Sectarians for Christian Humanism: Interview with Daniel Anderson of the Sectarian Review

For the last 18 months or so, I’ve been producing a podcast called Sectarian Review. I was just interviewed by C. Derrick Varn for Former People about the project. You can read that interview at the link below.

To check out the podcast, go to www.sectarianreviewpodcast.com

Source: Sectarians for Christian Humanism: Interview with Daniel Anderson of the Sectarian Review

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The Sectarian Review Podcast

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http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

Well this may be it.

I’ve found myself less and less interested in writing for this medium lately. And a quick perusal of this blog will demonstrate that.

It should also reveal that I’ve been aiming my non-teaching efforts toward podcasting instead. There is something truly rewarding about having live conversations with people about the broad range of topics I’ve tried to cover in the blog. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to check it out. Here’s the link to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SectarianReview/

Also, I’ve created a dedicated website to the podcast where you can learn more about it and link to all the episodes.

If you do, please let me know what you’re thinking. What makes that thing so much fun is the dialogue with our listeners. Here’s the link to the site:

http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

If you’ve been reading this blog, thanks so much. I hope you’ll listen to Sectarian Review and talk back!

Be well.

The Problem(s) With Trumpism

SR Trumpism

The Sectarian Review Podcast is back.

If you haven’t done so yet, please think about subscribing to the show at iTunes, Stitcher, etc…We would love to expand the conversation. No iPod? Just follow this link:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2016/04/sectarian-review-7-trumpism/

Join Danny Anderson, Ed Simon, and new contributor Jordan Poss as they fret over the disturbing rise of Donald Trump. What does the rise of Angry White Populism mean for a post-Trump America? Are there historical precedents for this moment? What might a political realignment look like in America’s winner-take-all electoral system? Two English and Cultural Criticism types are joined by a historian to hash it all out. Please enjoy, and don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes.

The Football-Industrial Complex

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Hello dear reader. I wonder if you might allow me to call you “dear listener,” tonight.

As you may have seen from previous posts, I’ve gradually transitioned my blogging energies into podcasting. My podcast, Sectarian Review, offers me the chance to actually speak to other people about ideas and culture, and that has been a lot of fun and really gratifying. If you listen to podcasts, I hope you’ll check us out as well. We’re on iTunes and Stitcher and you can find a link here:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2016/01/sectarian-review-5-the-football-industrial-complex/

There is no real reason these platforms can’t co-exist for a while, though. Below, find the introduction to our latest episode, a hostile inquiry into America’s (and Christendom’s) obsession with football. Drew Van’tland and Todd Pedlar joined me for a pretty lively discussion.

And I’m always looking for new collaborators. If you’d like to join us from time to time, please do let me know. This week, I had a philosopher and a physicist on the show. I’d love to include historians, economists, seminarians…anyone. Now for the intro:

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Hello everyone. Thanks for downloading another episode of the show. Danny Anderson here. Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.

I want to give fair warning that this episode might be contentious, uncomfortable, and even unfair. This is my hope at least. Football occupies a gigantic space in our cultural consciousness and I think we should at least notice that. In doing so, we’re kind of going to be picking at scabs, an icky image, I know.

I should confess upfront that I have some personal issues with this subject, so I’ll have to work to avoid making this all about me and my psychology. I’m from Cleveland, a huge town for sports fandom, and spent almost all my youth utterly obsessed with the local teams, primarily the Browns. Now maybe it’s because the Browns’ terribleness makes it easy, but as I’ve gotten old and decrepit, I’ve come to a point where I don’t care much at all about it anymore.

Except that I do. I care that we as a society Recklessly engage in what I’ve come to know as the idolatry of my youth. I’ve watched, largely from a distance now, as Cleveland neglects almost every other part of its civic life for its obsession with trying to overcome the heartbreak of “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” I’m also disturbed as a person of Faith at Christendom’s dangerous conflation of the values of sport with the values of Christianity.

