Escape From The Land of “Like”-ness

My students know me to oppose the use of the verb “like,” on the grounds that it typically signals a student’s unwillingness to participate in critical evaluation of their claims. “Like” doesn’t entail accountability for discernment. I like vanilla ice cream more than I like chocolate, and there’s an end on’t.

You can quickly see why the “like” reflex corrodes academic discourse; if different arguments and truth-claims matter only as a matter of a reader’s preference, then consistency, rigor, precision, all go out the window. The problem intensifies in the field of theological study, where cultural predisposition already consigns our topic to the realm of private disposition. Why shouldn’t Henrietta say she likes to think of Jesus as just a really swell teacher, or Mercutio say he likes Tom Wright more than Dom Crossan? Well, to start with, Crossan and Wright and the conciliar fathers all advanced arguments for their positions; if their influence depends solely on their winsomeness, as distinct from the convincing arguments they advanced, their intellectual efforts were squandered. Moreover, in the regime of “Like”-ness there’s no rationale for a student to learn more; anyone can like this or that without apprehending the nuances, the contexts, the consequences of their subject.

“Liking” and “commending” or “affirming” entail different complexes of claims. I may like a scholar whose theories I wouldn’t endorse; I may dislike a scholar who has devised a compelling argument. Indeed, I may like or dislike arguments themselves, without regard to whether they convince me. “Liking,” in these circumstances, suggests an unwillingness to relinquish the habits that arise from ignorance. If we aren’t willing to resist “like” theology, we might as well not bother with theological education; if we sense some value to theological education, we need to support it by rooting out “like”-ness.

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