My first order of business is to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Hunter Baker, Dr. Ray Van Neste, and all the wonderful people at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, for making me so extremely welcome for the last couple days. It was a tremendous experience for me. I hope it was enjoyable for innocent bystanders as well.
I flew in to Memphis, courtesy of the school, on Monday. Dr. Hunter Baker met me, in two senses. He’s one of those people I’ve known online for years, but we’d never actually been in the same physical space before. He took me out for pizza (very good), and then back to the school for a short tour. That’s when I also got to meet Dr. Ray Van Neste, another online friend and the co-conspirator in my invitation.
They’re both deans. When you’re a dean, you can get away
with spending institutional funds on marginal literary figures.
Tuesday was the most intense day I’ve experienced in a long
time. It’s hard to describe. Hunter told me I wasn’t like he expected, based on
my self-descriptions on this blog. And he was right. I was in a different
reality on Tuesday. I was “on,” as in performing. Like when I used to act.
In retrospect, I’m not at all sure why I decided it would be
a good idea to wear my frock coat, vest, and tie when I visited classes on
Tuesday. Especially when I pulled out my monocle for reading, it must have made
me look distinctly bizarre. But it somehow made sense to me in my altered state
of consciousness. I sat in on Hunter’s Modern Political Thought class that
morning, discussing medieval political thought. Seemed to go OK. In the
afternoon I joined a writing class, and that was quite a bit of fun – or at
least the alien intelligence possessing my consciousness thought so.
All day I was in performance mode, and people enabled me by
asking me questions on subjects about which I had something to say. These elements
combined to make me appear to be an extrovert. The real me just hung on for the
Lunch that day was one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had,
at a local place, and for dinner we joined another dean (whose name I’ve
forgotten, I fear) for a memorable meal at the nicest place in town. My alien possessor
handled this well, I believe.
Then in the evening, I did my big presentation on “When Christianity Came To the Vikings.” I am pretty much unable to tell you how it went, because my grandiose half thinks it was awesome, and my neurotic half thinks I messed it up completely. The truth, no doubt, falls somewhere in between, but where on a scale from one to ten, I can’t tell you. They inform me the video will be posted, and I’ll share it with you. But I will never have the nerve to watch it.
I do know I knocked my water bottle off the podium. Could have used that water.
There were a number of questions afterward (always a good
sign), and one fan who wasn’t a student or faculty member drove a distance to
be there (nice to meet you, Steve).
Then I returned to my guest room and crashed, feeling as if
I’d gone nine rounds with a prizefighter.
And Wednesday I flew home. It was a perfect spring day in
Tennessee, and in Minneapolis we were having a snowstorm.
I will be speaking at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 9, on the subject: “When Christianity Came to the Vikings.” More information here.
Thanks to Ray Van Neste, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions, and Hunter Baker, Dean of Arts and Sciences, for putting whatever pressure was necessary on the right people to allow this event to happen.
Dr. Hunter Baker observes, “All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers.” He says in his latest book, if Christian colleges try to be like their secular counterparts, they will fail on almost every level, particularly in their stated mission. On the other hand, if they integrate the worship of the Most High with every academic discipline, they will distinguish themselves and accomplish their mission. “Christian colleges can successfully argue that the best education connects with the mind, the body, and the soul.”
“What relevance does Christianity have in our societal system? What place does the church have in a system that so often seems to be ordered only by the ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy?”
Hunter Baker answers these questions and more in his collection of essays, The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life. Get it today for almost half-price.
Order is not any kind of moral ultimatum. The only reason to desire order is to make something else possible. Order is a means to an end. If what order gives us is not good, then we should not continue to uphold that order. For example, a dictator may give us order, but his order may not be worth preserving as we perceive ourselves to lose more by it than we gain. This takes us in the direction John Locke went with his work. Order is there only to secure something else, and something more than mere protection from violent death. What is that something more? Is it freedom? Is it justice?
Mark Twain once wrote a story called “Political Economy,” which is what they called Political Science in his time (in that more humble age political thinkers didn’t pretend to be scientists). I memorized it at one point and used to recite it to my friends when we got together, in a bargain-basement Hal Holbrook style. It told how the author sat down to write an essay on the subject (“the dearest to my heart of all this world’s philosophy”) but kept getting interrupted by a lightning rod salesman, who eventually prevailed to the extent that Twain bought his entire stock of rods and had them mounted on his roof, so that all the lightning in that region of the heavens was attracted to his house, setting off the greatest pyrotechnic spectacle ever seen.
Our friend Hunter Baker has written a short book called Political Thought: A Student’s Guide. Though not as funny as Twain’s story, it’s one of the more lively books you’ll find on the subject. Instead of doing a historic overview, telling how philosophical ideas developed through the work of various thinkers, he starts with things that most readers have experience with – families. He describes his own and his wife’s families, and how their different habits of interaction and discipline worked in different ways. Then he imagines two very different kinds of families – a tyrannical family and a loving one – and relates them to the ideas of the great political thinkers of history, especially Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke.
If you’re looking for an effective Christian primer on politics for young people, you could hardly do better than this. In fact, even I learned a few things, and it’s well known that I know pretty much everything. The only fault I can find with this book that I’m not quoted in it, a failing common to a surprising number of books on Political Science (or Economy).
Years of major market success gain an author freedom to do what he wants. In the last decade, Koontz has invested his considerable artistic capital in becoming a more intentional instructor of the soul. His device for moral and spiritual teaching is a young man named Odd. Odd, like Koontz, is a Catholic. He is bright, handsome, and athletic. His parents are divorced and both highly dysfunctional. Odd’s inattentive, playboy father comes from a family with a lot of money. His mother doesn’t deserve the name. Given his upbringing, Odd is a miracle. He is God’s child more than he is the child of two people who refuse to grow up.
