Welcome to the Oppression Olympics

I knew crazy things were happening on college campuses but it seems I wasn’t acutely aware how certain precincts in institutions of “higher” learning had become equal parts Orwellian insane asylum and the Theater of the Absurd. By the time you finish reading the article titled “16 Most Ridiculously PC Moments on College Campuses in 2016,” by Katherine Timpf, you may find yourself believing that the Apocalypse is actually upon us and singing the popular R.E.M. song, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” A sampling from Timpf:

Students at the University of California-Los Angeles created a “healing place” to recover from the pain of having Ben Shapiro speak on their campus—even though the speech had happened three months ago and they did not even attend it.

An assistant professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland wrote a real, actual article about how ski slopes are “masculinized spaces.” Yes, ski slopes, as in hills with snow on them.

The best and brightest: A Harvard kid declared benches to be a racial issue. No, “benches” is not a code word here. I am literally talking about actual benches, as in things people sit on in parks.

A group of student leaders at the University of Oregon debated removing the famous “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream…” quote from a wall in the student center because it only talks about racial discrimination and not discrimination based on things like gender identity…and that’s just not inclusive enough.

A school cancelled a performance of The Vagina Monologues because a white lady wrote it. The cancellation happened at Southwestern University in Texas. American University cancelled their performance of the show, too, but for a different reason: It was not inclusive enough to women without vaginas.

These and many other stories call to mind the famous George Orwell quote: “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

Practicing Catholics and other orthodox Christians really shouldn’t be that surprised when they don’t find a treasure trove of Solomonic wisdom at our universities, because, if the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, secularism is the beginning of foolishness.

When a Divine Metanarrative (e.g., Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium) is rejected, and people become the sole arbiters of truth and morality, the prophecy of Chesterton is fulfilled: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything” (emphasis mine).

Anything, as in the different poverty rate between blacks and whites in America, is rooted in racism instead of other factors such as family structure. The studies are clear: “Among black married couples, the poverty rate was 7.0 percent, while the rate for non-married black families was seven times higher at 35.6 percent.”

Anything, as in men and women are basically the same and the differences that are often cited are socially constructed. Give little boys tea sets to play with and little girls trucks and you’ll see that this is true we are told. Only the little boys turned their tea sets into weapons of war and the little girls tucked their trucks in at night and gave them names.

Anything, as in open borders is a compassionate policy though it neglects to ask several salient moral questions related to the citizens that are affected by this liberal compassion:

Scores of people from other countries have followed all the rules and waited years to immigrate here from say someplace like Senegal or the Ukraine. Is it uncompassionate to tell the undocumented that they need to go the back of the line?

Is open borders a fair policy when legal citizens are losing their jobs and seeing their wages driven down because of the presence of the illegals? Is this fair especially to the black community who are losing unskilled and entry-level jobs to the undocumented?

Low-skilled illegal aliens have high rates of welfare dependency. Is it fair for those who are here legally to pick up the tab?

When I was involved in a ministry at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, I knew a man who had been engaged in campus ministry for three decades. He marveled at how students had changed from his days as a student in the mid-60s from people who thought through the crucial issues of life to a more feeling-based approach. A kind of therapeutic secularism became a prominent feature of the campus Zeitgeist. It didn’t appeal to a divine text or sacred tradition and it pursued a sense of wellbeing, a plentitude of endorphins.

This trend has accelerated with the Millennials: the children of Rousseau, who told his audience to “consult your own hearts,” and appealed to “internal sentiment,” are with us. When subjective feelings are deified and the primary goal of life is to feel good, such unmitigated narcissism requires college campuses to have “trigger warnings,” “healing places,” and “safe spaces” for students whose fragile sense of wellbeing is disturbed by those with opposing views. Welcome to the Oppression Olympics.

And it doesn’t even have to come from someone with an opposing viewpoint. Case in point: In 2007, Brandeis University placed a faculty monitor in the classroom of Professor Donald Hindley, a 50-year teaching veteran nearing retirement, after he used the word “wetback” in one of his Latin American Politics classes.

Dr. Hindley merely introduced the word without derision and sought to explain its origins, but administrators claimed he was guilty of racial harassment. Whether Hindley did anything objectively right or wrong is not the issue at Brandeis. What is at issue is that some students’ cocoons of serenity were disturbed and administrators, with their usual Pavlovian pusillanimity, folded like an accordion.

These totalitarian tendencies define many Millennials, both on and off campus, who wish to shut down the First Amendment through the barrel of a gun. A November 2015 Pew Research Poll found that 40 percent of Americans, 18-34 years of age, believed it was proper for the government to prevent citizens from making statements that minority groups would find offensive.

This policy would undoubtedly go beyond racial slurs and denigrating stereotypes. In the brave new world to come that is governed by Millennials, where truth is a lot less important than hurting someone’s feelings, you may someday get thrown into prison, or be given a substantial fine, for stating the obvious:

(1) Islam needs a Reformation: the idea of a tiny radical Muslim minority is a myth.

(2) Illegitimacy, black-on-black crime, and wretched public policy are bigger issues in the black community than racism.

(3) Scientific evidence doesn’t support the thesis that gays are “born that way” and homosexual behavior results in horrendous mental and physical health outcomes for gay people.

Some of my friends on the Right may be a little bit giddy that they now have control of the presidency, the House, the Senate, and two-thirds of the governorships and state legislatures, not to mention the opportunity to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia. The Republican Party has more power than it has had for 80 years.

The aforementioned Pew Research poll concerning Millennials should cause all giddiness to evaporate. As the old saying goes, politics is downstream from culture, and, if you lose the culture, you lose the country. What good does it do to have the levers of political power when 40 percent of your “leaders of tomorrow” have totalitarian tendencies issuing from the culture of the university?

If we hope that every election cycle is supposed to clean up our cultural toxins, we hope in vain. Politics is important but culture is more important than politics. Since culture flows downstream from religion, all practicing Catholics and other orthodox Christians are called not only to the individual pursuit of sanctity but also to be the Church Militant in a culture that is, in many precincts, slouching towards totalitarianism. 

(Photo credit: Lauren Hansen / iStock)                                                                                                                        

Jonathan B. Coe

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Jonathan B. Coe is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is the author of Letters from Fawn Creek, a volume of spiritual direction, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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