Monday, October 06, 2008

What, a neutral presentation of Christianity?

I recently attended a talk here on campus where a professor discussed his/her fieldwork about Christianity in an aboriginal community. His/her talk took a nicely neutral tone--talking about what happened but not passing judgment on the validity of Christianity--and the Christians involved were evangelicals (gasp). I appreciated this because most the discussions of Christianity that I hear on campus include some form of eye-rolling or judgment.

Well... that was just the speaker, and the other professors in the audience didn't go along with his/her neutrality. One audience member asked her why she didn't "problematize" the issue by casting it as bad Christianity (boo!) pushing aside the indigenous beliefs (yeah).

Another faculty member was even more dramatic. S/he expressed bewilderment that so many of the people in this indigenous group turned to Christianity when it was clearly a "dumbass religion" (his/her words) that everyone new was wrong.

What was the groups reaction to his judgment? None, really. Imagine, though, if he had cast the indigenous religion in those terms. It would have been a front-page story in the campus newspaper.

I'm not arguing for equal vulgarity for all, rather I'm rolling my eyes at the lack of objectivity and moral neutrality among so many academics when it comes to Christianity.

Here's a question. Am I off-the-mark wanting academics to be neutral in discussions like this?


Jim king said...

I think your comment is indicative of a phenomena more widely spread than just the topic of Christianity. Which might even indicate why it's more noticeable to you and me.

As long as a topic is not about one of an individuals biases, then it's a fine debate. But if you tread on an individuals bias then you are desecrating holy ground.

lmilesw said...

This is a VERY frustrating phenomenon. It seems like often people want to criticize the other view versus supporting theirs. Even then the support is often documentation that the criticizer has not vetted themselves but something they have "heard". I would love to see open discussion on all sorts of topics and especially Christianity.

amoslanka said...

You're not off the mark, but rather hitting the nail on the head. Academia's best course is objectivity, allowing listeners/viewers to decide for themselves. The sort of psuedo-academic issues (I say psuedo because it seems that "academic" would rely on objectivity) have for so long been mixed up with personal opinions that it seems much of academia has forgotten what objectivity is.

Brad Wright said...

Interesting comments...

Christine said...

Long-time lurker, first-time commenter.

Certainly, the conditions under which aboriginals became Christians were very "bad" (i.e. imperialism, stealing children and bringing them to reform schools, etc..). I don't think researchers should try to ignore such issues as that silence helps normalize the atrocities.

However, I do not think that researchers should then look at all aboriginal Christians as 'duped' into becoming Christians. We can't then strip away people's agency in how they choose to practice a religion.

The book "Looking for God in Brazil" is something y'all may want to check out if you're interested in these issues. An anthropologist studies why Pentecostalism is so popular among poor minority groups in Brazil. Burdik (the author) finds that Pentecostalism provides its members with the tools to enact real changes in their lives (to get husbands to stop drinking, to get a a fair say, etc).

Brad- I think I have a copy if you're interested.

--christine z

Brad Wright said...

Hi Christine. Good points. The talk I attended dealt with the situation as it is currently, rather than historically.

Sounds like a great book, if I could borrow it.

Thanks for posting!

Al said...

Putting the shoe on the other foot, sometimes I think we as Christians are not very neutral in our presentation of issues either. We can be as prone to use loaded terminology, or generalize/stereotypify other points of view. And it is my non-Christian friends who have helped me to recognize this in me. As some authors are saying, we need to dialogue more, and debate less (check out 'Jim & Casper go to church').