I reviewed Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty a while back. If you’ve been thinking about buying it, this would probably be a good time. Or you can go to his web site and hit the Donations link at the upper left. Ric has been diagnosed with Stage III, inoperable lung cancer, and his financial situation is tight.
Ric was kind enough to give me encouragement and advice when I was thinking about doing an e-book. He’s in my prayers.
Our friend Hunter Baker recently gave a speech on the Christian view of freedom, and how it differs from the secular humanist view, at an event in Tennessee. You can read the text here, at his blog.
From Rousseau’s perspective, Christianity and particularly what he called “Roman Christianity” presents a serious problem because there will always the difficulty of double power since the church will not simply yield to the state. Where there is conflict, the church will go where it believes God is leading it. In Rousseau’s mind, such a conflict should be impossible. The state must rule without question. He praised Hobbes for trying to put the two powers back together under the rule of Leviathan in which the state would control religion completely. What is needed, Rousseau wrote, is theocracy such that there is no pontiff other than the prince and no priests other than the magistrate. The only real sin in this new state Rousseau envisioned is intolerance. It is not even enough to have theological intolerance and civil tolerance. Theological intolerance cannot be tolerated. Anyone who “dares to say outside the church there is no salvation ought to be expelled from the state . . .”
The story behind the story: If you’re wondering what sparked Dr. Hunter Baker’s recent madness, this is the inside story, from Mere Comments:
I’m pleased to report that Mere Comments contributor Hunter Baker is the recipient of the 2011 Novak Award from the Acton Institute. Hunter is associate dean of arts and sciences and associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and author of The End of Secularism (Crossway Academic, 2009). From the release:
With his writing and speaking in a variety of popular and academic contexts, Dr. Hunter Baker has made a compelling and comprehensive case for the integration of the Christian faith into all areas of life, including economics and business. … Baker said the award was made all the more meaningful to him in light of the “power and diligence” that Michael Novak has shown over a long career. “Novak’s work helps readers understand the importance of the Christian faith as both a supernatural relationship with God that stirs the soul and as a powerful impetus for and sustainer of liberty, compassion, creativity, and excellence in the broader culture,” he said.
Today being Valentine’s Day, forever after known as the day two days after Dr. Hunter Baker sent Lars Walker a Kindle, I think it apropos to recall posts on this wonderful blog in which we’ve described the good doctor. You saw in Lars’ last post, Dr. Baker was labeled the “prize-winning author of The End of Secularism,” which is still in print and makes great graduation and Father’s Day gifts.
Just the other day, Dr. Baker was “that unspeakable poltroon,” which is another word for “coward.” A while back, he was “our friend … (may his books always be in print).” And still farther back? Continue reading We (heart) Hunter Baker→
To the Source, a weekly email on cultural issues, has interviewed Hunter Baker about his new book, The End of Secularism. Hunter says:
I think Christians should kindly refuse the invitation to take their religious activity and speech private. They should maintain the validity of the faith for their approach to community life and politics. They should point out that secularism provides little guidance for dealing with big political questions and that the values have to come from somewhere. Too often, secularists selectively crib Christian values without acknowledging the source. We didn’t just get here by accident. We don’t appreciate things like liberty, equality, and democracy by sheer accident. Christianity has been a major civilizational force.
Our friend Hunter Baker’s new book,The End of Secularism, reminds me more than anything in my own experience of the work of Francis Schaeffer (though Baker criticizes Schaeffer in certain areas). It’s a dense book, heavily footnoted, presenting a lot of information in a relatively short (194 pages) format. You’ll want to keep a highlighter in hand as you read it, and if you’re like me, you’ll have to stop and contemplate what you’re reading from time to time.
Baker begins with several chapters of historical overview, tracing the history of the Christian church, then explaining how secularism as a world-view and ideology burgeoned in a world increasingly weary of religious conflict and war. Secularism—the view that religion (if tolerated at all) must be cordoned off from public life, so that even someone whose politics are formed by faith must find secular public arguments for it in order to participate in the process—was originally marketed, and continues to be marketed today, as the only rational and impartial alternative to the passions and intolerance of believers.
Baker then applies to this claim of rationality and impartiality the same kind of analysis that secularists like to use on religion. He finds secularism greatly wanting, and fatally blind to its own unexamined presuppositions. It’s strange to find postmodern thinkers presented positively in a Christian book, but Baker takes particular note of recent deconstructions of secularism by younger thinkers. These postmoderns note that secularists are not, as they imagine, impartial referees in the world of thought, but partisans holding a distinct ideology, and that their efforts to silence religious ideas in the public square are simply a new example of an elite class attempting to muzzle heretics. Baker also marshals historical facts to demonstrate that secularism has no better record of tolerance and the prevention of conflict than Christianity had. He devotes a later chapter specifically to the “legend” of the incompatibility of religion and science. In the final chapter he examines an interesting situation from recent history where politicians explicitly appealed to religion in a controversy in a southern state, and the secularists made no complaint at all—because in that case, religion was being marshaled in the service of a liberal cause.
The End of Secularism will challenge the Christian reader, and will raise some Christian hackles—Baker gives short shrift to those who claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, for instance. (Update: Hunter points out to me that he criticizes those who claim a secularist founding as well, which is a fair point.) But Christians should read it, for the mental exercise, and for the hope it presents that the long cultural dominance of secularism may finally be coming to the beginning of its end. Secularists should read it for an education.