Previously we have discussed the ongoing process by which universities have been transformed into enterprises that, more and more, reflect the dominant materialistic aspirations of business and government that have an ideological home in neo-liberal economics.
We have also recently raised the question as to why a Christian political option is vitally connected to the ongoing reformation of scholarship.
The discussion is aimed at clarifying the kind of Christian response to “higher education” within the confused polities of the South West Pacific. The prevailing notion is that a university’s contribution will be enhanced by ever closer co-operation with “business”. Once again we hear comments from political and business leaders that universities need to be brought closer and closer together. There is simply no discussion as to whether the persistent attempts over 3 or more decades is itself the cause and consequence of the creation of an intellectual proletariat that is useful neither for the academy nor for the wider society. This much repeated and failed strategy reduces human life to the presumed enlightened self-interest of those who measure themselves and their contribution in terms of increased financial resources. And the Bible has a name for it: Mammon.
Why bother with a root and branch reformation of scholarship? Our bold confession is that without submission of every strategy to Christ, scholarship becomes merely a willing servant of enslavement to the idols of our time.
It would therefore be most appropriate to look very carefully at recent comments of the Australian Prime Minister in which his view of “fairness” comes to expression. What is this principle to which he is appealing? Is he in fact simply reiterating the same old Liberal idolatry that puts individual rights above everything else? Is he able, by his overt Liberal standpoint to actually develop policies that are fair to institutional responsibility as much as personal and individual accountability? We only have to think about the gross unfairness to the marriage institution that he perpetuates with his dogged misunderstanding of an institution in which he and his wife participate. But let us also ask: is such “fairness” going to be granted to the distinctive integrity of science and scholarship or are we going to be confronted by yet another round of neo-liberal “fairness” in which the previously failed promises of policies claiming to chart the way ahead for the revival of science and scholarship are simply laundered once more for another round of mammonised reforms? We don’t wish to be unfair to Mr Turnbull here. But do we not have decades of evidence piling up before our eyes that his “fairness” ethic is simply treading down the same old neo-liberal path in which all of life is to be measured abstractly in the presumed gratification that will result from increased fiscal returns.
Why bother with the reformation of scholarship? Well in its own way, science and scholarship, as much in economics as in any other discipline, has a vocation to assist us in forming a way of life that genuinely and truly turns away from the idolatry of mammon to seek the ways of the Lord (Matthew 6:24). And “Christian” economic ideas, as much as any others including those of Mr Turnbull’s “fairness”, are quite prone to involve such a spiritual capitulation. But then this view, as put forward by this writer, has been forward a quarter-century ago in a series titled The Sermon on the Mount and University Reform, for a student newspaper and also a Christian scholarly journal.