Irredeemable

Redeemer University College, according to its published statements, promotes religion over knowledge.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I have, in the past, taken issue with religious universities like Trinity Western and Crandall, the sort of institutions that require fundamentalist faith statements of all their faculty and seek to foster religious extremism in their students. You will also know that the CAUT has been after such universities too and has created a black list of universities that require a faith or ideological test for faculty.

Redeemer University College is the latest institution to fall under CAUT’s stern gaze, and the Redeemer case provides a good opportunity to address some of the sloppy and tentative thinking — so it appears to me — that always swirls around this issue. As always, I want to make it clear, that it is the particular kind of religion practiced at these schools that bothers me — I fully acknowledge that there are other, better ways practiced by others.

First, the claim is often made that all universities have an ideology of some kind or another, so why is a Christian university any worse than a secular university? The sloppiness here comes from an inconsistent use of the word “ideology.” In its broadest sense, whereby ideology means any kind of system of ideas, it’s true, a priori, that all universities must have an ideology. In this sense, a university that says that it promotes knowledge and critical thinking because these things serve the greater good of humanity — well they have an ideology.

But that’s surely not what CAUT means when they are concerned about an ideological test for faculty. Because in a more narrow sense, ideology often means a particular and focused set of beliefs about how the world works and how it ought to be. To be sure, individuals or groups at particular universities may have strong ideological commitments, but that is not the same as the institution as a whole requiring a specific ideological view of all faculty. I am a committed atheist, but I would not want my university to require everyone to be an atheist. Academic disciplines may require a certain level of agreement on some basic issues, but typically these are matters of fact (a biologist needs to accept evolution).

But what about, say a Women’s Studies department? To work there you would have to be a feminist, right? I would say no: a Women’s Studies prof would have to accept that the place of women in society is an important issue — but no Women’s Studies department should insist that its members agree on specific details or policies about, say, child care. Show me a department in a public university where all members, as a matter of published policy, must sign a commitment to specific values and views, and I will speak out against them, too.

But even if other universities did have their own ideologies, it would still be misleading to say such a university was ideological in the same way that Redeemer is. Apart from religious zealots, even ideologues differ. Committed socialists can disagree about almost everything and still be socialists. Feminists can, and do, disagree about key issues like abortion. These disagreements are possible because these ideologies, whatever their strengths and weaknesses, are at least grounded in the real world and their arguments can be evaluated by the normal standards of reason.

But Christianity as practiced at Redeemer (though not everywhere, I concede) is not an ideology like that. As with TWU, Redeemer’s vision of Christianity is precise, and exclusionary. According to their stated principles, God created the world, revealed His will to humanity through the Bible, and was incarnated as Christ who is the only hope for the world. This is not just a university with a Christian leaning — this is a university with a very strict program of belief that no Muslim, Jew, or atheist could ever sign in good conscience, and that even many Christians would reject. Indeed, according to Redeemer, knowledge itself is “made possible only by means of a true faith in Jesus Christ, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (my emphasis). Am I the only one who sees the implication here? So extreme is this institution that it denies the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians! I’m not making that up; it’s right there on the web site! The kind of religion espoused by Redeemer is not even ideology. It’s superstition.

And Redeemer does not just stop at belief: they also seek to control faculty conduct, a point not stressed in any story I can recall. At Redeemer, faculty members are expressly discouraged from doing too much work on Sunday. More incredibly, Redeemer promises to punish faculty who swear, are gay, who enjoy pornography, and who have sex outside of marriage. Some have had the gall to call the investigation a witch hunt, but how can an institution like this ask others to mind their own moral business while it claims to have jurisdiction over whether Professor Virile’s girlfriend is staying the night? We all know who perfected the art of witch hunting.

Still, if that’s their thing, as Redeemer President Hurbert Krygsman suggests, why not leave them to it? They are not publicly funded and their members are not members of CAUT, so why does CAUT or anyone else care? Well, setting aside that Redeemer does get some public money,  I care and CAUT cares because all academics have an interest in preserving the clear use of academic terms like “university” and “degree.” These terms have fairly well understood meanings in Canada and having a “university education” or holding a “university degree” should carry a certain weight and should say certain things about one’s education.

If the aim of the institution is to prepare students to be knowledgeable, curious, critical, and capable of ongoing learning, then we are talking about a university. But if the self-proclaimed task of the institution is to “equip young men and women to serve as witnesses to Christ’s victory in the various vocations they will take up in society” and that they take advantages of  ”the opportunities for evangelism that their positions may afford, [...] by testifying to the transforming power of Christ in every aspect of their professional or vocational conduct” (my emphasis), then you are not a university. You are a radical, fundamentalist indoctrination centre and you should call yourself that. Or Bible College. Whichever you prefer.




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Irredeemable

  1. Well said. Indoctrinate willing volunteers all you want, but not on the public dime and without conferring an officially recognized academic degree.

  2. Nice try. You begin the piece with a veneer of objectivity, but it gets too preachy too quick, ending with:

    “If the aim of the institution is to prepare students to be knowledgeable, curious, critical, and capable of ongoing learning, then we are talking about a university. But if the self-proclaimed task of the institution is to “equip young men and women to serve as witnesses to Christ’s victory in the various vocations they will take up in society” and that they take advantages of ”the opportunities for evangelism that their positions may afford, [...] by testifying to the transforming power of Christ in every aspect of their professional or vocational conduct” (my emphasis), then you are not a university” [insert outraged minister banging pulpit for emphasis here]

    No doubt there’s some therapeutic value in this kind of catharsis. But what I’d like to see is some kind of argument showing that the antecedent (i.e. preparing students to be knowledgeable, curious, critical, and capable of ongoing learning) precludes the activities you go on to describe in the paragraph above. But I doubt any argument will be forthcoming (they tend not to fit the sermon genre).

    Myron A Penner
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Trinity Western University

  3. “But what I’d like to see is some kind of argument showing that the antecedent (i.e. preparing students to be knowledgeable, curious, critical, and capable of ongoing learning) precludes the activities you go on to describe in the paragraph above. But I doubt any argument will be forthcoming (they tend not to fit the sermon genre).” (Myron A Penner, Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Trinity Western University)

    Actually, its seems to be well laid clearly in the rest of the article, if you read it. Your statement seems nonsensical, and just as polemic – just throwing in the word ‘antecedent’ doesn’t lend lend your criticism any credibility either. I think the implicit but obvious argument is that the very mission of these ‘universities’ is antithetical to ethos of open exploration of ideas and empirically based critiques of claims to power and authority that are the hall mark of the normative understanding of the traits and role of real universities in Canada. University connotes certain values of freedom of thought and intellectual openness which are discouraged at the other schools, and they allowing them to wear the brand of a university is misleading and lends them an air of credibility they do not deserve.

  4. Even Jesus himself would not get into most colleges that bear his name and supposely proclaim his message!

  5. Hmmm…have we made some progress here? Let’s see. The claim seems to be that necessary conditions for an institution’s being a university include: (a) open exploration of ideas, (b) openness to empirically based critiques of claims to power and authority, (c) freedom of thought, (d) intellectual openness. Let me add two more: (e) making guild-approved contributions to research, and (f) disseminating knowledge from our respective guilds to students and the community, conforming to provincially regulated standards.

    I can’t speak for other private universities in Canada, but with respect to TWU, all of (a) – (f) are present or undertaken to a high degree. Here’s the insurmountable challenge for those who are allergic to the concept of a privately funded university with both a heritage and mission informed by religious values: (i) come up with a reasonable, non question-begging standard for defining and assessing university quality, and (ii) show how private religious universities fall below those standards simply in virtue of being privately funded with a particular mission.

    There ought to be a serious debate about private universities in Canada–and the focus of the debate should be how much public funds should be directed toward private universities, given the substantial contributions these institutions make toward the public good. That kind of discussion would truly be productive….

  6. Mr Pettigrew,
    Could you explain your remark that infers that a biologist would have to accept evolution as a matter of fact?

    Have not notable scientists over hundreds of years including the 21st
    century believed that this complex universe was created?

