Cultural Christianity


What should matter most?

christian-symbols

brian-green“What happened to the gospel?”

This was his first question for me after the election.

My brother Brian called on Saturday. We spoke of many things but primary to our conversation was what we together referred to as “cultural Christianity.” Brian and I mean by this phrase that we are concerned believers have placed cultural belief ahead of Christian belief. What do Brian and I mean?

We focus on political, ethnic, and gender differences over Jesus’ prayer for “oneness” (John 17.11, 21, 22).

We are concerned for institutions, parties, and movements more than Jesus.

We quote the words of personages, celebrities, and politicians more than The Word .

We align ourselves with tribes, factions, and voting blocs more than with The Church.

brian-green1Brian asked, “How can we call ourselves ‘Christians’ when we do not act like Christ?”

I second that rhetorical question.

What are we teaching our children when we make fun of people?

What are we teaching the next generation when we can’t get along with each other?

What are we teaching the culture about charity when we ourselves are uncharitable?

What are we teaching our churches when blaming others matters more than supporting our brothers?

What are we teaching our enemies when rancor and anger replace generosity and grace?

brian-green2Brian said, “It seems we define ourselves with labels rather than love.”

I could not agree more.

Our talk has been fragmenting, splintering, fracturing. We have injured each other with our words instead of binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted. We have perjured our testimony of love with the vile and bile of hate. We have merged our thinking with cultural icons instead of speaking in the name of Jesus.

Our rhetoric is reminiscent more of bar-talk than Church-talk.

How have we arrived at this place?

The more important question is “How should we leave this place?”

cross-the-streetMy answer? Cross the street.

Cross the street, to visit, connect, and care. Do good, do good, do good in the community. Be sure of research and resources before speaking and acting. Celebrate differences that make communities whole. Hear what people are saying and what they are not saying. When we meet others who disagree, learn the backgrounds and backstories of their thinking.

We should listen to viewpoints other than our own.

We should speak up for those who have no voice.

We should stand up with those who have nowhere to stand.

We should raise our prophetic voice for life, for liberty, for love.

We should construct our words with clarity, care, and compassion.

othersI have talked with so many students, groups, and Christian leaders who have asked “What should we do now? How should we live in a polarized nation? To whom should we listen?” My response is always, always the same, “Love your neighbor, love the stranger, as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19.18, 34).

Culture should not drive Christianity, Christianity should serve the culture.

Brian Green is pastor of Emmanuel City Church, Laurel, Maryland. Mark Eckel is president of The Comenius Institute. Brian and Mark have been learning from each other since they met in 2011.

Truth


“You can’t handle the truth!”

you-cant-handle-the-truth

“For the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with a fictitious realitycreated by design through the abuse of language.” [1]

oxfordIn Today’s World the Truth is Losing,” intoned The Washington Post. “Post-truth” captured 2016 “word of the year” honors via Oxford Dictionaries. It seems that even the care of wild horses depends on truth.

Every conversation, every dialogue, and every debate hinges on two assumptions: human nature and absolute truth. The first assumptions asks, “What is the origin of any problem?” The second assumption asks, “What is the solution to any problem?” Christian teaching gives the starting point from which we address truth issues. [Find my overview of human nature here.]

sinekA friend sent me a video this past week of Simon Sinekexplaining why past generations and recent technology have been detrimental to millennials. There are many concerns to unpack here because Sinek makes so many good comments. But Sinek, like all of us, rests his case on two baseline assumptions: (1) Human Nature and (2) Absolute Truth.

Over and over Sinek says about the millennials they bear “no fault” for their current addictions to screen technology. Sinek suggests we are basically good. It is the environment or others which make us “bad.”

mid-airThen Sinek tells the audience to find “joy.” The questions he bypasses are, “Whose joy? What IS joy? Where does joy come from?” It is the first question I pose in any discussion: what is the source or origin of the thing, idea, or issue? In this case, does “joy” just come out of mid-air? Do we create ‘joy’ ourselves? By what authority do we say “Choose joy?” Why not say “Choose death?” or “Choose jealousy?” or “Choose lying?” Who says joy is a truthful solution to the problem millennials face?

