The Nightmares of a Tenured Cipher
I’m very jealous of my gagboy, because he is going have fun being one major pain in the ass to his teachers. Not because I want him to be mindlessly rebellious or skeptical, but because I would like for him to recognize and combat stupidity, which is perhaps what our society needs more than anything else. As Dennis Prager always says, we live in the “age of stupidity,” and no one is more at fault for this than our educational establishment, from K, where they brand 5 year-old boys sexual predators for pinching a girl's bottom, right through graduate school, where they excuse presidents for acting like 5 year-old sexual predators. There is literally no bigger rip-off in all of America than a college education at an elite university. Is there anything else you can think of that costs so much but has no correlation with quality?
What is so shocking to me is that, of all people, my generation -- the baby boomers -- should have been the first to see through the scam. We are the most overeducated generation in history. Since most of us have had the experience of going to college, one would think that we would be the most disenchanted. We have seen behind the curtain. We know full well that for most people it’s just an expensive piece of paper.
Not so for my father, who had only an eighth grade education in England. Although he became a successful businessman, I am sure he was quite self-conscious about his lack of education. And yet, it didn’t show. Speaking with him, you would never know that he hadn’t been to college. In terms of business, I am sure he had as much practical know-how as any MBA. In fact, he had certain innate business skills that no college can teach, in that he was a born salesman. Not in any “hard sell” sense of the term, but because in every interaction with someone, from the mailman, to a bank teller, to his subordinates, he made people laugh and feel a little better about being alive.
Nevertheless, because he hadn’t been to college, it was naturally a very awesome and mysterious place -- even more so, since he had absorbed the class consciousness of England, where everyone knows their place, and if not, there’s someone nearby to remind them of it. So I and my three brothers all went to college, which for me was a singularly underwhelming experience. Even in graduate school, where I did have one particularly brilliant and irreplaceable mentor, the vast majority of my education was self-directed. By then, I had begun an intense inner quest that had its own energy and dynamic, and drew what it needed to itself. And what it needed was far beyond anything college could offer. Being a “student” merely provided me with the time and space required to embark on the journey. The location or status of the physical college would not have mattered.
These meditations were provoked upon reading this editorial by a professor Mark Taylor, Faith That Refuses Questions. A bit of quick research on amazon reveals that he is indeed what I suspected, one of those vacuous postmodern intellectual laborers who gets paid for messing with children’s brains. Here is a description of one of his books, About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture: “What is religion about in the late 20th century? In a virtual world where surface images provide the depth of reality, what role does religion play? These are only two of the many questions that Taylor explores in his inimitably playful way. He begins by asking how can we engage in speculation about the existence of God after God's death and he argues that Melville's 'The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade' provides the best portrait of the bankruptcy of faith.”
Playful? Even a game has a point. What’s his?
“In other essays, Taylor.... explores the similarities between ancient alchemy and the virtual Postmodern culture. ‘Today's alchemists,’ he notes, ‘sublimate base matter into immaterialities on fiber-optic networks where everything is light.’ Where is religion in the late modern age? Taylor concludes: ‘The religion that today calls for reflection does not answer questions or provide meaning but abandons us... [It is] forever turning toward what is always slipping away; we can never be certain what religion is about.’ As comfortable talking about Karl Marx as about contemporary sculptors Fred Sandback and Richard Serra, Taylor courses through the history of ideas and the images of pop culture to demonstrate that religion, art and literature are cultural constructs inextricably bound together.”
Playful, or hideously pompous bloviation crying out for an editor? One of those two.
Here’s the first paragraph of the book. Like so much academonic nonsense, it would have to go a long way to be even wrong: “Faith is a confidence game whose stakes are undeniably economic. There is an economy of faith that mirrors and is mirrored by faith in economics. The speculum in which this play of mirrors is staged is the space of speculation. But what does it mean to speculate? What are the stakes of speculation? Is it still possible to credit speculation or to have confidence in any economy? When the economy is theological -- and what economy is not implicitly or explicitly theological? -- do speculative systems credit or discredit the currency of belief? At this late date, might it be possible that the only way to credit faith is to discredit what was once named God?”
What utter, flaming bulls*** masquerading as thought. $40,000 a year to fill your freshman child’s head with this kind of sophomoronic mush?
Anyway, like me, Professor Taylor is worried. However, we are worried about opposite things. While I am worried about his influence on students, he is worried that “more American college students seem to be practicing traditional forms of religion today than at any time in my 30 years of teaching,” which he calls “religious correctness” -- thereby confusing the disease with its cure.
