Q&A With New Adjunct Philosophy Professor
By John-Paul Erdel
October 30, 2003
Cristian Mihut, originally from Romania, received his Bachelor of Arts in biblical studies and mathematics from Bethel College in 1997. In 1999 he received his Master of Arts in philosophy from Texas A&M University and he is currently completing his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. His wife Andrea also graduated from Bethel. They have three young daughters.
Why did you come to study here?
I heard about Bethel from my Romanian friends Mia and Costel Oglice, who have known the college for many years. I came because I was intrigued by the whole idea of a Christian education, because I welcomed challenges and novelty; and because I was given the opportunity to play for the men's soccer team.
What were you like in high school?
Shy, defiant of authority, insecure about my height, terrible at chemistry but good at math. If the previous proposition has not entailed this, let me make it clear: I was not a ladies' man. At any rate, this condition would have been determined by my being a pastor's son, and so I was automatically in the business of keeping up a good reputation.
And in college?
Like most students I was defined by the activities I participated in, from playing on the soccer team to working in the cafeteria to trying to decipher Hutch's New Testament lectures. In my first two years I think I was a swirl of activities; I didn't even know what the library looked like until I walked in there to look for a job. Looking back, I wish I had been defined less by activities than by friendships. In my junior year I discovered philosophy. Professor Tim Erdel introduced me to worlds of conceptual possibility. I remember being excited about reading anything from Aquinas to Quine and exploring the wonderful and delicate connections between faith and reason. I was still good at math and still not a ladies' man – that is, until I met Andrea in my fifth year.
What is fun for you?
I enjoy biking, playing soccer, watching my wife play softball, allowing my youngest daughter to smack and gouge my face, and being a spotter for my twin girls as they do gymnastics on our living-room floor. I also love to read Borges. Some day I would like to learn Spanish just to be able to read his work in the original language.
What other literature do you enjoy?
Here is some that I would really miss from my library: Kierkegaard's Practice in Christianity, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov.
Other favorite artworks?
Constantin Brincusi's Bird in Space. In music, Bach, Mendelssohn, U2 and Radiohead.
Tell me about your religious background and affiliation.
I was raised Romanian Baptist, which is different from American Baptist. My father was a pastor. When I was twelve I had a strong desire to dedicate myself to God and be baptized. But in Romania religious life is tightly structured. I had to attend a catechism class for the better part of a year and then demonstrate my knowledge in front of a group of elders. I passed that test satisfactorily but my father judged me too immature to receive baptism, so I had to take the class again.
Since then I have come to conceive of the Christian life as a continual openness and responsiveness to God's love. My favorite way of describing it is by appealing to Paul's athletic metaphors from Philippians 3. Paul talks about relinquishing his old self and continually striving, pushing forward toward the goal of grasping Christ. I imagine a runner with stretched muscles, vibrating tendons and eyes fixed on the goal.
My wife and I are members at the South Bend Christian Reformed Church. I have never renounced the membership that I have in my father's church, so I suppose that I am still Romanian Baptist.
What do you like about the United States?
Midwesterners. Texas drawls. Eating hot dogs at a ball game. Fall in Indiana. Winter in Salt Lake City. San Diego. Highway 65. O'Hare International Airport. Dodge Caravan. Mark Twain.
How would things be different if you were a philosopher in Romania?
It is hard to make generalizations, but perhaps the most telling difference is that Romanian philosophy has traditionally been heavily influenced by Continental European thought, which is quite different from the more empirical and analytic style in the English-speaking world. I have learned, though, that lately the major philosophy departments in Romania are becoming more like the English-speaking ones, both stylistically and methodologically. For example, at the University of Bucharest, English is a prerequisite for admission into the undergraduate program and some courses use English texts. Certain tracks emphasize analytic subjects like the philosophies of mind, language, and mathematics. For a variety of reasons I doubt that I would have become a philosopher in Romania. To start, most Evangelicals like me were still being taught that theoretical work in academia was highly dangerous to their faith. It was not something to be engaged in from solid epistemic grounds, but something to be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, especially in the philosophy departments there was still a lingering suspicion of anyone coming to the discipline with Christian presuppositions. For these reasons some of my Christian friends took "practical" degrees in engineering and journalism, while secretly they were devouring philosophy.
Do you have any advice for students?
Seek purity of heart.