If truth cannot be known,

Why should I defend or critique any idea?

How can I claim something is “right” or “wrong”?

What is the basis for my emotional response for any ethical breach?

What gives me the basis for declaring anything to be “correct” or “incorrect”?

If standards of conduct are left up to a community, why should I accept any community standard?

truthI offer a 10-point suggestion to begin any discussion of truth. Truth is . . .

__Practical___, conforming to our real world.

__Sensible___, working and functioning with what is; we can live with it.

__Consistent___, something we can count on; truth is dependable.

__Universal__, for all people, in all places, at all times, in all cultures.

__Comparable_, showing its distinction matched with other “truths.”

__Exclusive__, defining validity and falsehood by its very presence.

__Verifiable___, withstanding intellectual and historical tests.

__Absolute___, not altered to fit the circumstances.

__Transcendent___, originating outside human reason.

___Objective___, working because it is accurate, not merely subjective or experiential.[2]

Perhaps Pieper is correct: the real issue may be we don’t want to handle the truth.

 

september-2016Mark believes one cannot claim anything is false unless truth exists. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute.

[1] Josef Pieper. 1992. Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power. 2nd edition. Reprint, Ignatius, 34-35. Josef Pieper was concerned that when words were divorced from reality, disassociated rom truth, they would simply become “instruments of power” (20-23). “The word is perverted and debased, to become a catalyst, a drug.”

[2] Used throughout my 30+ years of teaching, published in Timeless Truths: An Apologetic for the Historicity, Authenticity, and Authority of The Bible. Purposeful Design, 2000.

Picture credit: Wikipedia

Rights


The March for Life, 2017

March for life 2017

The Washington Post finally reported on the pro-life event this year.

compare & contrastCompare and contrast is one of my favorite teaching methods.

 

 

French DeclarationTeaching the biblical basis for government I have had students read The American Declaration of Independence (1776) and The French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789). I asked students to notice similarities and differences between the documents.

DeclarationStudents discovered the same ideas each time. The French document premised its authority on “the people” (or “citizens”). The American document based its authority on “Nature’s God,” “The Creator,” “The Supreme Judge of the world,” and “Divine Providence.”

Landscape

The French document concedes a “Supreme Being” but one who is only “present.” The French declaration says government “recognizes and declares the rights of citizens.” Notice it is the government (“the National Assembly”) which gives rights.

Students were surprised at the human-centered French document.Statement #6 always stood out:

“Law is the expression of the general will.”

 

lady justiceThey would often ask after reflection, “If people are the sole authority—the “law”—how do we know which people should have authority?”

More reflection and discussion brought out the basic belief: the French declaration assumes humans are basically good and have the authority to grant rights.

Pro life Pro womanBut what happens when people disagree? Who grants “rights” then? And if I’m in authority, don’t I get to decide who gets rights and whose rights get taken away?

The room always fell silent when I told them that 30,000 people were killed—their right to life taken away—during the French Revolution. They were considered “enemies of the state.”

To summarize:

If rights are given by government, government can take away rights.

If rights are given by God, government’s role is to protect those rights.

every life is sacred“Reproductive rights” and “reproductive justice” are phrases used today by those who want to decide their rights. Pro-choice advocates say only the woman should decide to keep or kill her baby.

If humans are the authority, they can decide their own rights, making any pregnancy choice they desire.

If rights are my “choice,” then my choices can be imposed on an unborn child without restraint.

The word “choice” comes from the middle ages: To taste or try, a willful selection based on preference or individual option.

Here is my definition: choice is bowing to the altar of self.

ethanAs my nephew Ethan has pointed out, abortion is the obvious outcome of a culture obsessed with self. If I make my own rights, then I can make my own choices. But if my choices are limited by God-given rights, then my choices are limited and my rights are held in tension with my responsibilities.

