Friday, September 30, 2011

The Christian University

That's the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. It is adapted from my September 23, 2011 talk at the installation of Myron Steeves as Dean of Trinity Law School. Here's how it begins:
As is evident by where and how we mark this event – in a church, accompanied by prayer and song – Trinity Law School, and the university of which it is a part, is Christian. “Christian” may seem a mere adjective that modifies “university” or “law school” in the same way that “regional” or “California” might.  This temptation arises from a belief – widely held, though rarely challenged, in contemporary culture – that a Christian school is just a secular school except with idiosyncratic accouterments, such as mandatory chapel, rules about personal moral conduct, and a commitment to a list of religious dogmas to which its faculty must subscribe. Although these differences are of no small consequence, they are not, or ought not to be, at the heart of an institution that considers itself seriously Christian.

Let me offer for your consideration the following thesis: A Christian school regards theology as a legitimate academic discipline that informs and illuminates, and is organically connected to, all the other disciplines of the university in the same ways that those other disciplines are connected to each other.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Speaking to the Orange County Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society on September 22

For those who are in the Southern California area, on September 22 I will be speaking to the Orange County Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society. My talk is entitled, "How the Federal Courts' Religious Motive Test Violates Religious Liberty." Co-Sponsored with the Orange County Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, it will be held at 12 noon (11:30 am registration) at the Knobbe Conference Center, 2nd Floor at 2040 Main St., Irvine, 92614. You can read more about the event here.

The next day, September 23, I will be speaking at the installation of the new Dean of Trinity Law School, Myron Steeves, who is a good friend. It is truly an honor to have been invited to participate in this important ceremony.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Revelation, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium

That's the title of my latest column over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
This past Tuesday, September 13, I taught my first RCIA class, offered at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University. Although I have been teaching philosophy to college students for twenty-five years, I was a bit nervous. Thankfully, I have a minor role in the class, leading only one session this semester with perhaps another one or two in the Spring. Our RCIA team consists of several seasoned parishioners, with St. Peter’s gifted pastor, Fr. Anthony Odiong, overseeing the entire enterprise.

I spoke on the topic of Revelation, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium, focusing on how I came to accept the Catholic understanding of this subject in my own journey from Evangelicalism and back to the Church. (I am a revert).

As a Christian philosopher I had always had a keen interest in how faith and reason interact and what that means for both the life of the mind and our walk with Christ. Although I had read many books and articles on these matters by both Catholics and Protestants, the ones that seemed most sensible to me were those that I would later learn were more “Catholic” than “Protestant” in spirit and approach.

So, even though I was an Evangelical, I read with great interest John Paul II’s encyclical, Fides et Ratio: On Faith and Reason soon after it was released in September 1998. After reading it, I concluded that the most important lessons that Evangelicals can learn from this document were the pope’s insights on how certain philosophies will, because of their own internal logic, undermine confidence in the truth of the Gospel message.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An historian's account of Baylor's 1994 invitation to join the Big XII

The recent tempest over Texas A & M's invitation to join the Southeast Conference, and Baylor University's response to it, has resulted in some heated exchanges online. In following these verbal disputes, I have had the misfortune of reading some of the press op-ed accounts of how and why Baylor was invited to join the Big XII in the mid-1990s after the dissolution of the Southwest Conference. Most of these narratives range from the misleading to the outright false.

Fortunately, nearly four years ago a professional historian published an account of Baylor's entry into the Big XII. It is the result of his research into the primary documents as well as extensive interviews with some of the most important figures surrounding the move. Authored by Thomas L. Charlton (Ph.D., University of Texas), Director of the Texas Collection and Professor of History at Baylor University, it appears as a chapter in the book, The Baylor Project (St. Augustine Press, 2007), edited by two of my other colleagues Barry G. Hankins and Donald D. Schemltekopf. Entitled, "A New Aspiration and Opportunity: Baylor and the Big XII Conference," Professor Charlton's chapter is a careful and historically accurate account of Baylor's athletic history and how the university's invitation to join the Big XII came about. It is a clear refutation of the "conventional wisdom" that has become ubiquitous on so many sports pages both online and in print.

I have posted a pdf of Professor Charlton's chapter online here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Secular Gnosticism and "The New York Times"

That's the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
Just this past week, Bill Keller of the New York Times opined about the religious beliefs of several Republican presidential candidates, suggesting clusters of questions that he would like to ask each of them. Keller’s column has been justly criticized and ridiculed by many writers, including the folks at Get Religion. Not only because of the factual errors that pepper Keller’s epistle, but the crude and uncharitable ways in which he communicates and seems to understand the beliefs of the candidates.

Lurking behind his clumsy queries is an intellectual posture I call “secular gnosticism.” It assumes a position of cultural privilege on what counts as knowledge and justified belief, though it is rarely doubted and thus rarely defended. For that reason, its believers do not subject their position, its presuppositions, and its sources of authority to the sort of rigorous interrogation they suggest the beliefs, presuppositions, and sources of authority of religious believers should undergo.

The word “gnostic” comes from the Greek word γνῶσις, which is translated “knowledge.” The Gnostics of the Early Christian Era were considered heretics because they eschewed ecclesiastical authority while claiming esoteric or intuitive knowledge of the divine as a means to escape material reality for the salvation of their souls. That is, the external world and the institutions in it such as the Church were seen as obstacles to the soul’s ascendance to God.

For this reason, the Gnostics were, in a sense and ironically, invincibly ignorant. No amount of contrary evidence, philosophical argument, or Biblical exegesis can convince someone who has private, direct, incorrigible, and impenetrable acquaintance with The Truth. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, “Gnostics were ‘people who knew,’ and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.”

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