April 19, 2010

Disconnected Dogmatism

Bear with me: The hit teevee show of my teenage years was called Cheers. In one episode, Sam the bartender, a lifelong womanizer, was struggling with commitment fears because he'd reluctantly agreed to make a baby with his girlfriend, Rebecca. Someone convinced Sam to go see a priest, a very old man who listened intently while Sam poured his heart out, expressing genuine angst and a desire to do the right thing as a boyfriend and possible father.

The dilemmas were sincerely crushing to this poor man, but Sam somehow boiled all of it down to one pressing 'relationship' question, and asked it. The old priest, pausing, said slowly: "Am I to understand that you've been having sexual relations with a woman who is not your wife?" Sam froze. Cue hysterical laugh track. You could see the amoral bartender suddenly realize how badly he'd miscalculated.

A moment before, he'd been expecting real help, but the old priest was coming at Sam from a whole different world, in his mind.

Somehow, that episode made an impression...


In my mid-twenties, one day after school, I argued vigorously with our campus Psychologist, about the true mental capacities of one fourteen year old boy, who was new in town. Adopted from God knows what kind of neglect in one city, he'd been living for scant months with a nurturing couple in our district. He'd also come into our school classified as mentally retarded.

Now, this so happened to be my rookie year teaching, but I'd worked with the boy in Algebra (!) and he seemed to show flashes of a higher IQ. Unfortunately, I didn't have the vocabulary or the experience to be at all convincing in relating this to our Shrink. Exasperated, I recall flashing back to that scene from the show, Cheers. Cue the sob track. The boy was removed from his Algebra class. Two years later, thank goodness, his official IQ was a rank or two higher, and the young man got back into regular classes.

Time worked it all out. Evidently, the boy blossomed under new parentage. But in my initial moment of conflict, a dogmatic professional had refused to consider that option. She'd been absolutely certain that things could not be contrary to what her theories and papers were saying.

Apparently, I didn't know enough about her theories to properly interpret my actual experience. Humph.


In my mid-thirties, tonight, I was reading yet another recap of the Wheaton conference on N.T. Wright's work. And somehow, this blogger's assessment of Vanhoozer's problems with Wright [near the end of this post] left me reeling back, once again, to Sam the bartender fighting against the old priest. I think the same thing about some of what Richard Hays had to say. More on that in time.

I've not yet read much of Wright - which is one reason I didn't go to the Wheaton conference last weekend. But the conflict between this erstwhile Historian of the Gospels and these Theologians who should be his allies is something I'll dwell on for a good while longer.


I may have more to say as I work through the videos. We shall see.

Watch this space.

But for now, let me just say this much:

It's amazing how some people get some things so stuck in their heads that they just can't be practical about what's actual, and about what's at hand. And it's even more amazing that such brilliant people can talk so PAST one another that it takes years, years and more years simply to get a common vocabulary ironed out, between all parties.

I guess, as much as anything, one key lesson may be that dogmatism disconnects.

Lord, help us all, in this area...

1 comment:

Alan Knox said...

"I guess, as much as anything, one key lesson may be that dogmatism disconnects."

You said a mouthful in that one sentence.


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