March for life wo17-2Over 55 million American children have been killed through abortion since the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973. The unborn have become the new “enemies of the state.” We are a nation, much like the French, wanting our authority, our rights, and our choices.

 

2016 March for Life WaPoCompare and contrast:

Who or what do you worship?

What options exist for the origin of rights?

What is the authority for being pro-choice or pro-life?

March for life 2017Mark believes that we must stand together for two beliefs: life and freedom. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute and writes every January in support of The March for Life.

Picture credits: Washington Post, March for Life, Ethan Renoe, Wikipedia

The Intellectual Life


Want to be a Christian intellectual?

cover

Read The Intellectual Life.

“Let us not be like those people who always seem to be pallbearers at the funeral of the past.                           Let us utilize, by living, the qualities of the dead” (15).

philosopherA man who writes such lines must be read! A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life is a necessary agent toward molding Christian thinkers. His opening chapter marks the initial salvo in the battle for “The Intellectual Vocation.” These pages are choice, conditioning Christian minds to consider the importance of study, pursuit of scholarship, and the practicality of everyday living as an intellectual.

cathedralSertillanges was a French scholar of the Dominican Order(1863-1948). The Intellectual Life was first published in 1921 and has been used in a multiplicity of contexts from seminaries to military academies. James V. Schall, whose foreword opens the volume, encourages every serious thinker to adopt Sertillanges’ intellectual practices. “Practice” is indeed the central premise of the book. Many tomes have been written on the pursuit of knowledge but only this one has been given to the practical outworking of how to practice the craft of being a public intellectual.

woman-profThe opening chapter references work of the mind as a “vocation,” a “calling,” a serious, important pursuit.“Virtue” marks the second chapter, demanding that the scholar recognize The Spirit’s demands on her life. “Organization” and “time” follow in succession safeguarding the necessity of life-space to cultivate, create, and continue the life of the mind. One must know their place in fields of study acknowledging the preeminence of Truth as well as Mystery. “Preparation” is the lengthiest chapter focused on reading, memory, and note-taking. The imperative, arduous nature of writing demands the full attention of the scholar who must communicate her craft to the world. Ultimately, the joyous fruit of one’s labor gives cause to pause, reflecting on the good life of the person who has been gifted to use his intellect for beneficence, toward the betterment of all.

profEach page contains phrases and paragraphs worthy of memorization. The scholar will be prompted toward both “self-examination” and “pleasure” (4-5). The intellectual vocation is a gift from God requiring “continuity and methodical effort” (3). Discipline and dedication must augment the inherent desires of one called to “this way of life” which must be initiated with “long self-examination” (4). Once The Spirit’s prompting is understood the Christian intellectual is warned “Do not prove faithless to God, to your brethren and to yourself by rejecting a sacred call (5). True intellectual vocation requires “training and tenacity” (4).

riceCentral to Sertillanges’ concern is that the Christian intellectual realize the responsibility of her life. The author asks one long question at the bottom of page eleven direction to the cloistered in their studies. Humility is essential as “the wisdom of the ages” is shared with others (11). Forming “rules of the mind in our present time” directs “men’s hearts toward supreme ends.” Opportunities to allow “the gospel speak out of our lives” (13) providing “life-giving maxims” (15) create a continuous hunger for God-centered knowledge.

lightBut what good is knowledge without discipline? Organization of one’s life is the core of Sertillanges’ writing. Care for the whole person is of first importance (36). Fresh air, exercise, rest, diet, sleep, and self-control are all predominate concerns (37-40). Wives and children are seen as refreshment (41-46), solitude as essential (46-53), and associations (54) as encouragements. Solitude, however, above all else, is essential (55-68). Knowing oneself, the best time of day to think, provides the template for chapter four. Sertillanges reminds this is anything but a selfish pursuit, instead, a necessary, jealous guarding of a thinker’s time “when he really uses it, is in reality charity to all” (99-100).

