“I don’t want you to believe anything I tell you.”
This mantra has been and continues to be repeated daily to all my classes.
I believe, as did the Bereans, that we should check all information against a standard. In my case, as a biblical professor, I encourage students to go back to Scripture to see if what I’m saying is true. The Bereans did just that because they were “noble, receiving The Word eagerly while examining The Scriptures daily to see if these thing were so” (Acts 17.11).
An Atlantic article this August (here) referenced a letter written by professors from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The gist of the article is summarized here:
Monday’s letter argues that “open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate” are “our best antidotes to bigotry;” that a bigot is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;” and that the only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate “are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.”
We all abide by standards where we measure groupthink. Biblically, I am wary any time factions form pitting viewpoints against one another. Paul identifies the problem when we think our group is better than another. Being “united in the same mindset” is a crucial concern (1 Corinthians 1.10-17)!
Collaboration is crucial to circumvent groupthink. We should be learning and studying together. In the First Testament, The Law was read aloud to Israelite assemblies (e.g., Nehemiah 8). In the Second Testament, letters were read by individuals within churches as the epistle was addressed to all in a location (e.g., Galatians 1.2). Churches in the 21stcentury should consider the imperative of collaborative learning.
Here are some practical suggestions toward avoiding groupthink:
Read, watch, listen to other perspectives within groups averting groupthink (1 John 4.1-6)
Remember Jesus’ words: if “others are not against us” they may be “for us” (Mark 9.38-41)
Don’t share or post something in social media you have not personally researched. Abide by this simple dictum, “If you don’t know, don’t show” (1 Timothy 5.19)
Find the strongest arguments for opposing viewpoints. Engaging the strongest arguments shows honesty toward those with whom we may disagree and strengthens our own position if we disagree (2 Timothy 2.24-26)
Stop rumor, innuendo, slander, and gossip: DO NOT give assent to unsubstantiated views (1 Timothy 6.4)
Just because one group says so, does not make it so.
Just because a professor like me stands behind a lectern, does not make it so.
Read The Atlantic article, read others than those with whom you agree, join a group who has a different perspective than yours. Question. Consider. Research.
Be a Berean.
Mark has gone back to school at IUPUI, studying with brilliant professors with whom he sometimes disagrees. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), teaches weekly at his church (video), as well as spends many hours listening, collaborating, researching, and measuring verbiage and viewpoints from a biblical point of view. [Here is my radio interview response to the issue from Moody Radio in Cleveland yesterday.]
It was just more of the same.
Comenius students and I text throughout the week: when I will be on campus, prayer requests, helpful essays about their studies, and what they are learning in class.
“Where do ethical standards come from? Are they universal or dependent on local norms?”
A student had been sending me texts about a long-standing, long-running interaction about the source of ethics in their* discipline.
I asked about the source or origin of “local norms.”
“Good news!” came the reply. “All truth of morality and origin can be traced back to the American _________ Association!** Problem solved!
“The prof would be less than thrilled to justify their answer. Accountability is a stubborn thing.
Another text appeared on my phone.
“It just got better. We were discussing ethical situations such as lying to customers about the use of survey data and the prof used the curious phrase to initiate participation: ‘There are no right or wrong answers here.’
The student continued, “I looked around the room for someone to be as incredulous as I was but clearly it did not strike anyone else as an ironic phrase.”
In a different class, the same student was reading the textbook basis for “standards.” [Screen shot above] The text claimed that there are three sources for ethical standards: universalism (based on outside, transcendent sources), relativism (based on individual choice), and something called “social responsibility.” The last standard gets its sources from whichever camp makes the most instinctive sense.
Two questions I ask over and over about any discussion point include:
What is the source or origin of the subject, idea, or standard?
What is the end result, the consequence of any action based on the standard?
Doing a radio interview this week I referenced Damon Linker’s article “The Dangers of the Great American Unchurching” (here). What happens if a transcendent, universal standard is removed from discussions of ethics? Mr. Linker cites the result of losing Christian influence on societal standards:
“a precipitous collapse in the power of the churches in American public life.”
