What's Tony Thinking

Biden, Love in Particular and English Majors


Biden in 2024? Jill Biden says that her husband doesn’t feel the “job is done,” which is about as clear a signal that he’s running again in 2024 as we’re likely to get until he says it himself. As I’ve noted here before, I and most everyone I talk to have been agreed he shouldn’t be running again at age 82, which is how old he will be in 2024. I’ve got a new theory about why so many of us think he shouldn’t be running. Maybe Joe makes us feel like slackers, senior slackers? Shoot, if he can be President of the U.S. in his eighties what are you and I doing?

More seriously, his strong State of the Union gave me pause. I especially liked the way in smiled his genial smile in the face of Republican hecklers.

Being old in the job took me back to something a prof at Union Seminary, Paul Hoon, said. Hoon suggested ministers start out as bishops and work their way up to be parish pastors (the opposite of how it actually works). The latter, Hoon maintained is the harder job, one that requires real wisdom. We do tend to put people out to pasture when they have learned something, including that they aren’t the center of the world.

A particular love. I liked this from Richard Beck at his blog “Experimental Theology.”

I encountered a quote on Alan Jacob’s blog from the ending of Adams Roberts’ novel “The This.” I haven’t read the novel, but I deeply connected with the quote. The quote is about the particularity of love, how we don’t love in general or in the abstract. We love the specific and particular.

Here’s the quote:

You see, love is not an abstraction. It’s not a theory or a cosmic force or a slogan or any kind of diffuseness spread across the world. Love is particular. You do not love in general, you love this person, this thing, this life, you love this, this, this, this, this, and this, and this, and this loves you back. This is the only thing in the world, and it is precise and specific and real, and it is everything and infinitude.

What I’d add to this quote, from a Christian perspective, is the theme of “Stranger God:” Love is hard. Loving the specific and particular brings us into intimate, difficult contact with the demands of love. Consequently, we try to avoid these demands by escaping into the abstract, universal and general. We recoil from the demands of love and back up.

Reminds me of a Will Willimon story. Will asks students why they are seminary, why they are preparing for the ministry. The most popular answer? “I just love people.” To which Will responds, “Have you met the people?” Loving people in the abstract is easier than loving actual and particular people.

Plummeting enrollment in the humanities. There’s a longish article in the current New Yorker asking where have all the English majors gone? Garrison Keillor’s people are endangered. Mine too, the history majors. The Humanities are vanishing on campus, eclipsed by students in so-called STEM, science, technology, engineering and math.

My thought? How could this possibly come as a surprise to anyone? I am no economist nor the son of an economist (cf. Amos 7: 14) but I know enough about “the dismal science” to understand that systems get what they incentivize. The glories and importance of STEM education are regularly touted. English, history, philosophy, the classics — what are they?

I could go full curmudgeon on this but my real point is the one the economists make: incentives. STEM education is glorified, humanities — forget it. The triumph of idea that the point of “higher education” is getting a job. One interesting theme in the article, the decline of humanities majors tracks the decline of democracy.

We’re in South Carolina visiting our daughter, Laura, and her partner, Noah. It was in the upper seventies yesterday when we enjoyed a walk in the pine woods. Happy March “y’all”!

Categories: Uncategorized