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Liberal Thinking and (the Absence of) Critical Thinking

September 20, 2009

What is it about liberal ways of thinking that shuts down all critical thought in some students? I read papers written by students who want to be so non-judgmental and tolerant of all views that make claims that are patently false or absurd. I came across all the following while grading today:

  • One student said that we should never criticize religion and that people should believe whatever they are taught.
  • One student said that you can hold any religious belief, because if you believe it it will come true for you.
  • One student, in response to a reading about a heretic who was killed by the church, said that any Christian who defines Christianity in an exclusive way is hypocritical—right after offering her own exclusive definition of Christianity that included the people she wanted to include. Basically, she drew a line in the sand—albeit a generous one—and then launched a blanket criticism of people who draw lines in the sand.

I hate it that in some quarters all talk about religion is guided by the following principles: 1) always appear to be tolerant, nice, and generous, and 2) never appear to be critical or intolerant.

The people who assume these principles have their hands tied: they have to find a way to draw lines in the sand (between what is tolerable and what is intolerable) while appearing not to be doing so.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    September 20, 2009 7:01 pm

    “Liberal” students are perfectly capable of something like critical thinking when they sense even a hint of a leftist slant in an article, textbook, etc. Then it’s whine whine whine about “bias”.

    This one is the best: “One student said that you can hold any religious belief, because if you believe it it will come true for you.” I’m reminded of a quote from Althusser that Zizek references in a few different places: “Act as if you believe, pray, kneel down, and you shall believe, faith will arrive by itself.” You will believe that you believe–isn’t this what ideology is about?

  2. September 21, 2009 3:00 am

    Is 2 so wrong?

  3. vidya108 permalink
    September 21, 2009 3:35 am

    It’s wrong for an academic-paper context. Perhaps it was an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to express the Neo-Vedanta dictum that ‘all paths lead to God-realization’? Otherwise, I have no idea how to make sense of the idea that believing in a belief makes that belief ‘come true’.

  4. roland permalink
    September 21, 2009 4:53 am

    And Althusser (in his ideology essay) got that one from Pascal

  5. September 21, 2009 12:13 pm

    One thing I hate about being Christian is that I can no longer argue that killing heretics is a reasonable act on the part of Christendom.
    The weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man.
    *Sigh* it was fun while it lasted.

  6. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    September 21, 2009 4:48 pm

    Yea, I knew that was Pascal. Bourdieu comments on that bit of Pascal too …

    Sophia, you’re crazy!

    Richard, I can’t tell if you’re serious or not. I mean, I know there are such things as self-fulfilled prophecies and all, but are you suggesting that gods and goddesses come into being if we believe in them?

  7. vidya108 permalink
    September 22, 2009 2:20 am

    Plenty of Hindus would accept that “gods and goddesses come into being if we believe in them,” i.e., that God takes the form most-pleasing to His devotee; that’s a mainstream Hindu position. But it’s still not an academic argument (unless one is stating something like, “Many Hindus believe…”).

    Somehow, I optimistically expected that when I changed disciplines I would encounter less dumbness from first-year Sociology students than I did from first-year Religious Studies students, at least in terms of written work. Alas, I was mistaken; it’s only a different kind of dumb. I have marked paper after paper in which students have argued that the sex trade would cease if prostitutes were just taught better values and that some countries are poor because their citizens are lazy.

  8. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    September 22, 2009 7:22 am

    Wow, Vidya. I would have been optimistic too, but it sounds as bad there in sociology too. I guess a lot of academic disciplines really intersect with where students have been previously indoctrinated with ideology—in ways unlike what we might see in macroeconomics, for instance, where they probably have no substantial prior knowledge or opinion about the subject matter.

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