By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Dr. Steven Hake, PHC's Chairman of the Department of Classical Liberal Arts and Professor of Literature
During the College’s thirteenth Faith & Reason lecture this past Friday, PHC’s Dr. Steven Hake argued that pride and despair have brought the western intellectual world to a low point, and that society is ripe for fresh, life-bringing ideas—a “Christian Renaissance.” In a day filled with lively discussion and debate, the campus wrestled with the intricate philosophy of the many thinkers Dr. Hake cited and reflected thoughtfully on his overall thesis. By the day’s last session, the Q&A period, students had raised dozens of probing questions for Dr. Hake and the faculty panel of Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Dr. Mark Mitchell, Dr. Matthew Roberts, and Dr. Doug Favelo.
In the lecture’s first half-hour, Dr. Hake scanned the philosophical landscape of the twentieth century, describing the “New Criticism” that led to the “structuralist revolution” of theorists like Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and others in the 1960s. These thinkers promoted “grand theories” of truth and structure apart from God, which soon led to “post-structuralism,” also known as “postmodernism.”
“The modernists . . . definitely did not want God, but still believed they could have all the blessings of God, like meaning and purpose and understanding,” said Dr. Hake. “Derrida simply said, in effect, ‘We believe there is no God. Let us face some of the implications of that belief.’”
A postmodernist has no fixed reference point, structure, or center, he noted, concluding that the logical conclusion is nihilism and despair.
Friday's faculty panel: (L to R) Dr. Matthew Roberts, Dr. Doug Favelo, Dr. Mark Mitchell, Dr. Steven Hake, Dr. Gene Edward Veith
Dr. Hake recounted one of PHC’s earliest lit grads, Travis Timmons, who “emailed me a couple years ago during his first year in grad school. He was taking a lit class on ‘The Frankfort School.’ His professor said on the first day of class, ‘Postmodernism is dead. We need an idea.’ She proposed a return to the Frankfort School for the needed idea.”
Other faculty members at universities across the country might turn, for example, to Marx, or Freud, or even gender studies. Yet Dr. Hake demonstrated how each of these, and Freudianism in particular, leads ultimately to despair.
Even classical studies, which Dr. Hake said many consider “a bulwark against modern and postmodern madness,” does not give “certainty, security or meaning” without appeal to a higher authority. Describing a conference for classicists a few years ago at Harvard University, Dr. Hake recalled how deconstructive scholar Jonathan Culler from Cornell challenged the ability of their discipline to render any ultimate truth.
Dr. David Aikman, Professor of History and Writer in Residence, kicks off Q&A with the first question
His conclusion set forth the difficult relationship of faith and reason for the Christian scholar. On the one hand, he said, “We do not need Christian eggheads. We need humble and courageous believers who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.” But on the other hand, “We need to read the great books that we might write them. Our culture shaping mission cannot be fully accomplished short of this, short of the gospel’s deep transforming work that puts to death both our pride and despair. May we give ourselves to this in a thousand practical ways day by day.”
The Faith & Reason lecture sparked a lively conversation that continued throughout the day, culminating in the traditional Q&A session. Among the many questions, students challenged the idea that we do “not need Christian eggheads,” sought guidance on how to communicate Dr. Hake’s thoughts to friends who do not read philosophers like Derrida on a regular basis, and inquired into the role of art in touching people’s souls.
View the full lecture below: