranged Notions: And This All Men Call God

Today's post

And This All Men Call God

I recently asked in a comment:

  1. Why do religious schools pretend to offer "tenure" to professors?
  2. Why does anyone believe them when they do?

The incident at Wheaton is just the most recent example I was thinking of. Cothran tackles the theology of the issue and attempts to defend the ‘same God’ position against some of its critics; but arguably misses the point in a number of important respects.


There's fairly substantial evidence that Wheaton doesn't actually care about the theological details—Prof. Hawkins referred for example to statements by theologian Miroslav Volf, who had years ago been invited to give a lecture on the subject at Wheaton with no controversy—but rather are using the theology as a pretext to violate the tenure of a professor who was seen as insufficiently conformant not to the theological values of the school but to the tribal values of the subculture of which the school sees itself as part. Indeed the Wheaton provost said in private email that Hawkins' statement was ‘innocuous’ and that the issue was one of public relations rather than content.

To express an opinion one way or the other over an issue which is debated as an open question within some academic discipline, without having one's employment put in jeopardy as a result, could be regarded as the central or defining issue of academic freedom. Accordingly, academic freedom does not exist at Wheaton or at any other institution that enforces a “statement of faith” in a similar way, and people should stop pretending that it does.


The question “do Christians and Muslims worship the same god” might not actually mean anything in any semantic sense: if you went to the Oracle of All Truth and asked it, and got a “yes” (or “no”) answer, what would you now know that you previously did not know?

But in the context of the modern world, and especially American Evangelical Christianity, the question really isn't being asked in order to obtain a meaningful answer. Instead, it is being asked as a proxy for the real question, which is: “can Christians and Muslims coexist in society?”. Inherent in this re-interpretation is the implication—understood but never expressed—that if Christians and Muslims do in fact not worship the same god, that that would imply that they could not coexist: it is this false implication that should be rejected. After all, there are many religions which unquestionably do not worship the same god as Christians do.

Relevant links:

Exclusive: Wheaton College Provost Called Suspended Professor’s Muslim Comments ‘Innocuous’ [time.com]