Christian Universities and the Pursuit of Truth

A university can choose to support the pursuit of truth which means many sides of a given idea need to be engaged with, no matter how painful they may be, or it can ignore the pursuit of truth in favor of an ideology. This is a difficult thing to do in general, but for Christian universities especially so as 1: truth and ideology do intermix, 2: time and money are limited, and 3: outcomes are not guaranteed.

Truth and ideology do intermix especially so in the faith arena, and sorting that out can be a good thing… but being time and money are limited, not everything is worth the investment to explore. And at the same time, it can be too politically incorrect within a given faith environment to go very far off ones ideological path. This is where things get tricky. Consider atonement theories for example. Some churches teach only one, and censor out all the others, even the historical theology which led up to their chosen theory. A university should pursue truth in this, and cover every single one of them, such that students can defend what they truly believe in, by testing their beliefs.

However the pursuit of truth presents unknowns outcome wise. Christian universities who pursue truth occasionally produce atheists, much to the chagrin of their supporters. It can also mean a conservative university might end up producing Marxists or Keynesians rather than Hayaks or Randians if the pursuit of truth rather than ideology is their goal.

Alas, one of the huge advantages of pursuing truth vs ideology, is that, those who survive it will be much much stronger and much more prepared to defend their beliefs, as contrasted with those students sheltered in bubble wrap… but what about the students whose faith gets shredded in the process? What about students who are ill-prepared for hard core engagement with their beliefs?

One can argue this sort of thing both ways with respect to stumbling blocks. On the one hand, if a student ventures out into the world with only an ideology and no exposure whatsoever to various means of scriptural interpretation, sooner or later they will hit a brick wall… and then without the requisite support infrastructure, they are likely to fall. On the other hand, a firehose of historical critical methodologies thrown at a 18 year old who has only been exposed to a narrow ideology could easily bring about a faith crisis.

 
In the secular arena, if a university decides to pursue truth, some of it can be very painful, and even damaging. I think of vet’s with PTSD… truth seeking may well serve as a trigger. Sure, an individual class can probably be worked through, but what if you have a schedule which puts hard core discussions on PTSD triggering situations back to back for an entire semester? That may well be too much for a vet to handle, even with a support group backing them up. 
 
And then you have folks other than vets who have suffered serious trauma. Some of whom are suffering severe PTSD and under the care of a psychologist. If truth seeking is the telos of a given university, what about these students? Perhaps this is likely where the trigger warning stuff spun out of. Universities have a need to pursue truth,  and yet, they don’t want to harm their students, but they aren’t mental health facilities either.
Conflict is Not Abuse

 

And then you have the folks who view a mere difference of opinion as abusive. Sure, truth seeking may make them anxious and very uncomfortable, but rather than engaging with it, they run from it, often shouting abuse along the path of their retreat in hoping to squash the discussion. And maybe they do succeed in silencing the discussion… which gives them immediate relief in the short term.  Alas the lack of voice often leads to a form of truth which is lacking, a severe loss of agency on the part of folks holding to said views, and perhaps even a loss of credibility on their parts, no matter where the truth may actually lie.

Outcome wise, when one voice is silenced, the status quo generally remains, as there is nothing  to counter it. Sadly, such also potentially means solutions to prevent such problems often end up being left off the table as the idea has only been partially explored. It may also lead to a very shallow set of beliefs, being said beliefs have not been put through the fire and tested. And when beliefs are shallow, the door is open for the worst case scenario. Namely where paternal and maternal outsiders are free to step in with their own sets of truth and force the issue, perhaps even in a counter productive direction. Such sets the stage for errant decision making such as Canada’s criminalization of HIV.

And yet, there are situations where truth is nowhere to be found in the short term, or maybe even ever. For the injured in such situations, maybe the best thing they can do for their own mental health is just to avoid engagement, even if it means outsiders may screw stuff up, or that the status quo will continue to adversely affect them and related groups. The hope of course is that eventually a few people from the injured side of things will stand up and engage with the idea… but this isn’t something all are capable of doing.

Jonathan Haidt presents a number of examples where conservative ideology is silenced, and the requisite dangers of doing so.  (its about an hour long, but well worth it… and realistically, it applies both ways.

And despite the above arguments for a universities telos of truth, its not cool to cast care to the wind either… there has to be a balance point.

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