libraryBroadminded study includes the interests of all: “everything is in everything” (102) and “intellectuality admits no compartments” (241). “Synthesis,” “comparison,” “kindred disciplines,” “connections,” and “coherence” suggest the continual need toward interdisciplinarity, the emphasis of chapter five. Focused on one’s specialty alone leaves one alone in his discipline, without light “for its own paths” (102). Better, Sertillanges’ metaphor claims, crops be rotated so as to “not ruin the soil” (104). Yet one discipline must guide all others: theology (109ff). “The unity of faith gives to intellectual work the stamp of a vast cooperation . . . united in God” (110).
carsonSertillanges also allows no division between content and communication, between study and practice. “Reading and study should be spirit and life” (141). Scholars use resources but must not be used by them (154-56). A “banquet of the sages” (158) mandate each intellectual acknowledge how much she owes to others’ past work. Guarding ones’ memory through recollection and reflection is a mandate (181-86). “The expression of thought in words is an act of life” (202). Christian thinkers work “in a spirit of eternity” in the service of Truth (210). Intellectuals are intellectuals “all the time” (216) delighting in the activity of study (220).

“Try to discern in every occurrence the effort that befits you, the discipline you are capable of, the sacrifice you can make, the subject you can deal with, the thesis you can write, the book that you can read with profit, the public you can serve. Take the measure of all these things humility and confidence. . . . Then throw yourself with your whole heart into your task” (232).

grad-studentsThose who have been given opportunity and privilege of higher education now bear the responsibility of the intellectual vocation. The Christian shows her love for others by using her skills for others’ benefit. Developing intellectual abilities from a decidedly biblical point of view serves others. The Christian intellectual protects his neighbor from unbiblical ideas through identification, analysis, evaluation, and refutation as well as provides his neighbor with biblical ideas for their general wellbeing as a human being. Through all “purity of thought requires purity of soul” (22) mandating that the Christian intellectual benefits his community by committing herself to care of the soul. The practice of intellectual work must have an end toward practice so that the eternal nature of scholarship have immediate, practical application.

september-2016Review by Mark D. Eckel, President, The Comenius Institute, Indianapolis, IN and Professor of Leadership, Education and Discipleship, Capital Seminary and Graduate School, Washington, D.C. Sertillanges, A.G. The intellectual life: Its spirit, conditions, methods. Translated from the French by Mary Ryan.  Foreword by James V. Schall. Reprint, Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 1998. 266 pp. $22.95. paper. The review will appear in the 2017 spring issue of the Christian Education Journal.

Funnies


“Humor plays close to the white hot fire of truth.” E. B. White

bill watterson wiki

“Our laughter contains the hope of redemption.” F.H. Buckley, The Morality of Laughter

Laughter. We began each class hour the same way.

DarwinawardWhen I was teaching in high school I would show the latest “Darwin Awards,” weekly “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon strips, or “Weird News” items on an overhead at the beginning of classes. [Yes, I know overheads and acetate are tools of the past!]

bill larson far sideStudents coming into my high school classroom or office at Moody Bible Institute saw my door and adjacent walls plastered full of collected “funnies” cut from local newspapers.

Posters around the walls of my room included “Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!” from none other than Curly of Three Stooges fame.

3 stoogesSelf-deprecating humor (making fun of ourselves)helped young people know that while I took very seriously what we studied, myself, not so much.

I believe:

Laughter finds a way for us to connect emotionally.

Laughter allows adversaries to consider friendship.

Laughter breaks down tensions, barriers to learning.

Laughter invites us to join in a shared experience.

Laughter binds propositional teaching to life.

But I also believe that laughter opens us to biblical truth.

frank and ernestComics like The Wizard of Id, Calvin and Hobbes, and Frank and Ernest did a good job of explaining human nature.  Of all the comics I have saved over the years those that communicate best are honest about our human nature.

