One of my readers, Fox, provided a link to Tom Gilson’s glowing review of “God’s not Dead”. In the review Gilson provides some evidence for atheistic professors being hostile toward Christianity. He includes the following case which is perhaps the most striking of them:
“The late Professor Richard Rorty famously announced his intention ‘to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.'”
These are strong words, indeed. But let’s think about this more carefully before we invoke this as yet another choice example of Christians as victims of a great culture war.
What is Rorty rejecting?
To begin with, where does Rorty’s hostility come from? Is it borne of a fist-shaking rebellion directed straight at the Almighty? It might be. But it also might be borne of a deep moral indignation at a church that has often conflated the gospel with various contentious socio-political positions. For example, to what extent might Rorty have bought into the intimate association between Christianity and the pro-military, pro-business, anti-evolution, pro-gun, anti-human induced climate change, anti-public healthcare GOP? Countless Christians throughout history would be horrified by this association, and they too would also be inclined to denounce Christianity under this identity. So it is impossible to draw any lessons until we understand something of Rorty’s target when he renounces “your fundamentalist religious community”.
Fortunately, Gilson provides us with the link from where he drew the quote, an article that originally appeared in World Magazine. Here’s the setup for Rorty’s seemingly anti-Christian comment:
“The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy,” Rorty wrote. “The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students.”
There is no evidence that Rorty is talking about Christianity simpliciter here. Rather, his primary target is a particular religious identity common to the students who come to university from religiously conservative American families. And one suspects that the set of positions against which Rorty is reacting include the above-mentioned GOP’s agenda of pro-military, pro-business, anti-evolution, pro-gun, anti-human induced climate change, anti-public healthcare.
One must wonder, if a Christian came along who rejected all these GOP positions on well reasoned Christian grounds (which it is certainly possible to do), how much would Rorty attenuate his hostility toward this individual and their Christian faith?
Even if Rorty is targeting Christianity, so what?
Let’s imagine, for the moment, that Rorty really does want to make Christian views simpliciter seem “silly rather than discussable.'” I don’t really see what is so shocking about this. What Rorty is doing here is describing the shifting of plausibility frameworks. He wants to undermine the plausibility framework that buoys Christian belief whilst replacing it with a secular one amenable to his views. The key to note is that Christians want to do the very same thing in reverse. We want to bring the discussion to a point where the atheistic and secular plausibility background that frames Rorty’s thinking looks “silly rather than discussable.”
With that in mind, I fail to see the problem with Rorty’s candid comment. Indeed, one might even say he is to be commended for laying his cards on the table. Now let the Christians do the same and let’s begin to have a civil debate.
[In case you’re wondering, “bogeyman” in the title is the proper, original spelling for the mythical beast. Not “boogeyman” or, even worse, “boogie man”.]