But more than that, it seems to me that the biggest hurdle in the way of promoting scholarship is precisely the fact that some denigrate it in the name of religion, and many people who need to encounter scholarship never do precisely because of the attitude of the leaders of their religious tradition.I think there is something right about that. I also think there is something backwards about it. The backwards part is in the bit I have added emphasis to. No one needs to encounter scholarship. It is up to scholars to prove, and prove again and again that they have something to offer us.
There is an interesting example that I think backs my point in piece McGrath links to by a guy named Joseph Hoffman about the demise of something that was called The Jesus Project. No, I've never heard of it either and that seems to be a big part of the problem. As near as I can tell, it was a transparent attempt to replicate the succès de scandale of the Jesus Seminar.
What makes Hoffman's post interesting—to me anyway—is that the man is obviously educated and capable of writing well so he ought to be able to produce a coherent piece and yet he fails. I don't want to pick on him too much as he clearly doesn't deserve it but I wonder what makes an intelligent person incapable of seeing the obvious contradiction between this:
It [the existence or non-existence of an historical Jesus] is not a question that was going to be answered by men and women whose minds were made up ...and this:
Everyone (almost) agrees that most of Jesus is a myth of the church ...I think a better way, and a more honest way to make this second claim would be to say something along the lines of, "as a scholar there are only a limited number of things that I can say about Jesus." It is, for example, quite possible for a scholar to stand in front of a class and state scholarly beliefs that would exclude much of what is in the Christian faith and then go to a Catholic church and recite the Creed and mean every word of it. Religion scholars—like religious believers—come together in groups based on a set of things about which they have already agreed to agree about. It couldn't work any other way.
More importantly, doing it my way would help scholars who want to reach religious believers. Do it the way Hoffman does above and most religious believers will just tune him out and they will be quite right to do so.
Let me suggest another reason why the Jesus Project might have failed. It failed because the Jesus Seminar failed. By the time Funk died, enough people had realized that the Jesus Seminar was just a bunch of publicity whores who had gotten tired of the relative obscurity of academic scholarship that the trick couldn't be pulled off a second time.
I know it is hard for academics to accept but the market valuation of what they do is low and declining*. Lots of people think that a university degree is a valuable thing to have but very few people think that what university professors have to say about the really important things in life is worth much. No where is that clearer than with scholarship relating to religion. A complete fraud like Dan Brown can sell forty million books while the only reason academics get published at all is that they and the institutions where they work and the publishers that crank out their books are heavily subsidized by governments.
My advice to scholars—in the unlikely case that they might seek it—is to be considerably more humble. In an era of publicly funded post-secondary education even the elite universities are nothing more than public education. You are not professional truth seekers (no more than the rest of us) but public servants. In practical terms, you don't have any more significance than a high school teacher and no, no-one outside of your classroom needs to listen to you and no one outside your classroom has to listen to you. So, be honest about yourself and what you do. Yes, there always will be brilliant scholars but you probably aren't one of them. Your job is teaching and the research you do is intended to prove you are qualified to teach not to change the way we understand our world.
*The salaries of university professors have declined as compared to other professionals and there is no reason to believe that trend won't continue.
H/T Exploring Our Matrix: The Mything Links