March 20, 2008
Revenge of the Mutterites
Last week I spent five frenetic days at a conference on politics and religion held at Trinity Western University, outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. A faculty member, Grant Havers, who arranged to have me invited, and his gracious fiancÃ©e, Theresa, were my kind hosts; and they took me on the last day of my visit on a trip to Victoria, where I was able to gaze at Victorian architectural splendors, on a Pacific Northwest outpost of what had once been the glorious British Empire. I was also given an interview on a Vancouver TV channel, dedicated to “religious subjects,” and as Fate would have it, I was interviewed about a week after “one of the US’s most important conservatives,” as he was described, had appeared on the same program. This dignitary who had preceded me, and had spoken ill of my person, was none other than Taki’s favorite punching bag, the Frum.
But the memories of my trip that may stay with me longest concern the presentations that came from some of my fellow-participants, together with the reactions these talks evoked among the auditors. From having listened to these presentations, and particularly to two of them delivered by a self-described “metro sexual, leftist” from the New School for Social Research, and to the comments of faculty respondents, I extracted the following, mind-boggling opinions: All particularity is bad, and especially the kind that is associated with religion, and most especially with Christianity. But since people need “fictions” to organize themselves collectively, it would be best to produce “narratives that people would talk about but not really believe in.” Holding “absolute beliefs” can be extremely perilous and may even undermine the belief in equality, which is what all of us should be for. The person offering these opinions also insisted that Jesus had given his life during “a hermeneutic encounter” in which he had expressed doubts about his own position. Unfortunately, however, Christianity’s founder had established a religion that led to sexism and, what is more, to many deaths at the hands of religious bigots. When I interrupted the speaker (during an endless monologue delivered at a dinner on the last evening of the conference) and asked whether the Communists had killed as many people as Christian sexists, his answer was quite simply “that’s debatable.” I was happy to learn that the speaker, a successful academic, was bridging the gap between Marxism and the post-Marxist Left, by combining a denial of Communist mass-murder with multicultural incoherence.
One of his admirers among the assembled guests also insisted that we should not forget about “the sexist oppression” that still rages among Protestants because of their reliance on the Bible. Instead of tailoring this text to fit the feminist movement, Protestants (which ones were not indicated) continued to revere ancient passages emphasizing gender distinctions. A guest from Mount St. Mary, who taught religion there, contrasted this stubborn Biblicism to the more enlightened views of Muslims, whose account of the fall did not place special blame on the female sex. This more generous view, apparently found in the Koran, accounted for the fact that Muslims treat women more kindly than do Christians. When I suggested this was not in fact the case, my fellow-academic qualified her statement by explaining that “politically Muslims do treat women differently from men.” Presumably daily life in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistani villages reflected the perfect application of the principles of the National Organization of Women.
By Friday afternoon, after an “interfaith dialogue,” in which a local Muslim businessman had repeated the mantra “our faith is all about peace,” a statement that seemed to have left the audience tingling with interfaith good will, I was becoming stupefied by diversity. But then while our metro-sexual star was discoursing on the danger of religious beliefs and his despair over not being able to embrace “faith positions” because of their incompatibility with his openness to dialogue, and belief in equality (I”m not sure how this last belief is not a belief), the gathering suddenly turned electric. The speaker decided to open the session to questions, but once having announced that, began to look with growing panic at the right corner of the auditorium. There I was seated with Grant, Theresa, and a Boston Irish faculty member who taught communications. My companions were giggling slightly but as far as I could tell, none of them was making noise. At that point the speaker on the podium turned toward me and asked if I had raised a question. My answer was “not yet. I”m still listening in rapt attention.” He then raised his voice to explain: “I think that some muttering is coming from over there.” It was as if the speaker were preparing for a full-scale attack from those who had had enough of his verbal exhibitionism and ritualized PC cringes.
I recall that two of the presumed mutterers, Grant and myself, let the poseur have it good, and particularly when he tried to explain that Osama Ben Laden did not have the slightest interest in converting anyone in the West to Islam. Allegedly Osama was simply reacting against Western invaders. (One need not support W’s war of choice in Iraq in order to recognize the silliness of this whitewash of an international terrorist who has never hidden his conversionary agenda or his hatred for Christians and Jews.) Although the speaker claimed to reject all religions equally, Muslims seemed to fare better in his hermeneutic encounters than the utterly “hate-filled” religion of the West. Grant tried to press the point that Muslim institutions in Saudi Arabia would not be inviting him to come to insult them in the way Evangelical Protestants were doing at his university. At least on the question of tolerance, the speaker should have been honest enough to concede the obvious. Western Trinity was an institution whose faculty affirmed their adherence each year to the Nicene Creed. Nonetheless, Grant went on to explain, its faculty and officers had provided a forum and remuneration for those who were happy to trash their religious convictions.
One point that we Mutterites (that is, members of an only recently discovered remnant of a long lost Reformation sect) discussed after the session is whether academics in high place “really believe the garbage we had listened to.” In my view, most of them probably only accept in some very general sense what they publicly espouse. What they say is so plainly self-contradictory and so counterfactual that it is impossible to imagine that otherwise intelligent people could hold such views to be true. It is utter nonsense to assert that Europeans who had abandoned all their age-old traditions and beliefs would now find unity by embracing a contrived “narrative” that they knew to be a “fiction.” Without any doubt the careers and social positions of those who spoke like this depend on their willingness to express such opinions, with a modicum of fervor. This is not to say that ordinary people whom I met in Canada believed anything more substantial. For most of the public opinion I encountered in Canada corresponded closely to what one would hear in our country from a young Obamaite. Canadians are remarkably willing to go along with PC as a civil religion; and what our metro-sexual and feminist participants had to say differed little in its conclusions from what Canadians have been taught to swallow with their baby pabulum.
But intellectuals are a different matter, and the ones who were invited to Western Trinity seemed to have been far too literate and far too well educated in the political and religious classics of the West to have inwardly accepted the drivel they regaled us with. At the end of the day, successful academics in the humanities, that is, the ones who are thriving in elite institutions, may be more cynical than psychotic. Grant, Theresa, and the fellow from Boston suggested what we had heard indicates a contagious mental illness or at least the willingness of intellectuals to pretend to suffer from it. In Canada there are already functioning Human Rights courts that go after those who state views of the kind produced on this website too loudly.