"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." ~ T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bill Maher and Liberty University

I recently posted something on Facebook that I feel is an appropriate extension of the conversations we had in class.

Rather than summarize, I'll let you see for yourself. I posted the following:

"Wildly inappropriate. Highly offensive. Religiously insensitive. And, on some levels, true. No, Mitt Romney. No, Glenn Beck. Jesus did not write the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence was not bequeathed unto us by Him. They were written by incredibly intelligent men, who were educated at institutions that taught science, not dogma. I'm not saying Bill Maher is right -- I'm saying, take a grain of salt with your religion-inspired nationalism.


So, here's my question - is Bill Maher (venomous hatred for religion, the Right, and Mitt Romney aside) correct? Is a degree from Liberty University the equivalent of a degree from a similar, secular, institution?

And going further, is it okay to infuse religion with our history, thereby creating a modern religiously-inspired nationalism? It's hard for me to avoid feeling absolutely horrified when I see paintings of Jesus giving the country the Constitution. I'm angry that religion is being brought into a (proclaimed) secular government, I'm sad that society is cheapening religion by imagining Jesus composing law, and I'm frustrated that it has become increasingly difficult to separate the mainstream Right from the theocratic-mongering idiots like Glenn Beck. I worry that paintings like the one shown in the video are the very beginnings of the creation of a theocracy that is a mere Christian reflection of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And even MORE worrisome, is the fact that it took the angry, mean-spirited, media-mogul Bill Maher to make me ask these questions.


1 comment:

  1. I saw this a few days ago when you first posted it, but didn't have the time just then to comment thoughtfully. I think that you (and Bill Maher, offensive and in his own way, ignorant, as he is) bring up a problem that I see and that is part of my motivation for teaching my classes the way that I do. There is and has been a strange merging of the evangelical strains of Christianity with the founding of the United States. I have always gotten really itchy when I hear people talk about how our country was founded as a Christian nation, mostly because it is just untrue. There are Christian moral principles at play, certainly, but that is a far cry from establishing a religious nation, which is, as far as I can tell, the opposite of what the constitution attempts to do. And this is part of what is so strange to me in this recent attempt to equate the founding documents of our country with sacred texts. In my mind this lessens the value of the Bible and elevates the value of the constitution, and that is a very odd movement from a group of people who seem to hold the Bible as the governing religious factor in their way of life. I think it is also highly problematic when a group of people begins to label texts, previously thought of as secular documents as sacred. Not just because it is a mislabeling, but it means that any document can then be declared sacred, and that is a major problem, especially if the way a group of people approaches a sacred text is with a literal, factual hermeneutic. I think you are right to see the harbingers of theocracy in this. And that's scary.

    Ok, those are my ominous thoughts on the first idea. As to the second concerning the legitimacy of a degree from a place like Liberty, in a lot of ways that makes things more complicated. My own undergraduate degree comes from a similar institution, but I learned a great deal about English literature there, and, perhaps in spite of the overall tenor of the institution, that is the place where I first learned to really think thanks to thoughtful, and at times, subversive faculty members. So, what I am trying to say, is maybe we can't judge this book by its cover. Or at least not all of it. In another vein, if we start to control what private universities teach, I think we begin to cause problems. And I think that in the larger society this particular issue solves itself. Before we even begin to talk about religion, everyone knows that a degree from Liberty does not hold as much weight as a degree from Harvard or Yale. And when you add the religious element to it, I imagine that anyone hiring a science graduate from Liberty for a secular science job, may have some questions to ask about his or her education, but then that is their job. Universities are ranked all the time based on the quality of the education they offer. And I think that is the way to solve this problem. If the education is substandard, the ranking will be lower...as I imagine it currently is.

    But this brings me to something that Maher said that really bugged me (not that there wasn't a lot that bugged me), which is that he seemed to make a dichotomy between religion and education. I think this is a false dichotomy. St. Anselm, A Christian theologian from the 12th century coined the term "fatih seeking understanding." In my mind I think you could say that this is faith being educated, learning to better understand, which means that faith should not be blind or afraid of learning. The mistake Maher makes (placing religion and education at odds) is a mistake that many religious people also make, fearing education and discovery as a secularizing force. I think, above all, this dichotomy needs to be overcome. If that can happen, places like Liberty won't fear teaching all aspects of science. But Maher, but playing into the idea that religion and education are opposites, only drives the wedge between the two a bit deeper. He is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.