Jared Witt l August 17, 2017
In ancient days, there existed a certain category of person who just isn't around anymore. All societies had them, and they went by many names. But we’ll just call them the wise people. Much of their “knowledge” was unsurprisingly folksy. But often times their charlatanism in one sphere was paired side by side with another in which they were as disciplined as any modern academic, albeit with access to far less source material. Specifically, the discrepancy in their expertise generally (though not always) ran along the same line that separates what we call “the humanities” and what we call “the sciences” in our universities.
So the same person who prescribed quack herbal remedies for headaches, which we know today to be unhelpul, might also have had complete mastery over six different languages and all of the major literature in each. The person who claimed to read the future based on the stars might also have discovered a brilliant geometric formula.
Today, the sheer volume of accumulated knowledge and the skill sets required for each discipline make it impossible to be this sort of jack-of-all-trades intellectual. So, for instance, we would never entrust the work of a brain surgeon to a podiatrist, even though the general medical knowledge of either is light years beyond anything the world knew up until the last century or so, and a professor of Asian antiquities wouldn’t dare review a book on the fall of the Mayans, even though she has a far better handle on the topic than your average historian in the Roman era.
We’ve gained a lot with the endless specialization and credentialing that is required of our intellectuals—I’m glad that our doctors aren’t just grabbing a jar of herbs and winging it anymore—but we’ve lost something too. There is now a huge communication gap that has developed between the “experts” and everyone else. The role of public philosopher is nearly extinct. By public philosopher, I don’t just mean someone who works in a philosophy department and publishes a book on Jacques Derrida to be read and understood by six other Derrida scholars around the world before finding its way to the stacks in some university library. I mean someone whose job it is to really try to read the times we’re living in and translate the best in human thought into those times to help give the average person some tools for understanding (actually, I do have a cousin who claims to know everything, but there are some major holes in his repertoire, and that’s not really what I’m talking about either).
The problem I’m driving at is this: it's hard to believe that a parade of white supremacists wielding tiki torches (currently on sale, two for $5.99 at Target), which represents the disintegration of all mammalian intelligence, has nothing to do with the fact that the best in human thought—ethics, social science, biology, history, etc.—is tied up in an ivory tower somewhere with no pulley system or even a braid of hair to lower itself down to where the rest of us live (and yes, the problems of racism and class divide are much larger than just the education gap, but I don’t think that they're totally unrelated either).
Quite literally, there was a time when the best thinking of the day used to be done in public, from Socrates in the Athenian market place to C.S. Lewis in an English pub, the best that humanity had to offer used to rub elbows daily with fish traders selling their catch and construction workers at last call.
One area where Castle Church would like to help remedy this is in the area of theological education. I’m aware that the idea of a thoughtful and well-informed Bible study might, itself, sound like an oxymoron to some, since the message of the Bible has been so badly coopted and distorted by many of the same people wielding the tiki torches. That’s not an argument against but a product of the problem I’ve been describing. And when we ignore the problem, we basically just forfeit the game to the tiki torch wielders. So imbedded are Christian or quasi-Christian images into the language and outlook of our majority culture, that somebody will always be leveraging the weight of the Bible to promote their ideology for good or for ill. So the solution to bad theology can’t be no theology. It has to be good theology.
Castle Church would like to be a place that facilitates this better theological dialogue, a safe place for a conversation about the biblical text and the Christian tradition that is more intelligent, more informed, and more life-giving than what we currently see in the news. Whether in our interfaith dialogues with local rabbi’s and imams, our keynote speakers, or our Table Talk groups, we would like to be the staging ground for an intelligent but still accessible theological dialogue between people of various traditions and no tradition.
The only rules are humility and generosity of spirit toward the ideas of others. I have to think our world can use a little more of both those things right about now.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community. Checkout this blog weekly for reflections and updates or subscribe to our newsletter so that you never miss a thing.
On how Castle Church is stirring up a movement from a brewery in Florida.