Colleges can be cheap in the sense that they often take shortcuts so that the administration can waste funding on self-aggrandizing schemes nobody else knows or cares about. One of the ways they cut corners is to put graduate students into the same classes as undergrads but make the former write more papers, which typically means reading more outside material on the same basic stuff covered in lectures and class discussions. Typically these grad students then make some kind of presentation to the rest of the class.
My college education record is far from typical, but I never tried to get above the baccalaureate level. Instead, I pursued my own outside readings of things never assigned for course work or tests. Even for research papers I felt driven to read well outside the range of what was required. Something I might find in a footnote turned into reading an entire fat tome or two that simply held my interest, never mind whether it helped me make any grades. Whether or not that made me any sharper or wiser is for others to assess, but I read way more than most of my peers in college both times that I attended formally. More than once an educated person assumed I had a master’s degree, at least.
Among the classes I attended were lots of courses in the Philosophy departments. Among at least a dozen or so lecturers, I recall only two professors who made any effort to help us understand some of crazy stuff philosophers can spew onto pages and pages of books. Two guys who remembered what it was like not to understand this crap — and they made sure we understood just how much of it was crap. Of all places, you might think a philosophy class would avoid making such harsh judgments, but trust me: Most writing in the field of philosophy is crazy shit you can’t possibly use, never mind whether you might imagine you understand it. It’s not useful because it makes no significant difference in human awareness. It doesn’t make the world a better place. I might not remember the names of all the famous philosophers (and theologians), but I can recall some of the idiocy that became sacred in that field.
But I didn’t stop there. While classes of useful depth were exceedingly rare, I also studied the philosophies of non-Western societies. Way back from my high school days, I stumbled into a program where students were offered really obscure stuff as electives led by some teachers who were just marking time in a public school while waiting for a better job at some university. Two of those classes would fall into the category of Comparative Civilizations. So I already had an inclination to pursue academic investigation of non-Western intellectual traditions.
Maybe I’m just dense, but I was nearly finished with my first BA when I was slapped upside the head with the statement that Christianity was born in a non-Western civilization. Graduating from that school did require me to get a job to make a living, but I also had more brain-time to devote to that issue. For the next decade I read a lot of stuff, mostly articles out of magazines and encyclopedic works, sometimes places like libraries or obscure little bookstores, all over the US and Europe. I was sometimes obsessed about the non-Western nature of the ancient Hebrew religion. In the process, I became ever more dismissive of what passes for philosophy in the Western traditions.
I know what I’m rejecting here. Oklahoma Baptist University is still slavish about worshiping Western Civilization. The last time I checked, the single biggest and most demanding course they offer as mandatory to every student passing through that institution is the combined study of Western History and Literature (and consequently, philosophy). A central assertion in that whole course of studies is that Western Civilization is inherently Christian, as you might expect from a Christian college. But that’s because “Christian” is defined in a highly perverted way that reads Western Civilization back into the Hebrew Scriptures. Only one professor admitted as much to me, and I recall it as a private conversation with someone loath to provoke the tenure committee. This same professor carefully made it abundantly clear in class that Hebrew thinking was radically different from Western. They called the Hebrew stuff “orientalisms” so that students would dismiss it as a curiosity, not germane.
I note in passing it was not just Western Civilization as a whole, but that hidden in the whole thing was an ugly iron demand that students adhere to the peculiar value system associated with Anglo-Saxon culture. We “celebrated” other cultures, but the core of our religious material was thoroughly Anglo-Saxon. We read Beowulf cover to cover and studied it in depth, as if it were an additional book of the Bible. Need I remind you that no thread of Western Civilization is more rapacious and spiteful than the Anglo-Saxon? Somewhere deep below the surface it seemed to say, “Never mind what you might think of it; this is what we are, so conform, dammit.” What does it do when “faith” is driven into that spooky territory of human self-awareness?
Western Civilization is the one and only place in human history where we see that religious faith is inherently unacceptable. If you accept the ground rules of Western epistemology, you cannot believe in God as someone who guides your moral decisions. Whatever it is you make of any deity, morality can never be anything more than mere sentiment because all morality is a human social and cultural construct. That is the quintessential assumption behind Western Civilization as a whole. This is why Western Christianity is so utterly powerless. All those efforts to make faith reasonable, by whatever terminology you choose, violates the very foundation of what Westerners consider “reason” in the first place. If you accept the basic assumptions of Western Civilization, you must reject Christ.
It constitutes a rejection if you redefine Him to the point He is no longer the quintessential Hebrew man. I continue in amazement that Western Christian professors can explain the huge difference between Western and Hebrew epistemologies and still not make the connection that Western Christianity is not actually Christlike. This is a basic assertion behind much of what I teach here. There were moments when my progress along that path lurched forward, but I didn’t get there overnight. For the longest time I still bought into the basic assumptions of Western Christianity and remained in that prison until the last moment I was ejected from a church. It was nothing formal, mind you, but that same corrupt, subtle background threatening that happens at churches all the time.
I don’t miss it.