Sunday, March 5, 2023

In which certain people miss the point.

I will probably regret using both of these ideas in a single post. One of these days, I'll be out of ideas again and wish I'd saved one of them. But my opinion about both is similar, and it can be summed up this way: These people are missing the point.

dcdp | Deposit Photos

First, this article from The Atlantic, in which the author -- Timothy Keller, the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Manhattan -- argues that Christianity in America is due for a revival. Not the kind of revival with shouting and praising Jesus and the laying on of hands and so forth, but the resurgence kind. He notes that nearly 30 percent of Americans professed a belief in no religion in 2021, while the number of folks professing to be Christian dropped from 75 percent ten years ago to 63 percent in 2021. But the situation isn't hopeless, he says; he goes on to talk about how the Christian Church has a habit of creating "unexpected innovations": among them, the development of monasticism, which he credits with converting Northern European pagans, and the Reformation. "Christianity, like its founder, does not go from strength to strength but from death to resurrection," he says. 

I find it fascinating that he glosses over the pain and suffering such "unexpected innovations" have caused. Witness the Thirty Years' War (between four-and-a-half million and eight million dead) and the forced conversions of Jews in Spain, as well as of Native Americans by missionaries who accompanied the conquistadores throughout North America.

Anyway, Keller goes on to say that a Christian revival needs to have three things: 

  1. The church must back away from politics. Sounds good to me.
  2.  An "extraordinary amount" of communal prayer. So, like, lots of people praying together in public? Have at it, as long as I'm not forced to participate.
  3. "[T]he Church will have to clearly declare that there are moral absolutes—which will be unpopular, to say the least. It will be called domineering and abusive..." No duh.
This is where Keller misses the point. The Christian Church is losing ground in America not because of the breakdown of society due to individualism or whatever, but because people are rejecting the church's stern paternalism and outright corruption (pedophile priests, as one example). The paternalism, at least, Keller sees as a feature, not a bug. But the more Americans learn about such abuses, the more we question why we should put our faith in an institution that champions moral absolutism except when it concerns the behavior of its own.

Which brings me to the second article I wanted to talk about: this column in Axios, in which Felix Salmon cheers the demise of liberal arts majors like English and philosophy. Salmon comes at it from a business perspective, saying the rising cost of a college education, coupled with "the rising opportunity cost of going to college," will toll the death knell for any degree that won't get a student a good-paying job. 

What's this "opportunity cost" thing? Well, he says, college students lose years of wages while earning a credential that a lot of employers no longer require. An embedded link leads to a CNBC story about IT employers lowering education requirements to attract more applicants. But wait a minute -- aren't tech firms laying off tens of thousands of workers right now?

Furthermore, it's only been within the last few decades that a four-year degree has been considered the best route to a good job. The philosophy behind the undergraduate liberal arts degree has always been that such a course of study teaches a student to think. 

The student who wants to make a lot of money then goes on to a graduate-level degree -- in medicine or law or business or one of the sciences. 

If what the student is after is career training, that's what community colleges and technical schools are for. But a liberal arts degree isn't that, has never been that, and should never have been considered to be that.

Salmon admits that the skills he learned as an undergrad, majoring in philosophy and art history, have proven "very useful over and over again." But he's resigned to the liberal arts degree bowing to capitalist pressure and returning to being a thing that only rich kids can afford to do.

I would add, somewhat snarkily, that rich kids need that training so they can take their places as our overlords. Worker bees don't need to learn how to think, right? That just leads to things like, oh, say, questioning the boss. And rejecting organized religion.


These moments of head-scratching blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (B.A. in journalism, 1979; M.A. in fiction writing, 1995). Stay safe!

1 comment:

Yvonne Hertzberger said...

Hear, hear.