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Don't Think for Yourself


Undoubtedly you have seen the movie The Dead Poet's Society. In that movie, an energetic teacher at an exclusive prep school is depicted as opening up the minds of his hung up, privileged, young students by urging them to "think for yourself." Don't trust what your parents have told you. Don't trust what you've always heard. The important thing is to think for yourselves.

In one scene he rips up a textbook telling them, "No, don't listen to the experts. Think for yourself." A friend of mine noted that despite the movie's claim that this teacher was somehow liberating his students from social convention, it would be hard to think of a more conformist and socially conventional message in today's context than to give young people the advice "Think for yourself." If there ever were a day when such advice was deemed radical, that day has passed.

In fact, here's how the president of Yale University welcomed the freshmen to Yale last year. He told them, "The faculty can guide you. We can take you to the frontiers of knowledge, but we cannot supply you with a philosophy of education any more than we can supply you with a philosophy of life. This has got to come from your own active learning, from your own choices, your own decisions. Yale expects you to take yourself seriously. Think for yourself."

In other words, the university has absolutely no clue what you're supposed to be doing here. Oh, we've got this smorgasbord of courses and professors. We've got this curriculum. But whether it all adds up to something called wisdom by the time you graduate, well that's really up to you. The important thing is that you think for yourself.

And it appears that we are thinking for ourselves. A few weeks ago I received a letter from ...

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William Willimon is bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. He also is editor of Pulpit Resource and the Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching (Westminster John Knox) and author of Undone by Easter (Abingdon).

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Sermon Outline:


I. Torah is a countercultural epistemology

II. Torah is intergenerational

III. Torah is historical