Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The kind of academic I want to be

I’m doing a PhD at the moment and my ambition, when (God willing) I finish, is to then pursue a career in academia as a researcher and lecturer.  I really believe that God has placed this desire in me, so either he wants me to carry it out or else he wants me to want to carry it out for some other reason.

But I don’t just want to be an academic.  It’s not even that I want to be a successful academic (although that would be nice).  I want to be

The idealized academic: respected researcher; experienced supervisor; reasonable; balances guidance with license and specific support with spoonfeeding.
– G. Rugg and M. Petre, The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research (OUP, 2010)

OK, that passage only describes in what way an academic is idealized with respect to supervising PhD students.  With respect to other academic qualities, this is the kind of academic I would like to be:

He is genuinely searching for the truth, and treats other researchers as people in it together with him in this pursuit.  He takes questions and criticisms seriously and admits when he isn’t sure about something with an honest estimate as to the degree of uncertainty.  He takes the time to understand his opponents’ views and theories and does his best to be precise about exactly what the real differences are between those and his own.  He has time for people who want to learn from him, whether they are leading lights in the field or brand new research students who don’t know anything.

This is the kind of academic I would not like to be:

For him, academic life is all-out war between us (or me) and them.  People who do not share his assumptions or theoretical positions are the forces of darkness.  The very credibility or even existence of the discipline is in danger if you don’t agree with him.  Questions at conferences can safely be interrupted and interlocutors’ work dismissed as worthless.  He is totally unapproachable, unless you are someone who can do something for him.

At this point I remember William Lane Craig’s Advice to Christian Academics.  I may make another post about that later on.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Another warning

In the same one of the Screwtape Letters containing the passage that I quoted in my last post, the following is written:

Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the ‘Cause’ is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal.  Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s [God’s] own purposes, this remains true.  We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.

I take this as a warning to myself, one which I’ve referred to in another previous post.

Friday, 8 February 2013

A warning

According to C.S. Lewis, this is a piece of advice from a senior demon about how to cause a man to lose his faith in Christ:

Whichever he adopts, your task will be the same.  Let him begin by treating [cause A] or [cause B] as a part of his religion.  Then let him […] come to regard it as the most important part.  Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of [cause A] or [cause B].  The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.  Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

When I hear some of the things that come out of the mouths of professing Christians, I am often reminded of this passage.  Those baffling statements are very often explained by the speaker thinking that Christianity is ‘all about’ something other than Christ; even, especially perhaps, when what it is supposed to be ‘all about’ is something that Christians should in fact be doing.  If you think that Christianity is ‘all about’ including the marginalised, or bringing justice to the earth, or care and compassion, or giving society cohesion, or providing a moral framework, then you are badly on the wrong track.  Those are all good things, but neither individually nor collectively are they an end to which faith is a means.