Why are transcendent ethical standards so important? Here are just three examples:
The concept of rights (human or civil) is directly derived from transcendent authority. If governments grant rights, governments can take them away. If God grants rights, they should not be taken away. Government’s responsibility is to protect them.
The importance of accountability (business or governmental) has its roots in a universal requirement. Duty and obligation have no foundation without worldwide, common regulations.
The idea of law itself (judicial or legislative) is predicated on an external origin. “Life” and ‘freedom” derive their mandate from a divine source. Human origins for law shift and change based on who is in authority.
The student is right to question the source of ethical standards in their discipline.
Without a transcendent origin, ethics depend on a roll of the dice.
Mark believes two biblical doctrines frame all of life: absolute truth and human nature. The first provides a standard for life, the second makes us all responsible. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), teaches weekly at his church (video), and depends on a transcendent source of ethics like everyone else. [Hear the 8 m radio interview “Why the culture needs The Church.”] Picture credit: snappygoat.com
* using the improper pronoun “their” protects the student’s identity
**using a fill-in-the-blank protects the class’s identity
Same beliefs, different approaches.
In the spring of 2016 I took a class on literary theory from a brilliant IUPUI professor, Tom Marvin. The class was structured around student discovery and presentation. One of my class projects was to explain the African-American approach to literature.
Our text referenced both W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Both black men lived during the turn of the twentieth century, knew each other, and interacted with the others’ point of view. The textbook clearly appreciated Du Bois, considered a more politically “liberal” voice, over that of Mr. Washington, revered by many “conservatives.”
I was not interested in labels. Instead, I chose to show how each man’s ideological lineage could be traced through the last 100 plus years. I decided to put together power point slides to compare-and-contrast each perspective.
From Mr. Du Bois’ philosophical heritage I drew connections to Malcolm X and Cornel West. Mr. Washington’s mindset was considered through the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jason Riley. All the individuals mentioned are black men. The men all shared the same beliefs about racial equality but had markedly different approaches.
I then veered back to a cultural-political divisions between “liberals” and “conservatives.” To do so, I referenced the friendship between Cornel West, a black “liberal” and Robert P. George, a white “conservative.” Both men taught together at Princeton. Both men dialogue well with each other about their differences. And both men are Christians.
I showed a picture of both in jocular embrace. I showed a picture of West holding Harriet Tubman’s Bible as George is sworn into a Civil Rights Commission. I showed a picture of the two men discussing issues about which they disagree in front of a student assembly.
You could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted classroom floor.
I asked if there were any questions. I received stunned silence.
Students were visibly arrested by such a visual display of Christian care between two brothers – one black, one white, one liberal, one conservative. Since the discussion at Biola University (see the 1.5 hour YouTube video here), West and George have visited other university settings to convey the same message: disagreement and dialogue should be protected on college campuses.
All of us could take a cue from Professors West and George. The last few weeks are full of talk about NFL boycotts and statue removal. Since then, I have been asking myself questions I wonder if West and George would ask.
What is the basis for our difference?
What is the source of any solution?
What should be the expected outcome?
Is there room for compromise, give-and-take, or alternative approaches?
By whose authority will we come to any conclusion?
A course on literary theory allowed me to expand my horizons. No, I did not agree with everything I heard: it wouldn’t be education if that were true! But I was given an exceptional opportunity to study two different men with the same belief but different approaches to a solution. Perhaps the question all of us should answer is, “Can I listen long enough to understand another’s point of view?”
If we only listen to the VOICES of those in agreement with us we have heard nothing.
For those wondering why Mark did not talk about ‘statues’ he hopes questions will move to discussions then proceed to actions. Mark is glad to listen to others, both students and faculty at IUPUI. You can find Mark around a student center lunch table each week dialoguing with others. Dr. Mark Eckel is the President of The Comenius Institute (site and 1 minute video).
