Prof. Tim Shortell busted for online atheism
Tim Shortell's colleagues elected him chair of the Brooklyn College sociology department.
Brooklyn [College] released a two-sentence statement saying that “Professor Timothy Shortell declined the election” as chair and that the college’s president “will be consulting with the department and appropriate members of the administration regarding the future leadership of the department.” [Inside Higher Ed, June 8.]
Shortell was forced to decline his appointment because of an (apparently unsigned and undated) atheist polemic he posted on a private website called Anti-naturals.org. The Anti-naturals appear to be a collective of writers, visual artists, and critics. The website is not affiliated with the City College of New York, or any other institution. They have a manifesto, but no list of signatories.
Shortell's controversial essay argues that blind religious faith undermines an individual's capacity for genuine moral agency. His central theme is the rather commonplace observation that people who use a code of "revealed truths" to guide their behavior are shirking the hard work of moral deliberation. The author calls these people "moral retards." Unfortunately, he conflates blind followers of religious dogma with thoughtful believers who reason independently within a religiously-informed framework. But make no mistake, the former really are moral retards. Blind followers of dogma may conduct themselves well if they seize on a sound set of rules, but "just following orders" isn't a moral position, even if you think you're just following orders from God.
I'll be blunt, anyone who claims to be shocked by this line of reasoning in 21st century is either ignorant or disingenuous.* Would the tabloids have prevented Freud or Nietzche from chairing a department at CUNY? These thinkers disparaged religion in much harsher terms than poor Tim Shortell, and they did so in the scholarly works that made them famous. Heck, Plato more or less demolished the divine command theory of morality 2400 years ago with the Euthyphro dilemma.
I don't know how the New York Sun and the New York Post connected Shortell to his essay. However, this essay by former Sociology Chair Jerry Krase gives the flavor of the vicious academic infighting in the City College department. It looks to me like someone took academic backstabbing to a whole new level and ratted Shortell out to the tabloids.
Think about what happened: A CUNY sociologist was tried in the media for an unsigned polemic he wrote as a private citizen and posted to an obscure independent website. There were no complaints about Tim Shortell's scholarship, his service to his department, his teaching, or his rapport with the CUNY community.
The culture war is for real, and it's time to take sides.
* Obviously, not all smart people find such arguments persuasive, but the shock value should really have worn off by now.