    Possibly you believe that “WATSON” also evolved.

  7. Mr. Penner

    I think the issue here is that faculty must sign a document affirming what amounts to a particular philosophy, whether they are teaching philosophy ( religion ) or not. None of the assertions in that philosophy are backed up by any empirical evidence whatsoever. This is not a particular problem, but in my view, to be justified, these philosophical assertions would not only have to be proven, but in fact be proven to be superior to every other possible alternative. You could somehow justify dogmatizing them at this point. Unfortunately, philosophy doesn’t work like that, at anything remotely deserving of the title: university. The fact that this institution receives any public money whatsoever, and is allowed to call itself a university, is a travesty, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be allowed anywhere else under any other set of principles, however true or verifiable or superior if it wasn’t couched in indoctrinated superstition… I mean religion.

  8. I’m glad Pettigrew’s writing is of insufficient calibre to grace Maclean’s hard copy. I treasure that magazine, unlike Pettigrew’s crusades.

  9. Having attended both Redeemer and a secular / public university I’d say I have a pretty good insight on the issue. In my experience the quality of education at Redeemer by far surpassed that offered elsewhere, the profs and students were far more engaged and respectful, there was a great sense of community, and I was held to a higher standard academically.

    At the secular / public university the students who bothered to show up to class were on facebook most of the class, couldn’t care less about the topic, showed no respect to the prof or other students, and the academic standards were no where near the same, as long as there was ink on paper you got a decent grade.

    Canadians pride themselves on their charter protected rights and freedoms, including freedom of religion, yet it almost seems a sport these days to attack any religion and its institutions that hold to a fixed set of beliefs that don’t waver with the winds of secular popularity. What threat does a post secondary institution that believing students and faculty CHOOSE to attend / work at pose to society? Is it not our right to?

    God keep our land glorious and free.

  10. Please can someone define what a University is?

    rvfw.

  11. Mr. Pettigrew,

    The humorously ironic quality of this letter might only be apparent to those who know Redeemer and its deep commitment to the integration of faith and scholarship well. Redeemer stands in a tradition that is very critical of shallow approaches to the connection between the Bible and learning that begin with an established position, and then look for supporting “proof texts” in scripture to lend Biblical support to an argument. By taking such texts out of their context it is very easy to produce apparent support for nearly any imaginable proposition.

    By piecing together snippets of Redeemer’s online statements you attempt to substantiate your argument with quotes ripped from their original context so that you can redefine their terminology (ie. witness) to fit your agenda. A good scholar would recognize how misleading this approach can be. At Redeemer we encourage our students to be better scholars than that.

    Chris Cuthill
    professor, Redeemer University College

  12. I suggest that Mr. Pettigrew’s assumption of how Christians really are and how they behave in the public square provides most of the force for his argument and is not borne out by even the most cursory experience with actual Christians, especially the variety currently filling the halls of Redeemer University College. While the use of words like “fundamentalist,” “religious extremism” and “indoctrination” conjure up images of suicide bombs and terrorism, and even though many Redeemer students and faculty would potentially self-identify with the descriptor “fundamentalist” (safely pruned of its less-desirable metaphorical entailments), the the implication in the above article is a blatant appeal to an antireligious reactionary tendency in those who lack either the intellectual acumen or the will to separate the sheep from the goats in archetypal portraits of religious people as either violently intolerant or ignorantly bigoted.

  13. Wow. I’d really like to see even a modicum of feedback from Mr. Pettigrew. He clearly lacks any sense of Redeemer’s commitment to rigorous scholarship in the disciplines of philosophy, theology, religious studies, political science, history… well, ALL disciplines that Redeemer teaches!

    I remember taking Redeemer history courses that strongly criticized the Church’s use of religion as a tool for worldly ends as found, for example, in the Crusades, African colonialism, and the Apartheid government.

    There is no real need to fear Redeemer. We do not threaten your–Mr. Pettigrew–atheistic beliefs. Please do not be upset that Christians are improving at integrating their faith and vocations, and doing so, for that matter, with excellence.

  14. Todd: The Life and Conduct policy your linked to has been removed from the website.

    Hendrick: The fact that a Calvinist university criticized the Roman Catholic Church for using doctrine to promote “wordly ends” doesn’t exact play against type.

    • I have been informed by by Tim Wolfert, the Director of Communications at Redeemer that the Conduct and Life policy is currently under review and has been for several months. It was, Wolfert says, removed from the web site to avoid confusion between that version and any alternative versions now being considered, and to “avoid the impression that it was changed as a result of the attention” it had received.

      The policy can still be found as part of Redeemer’s academic calendar however:

      http://www.redeemer.ca/Media/Website Resources/pdf/academics/registrar/AC1011.pdf

  15. “Indeed, according to Redeemer, knowledge itself is “made possible only by means of a true faith in Jesus Christ, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

    Todd: I thought I would explain this properly just so you are able to sleep at night. (That is, it is no wonder the above statement bothers you. It both has no place in your argument, and has been interpreted through your anti-Christian blinders.)

    A) This belief does not just belong to Redeemer University College; it is a Biblical Christian belief. Including it in your article translates as frustration against Christian belief, not solely Christian education. Whether or not you even realize it yourself, the root of your frustration is religion (that is, excluding your own religion of atheism).

    By all means, make an argument against Christian (or religious in general) education. But be aware that if you are aiming to only refute religious education, you need to rework and further focus your main arguments. As is, your article reads as anti-Christian. Not anti-Christian education.

    B) My second concern is that aside from this argument being insufficient in forwarding your message, you have misinterpreted the meaning of this Biblical belief. Christians are not “denying the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians”. Rather, those who follow Christ simply believe that all knowledge exists as it has been revealed through Him. For example, as a Christian, I would believe that any scientific discovery is evidence of Christ revealing further mystery of his wonderful and intricate design (even if it was discovered through the research and work of a non-Christian). I realize as an atheist you disagree, and of course you are free to do so! I just thought I would ease your troubled mind by explaining what is meant by this. It certainly does not mean that all knowledge held by non-Christians is bogus.

  16. Prof. Pettigrew: “I am a committed atheist, but I would not want my university to require everyone to be an atheist. Academic disciplines may require a certain level of agreement on some basic issues, but typically these are matters of fact (a biologist needs to accept evolution).”

    I appreciate the honesty and clarity of these two statements. I’m not sure, however, how they fit together. The biology department can *require* certain beliefs as conditions of employment. That’s fair enough. No doubt the same is true of other departments. You’ll never be hired as an astronomer at Harvard–or even the Pontifical Gregorian University–unless you believe in heliocentrism. And why not? Well, heliocentrism is just a *fact*.

    But what about atheism? Prof. Pettigrew doesn’t want belief that there is no God (or gods) to be a condition of employment at his university. But I can’t see (from what he says) what would prevent this. If you’re really committed to atheism, as he seems to be, wouldn’t you hold that atheism is a *fact*? And if so, why couldn’t it be a condition of employment? On Prof. Pettigrew’s view, I should think, atheism is as much a fact as heliocentrism is. But then if the latter can be a condition for employment, why not the former?

    Richard Davis
    Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Tyndale University College

  17. For those of you who have been frustrated by a lack of further feedback from me on this, my apologies. Writing a new post on a more-or-less weekly basis takes up a good deal of time as it is, and I simply cannot respond to everything. Besides, has anyone ever said, “Wow, I was not convinced by the original article, but that follow-up comment completely turned me around!”?

    Still, some very interesting questions have arisen here, and I hope a few more thoughts will be of some interest.

    More than one reader has asked about a perceived tension in my argument. To wit: if a biologist has to believe evolution, why can’t a university insist that all its profs be atheists (and by implication, why can’t a university insist that all profs be Christians?)?

    My answer to this would be that there are some basic facts of disciplines that must be acknowledged to DO the discipline. So a biologist must acknowledge evolution or she cannot speak credibly about it, nor can her research be taken seriously. But the same does not apply to, say, the religious views of a political scientist. There, while religious issues may crop up, the religious orientation is not primarily relevant. And, of course, one finds scholars in various disciplines of varying religious attitudes and commitments.