AFTERWORD on ‘STATUE REMOVAL’: [hyperlinks embedded]
Richmond, Virginia’s African-American Mayor Levar Stoney has a unique approach to statues’: add signage to the monument “to set the record straight.” Author Dave Shiflett further suggests in his essay “Why Not Put Truth on a Pedestal?” more African-Americans should be remembered in monuments. A monument for Sojourner Truth in Richmond, Virginia is an exceptional proposal.
Consider other voices: Condoleezza Rice suggests that statue removal is a “sanitation of history” whereas historian John Fea says if you’re really concerned about statue removal, choose other alternatives.
The discussion was anything but typical.
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.
“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?”
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.”
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.”
“Do 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?”
One 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.”
Mark 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.
“I feel the pressure all the time.”
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.
“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.”
“And 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.”
“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.
Mark 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: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Imagine there’s no freedom. It’s easy if you try.
On the American university campus, you don’t have to imagine.
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
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.
Former 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.
Freedom 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.
I 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
“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.
Mark’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
“It happens all the time.”
We were discussing social media communication.
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
He 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.”
Every question I asked received the same response.
“In your class was the idea of ‘person’ linked with ‘personality’?” I asked.
“Did your professor discuss the origin of human personage?” I asked.
“Were there any theories posited outside a purely naturalistic mindset?” I asked.
“Were any monotheistic religious traditions a source of psychological knowledge?” I asked.
“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.
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.
“Belief” is sometimes unstated in a class, the professor’s view excludes other views.
Students who meet with me attend IUPUI, a public 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.”
Still 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.”
The 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?”
“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.
The 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.
None of us thinks alone.
We all face social pressure from our social groups.
My friendships are broad.
Some swear by CNN, others by Fox.
There are those who ally themselves with Rush, others with NPR.
One group call themselves “progressive” another, “conservative.”
Certain groups cheered this past election, others cried.
Select folks begin discussions with “social justice,” others start with “justice.”
We like to think our perspectives are our own. We think somehow we are independent thinkers. We pride ourselves in believing that our perception is right because we have carefully considered all sides. We are ever touting the righteousness of our cause. We believe what we believe.
What we do not often acknowledge, however, is that our viewpoint is shaped by social pressure.
A recent Vox conversation with Brown University cognitive scientist Steven Sloman (find the article here) was aptly subtitled: “Why We Pretend to Know More Than We Do.” Sean Illing asked Sloman the following question:
Illing: How do people form opinions?
Sloman: I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don’t like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.
Think about if you were to utter a fact that contradicted the opinions of the majority of those in your social group. You pay a price for that. If I said I voted for Trump, most of my academic colleagues would think I’m crazy. They wouldn’t want to talk to me. That’s how social pressure influences our epistemological commitments, and it often does it in imperceptible ways.
The title of Sloman’s most recent book is telling: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.
Simply said, social pressure influences our thinking.
All of us need to accept:
We may be wrong: we need to spend more time hearing other perspectives.
We may be right, but we need to accept others may hold pieces of truth.
We should question our own groups: they may be wrong.
We should listen to other groups: they may be right.
My role as a Christian cultural apologist (see my essay here) assumes all authority, all knowledge, all assumptions begin here: Yahweh, The Personal Eternal Triune Creator of the universe exists and has spoken in His Word and His world. My research and writing arises from a decidedly biblical vantage point. I am responsible to engage not just data, but people and their social pressures.
But I am also aware that I am swayed in my thinking—as we all are—by social pressures.
Others with other social pressures may describe themselves in other ways.
But let’s not fool ourselves. None of us thinks alone.
Christian “social commitments” are very important to Comenius students. “We encourage each other with sound doctrine” (Titus 1.9) is imperative during the college years for Christian students. Dr. Mark Eckel is president of The Comenius Institute (our one-minute video here).
AFTERWORD: I believe my work in the culture is as a priest, a go-between, between people and God, a prophet, a mouth-piece for God to people, and an evangelistic-apologist, a defender of God’s Words & Works in the public square.