Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Academic Freedom = Freedom from Christianity

The concept of academic freedom has been severely distorted and degraded in recent years. In this post, "No Christianity Please, We're Academics" Tim Larson of Wheaton College reflects on the phenomenon of overt discrimination against Christians in contemporary universities. The exclusion of Christian thinking from the university is a phenomenon which requires some kind of explanation and any such explanation will need to provide a reason why it is possible to assume without question that Christianity is a bad thing when it has been regarded as the moral foundation of our culture for over a thousand years. Here is the beginning of Larson's post:

I had lunch this summer with a prospective graduate student at the evangelical college where I teach. I will call him John because that happens to be his name. John has done well academically at a public university. Nevertheless, as often happens, he said that he was looking forward to coming to a Christian university, and then launched into a story of religious discrimination.

John had been a straight-A student until he enrolled in English writing. The assignment was an “opinion” piece and the required theme was “traditional marriage.” John is a Southern Baptist and he felt it was his duty to give his honest opinion and explain how it was grounded in his faith. The professor was annoyed that John claimed the support of the Bible for his views, scribbling in the margin, “Which Bible would that be?” On the very same page, John’s phrase, “Christians who read the Bible,” provoked the same retort, “Would that be the Aramaic Bible, the Greek Bible, or the Hebrew Bible?” (What could the point of this be? Did the professor want John to imagine that while the Greek text might support his view of traditional marriage, the Aramaic version did not?) The paper was rejected as a “sermon,” and given an F, with the words, “I reject your dogmatism,” written at the bottom by way of explanation.

Thereafter, John could never get better than a C for papers without any marked errors or corrections. When he asked for a reason why yet another grade was so poor he was told that it was inappropriate to quote C. S. Lewis in work for an English class because he was “a pastor.”

In this professor's world, anyone who expresses a Christian thought must be a "pastor." What lurid connotations that word must dredge up from the professor's subconscious would likely be fascinating to explore. But surely such anti-Christian passion requires explanation. What follows is my explanation of this phenomenon.

The Left, which has virtually captured our universities as a result of its "long march" through the institutions of our culture, does not really believe in academic freedom as a good. How could it? After all, from the point of view of the Left, capitalism is slavery and the goal of education is to liberate us from our capitalist oppression and raise our consciousness. So from a left-wing perspective, education is not neutral but liberating when it is done from the perspective of Marxist theory. But when education is not done from a Marxist perspective it is enslaving and therefore harmful. And any "ideology" that perpetuates false consciousness (like Christianity) is harmful.

So academic freedom is good from a left-wing perspective when it allows academics to challenge traditional ideas, especially religious ones and particularly Judeo-Christian ones. Iconoclasm, free-thinking and revolutionary thought are therefore to be encouraged. However, to do so it is also at the same time necessary to stifle traditional, conservative, religious thought. Since academic work is never neutral, therefore academic freedom must be redefined to apply to that which is not revolutionary or, to use the preferred term (which causes less alarm among the natives), "progressive."

So whatever is compatible with Marxism is good; whatever is rooted in Christianity and opposed to Marxism is bad. Freedom is equated with freedom from Christianity and all other forms of traditional or conservative thinking. So the concept of academic freedom is given a Marxist twist and the idea of tolerating that with which the majority disagrees is transformed into political correctness.

I believe that this Marxist deformation of the concept of "academic freedom" explains the phenomena described by Larson so eloquently in his article. He ends with a call to protest and activism, which does sometimes work. I agree that it sometimes works, but not because of any lack of ideological determination on the part of Leftists. It works because a few strategic retreats along the way allows the forces on the Left to keep their powder dry for the crucial battles and keeps the naive from becoming aroused when they still have the votes to win key battles. Better to keep on taking over the key positions until the whole agenda can come out in the open.

I believe that the Left has exploited a twisted and distorted definition of academic freedom to marginalize Christianity and other conservative points of view in the contemporary university in the interests of advancing their Marxist ideology and taking over society slowly without overt violence, but very surely.

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