Monday, January 21, 2019


Science is not religion’s natural enemy, but scientific thought is clearly the chief enemy to any religious faith that rejects the moderating role of human reason in every area of life—including religion. In long term if Christianity is to survive in the modern world it must begin its many confessions with the dictum: “Faith may not require me to believe what I find to be patently false.” The struggle in the first century between competing factions tracing their origins in various ways to Jesus of Nazareth has remained typical of Christian faith through the intervening centuries: each first-century group was searching for what made sense from their inherited traditions.

In spite of the orthodox creeds that have largely typified modern Christianity since the fourth and fifth centuries of the Common Era, that situation has not changed. In every generation it has been necessary for people of faith to search for new ways to make sense of their faith. The standard creeds of the church are not a once and for all time statement of faith, but merely one ancient attempt to clarify faith at a particular point in time. The problem has always been how to keep faith with the ancient traditions while keeping pace with the acquisition of human knowledge.

            Today the Bible is a major obstacle to resolving the tensions between faith and reason. In American religion the Bible has become for many a religious icon—a sacred object of veneration. Icons are not considered a fit subject for criticism, although up to a point they may be gently analyzed. In the popular conservative mind the Bible constitutes the ultimate revelation of God to humankind: that is to say, it is meant to be studied and its moral teaching and religious principles implemented in life throughout society. Reason on the other hand is naturally curious about all things. In the spirit of the Renaissance, reason’s scientific spirit considers everything subject to criticism, analysis, and challenge; nothing is exempt—and particularly not the Bible.

Since the Enlightenment (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) human reason has applied itself to the Bible. This period began the modern critical study of the Bible, and the results of more than three hundred years of biblical criticism have demonstrated beyond question that the Bible is a human product with a past. The Bible’s rediscovery as a text subject to the vicissitudes of human history has clearly undermined faith in the Bible as an iconic object.

            The Bible was the one anchor of certainty left to the church after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. No longer did the protesting churches have a Pope speaking truth from God in the areas of faith and morals. The watchword of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura. “Scripture alone” was the guide for religious faith and practice among the reformers. The Roman Catholic Church subordinated the Bible to the church, noting that the church had produced the Bible, and thus the church has sole authority to interpret it. The protestant reformers, on the other hand, subordinated the church to the Bible and made “Scripture alone” the authority for the church. The spirit of the Enlightenment, however, subordinated the church, the Bible, and religion in general to human reason and in so doing discredited both church and Bible as the authoritative source of the voice of God in the modern world. Human beings were left to face God and the world alone without the security net of either church or Bible. Since the enlightenment, reason has increasingly trumped revelation.

            With only human reason and ancient tradition as general guides, followers of Jesus today are left to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling” (as Paul put it in Phil 2:12). At some point those who think for themselves will be confronted by the clash between reason and traditional Christian faith. At that point will begin the restructuring of their faith, because reason is a bully and will not allow a rational person mindlessly to repeat ancient confessions that make little sense in the modern world.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Revised from the final “Postscript” in Charles W. Hedrick, House of Faith or Enchanted Forest? American Popular Belief in an Age of Reason (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), 80-81. This book is a compilation of Hedrick’s revised newspaper articles that were published 1986-2006. For more information and to read an excerpt from the book, go to:

Sunday, January 6, 2019

What happens to an aging Academic and Religion Scholar?

Academics are not necessarily scholars and scholars are not necessarily academics: Academics basically pass on a body of knowledge; scholars, on the other hand, aim to modify and/or expand the traditional body of critical knowledge to be passed on to each generation.

If fortunate, s/he gets to retire, but then is faced with “what next?” Perhaps s/he will teach another year or two as a faculty adjunct, attend a few more professional conferences, write another article or two, perhaps post a blog, and then, time running out, write a final book—but what then? Advanced old age, arthritis, aches and pains are fast catching up; imperceptibly s/he slows down, strength is not what it once was, balance is awful. Children want mom and dad nearer to them for their/our sake and that of the grandchildren. S/He resists. But finally faces reality: future days are limited.

            S/He looks around; the family home needs repair and paint, neglected for the pursuit of scholarship (Alles für die Wissenschaft, right? ); dozens of boxes filled with various stages of research, half finished articles, books completed or begun, and forty or fifty years of living in the same location, a scholar’s library of books lining every available wall in the house, its value now diminished in the digital age—but surrender the books? An incredible thought!

            S/He begins dumping boxes of files, resolving only to preserve photographs that may have historical value—professional ideas consigned to the ages in that which s/he has published. Each dumped file a creative process, either completed and published or paused, representing months of work around the world in conferences, museums, libraries, on ancient archaeological sites. Each dumped file is one piece of the movement toward achieving the goal of reducing the carbon footprint and facilitating the move nearer children, but it comes at the cost of obliterating who s/he was: a scholar.

            Unfortunately this scenario, or something similar, is the way of all flesh: you can’t keep things forever, and you cannot take them with you. There is a proverb, probably traditional, that the evangelist John appropriates to conclude Jesus’ address to Peter in John 21:18; the proverb succinctly summarizes the plaintive situation of those of us who live into advanced old age:

When you were young, you dressed yourself and walked where you wished; but when you become old you will stretch out your hands and another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go.

Alas, obsolescence is the way of the world: things eventually wear out, become ineffectual, and pass into oblivion—museums and libraries, on the other hand, are our ways of ensuring that we never completely forget, a way of ensuring immortality for some. Recognizing the way of the world for what it is should bring us neither to the edge of despair nor resigned acceptance, but it should disturb us enough to “rage rage against the dying of the light”—evoking for good or ill lines by Dylan Thomas:

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightening they
Do not go gentle into that good night.*

Rather they begin filling new collections of boxes. That is the way of the human spirit.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

*Dylan Thomas “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” in The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas 1934-52 (New York: New Directions, 1957), 128.