So these are my reasons for recording this episode. I know that as you listen, you might say to yourself “he’s ignoring all the positive things about football…teamwork, discipline, whatnot.” If this is the case, know that I’m not ignoring them, I’ve spent much of my life uttering those defenses myself. I’m simply rejecting them for the purposes of this discussion. As always, I want to encourage your angry or supportive responses, either at the Facebook page or our email sectarianreview@gmail.com. I even booted up a Twitter account, hopeless as I am in that medium.

Question 1: Idolatry – I just mentioned the term Idolatry in my prologue. I stand by it, but I’m open to debate. What is idolatry and how might it be related to American Football?

Question 2: Economic – I already threw Cleveland under the bus for what I think is a misappropriation of economic resources. Let’s talk with some specifics about the economics of the sport in America. What are some positive arguments one might make for our investment in this game. Why are those arguments silly?

Question 3: Cultural – Everyone knows that Marx called religion the opiate of the masses – something to keep the proletariat content in an oppressive system. Certainly he would replace that with football today, no? What cultural impact does the Football Industrial Complex impose on us?

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So that’s it. Have a listen and get in touch!

Danny

Professor Anderson’s Goals

Copied from my Introduction to Literature syllabus.
Kafka at the age of five

Kafka at the age of five (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to make you miserable.

I’m sort of exaggerating about that, but not really. If the humanities, particularly literature, are to claim any purpose in college, part of that purpose must be to unsettle you, and this requires a bit of misery. Fortunately then, we have Kafka to start us off this semester.

Anyone attending college today has probably been victimized by a happy lie. The lie suggests that you students are powerful beings who only need the magical institutional credential of the college diploma to take the world by storm. In this environment, the courses you take are procedural rungs on the triumphant ladder of progress and achievement. You believe you can fly and we can provide the jetpack. Just Do It, and we’ll give you a fancy piece of paper that proves you did (frame not included).

Even in this course. The objectives outlined above are very good. They give us specific skills to focus on and those skills will unquestionably help you in your economic, post-college lives. And they will help me to assign a grade to your efforts. This, along with some elaborate fonts, boosts the credibility of the wall decoration you get for your four years of effort.

The problem is that none of this really has much to do with education.

Education is not a product you purchase and consume. You are not a blank slate waiting for me to write something marketable on you.

On the contrary, Education is something that consumes you.

Education is growth, and like all growth (think of your shins at night when you were a teenager) it is painful and requires struggle. At its most basic level, education is the twofold act of acknowledging a shortcoming in one’s self and working to improve in that area. This is simple, but, if taken seriously, brutal.

This course on twentieth-century and contemporary literature is an opportunity then. Think of it as a speed bump in the soul-killing progressive-triumphalist superhighway (you may not be able to exit – we’ll read Sartre at the end of the semester – but you might be able to slow down sometimes). Here is a too-rare chance for us (and I purposefully include myself here) to unsettle things that are settled and stale. This literature will not be easy to face because it very often undermines our heroic views of ourselves and our society. This brutality is exactly its value.

I do not wish to change your mind or your worldview. And I certainly don’t want to empower you. I hope to challenge you to confront your mind and your worldview in an effort to perfect them.

This is a burden I look forward to helping you with, but, like all real education, it is ultimately yours alone.

My office hours are listed above.

Mark Driscoll and Christian-on-Christian Crime

By now, most people who would care about such things already know about the allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll, the Seattle-based megachurch pastor. For those who wish to get caught up on the situation, Slate ran a fabulous take-down of Driscoll that should fill in the gaps, here.

Pastor Mark preaching at the Temple of Artemis

Pastor Mark preaching at the Temple of Artemis (Photo credit: Mars Hill Church)

His guilt or innocence is less interesting to me than the public conversation about him. I frankly have rather low expectations for much Christian writing, so the idea that a Christian Bestseller is less than academically rigorous is not exactly world-shaking to me. Andy Crouch wrote what I think is the best response to this situation, and he makes that same point. Crouch’s main point, however, is a brilliant one; that the major problem with the Driscoll plagiarism affair is that is an example of a dangerous idolatry among believers, a point I will return to at the end.

I am, however, still haunted by the question of how people of faith should respond to one another.

One thing I constantly try to do in class is to get my largely Christian students to think critically about their faith. “Critical” is the critical word here, because this goal necessitates casting suspicion upon people who ostensibly believe as they do. This sometimes causes friction with students who take an broad “us against them” view of the role of salt and light in the world. 

