Timothy Shortell, recently elected as the chair of the sociology department of Brooklyn College, is a stupid, anti-religious bigot. His stupidity and bigotry render him unfit for the post to which he was elected. The fact that he was elected suggests a scarcity of intelligent, open-minded souls in the entire field of sociology, if the character of faculty at BC is at all representative.
Shortell wrote a hateful, ignorant screed, Religion & Morality: A Contradiction Explained, which came to the attention of the media. Now various conservatives are questioning his fitness for his new position.
Shortell and his allies are responding with the usual trite slogans invoked when out-of-control academians are publicly criticized. Here is a statement by Shortell, quoted in the article Academic Freedom or Intolerance of Faith? posted on the Inside Higher Ed web site:
Whatever else people try make of this, it is fundamentally an academic freedom issue. It is not simply my right to speak that is being threatened. If I can be denied the opportunity to lead a department based on presumptions about my political beliefs, so too can anyone else. Whose unpopular viewpoint will be questioned next?The issue, of course, isn't an "unpopular viewpoint" or "political beliefs." It is as if a geography professor said the world was flat or math professor said that calculus was invented by Marilyn Monroe or a professor of astronomy said that the moon was made out of roquefort cheese. Shortell certainly does have a "right to speak," but if what he says reveals him to be an idiot, that's his problem that he publicly revealed his intellectual incompetence.
What a person believes tends to affect his or her state of mind and both of these things affect behavior. A person who believes, "If I study hard, I can graduate," might graduate, but the same person, believing, "Gosh, I'm just not smart enough to graduate," might fail. There is, indeed, a sort of magical realm where belief alters reality. It is obviously a limited realm. A person who believes, "I can walk through solid brick walls" will end up with a broken nose.
A society where people believe, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" will probably be better than one where everyone believes, "Cheat the other guy before he cheats you." Religions have enormous effects on the societies in which their adherents live. It's true, all of the major groupings have their whackjobs. Some Muslims want to start a great jihad and take over the world. Some Jews think they have a right to all of the real estate between the Nile and the Euphrates. Some Christians think George W. Bush is doing the work of the Lord. But, overall, just as religious beliefs and commitments and even conversions can have positive effects in the lives of individuals, so can religious beliefs and transformations have positive effects on societies. A person who doesn't understand the interactions of different societies and different organized belief systems is not fit to be the chair of any department of sociology anywhere.
I've deliberately avoided point-by-point commentary on the Brooklyn College hate-monger's little essay, but I must respond to the final paragraph:
Can there be any doubt that humanity would be better off without religion? Everyone who appreciates the good, the true and the beautiful has a duty to challenge this social poison at every opportunity. It is not enough to be irreligious; we must use our critique to expose religion for what it is: sanctimonious nonsense.There is a lot of "sanctimonious nonsense" coming out of our departments of sociology, and out of Timothy Shortell in particular. He does not deserve to be department chair and he does not deserve to be teaching.
Addendum, June 3, 2005:
There is a longer article about T. Shortell in FrontPage magazine.com: CUNY Promotes an Anti-Christian Hatemonger by Lisa Makson (June 1, 2005). Makson's article mentions Manifesto of the Anti-Naturals, which Shortell wrote or participated in the writing of. It does contain a few thought-provoking ideas, and it lacks the virulence of Shortell's "Religion and Morality" essay, but The Futurist Manifesto, in all of its exuberant nuttiness, is a much better read. My own Manifesto for the Peoples of the Third Millennium would be much more useful for anyone interested in constructing an alternative society.
Reader comment, June 7, 2006.
David Silverman writes:
As often is the case, with someone whose position or writings are disagreed with, he is called stupid, or worse. Perhaps you could have criticised Dr. Shortell and explained his errors as you perceive them, but you resorted to name-calling thereby completely discrediting yourself.m3peeps.org replies: The above blog entry is, indeed, heavy with name-calling. But I was giving tit-for-tat. Shortell called Christians "moral morons." Rather than taking something like the high ground as you did in your comments, I thought I'd have some fun at his expense. The guy is full of himself. He needs a good dose or two of ridicule.
The middle section of my original blog entry, by the way, is a short explanation of why I think sociologists should strive to understand how religions function within societies. But I didn't have the time or inclination to write a whole dissertation, so I went for a few cheap shots in the rest of my posting.
If you want something lighter on the name-calling and heavier on the deep thinking, check out my blog entry Deconstructing Tim the Wise Guy.
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