Dear Gawker: religious people aren’t stupid, y’know.

I have a love/hate relationship with Gawker. This is because Gawker consistently covers stories I care about in ways that bother me. Gawker basically relies on reporting on stories in a sensational, combative manner to draw pageviews. And nobody exemplifies this combative ethos better than Hamilton Nolan, who is basically Gawker’s resident writer of the overblown manifesto. I like some of the stuff Nolan has done – his collection of “Unemployment Stories” is continually compelling, and his critique of memoir started a really good conversation about the place of the author in fiction.

But I took exception to Hamilton’s recent article, “The Ludicrous Mythology that Christian Colleges Teach as Fact.” The whole thing is kind of a non-article, anyway: it’s basically a repost of an article on a controversy going on at Cedarville from Inside Higher Ed. All it adds to the Inside Higher Ed article is Nolan’s outrage,

Here we have an entire subculture of people who can successfully sell blatant rejection of science as “education” to some poor god damn victims students. Is there not some responsibility for professional educators to avoid passing on things that are clearly mythological as fact? Conversely, can we please come up with a new category for doctrinal religious schools, outside of “education?” How about, I dunno, “hilarious ancient propaganda?”

It’s useful to remember that Christian doctrine is patently absurd, and to allow that to inform your judgment of the intellectual faculties of those who believe it to be true.

Nolan’s critique of Christian intellectualism isn’t an uncommon one – but its an unfair one. Despite the fact that Christian universities teach things I don’t believe about religion, they do provide education. And in some cases, it’s really good education. Sure, its sometimes really bad education – but hey, its not like secular universities don’t have a few splinters in their own eye.

Plus, these universities often tackle areas traditional secular academia won’t touch due to its pretensions. Case in point – I’m currently writing my thesis on Contemporary Christian Worship Music, a topic that literally has not been studied by academics outside of the Christian University despite the fact that every single Protestant you talk to says it is the biggest issue in the modern Church. No less an authority than Rick Warren has proclaimed it to be the key factor in establishing the identity of the Christian congregation. But you know who has studied it? Christian academics. And the books they write on it are good.

Heck, the books Christian academics write on all topics are good. One (secular) academic told me that the best book on evangelism was (Christian) George Marsden‘s Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelism. D.G. Hart, for one, does great work on the history of evangelism.
Here’s the thing: When we talk about Christian academics, we’re basically talking about people who, because of their religious beliefs, understand the world in a unique way. But that’s really true of all of us, religious or nonreligious. I, as a “none”, don’t have an objective perspective on the world because of my lack of religion, rather, I have nonreligious perspective on the world. There were always be ridiculous examples of religious universities like Cedarville, who seek to replicate a doctrine rather than to educate. But it’s important to remember that religious people aren’t dumb – and while the Christian academy, like the secular academy, has its issues, it does have very smart professors and students who do good work. They don’t have lesser “intellectual faculties”, as Nolan suggests.

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