This is the fourteenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Michael Rea, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Most of his work to date has been in metaphysics and philosophy of religion. The project that is currently occupying most of his time is a book, and a corresponding set of lectures, on the hiddenness of God.
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
When people ask me about my religious upbringing, I usually say that I grew up in a liberal PC-USA church with a renegade conservative Calvinist youth minister. That characterization is misleading in certain respects, but there is more truth than falsehood in it. Probably the best way to illustrate the divide is with a story. The church was (and still is) located in Redondo Beach, California—just a couple of blocks from the ocean, and just 26 miles by boat from Catalina Island, where we held our summer youth camps every year. Our camp was popular; every year some 100+ high school students attended; many would commit or recommit their lives to Christ around the campfire at the end of the week, and the ranks of our youth group were accordingly swollen for months afterward. Some of the students at camp thought that it would be extremely cool to be baptized in the ocean right there at camp; and so one year, our youth minister—not yet ordained, and not yet even a seminary graduate—obliged them. (“See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”) Predictably, the youth minister was brought before the elders of the church. His defense appealed to scripture: Philip did not wait to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church before baptizing his Ethiopian convert; so why should he? The response from one of the elders was, “Don’t bring the Bible into this.”