Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On Prophets and Quislings

David Mills discusses the sociology of academic writing in his post on Mere Comments this morning. One of the points he makes is that academic writing is writing by academics for academics. The practical result of this is that academic writing has relatively little to do with the advancement of truth. This is especially the case in the humanities and so theology.

This raises for me an interesting question for Orthodox/Catholic ecumenical relations. The vast majority of our clergy and theologians are trained in an academic setting by academics who have themselves adapted to the ethos of the modern research university.

In other words, we form intellectually and spiritually the people who will be the teachers and guardians of our respective traditions in an environment that often does not value clarity much less the truth. Quoting approvingly C. Wright Mills' book The Sociological Imagination, David Mills explains why this sad state of affairs has come to pass in the university: "Desire for status is one reason why academic men slip so readily into unintelligibility."

Unintelligibility in the service of status (and not infrequently, power and control) is not a norm that I find suitable for the next generation of priests, deacons and theologians. Sadly though, this is exactly the social norm of the university and by extension the seminary whose faculties have often drank deeply of the academic ethos.

David Mills offers me much food for thought as I reflect on the need for East & West to re-establish full communion with one another. The proclamation of the Gospel in general, and reconciliation of divided Christians in particular, is an act of prophetic boldness that demands moral and physical courage. But the academy does not value this courage, but rather ambiguity, vainglory, pride, and pettiness in expression and ambition. It is it seems to me an environment better suited for forming quislings then leaders.

To read the whole of David Mills's reflections: C. Wright Mills on why academics write the way they do

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