    The problem arises when an institution says, whatever your discipline, your basic beliefs must correspond to one very narrow set of understandings — whether that is your area or not because it suggests strict limits on the discourse that will happen at that institution. A further problem arises when that institution seeks to police perfectly legal activities such as sex outside of marriage or (gasp) swearing. By the way, I have just written to the webmaster at Redeemer to ask what has happened to their life and conduct policy document.

    I must say I am amazed at how many people insist that insitutions like this are so very open-minded on all matters, willing to consider everything with honesty and sincerity, and yet effectively put up a sign saying: NO GAYS, JEWS, MUSLIMS, SIKHS, BUDDHISTS, OR ATHEISTS NEED APPLY. You want to convince me that you are really open to all ideas? Start hiring people who disagree with yours.

    Another poster wonders if I am against Christianity in general and not just Christian universities. I reply that it depends on the kind of Christianity. There are those Christians who see in the Christian Bible a great number of powerful metaphors, who see in the works of the Church fathers a great number of interesting philosophical debates, but who concede that the Bible has no special claim to truth and that other traditions are equally valuable. I have no problem with such a view of Christianity. But if Christianity means to you a literal, personal God, a special status for the Bible as His sacred and revealed word, if you have a conviction that yours is a special revelation that must be spread to all, if you believe that those who do not share your views are damned to eternal Hell — then I say that you are an extremist. Not a violent one, I hope, but an extremist nonetheless. Too long have extreme views passed as moderation simply because the extremists have been so numerous.

    Third, I have been accused of taking quotations out of context. This seems unfair since, in the broad sense, every quotation is taken out of context — that’s what a quotation is. The real question is have I used any quotations in such a way that they are made to mean something they clearly did not mean in the original context? So far, no one has shown that I have. Notice, by the way, that quoting what is most embarrassing to someone is not necessarily quoting unfairly out of context. These places love to fill their statements with platitudes and then slip in the nasty bits where they hope the nastiness will go unnoticed. But they are nasty. In any case, I have provided links to the documents quoted for those who would like to see the full context for themselves (although I have no control over what Redeemer does to its site).

    Finally, I think many have missed a key point. My point is not that Redeemer should be forced to close, only that, in my view, it should not be allowed to call itself a university, and that it not be allowed to award credentials called degrees. That, of course, raises a couple of big questions: what is a university, and how do we decide that in this country? I will try to deal with both of those questions in upcoming posts.

  18. That’s a charitable, irenic summary of the discussion in the comments, with several insights, including:

    “Besides, has anyone ever said, “Wow, I was not convinced by the original article, but that follow-up comment completely turned me around!”?” True enough :)

    As well as:

    “That, of course, raises a couple of big questions: what is a university, and how do we decide that in this country?”

    Exactly. I hope your subsequent posts on the topic will take into account what I stated as an insurmountable challenge:

    “(i) come up with a reasonable, non question-begging standard for defining and assessing university quality, and (ii) show how private religious universities fall below those standards simply in virtue of being privately funded with a particular mission.”

    Myron A. Penner

  19. Prof. Pettigrew: “why can’t a university insist that all its profs be atheists? … My answer to this would be that there are some basic facts of disciplines that must be acknowledged to DO the discipline.”

    So consider heliocentrism (‘H’ for short). It’s not only a fact, it’s a methodological precondition for *doing* astronomy. You can’t do proper astronomy unless you acknowledge that (e.g.) there are planets, and that they move in elliptical orbits around the sun. Hence we can *require* that you believe and operate under the assumption of (H) to be a member of the Astronomy Department.

    So far, so good. But why, on Prof. Pettigrew’s view, isn’t atheism also necessary for doing, say, good science or good history? It’s not that one would have to *be* an atheist, in order to do proper work in these disciplines. But one would have to assume it; one would have to adopt the stance of methodological atheism (MA) to generate acceptable results. To deny this, Prof. Pettigrew would have to permit inferences to supramundane entities in science and history. And the stridency of his atheism suggests this isn’t his cup of tea. :-)

    Now if this is the case, I can’t see why a university couldn’t require a commitment to methodological atheism in its hiring. Naturally, someone who actually *was* an atheist might be much more adept at deploying (MA) than, say, your basic theist. And the hiring committee, following Prof. Pettigrew’s principle that you can’t “speak credibly” or “research seriously” about things you don’t acknowledge or believe, might actually show a preference for real atheists over those theists who simply promise to function as methodological atheists, but who might eventually lapse (say, like the biochemist Michael Behe).

    All of this should be in order given Prof. Pettigrew’s expressed thoughts to this point. But if so, it seems reasonable to think that a religious university could conduct itself in a similar manner.

  20. Todd,

    In your follow up remarks you write:
    I have been accused of taking quotations out of context… The real question is have I used any quotations in such a way that they are made to mean something they clearly did not mean in the original context? So far, no one has shown that I have.

    I am pretty sure that I can demonstrate that you have.

    In your original article you write:
    Indeed, according to Redeemer, knowledge itself is “made possible only by means of a true faith in Jesus Christ, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Am I the only one who sees the implication here? So extreme is this institution that it denies the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians! I’m not making that up; it’s right there on the web site!

    I thought that this comment from Redeemer sounded very strange, so I looked at Redeemer’s Statement of Basis and Principals (thank you for providing the link). Instead of accusing this institution of denying “the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians,” you should have extended the quote to include their next sentence: “However, by God’s gracious providence after the fall, those who reject the Word of God do provide many valuable insights into the structure of reality.”

    So, I think that you did use a quotation in such a way that it was made to mean something it clearly did not mean in the original context. Perhaps you could clarify.

  21. Mat, thanks for taking up the challenge. Here is the whole passage under the heading “Knowledge”:

    “True knowledge of God, ourselves, and the rest of the creation is made possible only by means of a true faith in Jesus Christ, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. True knowledge is attained only when the Holy Spirit enlightens people’s hearts by the integrating Word of God and sets them in the truth. However, by God’s gracious providence after the fall, those who reject the Word of God do provide many valuable insights into the structure of reality.”

    So what’s going on here? At first, it looks like the passage contradicts itself by saying that knowledge is only available to Christians but not only available to Christians. But read more closely, and you see that it doesn’t actually say that knowledge is available to non-Christians. It says “insights.” So as an atheist, I can have some “valuable insights,” but not “true knowledge.” Thanks for nothing, Gracious Providence.

  22. Let me start by saying I am a born again fundamentalist Christian, with a degree from a private US “church” school and have never had any issues with getting it recognized.
    I am currently employed at a well known East Coast school that until the early 70′s was an all male university run, by the Jesuits.
    Today, other than the name, it’s as secular as any. We often comment that the old priests would be rolling over in their graves if they saw and heard the things that go on here today.
    So it should come as no surprise that religious groups have left the public sector in favour of private education. What we find is that conservative religious thought and practice is given no quarter in secular academia today and the rise of conservative religious schools is a direct result of the crusades of Mr. Pettigrew and company, against faith based education.
    Controverses over campuses recognizing faith based societies, allowing conservative speeches and debates, and permitting
    “establishment” recruiting on campus are symptomatic of the lack of tolerance, among the left.
    It’s not so much the quality of education that concerns many faithful, it’s the moral & theological compromises you are “required” to make and your “enforced” lack of opinion, before you will be educated, that drives them to seek out schools that are likeminded.
    The other interesting wrinkle in this debate seems to be it is centered almost exclusively around Christian schools, with Hebrew and Muslim educations are seemingly untouchable.
    Enforced political correctness has marginalized the religious right in this country so it will continue to encapsulate itself. Mr. Pettigrew will just have to get used to it, it’s not going anywhere. Atleast until the Rapture.

  23. There is no question that Prof. Pettigrew has *real* knowledge–and not just ‘valuable insights’ (though I’m sure he has those as well). You can’t get a PhD in English Literature and publish a book on Shakespeare without acquiring LOTS of knowledge.

