A Victory for Freedom of Speech in Academia

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Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...

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Julea Ward, a graduate student in the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University, was expelled from the program. She had referred a homosexual client to another counselor since she would have been in the position of affirming the client’s sexual orientation as being morally acceptable, something that Ms. Ward did not accept due to her religious beliefs. Although the counseling program has a non-discriminatory policy on “sexual orientation,” there were procedures in place for a student to refer a client in case of values conflicts. Instead the university’s counseling program showed its intolerance for traditional Christian belief on the moral unacceptability of practicing homosexuality.

Ms. Ward sued, and the initial court ruling was in favor of the university. However, today a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling. In his opinion, Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton made it clear that tolerance is not a one-way street, and that the university was punishing Ms. Ward for her religious beliefs.

This marks a significant victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religion in academia. Many academics are products of the mindset of the 1960s, with its transvaluation of values and its support of positions inimical to those of traditional Christianity. It is far to say that many academics hate traditional Christianity and traditional morality concerning sexual ethics. Such vitriolic hated expresses itself in intimidation and sometimes dismissal of students and faculty who disagree with the “New Puritanism” (as my late friend Marion Montgomery called it) in academia. Often, when people like Ms. Ward fight back, they win in court (though with the radicalism of Mr. Obama’s appointees this may change in the future). Traditionalists in academia, both among faculty and students, should, of course, pick their battles, but when it becomes time to fight, they should fight aggressively. There are organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) who lend support for academics unfairly treated due to dogmatic ideology in academia. These organizations give hope to faculty and students who face discrimination, and the Sixth Circuit Court ruling today is a breath of fresh air.

http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0024p-06.pdf?utm_source=January+27%2C+2012+-+Press+Release%3A+Ward+v.+Polite+Decision&utm_campaign=NAS+E-Newsletter&utm_medium=email

 

40% of South Carolina Republican Voters are Stark Raving Mad

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English: Newt Gingrich

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I look at my fellow Southerners in South Carolina with a feeling of exacerbation. Newt Gingrich, a pseudo-conservative, a “big government conservative,” a supporter, along with the late Jack Kemp, of affirmative action, a warmonger, and a supporter of torture as U.S. policy, won the Republican primary. He seems to desire conflict with Iran every much as Mr. Santorum. While I appreciate his conciliatory tone tonight, he resembles George W. Bush too much on both foreign and domestic policy. Ron Paul, who has the only sensible policy on foreign policy, received only 13% of the vote–thank goodness for the 13% who see beyond the lust for war and an ignorant Premillenial theology that has led to an unbalanced support of Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Paul has opposed the arrogant Wilsonian triumphalism that Mr.Gingrich supports.How does Mr. Gingrich expect to balance the budget while expanding defense spending and pushing toward military conflict with Iran?

Mr. Gingrich said some good things in his acceptance speech about the Tenth Amendment–but this does not seem consistent with his policies earlier in his career. I have other questions: Does Mr. Gingrich support the free trade policy that has effectively destroyed American manufacturing? Does he really mean to appoint only strict constructionists to federal courts who will neither support the radical secularist agenda nor expand the power of the federal government over matters that should be reserved to the states? Is he willing to reconsider his position on torture? If American is as “exceptional” as he claims, surely he could support America being on the moral high ground by never participating in nor officially supporting waterboarding and other forms of torture? I doubt it,and unless I see evidence of a change of Mr. Gingrich’s positions on foreign policy and on torture, and if Mr. Gingrich wins the Republican nomination, I and other antiwar Republicans may have no moral option other than to vote for either the Libertarian or the Constitution Party candidate. The only votes that are wasted are those that violate one’s conscience. If Mr. Obama wins re-election as a result, so be it.

The United States and “Evil Enemy States”

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Deutsch: Philip George Zimbardo in Warschau, P...

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There has always been a strand of Puritanism in American thought that survives in part as a Manichean division between good and evil. Rather than seeing the United States as a mixture of good and evil, many Americans see it as “the good guy” in the world with no major faults. Individuals who disagree are labeled as “unpatriotic,” told to “go to Russia,” or are called “America-haters.” Although I do not deny that there are individuals and groups of people who hate their country, not every critic of American practices hates the United States. Nor is someone who points out that there is much good in countries considered to be enemies of the United States, such as Iran. Many Americans want an overpowering, evil enemy state because many Americans are more Manichean, believing in sharp lines between good and evil, than they are Christian. Christianity recognizes that no being created by God is totally evil–traditionally, since evil is a lack of good, and thus a lack of being, a totally evil being could not exist. If Americans of all stripes are honest with themselves, they will see that they are capable of great evil. Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, showed how “good” people can turn evil when they have great power (as prison guards) over others (in this case, students who played the “prisoner” role). He notes the power of situational factors that can lead to a good person torturing and even killing innocent human beings.

