I dreamed I had a fever
I was pushin one-oh-three
My mom’s all upset - cryin’ by my bedside
Everybody’s prayin’ for me
I hear a scratchin at the window
I somehow twist myself around
I realize I’m eyes to eyes
With the fella in the Brite Nitegown
You can’t fight with the fella
In the Brite Nitegown
Donald Fagen (mp3 here)
“One-oh-three,” you say? That's kid stuff. The “scratchin at the window,” however, was tangible enough to put me in a metaphysical frame of mind, so among the curiosities I pulled from my laden bookshelves while I was sick was Walking Away From Faith, by Ruth A. Tucker. I'm not sure who clued me in to this book (probably JT) but I was completely taken with it. I found Tucker to be plain-spoken, and forthright about her own doubts and insecurities — a religious academic attempting to explore without guile or defensiveness the issue of apostasy. Intellectually she was both perceptive and receptive in fairly equal measure. A quick Google search reveals that this book receives glowing recommendations from both evangelical atheists (here is one such) and evangelical Christians — surely the most unique distinction for a religious book you could hope to find.
As I scanned the Google links, I was surprised to see how few of them pertained to the book. It's received precious little attention from the commercially-funded religious rags, and after investigating a little further I began to see why: the book and its subject matter have been eclipsed by the treatment Tucker has received at the hands of her former employers, Calvin College and Theological Seminary.
I would dearly love to comment on this specific case, but the only account on record is Tucker's (here). It's as surely biased as all first-person accounts must be, but she's attentive to pertinent details and the fact that Calvin remains mute in response to her objections is more than a little damning of them. Certainly church-funded academia is no stranger to immoral administration. I have a professor friend who has been the recipient of shabby treatment from both public universities and religious colleges: he asserts in no uncertain terms that Christian colleges will screw-over an exiting staff-member more thoroughly than any public institution, because a) there are fewer accountability hoops for the administrations of religious institutions to jump through, and b) the administration, whose chief concern is public perception among the school's donor base, will invoke without censure the self-serving “godliness clause” (JT unpacks it all here).
Instead I'll do the usual: speak from personal experience and make a few scandalous generalizations in an effort to provoke.
So far as I'm concerned, nothing sucks the air out of a room faster than a man intent on selling a Calvinist Benefits Package. Thanks to prolonged manifold exposure (I skulked in the hallways of the ICS and as an MCC hack did some work with CPJ in the mid-90s) on this issue my knee-jerk has been finely-tuned to a hair-trigger response. Recently, however, I've been surprised to discover two spokesmen on behalf of John Calvin (The Man) who snuck past my defences and forced me to reconsider my deeply-entrenched predjudices — and they weren't men at all. I'm speaking of Marilynne Robinson and, of course, Tucker. (Actually, Seerveld has slipped through on occasion as well, but he's a dude and I'm trying not to complicate my invective.)
It's head-slappingly obvious where I'm going with this: if today's self-styled Calvinistas want their public voice to be anything more trenchant than a nostalgic echo of post-war glory days, the fellas running the academies and churches are going to have to roll up their sleeves and work bloody hard to address gender representation, gender discrepancies and public accountability.
On all three issues George W. Bush and his administration are holding to a higher standard than Calvin College does. If that doesn't cause consternation among my neo-Cal friends, I truly fear for the soul of their religion.
Getting back to Tucker's book: it's well-written, well-considered and she never condescends. This is the first I've encountered anything like it on the market, so I highly recommend the book to anyone with a vested interest in the subject matter (particularly those readers who aren't as taken with Annie Dillard as I am). Quibbles: the last chapter felt a bit rushed (possibly written while her position was being terminated?), and the font used should, I think, be avoided by all publishers everywhere. I hope once Ms. Tucker has regained her footing she'll publish other books. She's someone I don't mind listening to.