  24. Mr. Pettigrew,

    First, I must thank you for raising such important issues that help to maintain academic integrity at the forefront of our minds. I don’t think this issue can ever go “undiscussed”, and should be a subject of concern and delight for all those in academia (particularly for those Christians who wish to uphold their education system). I suppose the question is not whether academic integrity and freedom is necessary (I think we all agree on this), but rather what are the necessary conditions for it, and what are the indicators that it is necessarily not present.

    You have identified one of the conditions as skilled experts in their respective fields. I think all Christians would all agree that if their car was broken, they would prefer a skilled mechanic (even if he didn’t adhere to their faith) to fix it over their preacher who might not know anything about cars. The next question, naturally, is what qualifies an expert and gives him the right to practice (or teach)? It seems obvious that just as a mechanic needs his mechanic’s license, professors within a university must necessarily have graduate and doctoral degrees from established institutions, with perhaps a few publications under their belt.

    After browsing the Redeemer website, I noticed that the faculty all have doctoral degrees from universities such as University of Western Ontario, McMaster, McGill, University of Toronto and more. These degrees are, of course, in the field they were hired to teach. So far I have not come across any “inbreeding” of Christian institutions within the academic history of their professors. At this point, it appears as though the professors at Redeemer are “experts within their fields”.

    But surely, experts can be bound and restricted by policies set in place by their institution? Of course. For in the same way, they are bound and restricted by speed limits, no smoking signs, having to wait in line for their coffees and countless other codes of conduct set in place by local traffic laws, restaurant bylaws or general courtesy and etiquette. The question, then, becomes whether such policies disrupt the integrity of their expertise.

    Thus far, I am unclear as to which restrictions and policies set in place by Redeemer corrupt the integrity of expertise in their professors? You have mentioned a basic code of conduct (no swearing, sex outside of marriage etc.), but asking professors to avoid profanity does not appear to corrupt their knowledge within their field. Likewise, “secular” universities ask that professors not have sex with their students. Does this, in turn, restrict the academic integrity and freedom of the education within that university?

    But perhaps I have misunderstood your argument, Mr. Pettigrew. If you will, I am curious as to what restrictions have been imposed that would really restrict the experts within Redeemer from academic integrity and freedom (other than the said code of conduct).

    Evelyne Anthony
    A Curious Skeptic

  25. Pingback: CAUT and the Christian university » Evangel | A First Things Blog

  26. Out of curiosity, after meeting the faith-test and hired as, say, a tenure-track history assistant professor at Redeemer; and then after receiving tenure, following my considered reflection and review of evidence, I decided that I was actually an atheist, would that be grounds for dismissal? If so, would they want their money back for all the teaching I’d done whilst an atheist?

  27. There is a belief system I can define as follows: adherents passionately believe in it and feel it in their very souls, it infuses every aspect of their lives and they support its propogation and enforce its’ credos within and outside their communities, many feel that the revelation of these priciples through ideas and anecdotes for which there is no empirical evidence whatsoever has made an incredibly positive difference in their lives, its adherents teach their children to believe and follow the principles under pain of ostracism or worse. The faith of the adherents is enough. It does not need to be proven it is felt in their hearts, they know it is true. It is wisdom revealed by prophets which requires no explanation to the non-believer.

    By the sounds of it I can set up an institution of higher learning built around these principles. I can require the faculty to sign an affirmation of these principles and take steps to ensure that they do not betray this trust. I can even require that faculty teach in such a manner that these principles are promoted, and that the students are encouraged to avail themselves of opportunities to promote the dissemination of these ideals in any subsequent vocation.

    Does this sound good to you if it’s based on Christianity?
    How about Islam?
    Buddhism?
    What if the principles I described were Socialism, Maoism, Stalinism, Corporatism?
    What if the principles were the simple superiority of one race over all others?
    If you think there is a difference I’m willing to bet you think yours is okay and the rest are not.

    I think any such arrangement is surplus to requirements, and dangerously prone to abuse, and therefore unworthy of accreditation or public support of any kind.

  28. Concerning non-Christians not having true knowledge:

    If God created the universe with purpose, and you happen to believe there is no God, and that the universe has no particular purpose (other than the ones we attribute to it), then you will simply never “get it.” If Christianity is true, then atheists approach ALL knowledge from the wrong angle. Can you still get a right answer from the wrong angle? Sure. You can also write a good poem or song without any training whatsoever, but it doesn’t mean you weren’t doing it wrong.

    The point is obvious. If true knowledge implies knowing whether or not there is an all-encompassing purpose (and Purposer) in the universe, then, yes, it does mean that atheists do not have true knowledge — if Christianity is indeed correct. Likewise, if said Purposer sent His Son to redeem sinners and criminals, then anyone who doesn’t believe in sacrificial atonement just doesn’t “get” forgiveness. If that really happened — and it did — then believing otherwise leads to a wrong angle on the moral compulsion to forgive, and to live as one who was forgiven freely.

    Your mishandling of this text is obvious in that you don’t understand Christian thought well enough to know what specifically was intended by the word “knowledge.” You rant about how “extreme is this institution that it denies the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians” without any regard for the risk of giving no context to the meaning of the word “knowledge,” or the risk that your objection might be based off a misinterpretation.

    Not to mention the fact that you selectively quoted a single line in an attempt to make it say something that the very next line (which you omitted) contradicts. The problem with this is that when you try to defend yourself in the above comment, you claim that the statement is self-contradicting.

    Well, shucks. Shouldn’t you consider alternative interpretations? If you have a degree in literature (which, apparently another commenter here thinks you do), then surely you must understand that in human communication, one should usually give the benefit of the doubt that the communicative act had some coherent meaning to the sender of the communication, even if a potential receiver doesn’t get it.

    On another note: Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, is an inherently corporate religion. It is about corporate identity (the church) not just individual identity (the member). If we cannot have corporate Christian institutions, then we cannot truly practice our religion, since our religious identity is in the plural rather than the singular.

    If you are indeed a literature doctor, then I suggest you read the first five verses of every letter in the NT. See how many are addressed to only one individual. Not. Very. Many. Whereas ones addressed to entire congregations? That’s the lion’s share of the epistles. (Don’t forget Revelation 2-3 in that corpus, btw.)

    And so, I rest my case. Christianity is corporate and requires an environment or atmosphere of its own in order to really be what it (claims it) is meant to be. An atheist can always be an atheist individually, but Christianity doesn’t work that way. If you’d ever read the Bible as literature, you might have realized that.

    • Gary, if you read my response carefully, you’ll see I don’t claim the statement is contradictory. What I claim is that Redeemer distinguishes “true knowledge” from mere “insight.” To my ear, that sounds like the important stuff can only be understood by the Christian, leaving the rest in relative ignorance.

      As for the corporate nature of Christianity, I have no problem with Christians organizing or conceiving of their religion as they see fit. But that doesn’t mean that Christian post-secondary institutions ought to be able to call themselves universities and award degrees.

  29. Mr. Pettigrew is welcome to correct me, but it would appear that he defines a university to be public (i.e. Open to all applicants, whether as students or faculty) and, by virtue of being public, also secular. His definition would therefore exclude the “university” of medieval Christendom (where, ironically, the notion of a university originated, and also those existing in present day Islamic states. In other words, a university by definition must reflect the structure of the modern, secular, and democratic state. However, unlike every such state that actually exists, Mr. Pettigrew’s stifling vision fails to account for pluralism, whereby such states acknowledge and even encourage the development of communities, associations and institutions espousing a variety of belief systems and creeds. States can and should encourage this development of a variety of, and sometimes competing visions of the good life, though they should be wary of preferring one vision over another. Mr. Pettigrew’s notion, on the other hand, is that all those who devote themselves to a religious framework for the good life should just shut up; at least, he would strip these citizens of all society’s emblems of credibility so that they are, in effect, shut up and shut out of civil dialogue.

