The Atheist Missionary replied to my post on Mike Licona and academic freedom as follows:
“Licona’s experience is precisely why I am so dubious of relying on the opinion of Biblical scholars whose tenure is tied to adhering to the tenets of any particular religion.”
Walter then chimed in:
“Ditto. This is why I am underwhelmed by appeals to scholarly consensus on such issues as the historicity of the “empty tomb.””
Finally, Steven Carr offered his two cents, tongue firmly in cheek:
“But evangelicals do speak out for academic freedom. They live and breathe the motto ‘Teach the controversy’. Their whole raison d’etre is to examine controversy, bring it into the open and teach that there is a controversy.”
Let’s begin with Steven’s facetious comment. It seems that evangelicals are happy to teach some “controversies”. But other controversies? Forget about it. (Or perhaps “Fuggedaboutit!”)
My simple observation in response is that every community is open to the discussion of some controversies and not of others. This was a point I made briefly in my last post. I’ll say a bit more about it here.
Picture a university in your mind. Let’s call it “Average University.” What does a potential new prof need to know about AU before they accept a job there?
Let’s start with the Exxon Institute for Renewable Energy (EIRE). If you are an outside the box kind of thinker who is looking to wean civilization off fossil fuel then this is the place for you. The Institute was started with a sizable donation from, well who do you think? Consequently, while all sorts of lines of research are open at the EIRE, common sense tells the research fellows there are certain topics and lines of research that they don’t pursue, namely ones that would create embarrassment or liability for Exxon: you don’t bite the hand that feeds.
Move over to the Political Science department. See that empty office down the hall? Dr. Speakshismind occupied it for the better part of a decade. And though he was a beloved teacher and had a stellar publishing record, he was denied tenure last year. The reason? That wasn’t made clear to the public. But ask the grad students and you’ll hear that he was too outspoken in his public criticism of the state of Israel and its settlements in Gaza.
Over in the Department of Psychology you could have a lot of room to pursue your own line of resarch. Just don’t go on the record in criticism of the Chair of the Department’s controversial views on evolutionary psychology and rape. He doesn’t take kindly to criticism.
As for the Economics Department, the more you say that is laudatory about the “Chicago School of Economics” the better. If you mention Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine make sure it is part of a punchline (everyone calls it The Schlock Doctrine). And don’t be too critical of the IMF or you’ll be blacklisted. When in doubt, remember that an unregulated economy is the solution to all our ills.
However, the Department of History can’t stand the Poly-Sci or Economics Departments. Everyone in history sings the name “Howard Zinn”, while the economists deride them as “closet communists”. Needless to say, the last sessional who tried to use A Patriot’s History of the United States as a textbook was not invited back.
The philosophy department is chock full of analytic philosophers (Heidegger is considered a bad joke) who are atheists. The last graduate student who was openly Christian only survived because she opted to write her thesis on environmental ethics. The departmental head recently referred to philosophy of religion as a complete waste of time.
Finally, the Religion Department welcomes all different religious views, so long as the scholar in question believes that all religions are an expression of the ineffable one that transcends all things and which is actualizing the world into being (or something like that). Of course the philosophers think the religious scholars are just talking nonsense.
It doesn’t matter where you go in the university: certain conversations are not tolerated. Diversity of opinion, academic freedom, so-called free thought, is always qualified. Needless to say, the same dynamic is at play in the work place and wider society. Thus, it is completely unfair to suggest that these dynamics are uniquely or especially operative in churches and para-church organizations.