Gay Jesus on Campus

The ascent of the doctrine of political correctness on college campuses has been well documented by Dinesh D’Souza in Illiberal Education: Political Correctness and the College Experience, Roger Kimball in Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education, and others. In a seminal work, The Closing of the American Mind, philosopher Allan Bloom provided the intellectual underpinning for the proposition that too often “higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today students.”

Their charter and nature ought to make universities intellectual free-fire zones where no idea is so repugnant, so inane, so unconventional or so brilliant that it cannot find a forum for expression. Freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are necessary prerequisites of academic freedom.

Unfortunately, many universities, fearful that protected groups might have their exquisitely delicate sensitivities offended, have instituted speech codes. The courts have been fairly consistent in striking down these codes as violations of the First Amendment, so they are often disguised as anti-harassment policies.

Rather than championing free speech, much intellectual energy on campuses has been devoted to devising subtle ways of enabling the thought police, without overtly violating the First Amendment. The Left have turned the ethos on campuses upside down. Free inquiry has too often been replaced by a Liberal orthodoxy no less repressive in its own way, than the Catholic Church’s silencing of Galileo for his suggestion that the Earth revolved around the Sun. It is not realistic to hide behind the notion that feelings need to be protected. Civil debate about fundamental and important issues will often and ought to evoke profound discomfort. Protecting people from intellectual and emotional distress hinders intellectual and emotional growth.

However, there are certain groups that appear to deserve no respectful deference, and are so retrograde that offending and insulting their beliefs is not only tolerated but considered evidence of open-mindedness. One such group is Conservative Christians.

The Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne is allowing performances of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi on campus. The play is set in Corpus Christi, Texas, but is not a very subtle retelling of the story of Jesus Christ. One of the main themes is the baseless assertion that Christ and his disciples were practicing homosexuals. Although the play’s defenders suggest that the play is a respectful and sympathetic account of one man’s theology and not meant to offend, the play is deliberately provocative. One cannot use the dialogue “F*** God” and honestly contend that people will not be offended. The play represents bad history and morally corrupt theology that is deliberately offensive to many Christians. If you believe the reviews, it does not even represent good drama.

Chancellor Michael Wartell defends allowing the play’s performance as part of the university’s charter of academic freedom on campus. Blind squirrels sometimes happen upon a nut and in this case Wartell is correct. Foolish ideas have a necessary place on campus. However, would Wartell mount the same difficult barricades if the play were offensive to the gay community? Would Wartell allow the performance of a play on campus that portrayed Matthew Shepard, the gay man brutally murdered in Wyoming, in a negative light? I would not bet on it.

This incident makes clear the double standard with regard to free speech and academic freedom on college campuses. Some ideas are protected with admirable vigilance, while others are suppressed or even prohibited. If you are Conservative or Christian your ideas can be lampooned and ridiculed with impunity. If you are a member of a protected group and adhere to the conventional orthodoxy you are not even asked to feel uncomfortable. Ironically, in the long run, such treatment will toughen Conservatives; hone their arguments and ideology, while the intellectual muscles of the Left will atrophy from disuse. Ideas that require suppression to survive will in the long run be recognized for their vacuousness.

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