Choose your words
Contrary to Russell Bogue’s column, universities should be free to decline to support organizations that violate their policies
One of my other jobs, I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is teaching freshman composition. When I’m doing that, I try to emphasize that the skills necessary to produce a decent essay — the ability to evaluate sources and information; to organize thought and argument; to make a point concisely -— are also useful outside an English classroom. Yes, they’ll help with other academic papers, but they’ll also help a person distinguish among half-developed thoughts, mindlessly repeated talking points, real ideas and real nonsense. Such skills might prevent embarrassing spectacles such as Marco Rubio’s infamous water bottle speech. While his sweating, his awkward sweat-wiping and his leftward lurch for water have gotten a lot of attention, it was the lack of content that impressed me. Rubio mimicked talking points that could have been lifted from a Mitt Romney stump speech, but offered no evidence that any of them might be true. In fact, he offered evidence that some of them might not be true. Government can’t help Americans get ahead, but he couldn’t have gone to college without government-backed student loans. Of course, the senator had previously demonstrated a deficiency in either math skills or historical knowledge the many times he said his family fled Cuba to escape the Castro regime when, in fact, his parents and older brother were established in Florida long before Castro’s revolution deposed the dictator that preceded him.
But I digress.
I agree with George Orwell’s theory that sloppy thinking leads to sloppy writing, which facilitates more sloppy thinking, which is expressed in more sloppy writing and so on and so on in an accelerating, descending spiral that eventually leads to the end of civilization because so many people have lost the ability that Lyndon Johnson described (in more colorful language) as the ability to tell chicken salad from chicken manure.
People lose the ability to recognize the foolishness of an argument even — or perhaps particularly — when they’re presenting it themselves.
Consider Russell Bogue’s recent column in The Cavalier Daily, (“Keeping the faith: Colleges should not chastise religious organizations for practicing faith-based discrimination,” Feb. 7). Bogue wrote of religious organizations that had been de-recognized by the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt because the groups’ constitutions required the organizations’ leaders to sign a statement of faith. The schools apparently decided that violated their non-discrimination policies.
“Parading under the banner of inclusivity and non-discrimination,” Bogue asserted, “these institutions of higher education have been forcing religious organizations either to compromise their beliefs or leave the university.”
These must be very strange religious organizations. All the religious organizations I can think of want to welcome new people into the their ranks. They want to spread the good news. Making someone sign a pledge committing to the faith would seem to make it much more difficult to evangelize or even to expose anyone to the religion’s principles. It’s like having a club that only people who are already members can join.
Perhaps that’s not fair. The statements of faith, as I understand it, had to be signed only by leaders, not by the general membership or casual attendees.
“The ability to regulate and select its leadership is a vital function of any organization, but especially religious ones,” Bogue argues. “Hamstringing religious groups in their efforts to choose genuinely faithful leaders is one step too far.”
Who chooses these groups’ leaders? The groups, perhaps? Is Bogue suggesting that these groups need to be protected from Manchurian candidates, from clandestine Zoroastrians infiltrating the membership and patiently climbing through the ranks until they can seize power, reveal their true selves and force everyone in the club to celebrate Khordad Sal and Nowruz? What makes Bogue think that anyone hatching such a nefarious scheme would be derailed by having to sign a pledge of faith?
Religious groups have their creeds and other organizations -— universities, for instance — have their organizing principles. At least, we all should hope so. When those principles collide, when there can be no compromise, the opposing sides may have to part ways. Unless I misunderstand, the universities aren’t arguing that the religious organizations should cease to exist. The universities are saying that, if the religious organizations continue to violate the universities’ principles, the universities will cease to support them — which seems like something universities should be free to do.
Nevertheless, Bogue asserts, “It’s time to give up on idolizing bland, unqualified ‘acceptance’ and instead recognize the right of faith-based groups to require actual faith from their leaders.”
If these religious organizations are truly concerned that only people who agree with their principles lead them, perhaps they should take care to choose as leaders only people who agree with their principles. How those potential leaders live their faith would seem a much better measure of that than any oath any group requires them to sign.
Tim Thornton is the ombudsman for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.