Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Angry Professor Blog" v. Catholic Commentary Blog

“Angry Professor Blog” v. Catholic Commentary Blog

Craig Bernthal

Blogs can be set up without limit. You could have a hundred of your own if you wanted. So a friend of mine recently suggested I might set up a second blog, since this one doesn’t provide what it’s leader promises: review and commentary from a Catholic perspective. I have to agree with him—this site hasn’t quite worked as planned. As he put it, “you could have the angry professor site” and a Catholic commentary site.

            I’ve been thinking about that suggestion ever since. I do want to write entries that not only attempt to see the world from a Catholic viewpoint, but directly address specific topics in theology and philosophy which engage Catholic and other Christian readers. But if these entries don’t’ fit with a blog now focused on academic freedom at Fresno State, why not set up a second blog? I certainly don’t want to give the impression that what I’ve said about Fresno State is specifically grounded in Catholicism or that Catholics can’t disagree about a range of issues. (They do: read First Things in parallel with Commonweal.) I also don’t want to give the impression that I am a particularly good or authoritative or representative Catholic. Moreover, why should Fresno State readers who have an interest in university issues but absolutely no interest in Catholic perspectives on anything be confronted with a mix?

            So why not a second blog?

            My motives for keeping just one blog, despite the possible appearance of schizophrenia, coincide with my motives for creating a blog in the first place. I was tired of living a schizophrenic intellectual life.

We do live schizophrenic lives. It’s an unavoidable aspect of modernity and secularization. As T. S. Eliot put it, our sensibilities are dissociated. I feel this strongly every morning that I drive into Fresno State and cross the property line that separates a secular university from the rest of my life.

In a pluralistic nation, where students in state universities have the right not to be proselytized, responsible teachers don’t push their own religious or political positions. But given these necessary restrictions, professors and students with religious convictions often find themselves split down the middle. The Enlightenment did its best to banish religion to the private sphere, where it would be safely tucked away, out of the public square, like a private hobby. Leading a double life is not just psychologically uncomfortable but intellectually questionable. If a university is all about the search for truth, and you believe the ultimate truth is centered in the execution and resurrection of a first century Jew, then anything you assert which excludes that view is going to be only a half truth, and that means it’s a half lie. Moreover, the idea that the secular university is somehow the “objective” conveyor of truth, without its own creeds and orthodoxies, often more inhaled and exhaled than examined, has been utterly torpedoed by the post-modern critique of the Enlightenment. Secular universities have their own faith-based agendas.

Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to have a writing space where you could just be yourself? Where you wouldn’t have to write to fit someone else’s editorial views, where you could try to do what Blaise Pascal recommends in the motto of this site, and carefully think through issues, utilizing all of your intellectual resources, rather than trying to think while screening out so much of what you actually do think? With this in mind, I have wanted to do a blog for several years. What finally got me off and running, however, was the specific situation of Fresno State, which has occupied all of my entries except for one movie review. (The last two weeks have been a scramble through Blogging for Dummies.)

What I became aware of at Fresno State was great faculty discontent that wasn’t being articulated. I shared that discontent. I finally believed that someone had to articulate it, and I would help that along, if I could. I am not the only one who spoke in public, though I may be the one who has reached the most people so far. But faculty alarm has been articulated by the Ad Hoc Committee in Arts & Humanities in its response to the Budget Task Force recommendations. The Academic Senate is beginning to speak up about its concerns and pass resolutions addressing them. A big faculty group, mainly composed of full professors, is on the verge of going to the public at large. Many emeriti have spoken up. There are others who will be heard from, and the more voices the better. It will give me more chance to fulfill the original idea for this site.

The legitimate thirst for righteousness and justice—as well as the danger of self-righteousness—is part of a biblical heritage which even atheists share with Christians. At the end of the day, the Fresno State entries on this blog may not be out of place after all.

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