Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Religious correctness

This is a thoughtful and interesting piece on the importance of teaching religion in the context of a liberal education, which ought to be read with care by the folks at Harvard (and, of course, elsewhere). You don’t have to agree with everything he says to be stimulated by it.

Update: Here’s the text of a letter I sent to the Times:

Professor Mark C. Taylor’s op-ed (“The Devoted Student”) rightly stands intransigently for free inquiry against “religious correctness” in the context of liberal education.

But he implies that this latest version of political correctness is largely or entirely the product of increasing devoutness on the part of students.

Having taught for more than twenty years at a secular liberal arts college in a “devout” part of the country, I disagree. What seems to me to have changed at least as much, if not more, is the larger climate of opinion in which students operate.

When we insist upon sensitivity to the concerns of some groups—giving them what in some cases amounts to a veto power over what’s said or studied in class—is it any wonder that others might be inclined to demand a similar respect for their “feelings”? Some religious students apparently can’t resist claiming for themselves the protected status colleges and universities have accorded to others.

A university genuinely and consistently devoted to free inquiry in all areas of human endeavor and study would at the very least be in a better position to resist religiously correct demands for censorship. We’d all be better off if there were space for a free exchange of ideas and opinions regarding all areas of our national life.

Professor Taylor studiously avoids identifying the affiliations of the students who are making the demands of religious correctness. Is everyone doing it, or are we talking about particular religions or denominations?

Discussions - 2 Comments

Some years ago, while teaching at a Jesuit university, I had an undergraduate advisee, a Jewish young man, who tried and failed in his attempt to avoid the undergraduate theology requirement. Soon the course became one of his favorites. He was excited by the engagement with important issues. He was also, it should be added, constantly amused by the discomfort he observed in his Catholic classmates under the barrage of questions from the (Jesuit) professor. It seems no one (including my student) could get away with saying simply "that’s how I was brought up."

The problem is that, for the most part, those who want to subject religious views to "rational" and "free" inquiry do so with the presupposition that religious views are inherently irrational. So the point of the inquiry isn’t to establish which (if any) religious views are true (or defensible) but to establish that none of them are rational. Combine that with most students’ wholesale embrace of some form of fideism and identity politics and what you get is this sort of demand for sensitivity to one’s feelings. (A demand that’s entirely rational, by the way, if it’s true that religion is simply a part of one’s identity and inevitably irrational).

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