  30. Hello James, I can only speak for myself however:

    If by ‘open’ you mean not discriminatory,and if by ‘secular’ you mean not prejudicial in its’ foundation on a single dogma I personally would have to say yes. These are not only prerequisites for a university to be considered ‘public’, but are in fact prerequisites for a university to be, ‘a university’ , at least in the official state-supported, accredited kind of way. An institution lacking these fundamental qualitities is antithetical to the ‘idea’ of a university.

    Medieval Christendom also gave us the crusades and inquisitions and many other odious things too numerous to mention. There is no irony here to speak of. Whether the ‘university’ was developed because of, or in spite of religious domination in medieval times is an interesting question. I tend to think that the evolution of education is an inevitable consequence of humankind’s accumulation and improvement of knowledge, a process which is undoubtedly hindered historically and in the present by religious dogma ( or any dogma, say for instance communist domination of the educational system in the former USSR. )

    Educational institutions dominated by Islam, or any other single philosophy ( such as communism ) are clearly not the equal of open secular ( as defined above ) equivalents. You argue against yourself by including them, or by extension, all others of their ilk. Such institutions can do good work, but they are clearly not aided in their efforts by adherence to compulsory dogma. That is to say, they ‘can’ do good work, ‘in spite’ of compulsory adherence to a particular dogma.

    You seem to argue that pluralism is somehow expressed by philosophically homogenous communities in isolation. This seems rather contradictory to me. ( You have much work in front of you if you wish to prove how it is in the best interest of a State to actively promote pluralism, as opposed to just creating an environment in which individuals are unhindered in their efforts to express different visions of the good life. ) It seems to me that pluralism is best expressed by the presence at every university in Canada of an organization of , in this case, Biblical Evangelists, where they are exposed to differing viewpoints and can challenge and improve their own beliefs and expose others to their beliefs in an environment of free inquiry. In my opinion this free inquiry would be a requisite component of any valid definition of a university, that is to say, compulsory limitations on free inquiry are antithetical to the purpose of a university.

    Your assertion that Mr. Pettigrew’s ‘vision’ is ‘stifling’ because it argues against accreditation of an institution which is a philosophically homogenous community in isolation seems, well, a bit silly. Is it not plain to see where the ‘stifling’ is actually occurring? Is Mr. Pettigrew trying to shut a group of citizens out of the civil dialogue?, or is Redeemer College trying to shut all other viewpoints out of the dialogue of its students so it can have four more years of a monopoly of ideas with which to condition them to adhere to a particular dogma? ( Is this not an abuse of power on the part of the faculty, enforced by the administration? )I don’t see how this is particularly moral. It certainly isn’t open. I don’t see what interest the State or community at large has in promoting, with validation through accreditation or other means, clearly morally ambiguous exercises such as these, be they based on Biblical Evangelism, socialism, or whatever.

    Any such institution is tarnished by its’ very foundation. The nature or qualities of this base, the behaviour of its’ adherents, and arguments over the quality of its work in that discipline or the other, is irrelevant. If we were talking about an institution based on some other dogma, wouldn’t the defenders of Redeemer be making the arguments we see here against it, and if they refrained from arguing against an institution they found morally repulsive, to protect their own monopoly, wouldn’t that be hypocritical? Clearly such an arrangement, MUST foster hypocrisy by its’ very, all too human, nature.

  31. If there is indeed a God who made the entire universe with a purpose, then that’s a pretty big deal. If that’s such a major factor, and you do not take it into account, then yes — you are lacking true knowledge. Find it as offensive as you like, it is internally consistent and logical: if Christianity is true, then atheism is wrong. Christians assert that Christianity is true, and thus atheism is wrong. Get over it.

    You can indeed gain flashes of insight on things even when approaching things from the wrong angle, but just because the angle works some of the time for some things does not mean it is the best angle to work with — especially when the things you get wrong might, unfortunately, signal a false positive in your mind.

    There are a few small schools in Canada that wish to teach from the atmosphere of true Christian community. If people want to go to an institution where all viewpoints are theoretically welcomed, then they have ample opportunity to do so elsewhere. Calling the existence of Christian schools “stifling” is absurd. The CAUT’s definition of academic freedom (which necessitates secularism) is by no means on an endangered species list due to the existence of a few small, private Christian alternatives to secularism.

    The corporate nature of Christianity, as I’ve pointed to, is clear as day to anyone who reads the NT. It’s not some excuse that’s just been invented post facto to justify segregation based on sanctimonious snobbishness. If it is integral to our faith, and you say that we cannot do that and still be legitimate universities that award legitimate degrees, then you are effectively enforcing secularism and forcing the accreditation of recognized degrees and the full practice of the Christian faith to be competing alternatives, when they otherwise would be mutually compatible.

    Although it is fine for Christians to go to public universities, doing so is foreign territory to us because we are an ideological minority in a secular environment. Among other Christians, we take prayer requests before classes sometimes. This never happens in public institutions, to my knowledge. This is why we are ideological minorities: the practice of our beliefs is made to be tangential to our studies, when to us it is actually the foundation of our lives, and quite rightly should never be tangential to or subsumed under anything else whatsoever.

    Why do you want to force us to not have some sanctuary (in the sense of “safe place”) where we can learn through academic engagement yet feel free to be open about our beliefs with one another without fear of ridicule?

    I cannot think of how Redeemer’s Statement of Faith would necessarily inhibit the university’s ability to teach, say, linguistics. Why not actually judge a university based on its competence, rather than what a secular ideology claims must necessarily make it incompetent?

    I challenge you to actually come up with tangible examples in which the faculty or their teaching are deficient in the instruction of a particular discipline, and then show that this is the case so much across the board in comparison to secular universities that one could never seriously consider accrediting Redeemer as a university.

    This is why this is an ideological crusade: you don’t point to evidence, only to why it conflicts with a predisposed ideology which must needs be maintained everywhere in order for you to feel secure.

    Don’t you have every secular university in which to feel secure? Why do you feel so consumed to oppress a minority who just wants a little sanctuary to be free from the feeling of ridicule for their beliefs?

    What you propose would only serve to hinder the contributions of Christians to the academic scene, and would only further encourage anti-intellectualism among Christians. Overall, nobody gains and everyone loses. Well, I suppose secularism gets the sense of security from being mandatory everywhere without exception for religious minorities. But scholarship would suffer, and several people with potential may become disinclined to study academically — and certainly this would cause harm to the academic community at large.

  32. The results of the Maclean’s 2011 Student Survey of Canadian universities were released today. Students were asked whether they agreed with the statement, “Most of my professors encourage students to participate in class discussions.”

    The top four universities in Canada, based on students “strongly agreeing” with this statement, are all Christian universities (beating out the better-funded public/secular universities from all over the country). Yes, you read that right: students at Christian universities feel MORE encouraged to openly discuss issues in class than their counterparts in secular universities.

    This is strange behaviour indeed for what Mr. Pettigrew would like to call “radical, fundamentalist indoctrination centres.”

    But of course, if Mr. Pettigrew would actually visit one of these universities and see what goes on in our classes, he would find that (contrary to his assumptions) a shared faith commitment is in no way at odds with the free and open discussion of even contentious issues. The bogeyman he describes simply doesn’t exist.

    Our students are taught to think critically, to question their own deeply held assumptions to see if they stand up to scrutiny, and to sympathetically and carefully understand the viewpoints of those with whom they disagree. I would go so far as to say, based on my own personal experience getting degrees at three publicly funded universities (the University of Waterloo, The University of Western Ontario, and McMaster University), that this may even happen more intentionally at places like Redeemer than elsewhere. The Maclean’s results certainly seem to say so.

    Before maligning Christian universities in the future, Mr. Pettigrew, you would do well to test your theories against reality.

    Kevin N. Flatt
    Assistant Professor of History
    Redeemer University College

    • Dr Flatt (who, amusingly enough, attended precisely the same universities I did) faults me for relying on what Redeemer says about itself rather than actually going there. A similar criticism was leveled against me when I criticized the faith-enforcement at Trinity Western University. My responses are similar:

      1. If the goal at Redeemer is to really have students question everything, why require a faith statement in the first place? If the aim is really to have students “question their own deeply held assumptions” wouldn’t it make sense to put them in classrooms with people who held different assumptions? Can Dr Flatt or any of his colleagues really feel free to make an argument in favour of gay marriage when his own institution sees homosexuality as grounds for discipline? What is the point of the faith requirement except to limit the intellectual discourse that goes on at the institution?

