Author’s Note: A student-led apologetics ministry at Lenoir-Rhyne University called Ratio Christi will be hosting a convocation on Spiritual and Intellectual development titled "Postmodernism, Political Correctness, and Christianity" on Thursday, January 19th from 7:00-9:00 PM in the Belk Centrum. I am honored to be the featured speaker. A Q&A will follow the presentation. The event is open to the public. I hope to see you there.
I’m often asked how Marxism took root in the American university system. I’ve never been fully satisfied with my standard answer to the question. Given my background in psychology, I sometimes seek psychological explanations to the exclusion of broader historical explanations. But I do believe there is something different about the mind of the man to whom Marxism appeals.
The Marxist is less willing to compete with others. He is content living in a world where everyone is similarly situated. He relinquishes the prospect of success for the assurance that he cannot fail. The same mentality is often found among those who seek refuge in the academy. There is little chance that the academic will find fame or fortune. But a few years of hard work will be rewarded with promotion and tenure and all of the security that comes with it.
Marxism was once the dominant philosophy in higher education – at least within the social sciences and humanities. But one would be hard pressed to make the case that Marxism remains the dominant philosophy on college campuses today. That title now belongs to postmodernism - although the two philosophies cannot be divorced from one another. Marxism is an economic and political philosophy. Postmodernism is a broader worldview. But postmodernism could not have achieved its rapid ascent without Marxism.
The Marxist emphasis on class struggle has fueled the postmodern assault on objective truth. It has led to the idea that truth is simply a byproduct of power struggles between warring factions. That idea has dangerous moral ramifications.
Postmodernism poses a threat to college students and to the very existence higher learning itself. For many students, postmodern education lights a well-paved path that leads directly to moral relativism. The two are not the same thing. But postmodernism eventually compels moral relativism. If there is no objective truth then moral positions cannot be objectively true. When morals become private or subjective, they tend to be built around personal conduct – simply to accommodate personal conduct. That is why many college students find themselves trapped in a downward moral spiral in the wake of abandoning the idea of objective truth. I am speaking from personal experience as well as years of observation.
Sixteen years ago, I had an experience for which I am most grateful. I was in a prison in South America interviewing prisoners and prison guards. I witnessed firsthand a very brutal clubbing of a young prisoner. I heard prison guards admit that they shot prisoners in the back on their way out of the prison. This was just after they tricked them into believing they were free to go. The same prison officials told stories of suspects shocked into giving false confessions. This was after police officers wired the suspects’ testicles to car batteries as they sat locked in police vans undergoing coercive questioning.
I needed to witness that beating and hear those stories in order to be shocked out of my own childish belief system. The day I walked out of that prison, I left behind my faith in moral and cultural relativism. I realized that forced confessions, brutal beatings, and staged escape executions were all objectively wrong. The time and place of such atrocities is irrelevant. They are examples of purely objective evil. But there is good news accompanying this realization. As C.S. Lewis often said, the shadow proves the sunshine. Therefore, the heart is sometimes awakened to a greater appreciation of the truth after witnessing its collision with falsity.
When I returned to my position in the secular university, I realized we were doing something more than simply promoting a worldview that made it easy for students to spiral downward morally. We were also clinging to a philosophy that was threatening the very existence of higher education as we know it. That philosophy was being encoded into campus rules that threatened permanent entrenchment of the very ideas which gave them birth.
I’ve written of many conflicts involving such policies – the most notable cases involving campus speech codes. But I often wonder how many times the reader has taken the time to examine the common themes that run through the many cases. It is worth taking a moment to reflect back upon some of the worst.
In 2006, two young conservative women contacted me for help. They had protested The Vagina Monologues because the play encouraged use of the c-word as a way of describing women. After posting a sign saying “We are not (c-words)” feminists invoked the university speech code. They claimed that they, as feminists, could use the c-word as a term of endearment. They then claimed that their detractors could not use the same word if they did so in a derisive way. In other words, the constitutionality of the c-word hinged upon the thought behind the word at the time of its utterance. This was more than simple thought control. It was state-enforced though control undertaken for the ostensible purpose of protecting fragile feminists from being offended.
These speech code supporters are the same people who advocate abortion. They are also the same people who hurled abusive racial epithets at those two plaintiffs I brought to the Alliance Defense Fund. But we won this case in both the court of law and the court of public opinion. Those will be familiar themes when we dissect the next case in part two of this series.
To be continued …