Theophobia

David Clemens

This morning I heard from a necessarily anonymous colleague who teaches at a necessarily anonymous college.  Her Dean had refused to sign off on a grant application because the granting foundation makes some “religious references” in its mission statement (“Judeo-Christian”).  Eek!  So now our fraidy cat, politically correct administrative class feels obliged to torpedo grant applications because of its own theophobia. It’s not just grants.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education lists over 30 cases related to religious liberty.  Then there’s Martin Gaskell, the Christian, University of Kentucky astronomer who sued when he was passed over for a job because some colleagues feared he was “possibly evangelical.”  Eek!  Theophobia!  As UK was writing him a $125,000 settlement check, Gaskell’s attorney said, “. . . what . . . this case disclosed is a kind of endemic, almost knee-jerk reaction in academia towards people, especially scientists, of a strong religious faith." Such exquisite administrative sensitivity to the establishment clause raises serious questions about curriculum.  How do you understand history without some knowledge of religion?  How do you understand the American colonization, our founding documents, the Civil War, abolitionists, 9/11, The Reverend Martin Luther King?  Revisionist historians who revile any hint of virtue in American history continue to insist that the Civil War was not about slavery, yet a Civil War history book I own, published in 1865, ends with these words, “GOD REIGNS, AND SLAVERY IS DEAD,” making it 0 for 2 in today’s academy. In literature, how do you understand the Trojan War, Dante, Milton, Hawthorne, Flannery O’Connor, even Thomas Pynchon?  In 2009, I organized a Great Books panel for the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics Conference in Denver.  Dr. Joshua Pederson, Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Marymount Manhattan College, presented a compelling argument in his paper, “Examining the Inquisitor: On the Continuing Importance of Biblical Literacy to Literary Studies.”   If you subtract religious references, Christ, and the Grand Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky’s parable, there’s nothing left but punctuation marks. Instead of institutional theophobia, perhaps it’s time for a graduation requirement in religious literacy.

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