      I invite readers to read the description of the Philosophy program offered at Redeemer and ask whether they have any confidence that the arguments against the existence of God would be offered with the same degree of conviction as the arguments in favour of the existence of God. How could they when one of the avowed purposes of the program is to provide students with a “thought through Christian framework for their studies”? It’s true, I haven’t been there, but it looks to me like the aim of Redeemer faculty is to have students question their beliefs thoroughly and then come to the conclusions that faculty are all required to have.

      2. I would love to come to Redeemer and talk to the students there. All Dr Flatt or anyone else at Redeemer has to do is to invite me to give a talk there, pay my travel expenses, and, before or after my talk, give me an opportunity to speak to a representative group of students for an hour or two, and I will happily get on a plane. I made this same offer to the good folks at TWU, but no one took me up on it.

      3. I have no doubt that students at Redeemer feel encouraged to speak in class. They are Christian students at a Christian insitution with Christian professors. I’m certain they feel as comfortable as can be. But there is more to a university education than feeling comfortable.

  33. Mr. Pettigrew, your arguments are internally inconsistent and illogical and your response exposes a truer agenda than your original post intended. Let’s take your arguments as they come, shall we:

    1. A University must be open to all areas of knowledge and must not restrict its faculty or students to one set of ideas or philosophical underpinnings.

    2. A faculty member must adhere to the basic tenants of his or her area of adacemic expertise (belief in evolution for biology), but beyond this basic level, should never be required to hold to a strict philosophical or ideological viewpoint because such requirement is unnecessary to their educational abilities.

    3. You also claim that most academic areas of study do not have the restrictions you see applied at religious (again, specifically Christian, schools) – and you use women’s studies as an example. Women’s studies professors can disagree on many things, but must have a belief in the importance of Women’s roles in society.

    3. Because religious-based universities (and specifically, Christian universities) require a philosophical/ideological homogeneity among faculty members, they are denying not only the ability for non-Christian faculty members to work there, but also the students from being challenged from non-Christian perspectives.

    So far, your argument holds (but the inconsistencies are already starting to show – frays at the seams shall we say) but then you went further and revealed the true nature of your complaint. Your argued the following:

    1. Any Christian that believes their religion is more than allegory and metaphore and actually holds an exclusive claim on truth with respect to the reality of the world vis-a-vis the existence of God, sin, Jesus as a deity, salvation, redemption, etc. is an extremist and cannot be considered seriously.

    2. Christian universities cannot offer well-argued alternatives to their own arguments in favor of the Christian world view.

    3. The requirement that faculty members be Christians ensures that, even if these faculty member teach on matters that do not address escatological/philosophical issues on which Christianity claims exclusive truth (say, the meanings behind the imagery used in Melville’s “Moby Dick”), forces such faculty to close their minds to all other considerations.

    4. Asking someone to sign on to a statement of faith/promise of conduct policy means that the person must close their minds to all other considerations – they can NEVER objectively consider any such issues again.

    See where you went off the rails? The reality is that your bias against Christianity (or should I say, any version of Christianity that does not see it as largely allegorical and metaphorical) taints YOUR belief in such a person’s ability to think objectively. Because they have made a decision on THIS issue, their ability to THINK objectively has been tainted. Because the university tries to create an environment of such individuals, you believe the university can NEVER objectively discuss such issues within its halls.

    However, you don’t make such assumptions about such faculty in “secular” universities. Could a women’s study professor exist that doesn’t believe that women’s role is as important to society as a speciality study would imply? Such a position could theoretically be taken, yet because YOU think that such a position would contradict the person’s ability to teach the subject matter, they should not be allowed to teach Women’s Studies. Thus, this is all about YOUR idea of what is essential to the teaching of a subject matter (or what is acceptable). You say that it is not necessary to be a communist to teach about communism, but according to YOUR beliefs, you cannot be a Christian who believes that his religion is more than allegorical/metaphorical and teach on atheism, or Islam, or Judaism. So, once again, we have an atheist telling everyone of faith when their faith taints their objectivity. I’m sure you would never argue that an atheist (being so far removed from a belief in religion) could not teach a course on Christianity – you would probably claim exactly the opposite – that they are better equipped. Yet the reverse is not the case.

    So, your argument at large – that religious based universities (again, specifically Christian, although later as a throw away you say you have the same view of Islamic or communist focused universities) are incapable of teaching both courses that do not touch on the philosophical/ideological issues addressed by religious thought AND course that do – despite the fact that those who hold to YOUR view of “secular” thought could teach courses about Christianity. In other words, your argument is that knowledge is a one way street – the truly religious need not apply and they certainly cannot get public funds.

  34. Thanks for your respectful response, Dr. Pettigrew. You raise some thoughtful objections to my points. (As for your offer of a visit, I’d be happy to continue that conversation via email.) Allow me to respond to your argument as best I can in this space.

    Of course a Christian philosopher could not offer an argument against the existence of God with the same amount of personal conviction as she could offer an argument for the existence of God. But this is true of anyone who believes anything, and applies just as forcefully at a secular university as at a Christian one, and not just to philosophical or theological questions. So surely that can’t be the problem.

    But at Redeemer, you might object, all the professors have the same views, whereas at a public university professors disagree with each other. This objection doesn’t quite work either. For one thing, in the vast majority of cases, having a common Christian worldview doesn’t realistically limit the range of opinions one might have in a given discipline. For example, the fact that my departmental colleagues and I share a Christian worldview isn’t going to prevent us from disagreeing about the causes of the French Revolution (for example). And my colleagues and I have lots of disagreements of that sort, which are the ones most relevant to our teaching.

    Ah, you might say, but you aren’t free to disagree about EVERYTHING. There are some things you have to agree about if you want to teach at Redeemer. Well, there you’ve got us. We really believe in this Jesus stuff, bizarre as it may seem to some.

    But are faculty at secular universities really free to disagree about EVERYTHING? Of course not. There are formal and informal parameters, often specific to a particular discipline, that dictate what is acceptable and what is not. Whether they are written down or not is besides the point, if they serve to, in your words, “limit the intellectual discourse that goes on at the institution.”

    And of course this is entirely appropriate and unavoidable. Complete unfettered academic freedom, with no limits whatsoever, does not and cannot exist at any place that functions as a community with a shared mission.

    The real difference is that while at a secular university those parameters may be set by historical tradition, or career utility, or pressure from business sponsors, or a belief in knowledge for the sake of knowledge, or political correctness, or thinly veiled atheism, or any number of things, at a Christian university they are based on a Christian worldview rooted in the Christian faith.

    So I’m left to conclude that the real problem isn’t that we have parameters, it’s that those parameters are Christian, and, as some of your posts in this thread and from April suggest, you find orthodox Christianity to be more than a little absurd. But I submit that is hardly a justifiable ground, in a free society, to deny us the title “university” and accuse us of “indoctrination.”

    Kevin Flatt

  35. I don’t see a single refutation of any of my objections to Redeemer on principle. Let me re-state in summary.

    1. Discrimination. This is so obvious that noone dares address it.
    ( An institution based in the same way on socialist dogma would at least be able to defend itself against this charge. This discrmination it seems, is justified because it is only aimed at individuals who are poor candidates for salvation in the forthcoming rapture. I think this argues at least part of the way that fundamentalist monotheism is innately hypocritical and immoral. Such an argument is surplus to requirements however to my assertion that any institution built on compulsory adherence to ‘any’ dogma, is inherently incapable of living up to a reasonable standard expected of an accredited university. I did not off-handedly add other dogma to my objections to Redeemer on principle. I clearly stated that the actual precepts or nature of the dogma was irrelevant, and from what I’ve just stated here, it’s quite possible that compulsory adherence to non-religious dogma, can in fact be less bad than one based on religious dogma. Socialists don’t seek to indoctrinate their children with threats of eternal damnation for not loving a god whom they must also fear. ( This is moral?) But again, all this is surplus to requirements for my objection to Redeemer or any other dogma-based institution. )

    2. Prejudice against free inquiry by compulsory adherence to dogma. Pointing out the obvious fact that imperfect humans cannot create an institution in which there is no prejudice whatsoever against free inquiry is no defense for, or justification of, systemic prejudice against free inquiry by: compulsory adherence to dogma, active promotion of a particular dogma by faculty in a position of power as a condition of employment, enforcement, not just promotion which would be bad enough, but in fact enforcement of a compulsory abuse of power by the faculty over their charges.

