War and Peace – The Morality of Theological Scholarship

“Jeanne d’Arc,” Nicholas Roerich

“My peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” the priest always says at Mass, before we offer one another signs of peace. I take this to be an essential attitude for theology. An attitude not merely of peace, but of Christ’s peace. A personal peace, as it were, given into our care. This is difficult in a scholarly world built mostly upon the fractured lines of battles and allegiances.

Still I work hard write essays that construct rather than destroy, and if I must confront a negative value, I strive to redeem what I can of it rather than burning it to the ground. Catholics are ever syncretistic optimists, even when it does us in. This is a major reason why I’ve never written one of those “takedown” articles or presentations that strives to eliminate a work I find unconvincing or troubling. This was also one of my frustrations at most job interviews, where I was often tasked with stepping across minefields as a deliberate phase of the process. I’d much prefer discussing faith rather than whether or not faithful dissent is possible. Especially since almost any answer I give to the latter will start a fight with one or ten people across the table. And usually we haven’t even begun to discuss the former anyway.

All of which I use to frame my present moral crisis over a book I’ve been asked to respond to publicly, a book by which I am deeply troubled and which I strongly oppose. There is very little in it that I want to redeem. I wish it had not been written. I wish I had not read it. And now I am not at all sure how to embody an attitude of peace toward a book that does so much violence to what I understand to be serious, biblically-steeped theology.

Now surely I would welcome such a scholar into my house if hungry, and treat such a person with all the kindness deserved of every soul. But I don’t have to like the book. A false peace seems to be another kind of violence. Dishonesty is violent.

So the puzzle: how am I to maintain an ambition of collaboration with work that rankles me so?

I may perhaps be forced, for the first time, to openly and thoroughly disagree with another scholar in whose eyes I must stare as I do it. This hurts me to think. But I’d rather not lie. I’d much rather say, somehow, “What you want is good – but I do not think it is here.”

And perhaps I will simply focus on where I think it really is rather than what went wrong.

That seems more beautiful than a battle.

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