Wiley Miller produced a Non Sequitur comic titled “The Essence of Human Nature.”  A man and a woman are standing by a sign that says, “Absolutely NO Machete Juggling.”  The man comments, “Suddenly I have an urge to juggle machetes.” [I have a signed copy of this comic from Mr. Miller]

machete juggling
hagar browneChris Browne’s Hagar the Horrible makes the case another way.  Hagar’s wife sees her husband leaving the house loaded down with weapons.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“I’m meeting with Attila the Hun to discuss the possibility of a peace treaty.”

Frowning, her second question is, “Why do you need all those weapons?”

Hagar matter-of-factly explains, “It might not be possible.”

hagarIn discussions with his boy, Hagar insists, “Never turn your back on an enemy, my son!”  Reasoning with his father the child responds, “You should be more trusting Dad!  He’s not an enemy—he’s a ‘human being,’ just like you.”  Making his point Hagar rejoins, “THAT’S why you should never turn your back on him!”

bill watterson wikiPlaying close to the white hot fire of truth means we are honest about our human nature. We know that our laughter points toward our hope of redemption.

Yes, laughter lightens our mood but it also brings light to our way.

I still have the 3-inch binder full of overheads I used to jolt classes into jocularity.

Overheads are a thing of the past but laughter is ever present anytime I teach.

Mark August 2016 (2)Mark loves to laugh and make others laugh! This essay is being written toward Dr. Eckel’s upcoming book Up Against the Lockers: Teaching-Learning as Christian Practice.

Picture credits: Wikipedia

Assumptions


The discussion was anything but typical.

conversation

Cytotechnology. Forensic linguistics. Finite math.

I had to ask her if she would type out cytotechnology to me on my cell phone. I had not heard of it before even though I had seen its affects in medical research.

ProfessorDoes your professor ever talk about origins, where things come from in your study?” I began.

“No,” she shook her head, “We don’t discuss ideas such as creation or evolution. Evolution is a given.”

“Let me ask a different question. Does your professor ever use the words ‘awe,’ ‘beauty,’ ‘wonder,’ or ‘amazement’ when talking about human cell structure?”

cell“Oh, yes! All the time! He will say things like, ‘If the molecular structure changed a fraction or the cell structure shifted ever so slightly in this direction the immune system would not work’.”

She paused. Then she said, “You know, now that I think about it, my professor assumes design all the time! He will use the word and I will think to myself, ‘How can you use that word if you believe in evolution?’”

“And there it is!” I declared, looking around the table. “No one – Christian or non-Christian – can operate in their respective fields of study without depending on concepts that come from outside themselves.

mathI looked at the young mathematician sitting across from me. “I bet your math courses suggest that one of the ways a math proof is identified as true is if the equation is beautiful.”

He agreed, shaking his head up and down, “Mathematical computation depends on beauty.”

The student who has fallen in love with forensic linguistics concurred, “We depend on the framework of logic as we investigate law. We assume logic as the basis for our study.”

forensic linguisticsDo you see?!” I exclaimed, “The Christian worldview provides the presuppositions for everything! Humans assume beauty, logic, and wonder as results of any investigation without giving a thought about where those ideas originate.”

Our discussions around the lunch table continued over a myriad of topics.

But we were all reminded again that our scholastic lives are governed by The One who has designed, sustains, and enjoys all things in His creation.

Teachers and students all assume

  • an origin for our study which makes us ask, “Where did that come from?”

  • boundaries for our schoolwork questioning, “Why are limitations built into the world?”

  • exploration in our field of research suggesting, “What else is there to learn?”

  • delight as we pursue creative alternatives thinking, “How can I make this better?”

  • a lack of fulfillment in our discoveries unless we can answer, “When will I feel satisfied?”

conversationOne in our group told of a conversation she had overheard in her department. “You can hear everything from where I sit,” she explained, continuing, “Two accomplished PhD professors were musing aloud saying things like, ‘After all our accomplishments, publications, and credits, is this all there is?’”

