Sunday, February 23, 2014

How Much Diversity Should a Christian Allow and What Is His Responsibility to Error?

Before I get into this subject, I want you to know that I haven't forgotten two series that I never finished.  If you are a regular reader, you know that I have forgotten many series through the years -- it would be interesting to check out how many series stopped dead in their tracks, never to be begin again.  But the two that were rolling along to a sudden stop where these:

The Deceit and Tragedy of the Wrong Attribution of Success or a Wrong View of Success in Church Leadership (parts one, two, and three)

Proving the Music Issue in the Worship War: Is there Holy Hip Hop? (parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten)

I link to these for you and for me.  I want to be reminded that I want to continue them.  If I didn't or I won't, I'll let you know.


A few days ago, Robert George from Princeton and Cornell West, former Harvard professor and now at Union Theological Seminary, held a discussion on the importance of hearing opposing viewpoints in a liberal arts education at Swarthmore College, George a 1977 graduate.  George is a professing Christian and political conservative, while West is a theological liberal.  Apparently, the two are friends.  As they ended their talks, the session went to a question and answer period, and the first two questions both attacked the concept of even considering George's point of view.  The first student even confronted West for merely appearing with George.  Before the event, students organized in opposition against even hosting George on campus, and then afterwards, a student made this comment in a Swarthmore publication:

What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion. I don’t think we should be tolerating [George’s] conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society. We should not be conceding to the dominant culture by saying that the so-called “progressive left” is marginalizing the conservative.

West and George argued for the allowance of a diversity of thought and belief in a liberal arts education.  "Diversity," of course, is rhetoric of tolerance, which most may think is the predominant ethic of modern university campuses.  They're wrong.  They are not quite Stalin's Gulags, but close.

After the Swarthmore discussion, several different commentators, bloggers, and pundits reacted to the interaction (here, here, here, and here).  There were more, but the one that got my attention first was a post titled, A Fundamentalist vs. Robbie George & Cornell West, by Denny Burk, an associate professor of biblical studies and ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Burk labeled the first questioner, who defended same-sex marriage and advocated the exclusion of George from any proceedings, a fundamentalist.  Interesting, huh?  Burk would get a lot of support from the comrades at SBTS for that backhanded slap at fundamentalists.  "You're a, you're a, you're a fundamentalist!  So there!"  Burk might just say that he meant it as a rhetorical device, but is it true that the first questioner at Swarthmore was very much like a fundamentalist?

Burk's comparison is absurd actually.  He tries to entertain his pals by throwing a wild pitch over the backstop, very similar to the questioner, and toward the reception of similar applause.  He doesn't have to be concerned about fundamentalist criticism from his colleagues, and he's got far more in common with the Swarthmore boy than do fundamentalists.  Now, I'm using Burk's post or thought as a jumping off point, but before I go there, it's worth pausing to consider the premise that this is what fundamentalism is like.  For his comparison to be true, fundamentalists (1) don't engage actual arguments because they assume a priori that they have no merit, (2) are willing to discredit their critics as bigots in order to do whatever it takes, and then (3) ignore academic qualifications and background.  The irony here is that with his broadbrush, Burk himself is guilty of all three.

I had to say something about Burk's post, but the subject itself is what interested me.  Liberal arts education has become understood as welcoming and tolerating many points of view, and these students of Swarthmore challenge the reigning educational dogma.  Do we really do well or better to settle for the status quo of toleration or do we leave Swarthmore to the end of their own intellectual inbreeding?  It seems that Robert George argues for the opportunity of a continued place at the table.  Maybe he thinks we can save the entity of the college or university.  Do we need it?  Should we fight for it?  Or should it be circumvented like Fox in modern television news or Hillsdale in colleges?

And then even further, how much diversity should a Christian allow?  Does the Bible teach some benefit to listening to error?  Isn't relativism the basis of diversity?  If there is absolute truth, do we argue to get there?  It seems to me that we have already surrendered, like Burk, by advocating for diversity.  I'm gathering that diversity describes education at a Southern Baptist seminary, a veritable buffet table of approaches from which you can pick and choose, and never be rejected for what ends on your platter.   So you can go to SBTS and differ with your other graduates on dozens of doctrines and practices and methods.  You could be a star, the next Billy Graham, with Roman Catholic nuns at the front to help with the personal work.  It is within that perspective that Burk does his chest thumping.  Not only does scripture not teach diversity, but it commands against it.  The Apostle Paul started 1 Timothy (1:3) by writing:

As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.

Towards the end of the same book of basis instruction to a pastor, he wrote (6:3-5):

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness. . . . from such withdraw thyself.

Paul wrote that he was not ignorant of Satan's devices (cf. 1 Cor 2:11).  He was not instructing 'not to be ignorant of Satan's devices' -- in other words, learn Satan's devices.  When you learn the Bible, you'll have all the Satanology you'll need.  The Bible nowhere says, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." There are no published sources yet found which predate the use of that phrase by the fictional character "Michael Corleone" in The Godfather Part II (1974), written by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola.

The concept of diversity in education is not only unscriptural, but was totally debunked intellectually in the 1987 bestseller by Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind.   The diversity that Burk advocates is in fact a bow to relativism, an intellectual and spiritual quagmire, the sinking sand like that to which Jesus referred in His Sermon on the Mount.  This destination at which modern higher education has arrived perhaps originated from a metaphor, the "marketplace of ideas," representing a belief that holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse.

In 1644, the English poet John Milton suggested in his Areopagitica that restricting speech was not necessary because "in a free and open encounter," truth would prevail.  We could all wish.  The Bible teaches and experience tells us the opposite.  I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with Mark Twain, the atheist, on this, who wrote:  "Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain't so."  There is a sense that truth will prevail.  In the end, God will have destroyed all error.  But in the meantime, truth will prevail when we do what it takes to protect it.  That doesn't happen by giving equal standing to error.

George is very careful in his answer to the Swarthmore questioner by explaining that he has read Plato and Kinsey and Ghandi to come to his present position on homosexual marriage.  Perhaps we were to assume that he also read the Bible, but he didn't say it.  Why not?  If he said, "Plato, Kinsey, Ghandi, and, oh, God's Word," that would have been the end of the discussion, end of argument.  In other words, we already know that "diversity" doesn't exist at Swarthmore.  He couldn't bring the Bible into the discussion without totally discrediting himself, and he knew it.

Christians shouldn't expect diversity on state or even private college or university campuses that afford diversity.  It won't be there.  As far as the truth is concerned, it will never be preserved by diversity and accommodation.  It really is only preserved by separation.  As Christians we have a responsibility to teach only the truth about everything and eradicate and eliminate error.  That kind of vigilance is the only way to preserve the truth and it is all that the Bible teaches.

I'm of the same mindset as Booker T. Washington.  Washington didn't teach integration.  He taught, "Build a better brick."  Let's do a better job at training our own young people in the truth and stop worrying about whether they will find acceptance in the marketplace of ideas.  If they can build a better brick, people will buy it.

1 comment:

Tony said...

Well worded