Thursday, January 20, 2011

Second year, second semester

It's now my second year second semester in a theological college. If the biggest question in philosophy is the question on 'being' (according to Jacques Derrida), then I think I cannot evade from reflecting on what does being in theological studies mean so far.

I am not sure about other seminary and theological colleges, from my experience so far, I find that theological studies is an undecidable affair: it is both depressing and uplifting; both disappointing and hopeful. The experience resonates very intimately with the naked life, with all ambiguity, stupidity, excitement and madness.

I really hate to say this, but I have to say it: theological studies, at least at where I am, is another manifestation of present form of capitalism. The aim of the college is driven towards 'GDP' (Gross Domestic Pastors). The curriculum is to effectively produce function-able pastors to work in local churches.

You might ask what's wrong with that?

Well, theology simply becomes a decoration rather than the substance of the learning experience. What I mean is that we are actually learning business management and consultancy grossed in the language of theology rather than theology itself.

Can you imagine teacher who has no training in philosophy or epistemology asking students to do theological reflection? In such sterile context, who should be surprised that theology is about whether to install wooden pews or plastic chairs in new church building?

By the way, I did not make up the scenario where theology is invoked in the decision between wooden or plastic chairs. Some classmates and I rolled our eyes when we heard it.

Though I can be very wrong but my hunch is that some subjects in the present curriculum are so patronized by contemporary social and economic milieu that they have lost their theological seriousness, if not credibility.

These subjects are what I consider as pseudo-theology, if not pseudo-academic. They are crafted to demand criticality which themselves cannot bear to engage in. There are courses that require students to engage with them critically. But when that happened, the curriculum cannot withstand the engagement and simply collapsed.

Therefore, I have tried not to engage with these subjects critically because I know that they will collapse. I chose to refrain myself, just as other classmates did.

And due to that my overall grade is affected. I got comments that my assignment had no theological reflection, empirical support, etc. Now I can't even apply for postgraduate studies as my grade doesn't meet the minimal requirement (which I was told is B+). That is fine.

To find out whether my point that some curriculum cannot withstand the criticality they demand, I have decided to take those pseudo-theological subjects to task.

In the mere first three weeks, I have critiqued them critically to the extend that they became irrelevant. And some classmates agreed with the problems I have highlighted. One even emailed me to further engage on the questions that I have raised.

And I plan to do that consistently from this semester onwards. Not to make anyone's life difficult, but to apply the requirement of the curriculum onto itself, to see for myself if it stands or fall. So far, it doesn't look good.

These are the downsides.

The upsides are of course the great teachers who have been very approachable and helpful. This semester, I met other teachers whom I have not learn from: Daniel Koh, Jeffrey Truscott, and Peter Chan. Great people. Good teachers. Well-informed in their field.

There are subjects which you are not keen on, but because of the teachers, you find yourself looking forward to their classes. There are subjects which you like but because of the teachers, you find it a drag to attend the classes.

I can identify with the latter because I have given some really bad experience to my audience last month at a youth camp. I posted my failure here as a reminder to myself that I shall not stop learning and improving.

Being in the new semester means also that I will miss those classes by good teachers like Roland Chia, Mark Chan, and Andrew Peh.

What is my greatest fear in this semester? None.

Then, what is my greatest hope? I can finish all the assignments months before the deadlines.

What is theology, again? Learning which still enables us to joke and laugh within a nihilistic existence.

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