“I wish I could have had the liberty to engage that conversation. Maybe they should talk with us over lunch.”

September 2016Mark learns so much from the students he chats with at IUPUI. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute committed to providing Christian academic, intellectual responses to college student questions.

Learn more about what we do by watching our one minute video.

Find out how you can become a patron of Comenius at our website.

Compass


“I feel the pressure all the time.”

Compass

Comenius_Logo_5_Gold&Green (2)Comenius students and I sat around the table talking. Our topics of conversation ranged from “internalized misogyny” to Haitian views of American racism to the vocation of being a student.

One of the talking points revolved around a New York Times article about why sports fans may continue to cheer for their team even if the team is caught cheating. Psychologist David DeSteno, an expert on the psychology of emotion, hypocrisy and moral judgment, has studied the phenomenon. His conclusion? You can’t blame the fans for believing their team can do no wrong, even if they are caught cheating. Twice. Part of the article read,

[A team] and their supporters are not unlike any other group and its followers.

It’s not about the true facts, or about how honest you believe a group is, or what the group’s past behavior is,” he said. “Just being a part of a group, any group, is enough to excuse moral transgressions because in some way, you’re benefiting from it. Your moral compass shifts.

compass1“So,” I began the questioning, “Do you ever see peoples’ moral compass shift depending on the group to which they belong?” The students did not miss a beat. “All the time!” a few chimed in, the others nodding their heads in agreement.

“Our professors identify individuals by their group all the time,” offered one student. “Some people are so concerned that they will offend me because I look different than them.”

“Some professors tell us what they believe,” said another, “I have a professor who constantly declares he is a ‘radical leftist’. It’s so obvious that he expects students to accept his position as true.”

Reading booksAnd then there is the reading,” moaned a third student. “You would think that in a university we would be exposed to different perspectives on topics. You would be wrong. 100% of the reading pushes only one point of view. I feel like I’m being brainwashed.”

Do you ever feel afraid to speak up in your classes, to go against the professor’s views, or speak out against what the group thinks?” I asked.

“Who likes to be told they are wrong or be talked down to?” The rhetorical question from one student hung in the air.

Another student offered, “You think twice before questioning accepted beliefs. In the back of your mind you are always thinking about your grade.”

Compass2“Do you think that the article is correct,” I began my next question, “Do you think that a student’s moral compass shifts because they feel pressure to be part of a group, accepted by their peers, or that their point of view will affect their grade?”

“We see it all the time,” one concluded. “It affects how you ask a question or voice another point of view,” said another. “I feel the pressure to change my beliefs all the time.”

“But,” one said, “Having these discussions each week helps. It reminds me that a Christian perspective can be a course correction when the group wants my moral compass to shift.”

Every person around the table nodded their agreement.

September 2016Mark believes that “encouraging each other with sound doctrine” (Titus 1.9) is crucial for Christian students in public university settings. Ask your church to support The Comenius Institute (see our 1 minute video here). Contact Dr. Mark Eckel: mark@comeniusinstitute.org or eckel1957@gmail.com

And for the record, Mark is glad to see that both The New York Times and psychology have finally caught up with the conclusions of Genesis 3.

Picture credit: Wikipedia

Academic Free Speech


Imagine there’s no freedom. It’s easy if you try.

Free Speech 1966

On the American university campus, you don’t have to imagine.

universityI was teaching a class on Theological Interpretation of Media this past week.

On Saturday morning (4 March 2017) I began by reading the full description of an attack on freedom of speech.

The Vermont newspaper Addison Independent reported (here)

A “controversial speaker” was shouted down, not allowed to speak

Further attempts to stop the speaker in an on-air broadcast resulted in pulling multiple fire alarms

The speaker and a professor were violently accosted, sending the professor to the hospital

The car used to transport the speaker and professor was beaten, jumped on, and blocked from leaving campus by protesters

1984My class couldn’t believe it. We had been studying Orwell’s book 1984 warning the loss of freedom. My students did not have to imagine Orwell’s futuristic scenario, they were hearing it firsthand.

