Andrew Austin directs the Law and Justice Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.  In 2003, he shared a tidbit of "wisdom" widely prevalent in our colleges and universities today.  He wrote the following:

"Many since 9-11 have found more than curious the tone of the President and how much his rhetoric sounds like the rhetoric of those with whom the US is at war. Americans are told that fundamentalist Islam hates them because Americans leave too little room for God. Muslims resent America's liberal freedoms—freedom of speech, faith, conscience, and, especially, the separation of Church and State. They have attacked America because the United States shows the rest of the world how officially separating religion from politics and letting reason guide decisions makes a better society. Americans are more tolerant, humane, and rational because of these values. Yet, the President of the United States is stating publicly that God, who is behind all of history, is not neutral in human affairs, that God take sides, and that, in fact, God has taken our side, and, furthermore, that the President is carrying out God's will.

"No reason is needed—only faith matters." [italics mine]

Commentary, like Austin's, is in vogue throughout academic and other elitist circles.  It scarcely takes courage to state such positions there.  An academician like him, in order to qualify for a full professorship, apparently has to remember only to don his tweeds and hush puppies while toeing the ideological mark.  A bowtie might help too.  Aside from these characteristics of professorial sagacity, obscuring facts and failing to find deficiencies in arguments have also become a trademark in academe.

Note the way in which Austin discounts the rational component of faith.  He pits reason and faith against one another in the portions of his statement I have italicized. It apparently never dawns upon him that Thomas Aquinas, a monumental Christian theologian, was unequalled in the history of Western civilization as a rationalist.  One wonders how Austin would characterize the close interaction between faith and reason in the writings of Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and Alvin Plantinga.  Would Austin dare argue that, as men of faith, their writings derogate the power of reason?  His is another example of a professor whose understanding of faith amounts to nothing more than an empty caricature. In "The Will to Believe," William James mentioned, with tongue in cheek, a young boy who defined faith as believing what we know is not so. This comedic foil of ignorance could have been named for Austin and his ilk.

Note the way he slides from the separation of church and state, on the one hand, into the separation of religion and politics on the other, as if they are the same. They are two distinct subjects.  There are few theocrats in America.  Most citizens do not want either the church or the state to control the other.  One's views concerning baptism and the holy eucharist have nothing to do with the requirements of citizenship.  But, this stated, would anyone familiar with American history contend with a straight face that religion and politics in this country have ever been separated from each other?  Did not George Washington, when taking the oath of office at his First Inaugural, extemporaneously add to it "so help me God" and then kneel and kiss the Bible on which the oath was administered?  Were these not religious acknowledgements?  Did Abraham Lincoln, when delivering the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, not likewise speak in a magnificently religious tone?  And, oh yes, if memory serves me rightly, I believe that Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the American people in prayer on the eve of the D-Day Invasion.  Religion in politics has always been the norm in this country.  To argue otherwise is wildly misguided.

Yet Austin's two "oversights," previously mentioned, pale beside his third blunder. He sneers at the thought that God intervenes in history or that some causes are more theologically worthy than others.  To hear him tell it, it defies reason that one, like George W. Bush, could believe such an outlandish thing.  Most Americans, I dare say, think that the Third Reich's genocidal policies toward Jews were evil and contrary to God's will and that America's war against Hitler was a holy one.  Would Austin agree or disagree with them?  If he agrees, then he must admit that God is not neutral in human affairs, in which case President Bush's idea is not, at least in principle, mistaken.  If he disagrees, then his position is so morally reprehensible that he should be embarrassed to show his face again publicly. 

Of course, what he may say is that he favors religious, but not moral, neutrality.  This, I suspect, would simply be another way of his contending that there is nothing we can know about religious matters anyway.  If this is his position, then he should have admitted his agnosticism at the outset so that all who consider his ideas will readily understand the axe he is grinding.

At bottom, Austin's discourse is about re-shaping American policy to suit his secular-progressive agenda.  He desires to strip the religious dimension from American public life.  So be it.  However he may desire to structure his own personal philosophy is his concern, but it does not entitle him to confuse that with America's heritage or even with "enlightenment" in general.

December 26, 2008