Culture > Books
Kevin Vandivier

Show and tell

Books | University of Texas professor J. Budziszewski has answers and advice for today's college students

Issue: "Two-ring circus," Sept. 6, 2008

Readers of WORLD regularly see ads from a Worldview Academy showing a devilishly handsome professor/model under a headline like "Who is teaching your daughter theology?" The ad notes the importance of teaching students to be biblically discerning.

If a magazine called Atheist World ran ads portraying its real-life troublesome adversaries, University of Texas professor J. Budziszewski might be public enemy No. 1. He listens well, speaks softly, and carries a big but not arrogant intellect into discussions with both professorial peers and students.

JB-last name pronounced Boojee-shef-skee-has left some atheists gnashing their teeth with his scholarly books and also his hot-selling How to Stay Christian in College. Now he's increased his infamy by producing the second of a series, Ask Me Anything 2 (Navpress, 2008). He amusingly calls himself Professor Theophilus of the School of Antinomianism at Post Everything University, which has its motto, "You shall not know the truth, and doubt will set you free."

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The book is made up of email exchanges and also dialogues that with perfect pitch register the speech patterns of many U. of Texas sorority sisters: "Professor Theophilus, since I'm here, would you do me a big, big favor?" When he agrees to look at a paper but then offers a critical remark, she responds, "'I don't feel like I've committed a fallacy. You're just not being fair.' Surprised, I looked up. The flush had reached her nose, and her eyes looked moist. 'I feel you're just looking for things wrong.'"

WORLD: You write about Christian students concerned with the bias of professors such as Muito Egregious, the Spanish and Portuguese teacher, and Peccata Mundi, who teaches about modern Europe and claims that Christianity is responsible for all the evils in the world. How often do students come to you with such concerns?

BUDZISZEWSKI: Any resemblance to actual Spanish and Portuguese professors, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Even so, you'd be surprised how often students do visit with such concerns. When it comes to their anti-Christian biases, many professors practice all the arts of insult, insinuation, and logical fallacy that they teach their students to avoid. Here's a case in point, from a public policy class: "All of you students are too intelligent to be pro-life, right?" The implied threat was plain: "If any of you are pro-life, I'll grade you down." Guess whether anyone spoke up.

WORLD: What's the right way for Christians to talk back to such professors?

BUDZISZEWSKI: Rule one is "Speak up." Even the most bigoted professors often change their tune when challenged. Other rules are "Be logical," "Be respectful," "Keep it brief," "Limit yourself to a single point," and "Remember that you don't have to 'win.'" It's not difficult to ask, "Sir, I understand the insult, but what is the argument?" Nor does it require genius to say this to a professor blathering about "intolerance": "If we had to tolerate everything, wouldn't we even have to tolerate intolerance? Don't we have to use standards to decide what is tolerable and what isn't? What are yours?"

WORLD: Factual or fictional: One student came to you with a vague memory of a remark by the fourth-century Christian writer "Lactose"? Either way, who was that man, and what did he write that's important to recall now?

BUDZISZEWSKI: Fictional-though my students do find those old names difficult. The writer was Lactantius, one of the Fathers of the Church. Against the persecutors, he wrote, "Let them unsheathe the weapon of their intellect; if their system is true, let it be asserted . . . . For we do not entice, as they say; but we teach, we prove, we show." Lactantius' point was that we don't want to shut other people up; we just want our own chance at the mike. He was confident enough to say that the force of good reasoning should be the only force allowed.

WORLD: You reflect on a religion professor who teaches that the two different versions of the creation account in Genesis prove that the Bible is a myth. You tell a student that your house might be mythical as well.

BUDZISZEWSKI: Sure. I can't help reflecting that whenever I give directions to my house, I give two versions-one focusing on the names of the roads, the other on distances and landmarks. Sometimes I even give a third-"Now if you get lost, do this." By the religion professor's reasoning, that seems to prove that my house is a myth too. And may I point out something about this little refutation? It doesn't require expert knowledge; it only requires common sense, which is too often discarded. I am just providing a reminder of the obvious.


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