    This sure looks like indoctrination to me, and if we were talking about an institution based on socialist dogma, for instance, the odious indoctrinary nature would be obvious to all. It’s okay at Redeemer though because, of course, they are right and everyone else, including especially those of other faiths, are wrong. It’s interesting to me that the humble of all faiths the world over, share this singular arrogance.

  36. I just want to look at the question raised by Todd Pettigrew about whether Redeemer should be able to call itself a university. I am by no means an expert in education, but I think that one of the underlying aims of education is to teach students how to live well within society. The purposes of a university are more specific than that, but on the whole I think they still fit in that larger aim. Some of a university’s aims include equipping students with skills to be productive and teaching them to weigh their beliefs against the reasonable arguments of others.

    As for teaching productive skills, I think it would be hard to argue that Redeemer fails at this since many of its alumni have good jobs. What is at issue is whether Redeemer can provide the proper environment for teaching students how to weigh their beliefs against those of others or whether it discriminates against other ‘ideologies’ and indoctrinates its students. And saying that all universities are based on ideologies does not properly critique this because it ignores that some ideologies are more harmful to society then others.

    While the mainstream approach taken by universities emphasises exposing students to the diversity of opinions that exist in the public, leaving the student to develop their beliefs on their own, a place like Redeemer puts emphasis on helping students who confess a certain set of beliefs to grow in those beliefs and to learn how to communicate with others as a person who does hold a set of beliefs. Having graduated from Redeemer, I can say for myself that the latter has been true for me. These two different emphases are not necessarily diametrically opposed I think, but they do affect how an educational institution operates. I do think that both can equip students to live well in society (and both also have students who failed to learn what we hoped to teach them).

    The question would still remain whether a place like Redeemer with its different emphasis on education should be considered an accredited university. I would propose that those who do not think so should initially be somewhat charitable to the idea that strengthening a person’s beliefs and teaching them what it means to live with them can also produce people who are open to changing their ideas and can benefit Canada academically. However, if it is decided that a place like Redeemer does not qualify to be a university, then I propose that universities reconsider how they can accommodate students who want to earn a university degree so they can get a job but who also want to learn what it means to take their beliefs seriously in academics. Because right now it is becoming more and more difficult to do the latter.

  37. Mr. DeWar:

    I think all the responses to your and Mr. Pettigrew’s stance vis-a-vis private religious-based universities have been based on principal. The problem for both you and Mr. Pettigrew is that you have limited your definition of what you will accept as a principaled argument. Those limitation do not demonstrate the insufficiencies of the arguments, but your discrimination against certain viewpoints. In fact, your latest post reveals that if an individual takes a position on religion (and, specifically, Christianity) that is more decisive than agnosticism, they are, in your opinion, a priori discriminatory and unable to present any argument objectively.

    In fact, let’s address your first paragraph. You say that private religious-based universities are guilty of discrimination. Automatically this is judged as bad because … well, because they are discriminating. At the same time you state that a university that would require all facutly and students to be socialist could not be guilty of the same. Why? Well because you disagree with what the religious-based university is discriminating against – those who won’t be eligible for “salvation in the forthcoming rapture.” So, to boil this argument down to its salt, as they say, discrimination based on compulsory belief is only wrongly discriminatory when it is based on a religious view that you disagree with. Socialism is OK. Also, my guess is you have no objection to colleges and universities that are single-gender or defined as “black colleges” or even those that actively pursue a liberal agenda. Let’s not throw out the word “discrimination” in an expectation that it will, res ipsa loquitur, win the argument against the existence of these schools. I think this readership is a little more mature than that. Women’s colleges, black colleges, ideologically focused colleges all discriminate. The question is whether the discrimination is objectionable. I find none of these others any more objectionable than a religious-based institution. You do based solely on your disagree (or should I say, disgust) with the religious belief.

    You second paragraph says that “Prejudice against free inquiry by compulsory adherence to dogma” equates to “indoctrination.” But, again, this argument fails on two points. First, requiring people who work at an institution to have made a decisive choice about an issue is not the equivalent of prejudice against free inquiry. But, like Mr. Pettigrew, this argument assumes that just because someone has made a decision about the truth or fiction of the Christian religion, they can never again engage in “free inquiry.” I doubt seriously that you would say the same for someone who has made such a decision in favor of agnosticism or atheism. In fact, based on both your and Mr. Pettigrew’s posts, you seem to think an agnostic position is the ONLY legitimate position when talking about religion. Well, that may be your opinion, but it cannot be the basis for public policy that, in turn, discriminates against those who have made a decision with which you agree.

    Again, I think your posts (and Mr. Pettigrew’s) reveal more about your own personal biases than those at Redeemer or any other relgious university. You generalize about the ability of facutly to teach and about the ability of student’s to learn based on your view that anyone who has made a decision on religion that is not at least agnostic (or atheist, as in Mr. Pettigrew’s case) is incapable of objectively teaching or learning anything about those ideas or people who disagree with their belief – or about any subject in general. This prejudice is revealed by your failure to hold (i) other institutions or academic areas of inquiry that discriminate and (ii) other faculty who hold to one belief/ideology (i.e., socialism) to critically teach about a contradictory belief/ideology (i.e., capitalism).

  38. Hello Mr. Van Horn

    Thank you for taking the time to comment and for pointing out sloppiness on my part in my post, although I must point out that your reading of my comments was pretty sloppy too.

    First of all I clearly stated my opposition to institutions based on ANY compulsory dogma structured as Redeemer is, socialist or otherwise as these by definition are discriminatory and indoctrinary, and undeserving of public support or sanction thereby. I in fact clearly stated that the type of dogma was irrelevant to the argument in principle.

    But I did seem to imply, in contradiction to my other statements that an institution based on socialist dogma could successfully defend itself against charges of discrimination. What I meant to say was that such an institution would be guilty of discrimination on fewer grounds than one based on fundamentalist monotheism.( would not discriminate against ‘devout’ socialists on account of their homosexuality, as an example ) That is to say that since socialist dogma is less broad in its implications, the discrimination would exist on fewer criteria. Still odious in its basic foundation. I must repeat that. Another interesting difference is that all precepts of socialist dogma would be based in some part on moral and logical argument, none would require adherence to precepts which CANNOT be proven. Surely any educated person can appreciate the uniqueness of fundamentalist religious dogma on these grounds over merely secular ideology.

    The most relevant question seems to be : Do I object to systemic discrimination and compulsory adherence to dogma and do I think this would preclude such an institution from public support through accreditation as a university and sanction of their ‘degrees’.

    The answer is clearly YES, and in ALL CASES TOO.

    Before I continue I must address one thing : I think the argument that a Women’s college or a Black college is analogous to Redeemer is at best weak. To be analogous to Redeemer a Women’s college would have to: hire only faculty who affirmed a particular philosophy, in detail, about womanhood, AND who ascribed superiority of the implications of this ideology defined in terms of womanhood in all areas on which womanhood might in any way be relevant AND be required to promote this ideology as superior to every other in all ways to their students, AND promote in their students a desire to promulgate this ideology to universal acceptance in their future vocations, all in the absence of proof.
    I can’t say for a fact, but I’m pretty sure they don’t do THAT.
    Then repeat this statement substituting ‘Black-ness’ if you must to see what I mean.
    There is clearly no requirement for a women’s college or a black college to hire according to, and enforce compulsory adherence to, dogma by its nature.

