Return to NURELWEB or ACADEMIC ARTICLES or EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY
ON CHRISTIANITY AND CALL-GIRLS
Department of Religious Studies
University of Calgary
No doubt this statement will surprise some people and shock
others. Agnostics will be surprised because Christians are supposed
to be intellectual ostriches. Many Christian students will be
shocked because they enjoy being ostriches.
The truth of the matter is that for me to be a Christian is
to belong to a great cultural tradition with a rich intellectual
heritage. And the Christian tradition is in constant dialogue
with other traditions and cultures. Christianity is not, and never
was, an easy escape from intellectual life or practical concerns.
Goethe's Faust can lament:
Haven't I studied Philosophy, Law, Medicine, and unfortunately Theology. And don't I remain a poor fool no wiser than when I began...(355-357. My translation)
But, this is not the experience of Christians through the
ages. Rather, like Socrates they agree that self knowledge is
the beginning of all knowledge. Or, as Calvin put it:
Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. (Institutes I.I.I).
Yet self-knowledge is the very thing which many avoid in both
the modern university and contemporary church.
The university has become a multiversity where navigating
the information highway is rapidly replacing the acquisition of
wisdom. Instead of seeking truth academics have become call-girls
running after the latest social fad in the hope of securing big
grants or escaping from the stress of research and teaching into
vast make-work projects known as administration.
Instead of adopting effective management practices universities
are bedeviled with colonial style administrations which encourage
empire building and political games. Years ago Arthur Koestler
recognized this trend in his novel The Call-Girls (1972). Academics in his view are no better
than call-girls who sell themselves to the highest bidder.
Yet, lest anyone take this amiss it needs to be remembered
that complaining about universities and university organization
is nothing new. Robbie Burns diagnosed the same trends that we
see today in his acidic poem "The Dean of Faculty,"
where he takes aim at both a corrupt academy and indolent church:
But Scot to Scot ne'er met so hot,It may be thought by some that Burns is too profane to take seriously. So let's look again at John Bunyan who shared the disdain of Burns towards both academia and established religion. Thus, in The Holy War it is the educated "young fellows" Mr. Tradition, Mr. Human-wisdom, and Mr Man's-invention who desert their Lord because:
Or were more in fury seen, Sir,
Than 'twixt Hal and Bob for the famous job,
Who should be the Faculty's Dean Sir.
This Hal for genius, wit and lore,
Among the first was numbered;
Yet simple Bob the victory got,
And wan his heart's desire,
Which shews that heaven can boil the pot,
Tho' the devil piss in the fire.
So their worships of the Faculty,
Quite sick of merit's rudeness
Chose one who should ow it all, d'ye see,
To their gratis grace and goodness
With your honours, as with a certain king,
In your servants this is striking,
The more incapacity they bring,
The more they're to your liking.
they did not so much live by religion as by the fate of fortune.
Naturally, after their treachery they were promoted by their
Similarly, in The Pilgrim's
Progress the town of Vanity, whence is held a great
Fair, is home to Lords Turn-About, Time-server and Fair-speech,
as well as Mr. Smooth-man and Facing-both-ways. Here, as By-ends
differ in Religion from the stricter sort, yet but in two small points: First, We never strive against Wind and Tide. Secondly, We are always most zealous when Religion goes in his Silver Slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street, if the Sun shines and the People applaud him.
All of this is rooted in the teachings of the schoolmaster
Mr. Gripe-man from the town of Love-gain who instructs men in:
the Art of Getting, either by violence, cozenane, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of Religion...
Thus it is a small step from Koestler's call-girls to Bunyan's
Mr. Worldly-wiseman. And in this ethos Christian academics and
students must live.
Today, however, few churches can be accused of idolizing culture
and learning. Far more common is the realization that many churches
are built on a bedrock of cultural poverty and ignorance. Fleeing
the alienation of contemporary society far too many people find
refuge in the simplistic anti-gospel of Jesusism.
Following Schleiermacher, the father of theological liberalism,
many evangelical and fundamentalist churches replace belief in
the ontological Trinity with a subjective "commitment to
Christ." Yet such Christian commitment invites psychological
criticism and the dismissal of experiential religion in terms
articulated by Feuerbach and Freud.
Just as the multiversity does not represent the ideal university,
neither do such churches approach the ideal of Christian witness.
In our situation universities and churches are mirror images of
each other through their failure to provide cultural leadership
in a time of disillusionment.
When was the last time a professor was allowed to tell students
that an essay lacked wisdom or that they ought to forget their
grades and think about an issue? When is the last time the pastor
of a church followed Martin Luther's example in telling someone
who was feeling depressed that they ought to drink more wine,
eat, and make merry? (Luther Letters of Spiritual Council, London, SCM, 1965:85-95)
The University of Wittenberg changed the course of civilization.
Martin Luther changed the direction of western culture. What are
we going to change? For far too many people today, as in Bunyan's
time, the only change they want to effect is in their annual salary
and control over others.
To be a Christian academic means asking hard questions about
oneself and one's abilities. It means mastering a discipline,
becoming a good teacher, and producing the first class scholarship
in obedience with God's commandments.
According to Jesus the first commandment is:
Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind, and with all your strength.(Mark
Similarly, the first duty of the Christian student is to be
an excellent student. To fail in this, because one is too busy
"witnessing" to devote sufficient time to study, is
to break the first commandment. Unfortunately, too few students
have read enough of the New Testament to know that rather than
encouraging their anti-intellectualism it condemns it. Far too
many students see Christianity as a means of escape rather than
an adventure to be lived.
Of course to take scholarship seriously means that one's reading
cannot be limited to safe "Christian books." Rather
texts like Walter Kaufmann's Critique
of Religion and Philosophy and Tom Paine's The Age of Reason must be embraced alongside historic and
contemporary classics. Knowing one's chosen field or even mastering
the material in a single course does not mean agreeing with everything
one reads. But, it does mean interacting with required readings
and developing one's own critique.
What does it mean to be a Christian academic? It means recognizing
that education is a gift of God and that we have a responsibility
to serve God in our calling as students. Why am I an academic?
I am an academic because it is an unavoidable Christian calling.
Why am I a Christian? I am a Christian because for me Jesus is:
the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) and as
Thomas a Kempis said:
Without the way,
there is no going,
Without the truth,
there is no knowing,
And without the life,
there is no living.