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My Encounter with the Enlightenment

I know I have talked about how I lost my faith before.  But I’ve never talked about it in the terms I’m going to be describing it in this post and the next.  It has to do with what happened with my notion of “truth” when I went to Princeton Theological Seminary. Princeton Theological Seminary is not administratively connected to Princeton University – it simply is in the same town, across the street, and has a shared ancient history.  What is now Princeton University started off in the mid-18th century as a place to train Christian ministers.  Eventually the school split, with the Seminary, under a different administration, becoming its own entity.   By the time I went there as a 22-year-old in 1978, Princeton was a leading a Presbyterian seminary whose mission is to train ministers for the Presbyterian Church.  I had never even stepped foot in a Presbyterian church and really knew almost nothing about it, or about Princeton Seminary.  But I suspected that many of the students and faculty there were not really [...]

Spilling the Beans on my Beliefs on the Last Day of Class

About fifteen years ago or so I started doing something completely different on my last day of class in my New Testament course.  I have a lecture scheduled for then, of course, but the scheduled lecture rehashes material that is earlier covered in the class and that students can pick up easily from their reading – so it’s not one of the crucial class periods of the semester.  Sometimes that last class is not even that (depending on how the semester schedule works out) but is a kind of review session. But about two weeks before the end, I tell the students that I have an option for the last day, and I’ll let them vote on it. The option is to do the class as scheduled or, instead, to have a non-required class (no taking of attendance, no reason to come unless they want to) in which I explain what I myself really believe and why I believe it.   That is of some relevance to the class, of course, since the beliefs I’ll be [...]

Can Teaching Be Objective?

I have been discussing how I see the separation of church and state when it comes to teaching religious studies in a secular research university.  All of this has been a lead up to what I do on my final day of class in my course, Introduction to the New Testament.   On that last day, if students want, I tell them what I actually believe and why. I feel constantly torn between two different perspectives on teaching, which I call the Socratic and the Kierkegaardian models.   For Socrates (at least as reported by Plato) (which means that this may be Plato’s view, rather than Socrates’s) truth was truth, and the person who spoke the truth was irrelevant to the question of whether it was true or not.  What matters is whether one can establish through logic, reasoning, and evidence that claims are true or not.  The person delivering the claim has nothing to do with it.  Fools can speak the truth (sometimes) and savants can utter nonsense (often!). The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard [...]

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