Not too long ago I read an article, “After the Culture War,” by Barton Swain in his column on politics in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 3-4. When I see the words “culture” and “wars” these days, or someone who actually calls himself a political something-or-another, or in this case a political writer, I usually turn to the funnies or the newspaper puzzle.
Yet, Swain writes perceptively and somewhat persuasively, often quoting from his peers, past and present.
“Many people,” wrote Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in his new book, “The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church,” “in the most privileged sectors of our modern societies do not even know a believing Christian.” To which Swain agreed. “The …statement is surely true.”
Don’t even know a Christian?! I thought.
As I sit here in west central Alabama, I of course realize I am in the “Bible Belt,” a section of America that apparently still at least knows of Christianity. I would be astonished if I interviewed the “man in the street,” or in the case of where I live, Tuscaloosa, the student on the Quad, “Do you know of any Christians?”
I suspect — at least hope for — that I would get a return question: “a what?” And when I explained, get an answer like, “Sure, my roommate is a Christian,” or, even better, “I’m a Christian,” and as I continued on my way, I would leave them thinking, “Who IS that guy, asking if I knew a Christian!?”
But in places like California, when responding to questionnaires about faith traditions, about a quarter of Californians answer “none.” They belong to no faith traditions. In the language of pollsters, they are the “nones.” What do they believe in? Themselves? The Government? Luck? Some “ism” like socialism, capitalism, egalitarianism, rationalism, libertarianism, originalism, the isms that dot the political landscape today.
Not everything in Swain’s article struck me as astonishing as the one above related to knowing any Christians. As he probed the political left, their constituencies, sources of ideology, etc., he observed that “today’s radical intelligentsia — unlike Russia’s of a century ago — is far more influenced by Christianity than they are prepared to admit.”
“Where, I wonder,” Swain wrote, “do the angry leftists of university campuses think they got the idea that diversity and inclusion are virtues? Science?”
One, it is interesting that a topflight political writer easily related the “angry leftists of university campuses” to diversity and inclusion. But two, even more fascinating, was how Swain neatly linked DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) to Christian virtues.
What indeed does Christianity advocate if not inclusion and diversity, even bring in the Gentiles as the Apostle Paul was enjoined 2,000 years ago as he went beyond the Jewish community to preach to the non-Christians of the land. Everyone is welcome, as long as they accept Jesus as Lord and savior.
Today DEI advocates across the university communities of America (including the University of Alabama) preach a message that mixes in race, social justice, sex, gender, and generally create their own truth of inequity, racial injustice, racism, exclusion, entitlement, and others to stand as THE grand principles of higher education.
Excellence is a by-product, when, in fact, excellence has always been the principal criterion of higher education from when Western universities were established in the Middle Ages to pursue the study of Christianity to today, looking beyond the old frontiers and barriers into genetic engineering, into space, into the frontiers of our minds and cultures.
Higher education has always thrived in an atmosphere of open inquiry and debate, pushing students to think for themselves, not bound by the narrow disciples of DEI.
Christians also subscribe to bringing the message to all, regardless of race, color, ethnic origin, gender, level of education, etc. We are a diverse tribe indeed.
We encourage diversity and inclusion enthusiastically in the Christian community. There are no ifs or buts when teaching about and proselytizing on behalf of Christianity. Christianity itself, about 2,000 years before the creation of offices of diversity, inclusion, and equality on university campuses, recognized the equality of all humans and their innate, God-given attributes, united by their common humanity, different in so many wonderful ways.
Although ALL of the great universities of the West — Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bologna, Salamanca, Harvard, etc. — were founded to propagate the faith, today we celebrate and are challenged by open, rational, critical thinking from all who come to the table.
This diversity is one of the central elements of Western education, subordinated always to excellence, liberty, and true learning as the ideals of higher education. Promote open, competitive, and rational thinking and they will always threaten DEI ideologues who think they have a monopoly of the truth.
Where do we find and how do we define truth? Perhaps UA, together with Stillman College and Shelton State Community College, should co-sponsor a symposium devoted to this very subject. Think big, you purveyors of higher education right here in River City. If we can be No. 1 in sports, why not in analyzing the path of higher education through the centuries in the making of our nation?
Larry Clayton is a retired University of Alabama history professor. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.