Condoleezza RiceBut I had seen this before. Too many times conservative, libertarian voices have been booed off campus stages, had speaking invitations rescinded, or were kept from giving graduation addresses.

Imagine an African-American woman who served as secretary of state who was protested into not coming to campus. One doesn’t have to imagine: this happened to Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

Imagine an African-American man who serves on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal who had a speaking invitation rescinded (later reinvited). One doesn’t have to imagine: this happened to Jason Riley.

Imagine an Arab-American woman who is a human rights activist whose invitation to present a commencement address was rescinded. One doesn’t have to imagine: this happened to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

StanfordFormer Stanford Provost John Etchemendy did not have to use his imagination when he spoke this past month to the Stanford University Board:

Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country . . . a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for.

It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands.

We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration.

Ayaan Hirsi AliFreedom to hear other points of view often begins with a faculty. Instead of encouraging students to hear those with whom they may disagree, dis-invitation reigns.

Jason RileyI call upon my fellow academics, Christian or non-Christian, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight, Black or White, to adhere to the following ideals in civil, university discourse:

Stop using caustic, inflammatory, violence-inciting rhetoric toward any person

Invite those with whom you disagree into your classrooms, programs, and commencements

Encourage a spirit of openness, generosity, and grace in all verbal communication

Welcome debates with other academics who have opposing views on campus

Alert students to the weakness in your own biases as you point to the strength of opposing perspectives

free speechSadly, a conservative university student told me this week,

“I state my opinion to classmates but write my papers saying what my liberal professor wants to hear. I want to graduate.”

Imagination is not necessary.

University freedom of speech is assaulted every day.

September 2016Mark’s students regularly heard the opposing viewpoints from atheists themselves in his Christian high school classrooms. Now Mark encourages conservative university students to read liberal perspectives and liberal students to read conservative perspectives. [Labels such as “liberal” or “conservative” are only helpful in addressing cultural generalities but are generally unhelpful in academic-intellectual discussions. The words are used here only reflecting current, cultural vocabulary.] Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute.

Picture credits: Wikipedia, Stanford.edu

Posting


“It happens all the time.”

Post office boxes

We were discussing social media communication.

August_Hermann_Knoop_Rokoko-KavaliereMy young friend and I were discussing what he sees and hears on the college campus.

“Relationships are based on convenience,” he began. “Students surround themselves with people who think like they think.”

My face frowned, “Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what should happen at college?”

800px-Graz_University-Library_reading-room“You would be surprised,” he was shaking his head, “Students form groups which disallow any and all opposing viewpoints.”

“What is the latest idea you’ve encountered,” I questioned.

“There are some who suggest that because you are a man, you are automatically a rapist.

The stunned expression on my face spoke for me.

800px-Adolf_Friedrich_Erdmann_von_Menzel_049“That’s right. Simply because you are a man you automatically have inclinations and tendencies toward abuse of women. Some groups assume that point of view. All other perspectives are viewed as an attack against women. You either agree or you become the adversary.”

It was hard to believe what I was hearing.

My college friend continued, “If a group finds others who disagree in the slightest they criticize, marginalize, and ostracize dissent.

“Posting in social media by some,” he resumed, “Is all based on personal experience and emotion. Anyone who irritates the group is isolated and antagonized.”

phoneHe picked up his phone. “Here is one posting example of the end result of such thinking.” He read the following statement word-for-word from one student’s social media feed.

“By what authority are these statements right or wrong? There are no born rights. There is only that which we take by force. Rights are a luxurious abstraction for societies which have already exercised sufficient force.”

1984“This sounds like Nazi Germany or Orwell’s 1984,” my voice was incredulous.

“So where do rights come from according to your social media friend,” I asked. [See my essay on “rights” here.]

“Whomever is in power controls rights,” came his adamant reply.

“So do you feel bullied in campus discussions?” I had to ask.