He is obviously upset, because these religiously correct students seem immune to the charms of his academically correct vacuities. “Indeed,” he writes, “it seems the more religious students become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about faith.” Translated, this means that these dangerous students are less willing to confuse a prideful ability to doubt anything with the discernment of truth.
Taylor claims that “professors invite harassment or worse by including ‘unacceptable’ books on their syllabuses or by studying religious ideas and practices in ways deemed improper by religiously correct students.” I find this impossible to believe -- that the real problem on college campuses is not that they are politically correct factories for the inculcation of leftist thought, but that they cater too much to the religiously inclined.
He even makes the paranoid assertion that “Distinguished scholars at several major U.S. universities have been condemned, even subjected to death threats, for proposing psychological, sociological or anthropological interpretations of religious texts.” As if this is a genuine concern -- as if it takes great courage -- or any courage at all -- to denigrate and devalue religion on a college campus. The idea is preposterous. It takes more courage for a Hollywood celebrity to come out as a liberal.
Taylor then says that “In the most egregious cases, defenders of the faith insist that only true believers are qualified to teach their religious tradition.” To which one can only reply, “well duh.” Any religion, in order to be understood, must be understood “from the inside,” because that is precisely the sort of knowledge embodied in religion: interior knowledge. Religions are not about the horizontal, objective, or quantitative world, and to treat them as such is to misunderstand them, precisely. They are specifically roadmaps of the cosmic interior, and only someone who knows the territory on a first hand basis is qualified to teach about it.
It is absolutely no different with, say, psychoanalysis, which cannot be understood objectively, but only subjectively. Its truths must be experienced, or they are no truth at all, just empty “k.” It is no coincidence that the most egregious misunderstandings and misapplications of psychoanalysis have always come from academia, because intellectuals naturally believe it is something that can be greedily understood just like any other merely intellectual system.
The purpose of an elite university education is no longer to become educated -- to acquire a well-furnished mind and familiarize oneself with the best things that have been thought and said -- but to become stupid by elevating a means to an end. Thus, upon contact with his luckless students, Professor Taylor tells them “that if they are not more confused and uncertain at the end of the course than they were at the beginning, I will have failed.” In short, the goal of education is to make students as lost and confused as Professor Taylor, through the deification of man’s capacity to doubt anything.
Yes, the ultimate purpose of higher education is “to cultivate a faith in doubt that calls into question every certainty.” $40,000 per year to learn nothing -- to be steeped in postmodern nihilism and call it education. Again, not even wrong -- just sanction from an adult to engage in adolescent rebellion for the rest of one’s life.
“The aim of critical analysis is not to pass judgment on religious beliefs and practices... but to consider the many functions they serve.”
Oh, I doubt that. I think the purpose of critical analysis is to undermine the sacred covenant between words and things and therefore thought and reality. Said another way, its purpose is to cement the bond between nonsense and tenure, so that third rate minds can have a lifetime job metastasizing their sophistry.
The Professor avers that religions don’t deal in truth, but are merely “networks of symbols, myths and rituals, which evolve over time by adapting to changing circumstances.”
Oh, I doubt that as well. He’s actually talking about his own flabby and undisciplined mind, which is indeed an evolving agglomeration of myths and rituals. Here is an example of what is called projection: “If chauvinistic believers develop deeper analyses of religion, they might begin to see in themselves what they criticize in others.” Un-projecting the statement and returning it to its rightful owner, it should read: if frivolous know-nothing professors engage in a deeper analysis of their ideology, they will see that they are every bit as steeped in faith as the religionists they criticize -- only more so.
Taylor conludes by noting that “Until recently, many influential analysts argued that religion, a vestige of an earlier stage of human development, would wither away as people became more sophisticated and rational. Obviously, things have not turned out that way.”
Obviously not. Those analysts -- including Professor Taylor -- were neither as sophisticated nor as rational as people had supposed, but remain mired in that vestigial stage of human development known as adolescence. It’s just a shame that our own adolescents have to learn the “facts of life” from their fellows instead of an informed adult.
It is corrupting to hear or read the words of men who do not believe in truth. It is yet more corrupting to receive, in place of truth, mere learning and scholarship which, if they are presented as ends in themselves, are no more than parodies of the truth they were meant to serve, no more than a facade behind which there is no substance. --Father Seraphim Rose