John C. Pinheiro, a professor of history at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., reflects on the nature of teaching religious history. He points to the still-often dominant paradigm in academia, which ignores religion as a category, preferring instead to consider “economic,” “ethnic,” or “social” history, categories that “subsume religion for the Marxian and secular humanist.”
There is a kind of myth of objectivity in such pursuits, but as Pinheiro points out “secular humanism is decidedly un-neutral. It is a substitute for religion, not the absence of a worldview. The militant variety wants to scrub the public square free of all vestiges of religion, not understanding the connection between religion and culture; or, perhaps understanding it all too well. Yet this is contrary to all of human experience, though it is the result of historical forces even predating the Enlightenment that historians and their students can study.”
He goes on to point out that “even today, only 2.5% of the world are atheists. In other words, 97.5% of humanity see meaning in life, believe in a god or Gods, and understand intuitively or through learning that there exists a metaphysical aspect to existence that is transcendent. This number would be even higher for much of the past.”
These observations reminded me of a point made by Abraham Kuyper in his reflections on the nature of scientific investigation and academic culture. Speaking of the myth of complete rational and secular objectivity, Kuyper says that when such a methodology dominates,
this means that the thinker with the most impoverished sense has framed the case, since he has denied all the richer content of the human consciousness while validating as truth only what he has agreed with. This is like an army moving under orders that the cavalry not advance any faster than the infantry, nor the infantry any faster than its slowest soldier. Even though within this position faith is indispensable for progress (no matter that it was no more than believing in one single axiom), nevertheless the outcome was that everyone who possessed richer faith ultimately had to go along with and adapt to the researcher with the least faith. From this it follows that all Christian researchers who allowed themselves to be pulled in this direction were required to place the far richer content of their own conscious faith outside the scientific domain, or even to surrender their faith or drift toward apostasy.
Thankfully to some extent as Pinheiro points out, there has been a “turn to religion” in various academic fields, including history. As Pinheiro writes, “To take religion seriously in our study of the past means first of all beginning with the assumption that people really believe what they say they believe. An intimate knowledge of our own human condition — sadly lacking among many in our unreflective, noisy society — is a necessity in this endeavor.”