25 May 2015

The Politicised Academy

I've told this story before but it helps to make a point. Many years ago while in seminary I wrote a review of JM Kik's "An Eschatology of Victory" and I passed it on to a friend who was attending a congregation with not a few Postmillennialists. They love this book, it's part of their theological canon and I knew my review would not be appreciated.

I was quite critical of Kik and pointed out some significant errors in his presentation, exegesis and reasoning. One of the Postmillennialists told my friend that my review was poorly done and very unscholarly. He was especially disappointed that a seminarian had produced it.

Now my professor who was by no means in agreement with me on my assessment of Kik, gave me an 'A' on the project and I was praised for my thorough treatment.

What's the lesson?

I learned that scholarly assessment can be somewhat subjective. If I had written in favour of Kik the Postmillennialist would have probably praised my erudite ability and professional due diligence. And I would have still got an 'A'.

Some will contest this and say that good and proper scholarship is something that is recognizable. While I don't doubt that is somewhat true I think it's pretty tough on a practical level. A Biblically-minded author will never meet the 'scholarly' standards of a mainstream theological school. And frankly a theologically liberal scholar will always appear to conservative eyes a poor and terribly biased scholar when approaching any theological issue. There are always assumptions at work and it is both rare and difficult to find them obscured. It's easy to present your work as scholarly and pepper your work with abundant quotes. This is all the more true as the various camps fund 'scholars' to produce such 'academic' works that can be cited and given credibility within their own circles and echo chambers.

When it comes to history there are somewhat more objective standards. Some authors get carried away in their interpretation and commentary and even when restraining this impulse, it is still impossible to escape all bias. But a careful scholar can help to present an accurate picture... one that is usually less than pleasing to the die-hard partisans of any faction.

When it comes to history I think Christians ought to be very careful and this especially true when history is utilized for political purposes. I believe this tendency represents a flawed theological perspective but nevertheless those that engage in it, if I grant them validity for the sake of argument, ought to be all the more committed to a truthful picture of history in a fallen world. That is if they are Christians concerned with being truthful.

Therefore it is disappointing to see an article like this:

I am familiar with Grove City College and there are some good men affiliated with the institution. I would hope they too would be saddened to witness this kind of 'scholarly' work being produced by their colleagues.

Monroe is probably best known for the Monroe Doctrine and its implication and application have had a profound effect on the history of the hemisphere. It implicitly assumed a certain ideology which needs to be considered and as a Christians it's something we need to weigh as we look back on the history of the United States.

This scholar did not feel the need to mention it. Such an omission is inexcusable.

Leaving the Monroe Doctrine aside, this albeit brief work of hagiography, for that's what it is, also engages in blatant and frankly manipulative anachronism.

He also posits:

I think the reason Monroe ran unopposed was that nobody at that time felt threatened by the federal government. In 1820, Uncle Sam was still confined to original duties of keeping Americans safe and upholding contracts and property rights. In other words, in the minds of free Americans, there was neither a handout to be gained from the federal government nor the threat of confiscation of a portion of one’s property for redistribution to special interests. In short, the government was limited, unobtrusive, and benign.

The underlining was mine and simply represents his 'links' to other articles on these points that have nothing to do with Monroe or his times.

Is this pertinent to assessing Monroe or is this plug for his political agenda in our own day? It wouldn't be scholarly to point out the United States had a population of about 10 million at the time with seemingly endless frontiers, land, resources and slave labour. No, to mention 'handouts' and 'confiscation' (itself misleading) was certainly a scholarly observation.

I also find it interesting that career politicians are usually condemned by the Right, but in this case it is something to be celebrated. Also, to discuss the collapse of the Federalist Party... that wouldn't be pertinent to the discussion either. Apparently that had nothing to do with Monroe's easy path. This scholar has already worked it all out for us.

I'm not against offering an interpretation or opinion but I think one ought to at least mention that a point might be controversial or that there might be other views. I'm not a scholar of course but that seems like maybe a responsible thing to do, and certainly helpful to readers... that is if I really want them to learn and understand an issue. That is if I'm not trying to manipulate them.

I might want readers to also consider the issue of Liberia and its capital 'Monrovia' as well as the Seminole Wars and maybe as a Christian I might want to address Monroe's view on religion. But I'm afraid these points might destroy the picture the author is trying to paint.

Considering Grove City College's connections with Presbyterianism and figures like Machen I would think the author would be interested in the fact that Presbyterians of the day referred to Monroe as something of an infidel.

Grove City's Center for Vision and Values has won numerous awards and is widely recognized. Typical of most think-tanks it is little more than an echo-chamber filled with two-bit hack 'scholars' that are little more than academic mercenaries. This is to be expected of the world but when I see so-called Christians engaged in this sort of thing it needs to be called out for what it is... lies, deception and evil.

The Wikipedia article on Monroe is more scholarly and informative than this work produced by a supposedly Christian institution.

It's also disappointing that The Aquila Report, a site utilized by many Christians supposedly searching for sound news and information would deem it worthy of a reposting.

Welcome to American Christianity in the year 2015. Truth is only what is politically convenient.