Sometimes Religion and Logic Don’t Mix

Sometimes I just have trouble understanding — or rather believing — these things.

So you’re a “collegededicated to the proposition of infiltrating our political and business institutions to push your extreme-right Christian ideology. And then you turn around and fire an employee for doing exactly that. Only this guy wasn’t doing it in such a ridiculously over-the-top, conspiratorial manner: All he did was put flyers about his church in peoples’ mailboxes. And not a non-Christian among the recipients — after all, they were your own students.

Now, I can see taking action with the rationale that an employee can’t solicit students. That’s perfectly reasonable (assuming it’s applied across the board, naturally); in fact, I’d expect that’s a matter of policy at any number of institutions. But the actual rationale for the firing stems from a ludicrously minor theological disagreement: Jeremy Hunley’s church believes that baptism is essential to salvation; the school preaches that faith alone is required. In other words, the proselytizing itself was fine and dandy, but just not with that exact message.

Some of the legal fallout boils down to severance contract violations, which I won’t dispute (you agree to severance terms, you have to abide by them, like it or not). But basically, what this all boils down to is a group devoted to forcing its own narrow-minded worldview down the rest of our throats got a taste of its own medicine, and can’t handle it. And the lot of them just can’t understand how the fact that they don’t want to have to abide a message counter to their own beliefs — even in only minor detail — might translate to the way the country at large just could feel about them.

Whatever their agenda, the fact that they can’t make that basic logical leap is reason enough to write off Patrick Henry College — and any graduates thereof — as unworthy of the slightest legitimate consideration.


At 10:55 AM, Tiffany said...

Interestingly enough, one of the very best professors I had in college is now the Dean of Academic Affairs at PHC. Knowing Dr. Bonicelli's in charge over there, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss PHC's graduates.

The signing of an agreement to uphold an institution's statement of faith is hardly an unusual one, and it's a fairly serious thing. In particular, this isn't an especially "minor" point of Christian theology. The means by which a person is saved is really pretty central to this whole thing we call Christianity, and the idea that there is some additional requirement on a person, other than simple faith, is repugnant to a large chunk of Protestants, even the more mainstream, less-fundie ones like myself.

Similarly, persons in teaching roles within Christian communities are burdened by an extra share of responsibility. The Protestant tradition, like the post-diaspora Judaic tradition, places a great deal of importance on the role of teachers, which is why most Protestant preachers are called "pastors" instead of "priests." To paraphrase, the Apostle Paul makes clear there's a special place in hell for "false teachers," and as such, people entrusted with the Christian education of students are morally obliged to combat false teachings in their areas of teaching responsibility.

And look, ultimately, the guy signed a contract, then he broke it. I don't have a lot of sympathy. If he couldn't abide by the contract, I'm sure there are plenty of other jobs for someone with a library clerk's skills.

Agreeing to uphold a certain set of principles and then undermining one of them isn't all that much different from pharmacists who refuse to fill particular prescriptions. If you don't want to fill prescriptions for the Pill, don't become a pharmacist. And if you don't want to be part of promoting the idea that a person is saved by faith alone, don't work at Patrick Henry College.

At 5:54 PM, Bill Coughlan said...

You've made an extremely well-worded (and well supported) response. And as far as the degree to which the college's response is supportable, you're substantially correct.

A contract is a contract — absolutely true. Agree to it or don't. Same with the severance package deal — you can't agree to the severance terms, don't. Me, I'd never agree to keep my mouth shut about anything, but that's me. But I'm smart enough not to sign anything saying I'm going to stay silent. So you're not about to see me jumping up to argue that we should all rally to Hunley's personal defense.

And I certainly won't attempt to argue your assessment of the theological issue at stake. Raised as a Protestant myself (I was actually quite active in my church through high school), I am at least passingly familiar with the "justification by faith alone" argument — though I would not pretend to be able to differentiate the specific interpretations of various Protestant sects.

For my part, I do find the idea of making such a big deal out of this point laughably minor — or at least in comparison with issues of immensely greater real-world significance. Kind of like arguing the proper measurement of rainfall while sitting in the middle of a raging hurricane. But admittedly, that is my assessment and my assessment only.

My derision of PHC is not because they're wingnuts. No, that doesn't win them any points with me, but they're certainly welcome to their personal beliefs (so long as they don't try to impose them on me).

It's the failure of thought behind it all where I take issue: The fact that the college's self-professed mission is to impose its religious beliefs on the rest of America, and yet it can't understand how that might in any way be morally repugnant — at the exact same time it condemns someone for expressing his beliefs in a far less odious manner.

Sorry, but that's rank hypocrisy, and yes, in my judgment it proves an utter incapacity for rational analysis. To put it in explicitly Christian terms, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

And while they're at it, they've essentially made it clear that students who might attend the Church of Christ really aren't welcome there. Yes, they're religious extremists, and would apparently rather shoot themselves in the foot than agree to anything approaching practical compromise, but this decision is cutting off one of your biggest constituencies. Which further demonstrates that they'd rather bury themselves with a theoretical argument than survive. Doesn't exactly say much for a graduate's decision-making capability out in the real world.

So yeah, as far as I'm concerned, a PHC degree isn't worth the paper it's printed on.


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