When I contemplate the fact that I have somehow become sixty-six years of age, I think about retirement. I can’t afford to actually do it (yet), but I can afford to think about it. My mind’s appetite for my work is unabated, but I can feel my body slowing down. I would never want to stop teaching, but at some point it will be good to step back from the headlong pace of a full load. And so I think that as my career as a full-time academic and scholar approaches its end-game, as the brevity that was always a characteristic of this earthly life becomes inescapable, it becomes even more important for me to focus on what matters.
And thus I find myself rolling my eyes at one more scholarly article that would (and should) never have been published at all save for some dutiful colleague’s desire not to perish, but which I have to read anyway so I can say that I have done a full literature review, and thinking, “Life is too short for this.” I think I am right about that, but the rules of scholarly publishing require me to waste this precious time anyway if I am to be allowed to publish something that (I hope) is actually worth reading. My patience with this particular conflict between the Ideal and the Real wears thinner with every passing year. But wrestling with it has given me some additional clarity about what I actually care about and what I ought to be inspiring my students to care about.
What do I care about? I care about Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
I care about Philosophy (as an academic “subject”) in so far—and only in so far—as it helps me to understand and pursue Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. If you have some other agenda, don’t waste my time.I care about Literature in so far as it embodies Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
I care about Literary Criticism in so far—and only in so far—as it helps me to discern, understand, and appreciate the ways in which Literature embodies Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, that is, to discern, understand, and appreciate the meaning by which it does so. That would be the author’s original meaning. If you aren’t pointing me to that, don’t waste my time.
I care about Philology because words are wonderful things in themselves and because it makes the profitable study of Literature (including biblical literature) possible.
I care about Theology in so far as it shows me the Source and Grounding of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the triune God and helps me to worship Him intelligently and follow Him faithfully.
I care about Truth, Goodness and Beauty, not for their own sake, but because they are reflections of His perfect Being; for Truth is the reflection of His Mind, Goodness of His Character, and Beauty of His Glory, as they are imprinted on the world He has made.
I care about my students because they were made in the image of God to love Him and to love Truth, Goodness, and Beauty for His sake, alongside me. I care about them because Christ died to make their restoration to that image and that love possible. I care about inspiring them and equipping them to join me in the quest.
I don’t care about “political correctness”; I am positively inimical to “safe spaces.”
I don’t care how you “feel” about the subject.
I don’t care about how clever or up to date you are or about what kind of jargon you can deploy to obscure your lack of actual thought.
I don’t care what facile Post-Modern “theory” you are using as an excuse to dismiss, rather than discern, the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty that may be embodied in the literary text you are purporting to “interpret.”
I don’t care if you think I am a Curmudgeon, a Troglodyte, a Reactionary, a Bigot, or just a general Party-Pooper of the Professional Pretensions of Academia, for having said these things so plainly.
Oh, by the way: I can actually say all of this because I already have tenure.
Think about what that means for the future of what we are pleased to call Higher Education.
And think about Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—but only if you want to start a revolution.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College in the Hills of NE Georgia. His latest book is Deeper Magic: The Theological Framework behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016).