    I also oppose systemic, subtle and informal discrimination of all kinds that are consequential, but let’s address systemic discrimination. There is a great gulf between systemic discrimination of the kind practiced at Redeemer, based as it is on such a broad dogma and say, a university refusing entrance to someone who is illiterate. But a person can learn to read and attend when they are capable. There is empirical evidence for the efficacy of reading. Not so for the ‘ belief in the forthcoming rapture.’ This difference is obvious, and of course, there is a whole range of systemic discrimination in between. Clearly there is a line somewhere in this range where the discrimination conflicts with the public good to the degree that it must be considered grounds for withholding any form of public support or sanction. I say without hesitation that that line is crossed well before it reaches the point it does in Redeemer’s systemic discriminatory practices. Hence my opposition to Redeemer calling itself a university and awarding degrees.

    You seem to imply that I have a problem with Christianity. I certainly prefer moderation in regard to un-provable assertions if that’s what you mean, but let me clarify. Redeemer is a fundamentalist monotheistic institution and yes, religion increases it’s palatability to me the more it is moderated by , well, moderation, as this leads to logicalization and moral improvement of its practices. Extremists of all kinds, religious and otherwise, can’t truly subject their views to rational review and they ought not to be running universities. Sorry.

    My problem is with dogma, fundamentalism, and YES I admit it, Fundamentalist Monotheism in particular, as the current most harmful expression of dogma. Call this a bias if you wish, but I believe that the evidence proves that fundamentalist monotheism is a bad thing, in all forms, and that the evidence refutes the unfounded claims of these dogma.

    I have done my homework, and cannot find a single decent argument for or benefit of, literal belief in messianic apocalyptic bronze-age literature, much of it political and out-dated. The tendency to ignore the ‘word of god’ calling for genocide or enslavement of unbelievers or the un-chosen or murder of apostates or a host of other bad things is commendable, but this surely erodes the privileged position of the text as the infallible word of a supreme being, but fundamentalists are damned if they do and damned if they don’t on this one. Immoral if they do bad things as instructed by their tomes that surely entreat them to be moral, admitting the fallibility of their tome if they don’t.

    Bad as it might be to be oblivious to this obvious logical conundrum, among others, of fundamental monotheism, but there is much proof of its’ real and potential harm in the absence of a single shred of evidence to support the veracity of its claims.

    I abhor the very idea that a single contradiction-laced tome (all of them easily fit this criteria ) written centuries ago by many hands, many of whom lived generations after the events in question, is interpreted literally as a compulsory infallible guide to life in the 21st century. I hope I don’t have to point out to devout Christians the simple fact that not one slip of paper exists on this planet in Jesus’ own hand, or that the gospels are compilations of the teachings of the early church compiled by people who never met Jesus in person, generations after his demise, some time in the 2nd century at the earliest. The same basically applies to the Quran in case you are wondering, although some centuries later. So even if I grant you Jesus’ divinity, or Mohammed’s divine connections, both were long dead, and quite incapable of approving their final drafts. Fallible political humans did that, wrote the books that fundamentalist monotheists of these faiths take as gospel without question.

    Surely it is ludicrous to actually interpret literally such a text and use it as the basis for existence and how to live in the 21st century without examining these credos for logical and moral sufficiency. This is absurd, and a vast majority of adherents to monotheism agree with me to a significant degree.

    By all means take the good from it. I take what good I can from all such books, and of course many others too.
    As an example, I hold Jesus of Nazareth in high regard as a spiritualist and thinker. He might be the first recorded man to imply the idea of universal equality, regardless of gender or class or ethnicity, free or slave. He had many other good ideas and was obviously quite astute and compassionate and a thorough communicator of what were then, radical ideas at a time when we needed them. I recommend Thomas Cahill’s book, ( a believer in case you are wondering ) Desire of the Ever-lasting Hills as an excellent analysis of Jesus’ story in its historical perspective, he lived in a world dominated by brazen self-interest and rampant tribalism. One need not ascribe to the New Testament an unfounded and arbitrary infallibility to benefit philosophically and spiritually from studying him. In ascribing this unnecessary infallibility you also fall prey to believing without question aspects of his stories or philosophies that are mis-translated, or inserted by political elites for political reasons.

    No, the statements of all philosophers, claims of divinity notwithstanding, must pass muster on their own merit. I do not hesitate to condemn the literal application of ANY idea without proof or convincing logical and moral argument in favour of it.

    Clearly the danger here is extreme in its potential everywhere, but in many places in the world, we clearly see the desertification, physical and moral, that is the inevitable result of policy conducted by fundamentalist monotheists.

    Shall I continue:

    Monotheism’s all-too common insistence that homosexuality is bad, as if to say the supreme being cares about this and not tsunamis!… or infant mortality!!! … or gender equality??? Please. Or monotheisms abhorrence in one way or another of female genitalia, as Mr. Hitchens points out, there is nary a hero or prophet in antiquity who wasn’t delivered by a virgin birth or magical caesarian, this obvious patriarchalism is logically and morally undeserving of any claim of divinity or infallibility …or the pre-occupation with human mating habits… These are clearly ideas of the political, not spiritual sphere.

    So what we have then, is a situation in which literal interpretation of monotheistic writings, is only reasonable or justifiable in logical or moral terms if we cut out pretty wide swaths of it. The problem is that if we do that a fallible biased human is doing the editing. … ummm… wait a minute, that’s already been done, numerous times, with every one of these ‘divinely inspired’ tomes. They’ve all been assembled by people with political bias who have excluded more than they have left in. Humans have decided, that is to say, just who was ‘divinely inspired’ and who wasn’t, and on top of this, translated by people of questionable ability, and edited again by people who had biases or prejudices or wars to justify etc.,. over and over, I mean humans are fallible, how do we know the really good parts weren’t edited out and lost to antiquity???

    The truth is we don’t know, ( in truth it nauseates me to think of the inevitable gutting inflicted on social and political and spiritual commentary that I know has happened just by awareness of this inherent political nature of humanity, and how under-developed these politicos were and are ) but the people on the top of the pyramid scheme have a vested interest in us not thinking about it. Have a vested interest in us taking for granted that the folks who wrote down the ideas that they want us to believe without question, were ‘divinely inspired’, and the ones that they want us not to believe, were ‘ satanic heretics’, without giving any thought to the fact that this editing process makes all such books inherently fallible and political in nature. That is why most religious people don’t do this, blindly take any book literally.

    This again, is yet another level of bad enough, but it gets worse. The infallibility and compulsory nature of the obviously political dogma, and the requirement of obedience at risk of ludicrously extreme supernatural consequences, has a habit of sticking around, and is used to enforce a code of belief and conduct, which is quite obviously, by virtue of its having a human editor, all too human and political.

    I don’t know what else to say.
    Take Jesus’ teachings, in whole or in part, literally and blindly if you must.
    But call it Jesusism and drop the charade of infallibility, then you’ll only be as bad as fundamentalist socialists.

    Two quick notes to close. You can disagree if you wish, but religious dogma is human and political, therefore compulsory adherence to such dogma ( by definition, assertion of truth without proof ) by professors and requirement to impose it on their charges IS an abuse of power, and the whole structure can only be described as INDOCTRINATION. Please get your head out of yer arse.

    Second and also on this note, I laughed out loud when I read the comment above arguing against this whole abuse of power/ indoctrination assertion by pointing out that religious based institutions score consistently at the top of student surveys for ‘openness’, or ‘approachability of professor’s on new ideas’ or ‘ student appreciation’ or some other such nonsense.

    Ya think…. maybe this extremely high opinion of religious schools, in the minds of their respective students, might have something to do with the efficacy of these schools, at… oh I don’t know,…… INDOCTRINATING THEM TO DO AND BELIEVE AS THEY ARE DAMN WELL TOLD. Just wondering.

    This is my last word on this topic. By the end of March you will be able to locate my forthcoming blog by searching my name. It will be aimed at doing my small part to promote journalistic integrity, fight dogma, political correctness and junk science, and improve the level of discourse by exposing these and other evils. Cheers.

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