Friday, October 28, 2005

Marxists, Christians and dreadhats

This week in an art history intro class that I'm auditing the lecturer asked the class how many of them had been to Florence.

Over half the packed auditorium of undergraduates raised their hands.

However, despite the aura of privilege that surrounds this fine University (not to mention its aura of beauty this time of year), one will I hope not be surprised in my telling you that I've run into a few disciples of that great defender of the underclass, Karl Marx. This doesn't quite bother me. There is nothing so refreshing as dealing with Marxists who tell you so upfront. Particularly annoying are the ones who won't admit it.

Especially when it comes to the field of history, honest Marxists can be some of the best minds to learn from. Regarding raw information such as taxation, social hierarchy, commodity exchange, etc. I can't think of too many better poised to deliver the goods. Should they uncover the facts, there is little that cannot be learned.

The danger of course is from those so committed to their Marxist perspective (or Islamic, or Feminist, or Atheist, or yes, Christian) that they would be willing to consciously distort the facts to support that given perspective. So far I have not encountered such distoritions here.

And so, Cold War being over 'n all, the reds can be fantastic conversation partners. But (and that's a very big but) when it comes to the depths of history, another approach (I hope equally welcome in the Academy) is of particular assistance.

So let's play fair - is the Christian perspective as welcome?

Here are the words of Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette on looking at history from an unapologetically Christian perspective. And though his pomo sensitivity may sound like he wrote this yesterday, the date was in fact 1953 (you'll have to forgive him, as he was a bit ahead of his time).
"If it is complained that [the Christian approach] is not an 'objective' approach, it must be remembered that pure objectivity does not exist, even in the natural sciences. One is either for or against Christianity: there is no neutral or strictly 'objective' ground. Reason has a legitimate place. We must employ it in testing what are presented to us as facts and in searching for other facts. But truth is not attained by reason alone. The insight that is born of faith can bring illumination. Faith is not credulity and if that which is called faith ignores reason it does so to its peril. But uncritical confidence in reason as the sole or final criterion is a blind act of credulity which may be even more dangerous than a faith which disdains reason. Throughout the chapters which follow is the conviction that the faith which is stimulated by contact with the Christian Gospel, the faith which is the commitment to God of the whole man, body, mind, and spirit, the commitment which is the response in love to God Who is love and Who in His love has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, opens the mind towards the true understanding of history. That we fail to understand history is due to our lack of such a commitment. That we understand it partly but imperfectly arises from a commitment which is real but incomplete. No one of us has made a full commitment. If we are honest with ourselves we know how limited our commitment is. We should, therefore, never claim infallibility for our interpretation of history. Yet so far as the faith which follows commitment has been given to us, we must seek in its light to perceive the road which man has thus far traversed." (xxi).
Particularly scandalous in that paragraph, one might suggest, is Latourette's suggestion that his perspective is the true one. But why on earth is that scandalous? Would not a Marxist say the same (I assure you they would)? If there is a better perspective for goodness sakes why not just adopt it? The prerequisite, it seems to me, to your having a given perspective is that you think it is the one that makes the most senses of the facts. I can't imagine anything too much more boring than hearing the lecture of a "Marxist" who thought Marxism was second-best to a superior perspective, but who didn't have the guts to switch allegiances. Kind of like listening to a minister who thinks Christianity is misguided but sticks around for the denominational pension.

Very boring.

What Latourrette doesn't say is that his is the only or supreme perspective. And such arrogance is avoided not because he thinks the Christian perspective on history is flawed, but because his commitment to that perspective, and the God whom it assumes, is less than entire.

Believe it or not Latourette's perpective made for top notch historical work, so much so that he became president of the American Historical Association. And in his presidential address, he wasn't shy about his point of view. The speech was not well received (read the story here). One can imagine the angry wringing of napkins under banquet tables as you read it. People said afterward, "If I had wanted a sermon I'd have gone to church."

Funny, there are times where I've felt like saying "If I had wanted to hear that I'd have gone to a Black Panther rally." But such is the effect of living in a place, called a University, where all perspectives are (supposedly) welcome.

Finally, how could I have gone so long without a commercial break from my sponsor? At least that's how I like to think of them (not sure how they feel about it though).

Without dreadhats reading my little red book was tiresome - with it however, all is well.

Dreads or not, buy one! Support small businesses. You're not a Marxist are you?