I’m reading an interesting book that does an excellent job of explaining the predominant spirit of our age: “The Intolerance of Tolerance” by theologian D.A. Carson. His basic thesis is that the old tolerance found throughout history is fundamentally different that what passes for tolerance today. The former believed even when it tolerated differences that there was a correct view; the latter insists that all views are equal. The result of this change, ironically, is the most virulent intolerance toward those who claim they hold the correct view, or who claim they know the truth, or that there is even such thing as objective truth.
It astounds me how otherwise intelligent people can so uncritically accept the validity of relativism, which itself is inherently contradictory. How can there be no absolute truth, when such a statement is absolute! I had a conversation with a co-worker not long ago who is quintessentially post-modern. To him, both his Muslim friend, and I the orthodox Protestant Christian can be right. No problem. He would just never want to give offense to someone by saying they were wrong about something as important to them as their religion.
I marvel at the uncritical nature of such a mind. In no other part of this person’s life would he embrace two contradictory propositions as truth. Not any mathematical equations, or scientific assertions, or engineering specifications. I am sure he would be most uncomfortable if a committed relativist had designed the airplane he last flew in. But when moving from material reality to metaphysical reality, all the rules change, up can be down, in can be out, white can be black, and all at the same time!
Of course no one can do this consistently, or even close to consistently, but that’s beside the point. What matters is that the first principle of tolerance is that all views are valid, and this is enforced by a strict intolerance toward those who dare disagree, especially in the public square. Believe what you want in the privacy of your own heart, your own church or mosque or temple, but make sure when you come out the door you leave your absolutist views out of sight. (This is applied most consistently against conservative Christians, but that’s for another blog post.)
The environment in our culture where this mentality is applied with the most ruthless consistency is academia. I came across two examples recently. The president in his State of the Union address mentioned something about the Haymarket Square riot. The reference is to a riot that is as John J. Miller says in the piece, “a hallowed event in the imagination of the American Left.” The unquestioned version of the incident is that
a gathering of anarchists near Haymarket Square turned into a fatal bombing and riot. Although police never arrested the bomb-thrower, they went on to tyrannize radical groups throughout the city, in a crackdown that is often called America’s first Red Scare. Eight men were convicted of aiding and abetting murder. Four died at the end of a hangman’s noose. Today, history books portray them as the innocent victims of a sham trial: They are labor-movement martyrs who sought modest reforms in the face of ruthless robber-baron capitalism.
You can easily see why the American Left would embrace such a view as progressive dogma, because we know that in Academia truth isn’t all that important. What is important is the interpretation of history, in this example, to validate the Left’s agenda and worldview: labor movement good, capitalism bad.
Miller tells the story of what happens to an academic who dares question what is supposed to be unquestionable. When this professor, who had always believed the progressive view found out otherwise and published his findings he was a bit surprised that his peers didn’t embrace him with open arms; he shouldn’t have been. As he says, “I expected skepticism . . . . Instead, I encountered utter and complete denial of the evidence.” One ought not to question an article of faith in left-wing mythology, as Miller calls it. Maybe the truth will eventually win out, but in the citadels of tolerance they rarely tolerate anything that contradicts the fundamentals of their faith.
The other example was a study by the National Association of Scholars about how history is actually taught at two Texas universities, specs of blue in an otherwise red state. We won’t be surprised that again truth gets short shrift in modern academia. Guess what drives the teaching of history at (two) major American universities. Go ahead, guess. Yep, it’s the perfect tri-fecta: race, class, and gender.
Perhaps the most troubling response (to the study) is the oft-repeated praise of subjectivity. As phrased by UT history professor Joan Neuberger, “There is no history that is politically neutral.” Or again, from UT professor of journalism Robert Jensen: “We all politicize history.” Or by “Jacqueline,” who commented on the NAS website, “Objectivity divorced from a perspective is not possible for us humans.” These are variations on the postmodernist theme that there is no truth, but only the clash of perspectives.
No study, no matter how scrupulous, can overcome this ideological idée fixe. Of course, while perfect neutrality may be beyond our reach as limited human beings, we can—and should—strive to give full and unbiased accounts of history. The “no neutrality is possible” mantra simply exalts political partisanship under the false pretense of intellectual sophistication. College students in Texas and everywhere else deserve better. They deserve teachers committed to bringing forward not just favored fragments of the truth, but the whole truth.
Good luck with that. Not only is truth not all that important as I state above, but truth really isn’t even possible. What is possible, what is only to be tolerated is what conforms to the ideological agenda of the progressive worldview. No wonder there are so many Americans buying what our cultural elite are selling, and it ain’t the truth.