On Intellectual Integrity and Intellectual Cowardice

by Francis Samdao

A month ago, I wrote a short paper on intellectual integrity. I endeavored in that paper to use theology as my “tradition of speech”, with the claim that academic integrity matters because God matters. Therefore, academic writing necessitates honest theological conviction. I use theology as my lens because I am a Christian, part of the church’s catholicity. I am gifted with that particular “speech”—theology, to navigate the imponderables of life. As such, I endeavor in this essay to continue that discussion.

Since Christians are given a theological “grammar” to use within the alternative polis,—the Church, it is, imperative to avoid the temptation to embrace “intellectual cowardice.” Stanley Hauerwas uses this term to describe what he observes as practice in many graduate schools that the primary job of the professors is to mainly present a matrix of positions in the name of “fair” scholarship. For Hauerwas, this abandons the fact that professors are to present their own theological convictions, which invites students to engage in their theological stand. The fact that theologians are given the “language that is intrinsic to the discipline of theology” makes their effort daunting and interesting. Having a theological conviction by which to impart on the ongoing conversation is one of the aims of theological scholarship and classroom teaching if these are to serve the community of God.

Intellectual integrity is not possible if those who are in the conversation do not understand and admit their theological convictions, and the tradition by which they draw the “grammar” in their speech. I, therefore, put it succinctly in this sentence, “knowing one’s theological conviction situates him/her on a horizon with other theologians.” Such “intellectual boldness” as part of intellectual integrity, would bear much fruit in the conversation because it espouses that each one, despite the various theological convictions, can contribute within the church catholic.

My logic is that after situating one’s self within a theological tradition, one can acquire the intellectual resources to understand the complexity of the divine subject. Humans are finite and they are attempting to understand the Infinite. To admit the complex implications of the God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is a form on intellectual integrity. Out of that theological positioning, then, flows the possibility of respect in dialogue. Hauerwas may help in the discussion when he avers, “in the shadows of a dying Christendom the challenge is how to recover a strong theological voice without that voice betraying the appropriate fragility of all speech but particularly speech about God.” Note that Hauerwas proclaims the importance of having a theological voice as opposed to intellectual cowardice. Furthermore, he argues the need to have a theological voice that does not betray the telos—goal, as to why theological conversation and proclamation is needed in the first place.

I suspect that one of my aims in this essay is to “contextualize” what Hauerwas describes Karl Barth to be—a joyful theologian. Given his prolific writing career, Hauerwas maintains a strong sense of humor with a strong theological voice. To sum up, I have argued that intellectual integrity matters because God matters—there is no need to embrace “intellectual cowardice.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.