Sunday, October 24, 2010

On heresies that aren't even realized

I teach at a Catholic university. And, I was raised and educated in a very Catholic milieu. And, whatever my beliefs about God—and they fail to be orthodox in a number of ways, veering from the Stoic to the Kierkegaardian/Wittgensteinian—I have a deep respect for the Catholic tradition. This is in spite of the ways in which many representatives of that tradition feel and argue about my kind.
In any case, I am often surprised—or am I just saddened?—when student of mine report in papers and essays and reflection pieces on their own beliefs. I am not surprised that they believe what they do; generally, discovering what they believe only saddens me, being a mishmash of conservative ideology on some points with MTV-morality on others and New Age spirituality with the name "Jesus" thrown in here and there, but I am always surprised that they think that what they believe falls somewhere within the Christian or Catholic tradition.
For instance, in several reflections I was reading this evening in which students were supposed to set out and respond to Aristotelian teleology, students began paragraphs with some variation on "Coming from the Christian perspective" followed by things that only Joel Osteen would think were Christian ideas, such as that God just wants us to be happy and there are all sorts of ways to be happy and that happiness is really just subjective. 
When I read these things, it becomes clearer to me just why discussion of the various strains in the Christian tradition is so troubling to them; many of them have no real idea of anything like Christian thought (or any thought) before about 1960. 
Of course, for fairness' sake, their ignorance of Christianity is more than matched by their ignorance of science. I also had several students claiming that "from a biological perspective" humans have only the purpose to survive and reproduce, losing sight of the fact that purpose is a necessarily normative and teleological concept that doesn't make much sense from an evolutionary perspective. Though drives might be drives toward something, it is still more than a little sketchy to talk about them as purposes of whole organisms.

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