Silly Rather than Discussable

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for July 29 2018. The professor who is quoted was Richard Rorty.

I came across the following quote some time ago. It came from a prominent atheist professor who lectured in philosophy: ‘Indeed, parents who send their children to college should recognize that as professors “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”‘

During my own short stint at university in my early 20’s I remember a few cheap shots taken from the front of the lecture theatre, and being placed in the awkward position of either silently taking the disrespect to my faith, or returning fire with the expectation of being swiftly executed by public ridicule. The second option is of course unappealing when you know that you are unprepared, outgunned, and are interrupting the lecture in order to start an argument with the authority in the room. It was much easier to keep quiet than to even ask a clarifying question which might suggest that you are on the stupid side of the issue at hand.

Fortunately most lecturers I had were not like this, and were good natured enough to traverse topics outside their own belief system without feeling the need to belittle them. But the last part of the quote above underlines how important it is to make sure that your views are in fact discussable, even if some people ridicule them.

As the father of a four year old, I have been surprised at how inquisitive even young children can be. Curious minds will not be satisfied with glib answers for long, and I think it is far better to admit that you personally don’t have an answer. No one has to have all the answers, not even parents to their growing children. However, it is important to teach them to ask perceptive questions and how to search out the information that will allow them to construct a robust worldview that can take a bit of mockery.

They may not be able or willing to return fire in a classroom, but at least they will know that their beliefs are discussable rather than silly.