Reinhold Niebuhr recognized that groups are capable of great evil just as individuals are, and Zimbardo’s work showed this to be the case. Nation-states are groups of people, and in any group unethical practices can arise that lead to people doing things that are evil under group pressure. No nation is immune to this. Was the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” as President Reagan affirmed? I would say “Yes,” with the qualification that there was good even in the old Soviet Union, and evil in the United States of America. In the War between the States, Generals Sherman and Sheridan engaged in the first modern war (with Lincoln’s endorsement)–both these generals and President Lincoln believed that war should be engaged against the civilian population. The brutality with which federal troops put down the anti-draft riots in New York as well as Sherman’s March to the Sea are evidence of the results. The United States Army was brutal in the Philippines war in the early part of the twentieth century, mowing down men, women, and children. The United States Army Air Corps engaged in the saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. President Roosevelt placed thousands of Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. In the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs than it did in the whole of World War II. The atrocities and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba) are well known–torture has not been totally eschewed as the official policy of the United States, and the U.S. still sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured. Civil liberties, from the genocide of the American Indians to the mistreatment of the Irish, the Chinese, and of African-Americans, have not been uniformly honored in the United States. Does this mean the United States is an evil country? I do not think it is as evil as a totalitarian society such as the old Soviet Union or China under Chairman Mao, but it does mean that the notion of the United States as the paragon of virtue and (during the Cold War) the Soviet Union as the epitome of evil is a Manichean view that does not reflect the good and evil mixture found in all nation-states.

President George W. Bush held a simplistic, Manichean view of the world that many Americans eagerly followed. Saddam’s Iraq was an evil state, and the good United States was obligated to attack the evil state (at first for the alleged but missing “weapons of mass destruction” and then to “save the Iraqi people from Saddam”). Americans’ hubris was expanded by its view that it was the hero country liberating the Iraqi people from a Satanic dictator. Now Iran is the enemy, and the Neoconservative war cries are loud–and Americans are buying into the new lie as well. Yes, Iran’s president holds an evil position in his denial of the Holocaust. Nothing can justify his views, nor his support of the radical religious groups that have held the country hostage since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, Iran also has a working democracy, unlike many other states in the region, including states the United States supports. Israel has a vital interest in what Iraq does, and if Israel wants to defend its vital interests militarily, that is Israel’s task, not that of the United States. However, the Neoconservatives are appealing to American Manicheanism and demonizing Iran as the new “evil empire.” Hopefully Americans will see that all people are “fallen,” as well as all nation-states, and any positing of “We good, they bad” is misleading and leads to unnecessary wars and bad foreign policy decisions.

“It’s Fiction”–or the “You Can’t Go Home Again” Syndrome

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Thomas Wolfe, 1937

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My parents were taken aback by some of the content of my novel, End of Summer, because at the very beginning of the novel the main character, Jeffrey, based roughly on me, said that his parents had been killed when he was two. They asked me why I  killed the parents off, perhaps subconsciously thinking of some Freudian act of patricide and matricide. I explained that since this was my first novel, I thought it best to limit the number of characters, especially since I wanted to focus on Jeffrey’s relationship to his grandfather. I also explained that the novel, while based loosely on people I had known, is a work of fiction. My sister was busy making comparisons between characters and people I had known, cataloging what did and did not “really” happen. That such reactions from family members (and friends) is common is shown by the North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe‘s experience. He had written fiction about people with whom he grew up in western North Carolina. When he came home, people reacted with hostility, believing that they were the characters whose flaws came out in Wolfe’s works. Wolfe was so moved by this reaction that he wrote a novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, since he could not really go home to the same world after living in New York given his loved one’s anger at his writing. They did not understand that he was writing fiction–and any fiction writer writes based on that writer’s life experiences.

Sometimes characters in stories or novels are a combination of more than one person the author knew. Stephen King has said that his character, Carrie, the namesake of his novel, was based on two high school girls who suffered ridicule from their fellow students for their poverty. This does not mean that Carrie “is” those two girls–she is a fictional character in a novel with her own fictional identity. How else can a writer have any material on which to base stories if not those individuals encountered over the author’s life. Fictional characters may be based on one person, but the fictional character is not that actual person the author knew–the character is a “fictionalized version” of that person. For anyone to feel insulted by a character in a story or novel because that person says, “This is me, and I don’t like the way I was portrayed,” is experiencing a natural human reaction, but a reaction which reveals a lack of insight into the nature of fiction.

Reading fiction is one way to gain insight into the human condition through a story. The fundamental virtue of fiction is not to be didactic, though, but to tell a good story, a story with a plot and characters that grip the reader and allow the reader to “suspend disbelief” and, for a time, live in the world of the story. If any of you who read this blog are relatives or friends of fiction writers and have read or plan to read the author’s work, remember that you are reading about characters who may “exist” in some possible world, but do not exist in the actual world. In a good story, they may seem more real than the people you know. You may find “events you remember,” but do not focus on finding parallels to the world shared by you and the author you know. Relax, have some iced tea, and enjoy the story.