Fellowships and flagellation

Posted: May 05, 2003 12:00 AM

Flash: This just in from Harvard. The Committee on College Life has renewed its official recognition of the Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship. Big deal? You bet. It turns out that while anyone may join this small campus Christian group, it continues to draw its leadership from among candidates who actually believe in the Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This, according to the editors of the Harvard Crimson, violates Harvard's anti-discrimination policy. As a recent editorial in the college paper put it, Harvard is "in error for not demanding that the club remove its discriminatory policy from its constitution. All students should be free to participate in College activities without being discriminated against because of belief."

Zounds. Given that a Christian Fellowship is one big college activity singularly dependent on belief, it would seem that Muffy and Jason and Savonarola have gone a little too far this time. According to this next generation of sensitivity trainers and diversity consultants any student who wants to lead the Christian Fellowship "should not be excluded because of a reluctance to accept certain tenets." Indeed, Harvard should have "forced" Fellowship members to drop these "certain tenets" -- you know, Christ, the Holy Spirit -- from their leadership requirements "or lose College recognition."

The good news is this didn't happen. That doesn't mean, of course, that the controversy and confusion over enforcing "non-discrimination" and regimenting "diversity" are over. While there is in the Crimson editorial a sloppy disregard for the rights of a campus Christian group, this arrogance may be due less to overt religious hostility than to a fundamentally flawed, if politically correct, school of thought. It teaches our children both to embrace "diversity," since we are all different, and to deny difference, since we are all the same.

Understandably, this leads to much muddle. Even as the Crimson editorial demands the exclusion of a Christian group in the name of inclusion and diversity, it reflects the utopian, indeed, totalitarian urge to suppress difference and distinction that is at the root of multiculturalism.

The kids may have learned their lessons well, but that's not to say the rest of us are well served by this scholarship saturating the education system, kindergarten through college. Having had the occasion to walk through several schools, both public and private, in and around Washington, D.C., lately, I can attest that they teach off the same page, and in big letters. What with all the global curricula, "diversity" fairs and feasts, giant international flag displays, and murals of handholding nationals in native costumes, the lesson of the day is that it's a Benetton world, where cultural differences come down to a changing palette of flag colors and quaint costumes.

But what do such lessons teach us about the real world? Freedom in Iraq was just days old when The New York Times published a challenging report from Karbala. It began: "Long forbidden, long hidden, the whips of mortification were flagellating today as Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority celebrated its newfound political freedom -- and potential political power. 'For 25 years they were hidden in our houses,' said a man from the Shiite south as a group of young men lashed their backs in rhythm with whips made from chains. 'The father taught his son.'"

That was, of course, whips that were hidden for 25 years. Not copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence. And not Baedeker's Paris or Mickey Mouse ears, either. Whips. Chains. The father taught his son. Necks liberated from the jackboot of Saddam Hussein, backs are now free for self-mutilation. This is not the response Americans expected.

Question: What is the multiculturally sensitive response to the freedom to flagellate? "For this we liberated Iraq?" Hardly. "This is not your father's liberation." Nah. "Different strokes ... ?" Please. Silence?


The terrible fact is that we have no words for culture clash. That is, we're not just missing the words to describe or assess one barbaric custom. We don't even have the words for the culture chasm that exists between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, which, based on sharia (Islamic law), infringes on the human rights of non-Muslims and all women. We speak of Islamic reform, and of something as fanciful as "Islamic democracy," but we fail to bring up the stumbling blocks to such reform and democracy -- the deleterious Islamic institutions of jihad (violent religious conquest) and dhimmitude (the inequality of non-Muslims under Muslim rule).

We talk and teach about diversity. And we talk and teach about difference. But for all the talk and teaching, we don't know the meaning of the words.