“I pick my words carefully,” his eyes locked on mine. “Campus atmosphere dictates discussions.”

Microphone_slant.svg“We have open mic nights about pressing social issues,” he motioned to an announcement on a TV monitor. “I go to listen and ask questions. But even asking questions can get you in trouble. People will read into your questions if they feel your queries are searching for alternative points of view.”

“Is there any hope of creating space for open, honest, yet civil discussions?” I asked.

Right now, in the present culture, I would say no,” came his sad response. “Obviously social media is the wrong place to post any contrarian viewpoint. The campus atmosphere precludes openness.”

handshakeHe paused, stuck his hand out across the table, and said, “Thank you for spending time with me. I look forward to our discussions each week. Your investment in my life helps me know that a loving Christian viewpoint is the answer to antagonism on campus or in social media.”

Mark is both saddened and encouraged by such discussions he has with college students. Dr. Mark Eckel is the president of The Comenius Institute. See our one minute video here.

Picture credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia commons

No


“No. No. No. No.”

no

Every question I asked received the same response.

Personality_dimensionsShe had been studying psychology, specifically, the theories of personality.

“In your class was the idea of ‘person’ linked with ‘personality’?” I asked.

no“No,” she responded.

“Did your professor discuss the origin of human personage?” I asked.

no“No,” she responded.

“Were there any theories posited outside a purely naturalistic mindset?” I asked.

no“No,” she responded.

“Were any monotheistic religious traditions a source of psychological knowledge?” I asked.

no“No,” she responded.

P_psychology2.svgThe student was not being given a full understanding of her discipline. Alternative possibilities were being ignored.

“No, No, No, No,” suggests the problem is not with the discipline but how the discipline is approached.

My young collegiate friend and I then discussed the problem of excluding sources of knowledge.

professorSometimes professors state their beliefs. The teaching can be seen for what it is.

But what if the belief is NOT stated? What if other beliefs are left out?

What is NOT said in a class

  • Negates by omission

  • Dismisses by exclusion

  • Rejects by elimination.

What IS said in a class can be easier to see.

What is NOT said in a class is almost never seen.

rodin's thinker“Belief” is sometimes stated in a class, the professor’s views are obvious.

“Belief” is sometimes unstated in a class, the professor’s view excludes other views.

Students who meet with me attend IUPUI, a public university.

IUPUIWhat should we expect to hear taught at a public, secular, non-religious university?

Some will argue, “This is a public university, so viewpoints expressed are publically acceptable” to which I will respond “What happens when ‘acceptability’ excludes certain public alternatives?”

Others will say, “A public university is committed to a secular outlook” to which I will respond “Commitment to a secular outlook does not give the right to overlook other sources of knowledge.”

ethicsStill more will demand, “Public universities respect religious convictions but base their teaching on physical evidence through experimentation and observation” to which I will respond, “A school committed solely to the physical world by its own standard, eliminates itself from any discussion of the non-physical world. Words such as ‘ethics’, ‘values’, and ‘truth’ are outside the parameters of physical examination.”

student2The student summarized what she was learning in psychology. “My professors try to reduce everything to what they call ‘science’.” She shook her head, “They push theories without any discussion of what is true, right, or good.”

“Is there any mention of religion at all in your textbook?” I wondered aloud.

“Oh yes. Buddhism is supposed to give a basis for understanding and happiness, but,” her eyes widened, “In the text, Buddhism only focuses on self.

“So I wonder,” thinking out loud, “Is there any reference to a monotheistic religion in your psychology text and its basis for personhood?

x outNo. Come to think of it,” she smiled, “Every question you’ve asked me I’ve had to answer ‘No’!

“When your text mentions nothing but the natural world, the only answer to any question about supernatural origins has to be ‘No’!” I smiled.

What is NOT said in a class is almost never seen.

But what is NOT said in a class forms a person’s view of the world.

Mark Apr 15The work of The Comenius Institute is to help students see the world distinctively. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute. See our one-minute video here.