Monday, July 19, 2010

Update on the Howell Firing at U. of Illinois

Patrick T. Gillen has some good comments on the dismissal of Ken Howell from the University of Illinois for teaching what Catholic Church teaches on homosexuality in a course on the teachings of the Catholic Church in an op ed piece in today's Washington Times.

Set aside the obvious absurdity (and injustice) of firing a man for teaching about the subject he was supposed to teach in order to ask an even more fundamental question. How did we get to the point where Robert McKim, head of the Department of Religion at a major public university and founder of its "queer studies" major to boot, can relieve a man of his duties for teaching about a perspective that merits discussion in any department of religion worthy of its name?

I think Mr. Howell has been treated so unjustly because he is caught up in a larger struggle over the very purpose of public universities during a period many academics call postmodern. The treatment of Mr. Howell compels us to ask this question: What is the purpose of the public university and academic freedom in our present day?

I say we must ask this question because when I read about Mr. Howell's predicament, it called to mind a poem titled "The Lie" that I read as a student years ago. In it, the author, on the brink of death, sends his soul on a "thankless errand," to "give the world the lie." The errand consists in conveying to the powers of his day messages that give the lie to their pretensions.

Among the messages sent is this one: "[T]ell schools they want profoundness, and stand too much on seeming."

Mr. Howell's deplorable situation reflects a crisis in public education, a crisis that threatens to replace something profound with a counterfeit. At its best, the university, including the public university, has a noble mission - to help students find truth, including the truth about the human person. The very presence of departments of religion in public universities is a reflection of this high aspiration, resting as it does on recognition of the simple fact that genuine insights are derived from systems of thought we tend to categorize as religious nowadays. So too, the commitment to academic freedom is rooted in the search for truth, not the mere desire of academics to pursue their fancies - although one may be excused for thinking so when we read about "queer studies" and the like.

The university's willingness to offer the course taught by Mr. Howell reflects a profound commitment to academic freedom and true education - not mere indoctrination. Mr. Howell's willingness to address forthrightly controversial issues from a perspective that he knew would be unpopular reflects a profound commitment to the academic calling at its best, one of service to students who seek truth. The effort to purge Mr. Howell from the university is a betrayal of these profound commitments.

Read it all here. I would have no problem with the university having a course in "Queer Studies" taught by someone who was pro-homosexual as long as it also offered courses like the one Dr. Howell teaches on Christian doctrine and ethics. Let the students explore the debate. The problem is that Christians are tolerant and pro-homosexual crusaders are not. That is the essence of the problem.

So what does a liberal democracy do when confronted by people who utilize the tolerance it provides to take away the freedoms of those with whom they disagree? What happens when a segment of the citizens of a liberal democracy reject tolerance and work to establish a totalitarian dictatorship of relativism? I guess the only choices are to submit and give up our own freedom of religion or else recognize that this is a fight that only one side can win and work to repress the other side. People of good will who value tolerance ought to work to roll back the legislative agenda of the sexual revolution ideologues. Like all revolutions, this one will only succeed by destroying what it rebelled against. In this case we cannot let the freedoms of the West be destroyed by those who value the will to power over natural law.

Thomas Peters has an update on the case here. Ironically, as Peters reports, even the "Atheists, Agnostics and Free Thinkers at UIUC are alarmed by this ideological purge. They should be. Students of the French Revolution know how quickly the revolution devours its own children.

Further Update: Here is a story on students organizing in support of Dr. Howell.

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