A state of the university address might not be a bad exercise. If I might be so bold, as an inveterate outsider who nonetheless has tried to play by the rules, I have been cast in a supporting role—I think a few of my observations might be valid. Some of my more pastoral colleagues try to reassure me that editors influence more people than professors, but in fact, the professors are the ones with the luxury to write books. I get to sit on the bus and read them. I do read many proposals before they become full-fledged books, and, interestingly, I get to discern how someone becomes an “expert.” I worry a little about this latter point. When it comes to religion, there are a few too many experts and dreadfully too few places for them to find gainful employment. This is a volatile mix. I often run across religion experts who have professorships because they are of the right brand. In a way that is almost inconceivable in any other profession, schools where religion is taught are actually allowed to discriminate. This fact may even stretch out, in the case of some religions, to more objective fields. Some religions teach that illness is spiritual rather than physical. Some of them have medical schools, staffed by believers.
This comes back to the privileging of belief. We all believe things, and most of us (if not all of us, when the lights are out) include some irrational things in that realm. Beliefs can change, but not easily. In the case of religions, most often we are taught our beliefs. Sitting back and thinking about those truisms is the ultimate of academic enterprises, and yet few matters have a greater impact on society as a whole than the belief structures of people. If you want to start a university for your brand of religion, after all, the law protects you if you keep your biases on your sleeve. These people get to write books with the credibility that pathetic posers, like the current blogger, are doomed to lack. You see, if someone is an expert, they have to have an institution to prove it. That’s the way higher education works.
I read lots of stuff. I sometimes think maybe I read a little too much because the ideas begin to affect my beliefs. Nevertheless, it is a risk I’m willing to take. It seems to me that if a religion is really as secure as they all pretend to be, you’d be willing to invite a few interlopers in your doors—a few wolves in wolves’ pelts. If the sheep have to run, think of it as a chance to test their belief systems. If the sheep overcome the wolves, then they will have earned the stars in their crowns. Sometimes I am criticized for my liberal approach to things. One thing my training has taught me, however, is that systems carefully reasoned through don’t shy away from challenges. That’s a major difference on many belief-based structures. Beliefs do not appreciate being challenged. They want to be right. But then, don’t we all? It seems to me that the time for allowing prejudice against other religious views has outlived its usefulness. If the truth is the truth, after all, it will be able to stand any fright that the wolves might bring.