This conflict spilled over into my personal life as well. Like many people, I posted a snarky link to the above Slate article on my Facebook page, with a comment along the lines of “Hey Driscoll, is it the kick-butt Jesus or the panzy Jesus that cites his sources,” alluding to (and let’s just admit it — poking fun at) Driscoll’s famously hyper-masculine view of the Christian faith. There was a pretty good conversation that followed that link, but I later noticed, in other friends’ feeds, status updates that complained about Christians publicly complaining about other Christians (I know, I know. The irony of that was not lost on me either. It was all I could do to refrain from pointing it out — you guessed it — publicly). 

Being who I am, the whole thing reminds me of any number of Philip Roth stories. The Ghost Writer, for example, spends much of its narrative energy chronicling young Nathan Zuckerman’s conflict with his Jewish community over the scandal of his fiction. The story naturally bears striking parallels to Roth’s own personal history with his community’s reaction to his work going back to the beginning of his career. Essentially, the conflict boils down to “is it good for the Jews.”

The communal fear on display in this story is not without merit, but also not healthy from a perspective of self-reflection. I wonder if Roth’s work offers parallels that Christians might make use of as we adjudicate Driscoll’s actions in public. Primarily, we must ask if it is truly bad for the Christian public image for believers to show that we are thinking beings and that we demand certain ethical standards be met in spite of our “oneness.” Is it really better that we remain publicly silent while the culture of idolatry that Crouch identifies proliferates and is rewarded?

I believe this all points to a paradox built into the very fabric of the faith. I’m sure than many Christians who prefer the “Thin Blue Line” approach to controversy point to New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 6 as their guiding scripture. The edicts of those verses demand that Christians show a united front to non-believers and that they not bring public lawsuits against one another. There is, of course, much wisdom here, but I think it must be doing more than asking “is it good for the Christians?” It is asking of believers to rise above the crassness and self-interestedness of their non-believing neighbors. If Crouch is right, then are Driscoll’s critics not identifying a similar crassness in his public-celebrity persona?

This is a complication, but the paradox I mentioned above lies at a different level. The passage from 1 Corinthians. Has that letter not become a public scolding of Christians by another Christian? Does the visibility of that fracture within Christendom not build respect for the faith? What is good for the Christians?

 

 

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Music Monday: Tom Waits, or, “I’d Rather have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy” Edition

Waits

Well, we just moved.

If I were a drinking man, this would have been a cataclysmic week for my liver. The ordeal with our moving truck alone would’ve made the pope cuss.

I don’t drink, however, so I like to drown vicariously through the music of the great Tom Waits from time to time.

His seminal album Small Change is always in heavy rotation on my mp3 player. One reason is the clinical precision with which Waits captures the chaotic messiness of lives lived on the margins. Prostitutes, con men, and coffee shop bums typically populate the songs of both early and late Waits. (Waits’ career does rather neatly fall into two major phases – the first half characterized by a drunken beat poet/jazz lounge persona, with the latter half seeing Waits take on the role of mad ringmaster of life’s surreal circus. Both phases are essential listening and the album Swordfishtrombones starkly provides the diving point for this remarkable career).

One of Small Change’s highlights is the beautifully comic parody “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” This song captures the essence of early Waits in all its comic desperation. We can picture the lounge singer diligently plucking away in a nasty, smoke-filled bar diligently providing entertainment for its seedy patrons, all while providing us an ironic critique of the whole environment. Reminds me of teaching some days.

At any rate, one of Waits’ many great gifts is his ability to infuse these low, urchin-like characters with a humanity that makes the listener truly fall in love with them. This seems to me to be an entirely Christian approach to life, and Waits’ music has at many times in my life, moved me in what can only be described as a spiritual way. He, like all great artists, does not avoid the muck, but rather dives in head first, finding in it the ugly truth and disgusting beauty of life.

Here is a clip from the old Martin Mull show Fernwood 2 Night, in which Waits parodies his own parody, in a proto-Stephen Colbert kind of way. Truly brilliant and utterly hilarious. Enjoy!

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