27 February 2011

Israel and the new Middle East

Writing for the National Post, veteran Canadian journalist Robert Fulford has noticed something interesting about the uprisings sweeping the Arab world: "In this widespread Arab movement, the most surprising role has been played by Israel, which has played no role at all. That’s the reverse of what the world media, the academics and the diplomats have taught us to anticipate." Time will tell whether this conspicuous lack of a role for the Jewish state is of broad significance for the region.

23 February 2011

CAUT and the Christian University

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has decided to put a stop to its investigations of the few Christian universities in this country, although it intends to maintain a list of those institutions governed by a faith statement on the presumption that they infringe on the academic freedom of faculty. In the meantime one Todd Pettigrew, a blogger for Macleans magazine, has penned this measured assessment of my employer's educational mission: Irredeemable, with this summary: "Redeemer University College, according to its published statements, promotes religion over knowledge." In a followup to this post, Pettigrew magnanimously offers this: "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."

The key to understanding Pettigrew's perspective can be found in book IV, chapter 8 of Rousseau's Social Contract, "On Civil Religion." What begins as a promise of tolerance quickly becomes perfectly intolerant of those who persist in believing in the tenets of their own religions.

In the meantime, I have written two letters to the editor, one in the local Hamilton Spectator and the other in the Canada-wide National Post, pointing out what should be obvious: that CAUT is in the grip of its own worldview from which it apparently brooks no dissent: CAUT imposes its own strict ideology on its members, and Caught up in CAUT's ideology.

To American readers, I call attention once more to the important work being done by Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies with the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, whose mission is to safeguard "the religious identity and faith-shaped standards and services of faith-based organizations, enabling them to make their distinctive and best contributions to the common good." In a context where freedom of religion is understood in narrowly individualistic terms, IRFA deserves all of our support. Perhaps it's time to extend its work north of the 49th parallel.

11 February 2011

CAUT's 'investigations' questioned

The Canadian Association of University Teachers and my own employer, Redeemer University College, are in the local and national news here in Canada and are the subject of two editorials, one in the local Hamilton Spectator: Academic witch hunt?; and another in the National Post: Stop the anti-Christian witchhunt on campus. Meanwhile the numbers of academics signing the Faculty Statement on CAUT is growing by the day. Remarkably, one of the signers is a "Former Secretary to the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee of CAUT."

08 February 2011

CAUT caught using bullying tactics

Two months ago I wrote of the Canadian Association of University Teachers' efforts to "investigate" the supposed violation of academic freedom at overtly christian universities. Shortly thereafter CAUT approached my own employer, Redeemer University College, for the same reason. Today's National Post carries this report by Charles Lewis: Professors group accused of anti-religious bullying. Here is an excerpt:

A group of academics has launched a campaign defending Canadian Christian universities against what it terms anti-religious bullying by the country's leading university teachers' federation. "What we have here is an academic union ganging up on these smaller Christian universities, and I thought it was high time that people from the public universities take a stand," said Paul Allen, an associate professor of theology at Concordia University in Montreal.

The protest is a direct response to reports that the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued against Trinity Western University in British Columbia more than a year ago, Crandall University in New Brunswick in July and Winnipeg's Canadian Mennonite University in October.

"It bothered me that this is anti-religious ideology masked as supposedly an academic freedom issue," said Mr. Allen, who has started a petition to warn about CAUT's actions. "This was an opportunity in the current [secular climate] to go after religion."

The petition, which now has 140 signatures, said the investigations are unwarranted and invasive. Mr. Allen and many others who signed the petition are members of CAUT, which has 65,000 members. Academics at the schools that were investigated are not members.

All Canadian academics who value institutional religious freedom should take a moment to sign the Faculty Statement on CAUT.

05 February 2011

Civility and the small-c constitution: lessons for Egypt’s future

The following is this week’s instalment of my biweekly column, Deliberation, for Capital Commentary, published by the Center for Public Justice:

More than half a century ago the great American journalist Walter Lippmann, in grappling with the dilemmas of democracy, urged the recovery of a public philosophy rooted in traditions of civility. Last week in this space Michael Gerson gave readers Two Reasons for Civility, averring that its firmest foundation comes from a general belief that human beings are created in God’s image. This, he claimed, is the basis on which the founders crafted their balanced constitutional system.

However, the founders’ efforts would have come to naught if the American people themselves had not already cultivated traditions of civility in their thirteen political bodies in the run-up to the outbreak of the War for Independence. These in turn were inherited largely from the centuries-old English constitution with its roots extending back at least to Magna Carta in 1215 and embodied in the principles of the Common Law.

This underscores the huge importance of what political scientists call political culture and what the classic political philosophers called the constitution, with a small “c.” A constitution in this larger sense is more than just a scrap of paper. It embodies not only the existing political institutions but the attitudes carried in the hearts of the people towards such intangibles as respect for authority, the rule of law, styles of political leadership and tolerance of corruption. This unwritten constitution is more enduring than a document that might bear that title. It would not be inaccurate to conclude that the American small-c constitution is much older than the document titled the Constitution of the United States of America, the latter of which could not exist without the former.

The true genius of the American constitution lies, not with the founders, astute though they may have been, but with the people themselves. Had the traditions of civility not already been a part of this constitution, all the good intentions of the architects of the Constitution would have fallen flat. Examples of this are not difficult to find. After the outbreak of revolution in 1789 France underwent multiple régime changes. Its paper constitutions were so short-lived that one observer has called them “periodical literature.” Yet its small-c constitution, with its centuries-old tradition of strong unitary government capped by a powerful executive, has been more durable, eventually culminating in the institutions of the Fifth Republic, in effect since 1958.

At the moment we are facing what appears to be a revolution in Egypt that will have repercussions throughout North Africa and the Middle East. To champion democratic reforms in that country seems a sensible policy for the United States to pursue. Clearly the foreign policy “realists” who support a dictator simply because he is “our” dictator are asking for trouble over the long term as the people in the street take matters into their own hands.

Nevertheless, building democracy in the region is no simple matter, as institutions require the living traditions of civility rooted in a longstanding small-c constitution. The notion that we can simply transplant institutions that flourish in one environment into a less hospitable one stands in strong need of a reality check. Successfully channelling street protests into orderly public participation at the polls is by no means assured. Political cultures do not change that quickly.

This is not to say that we should give up hope. It is to say that finely-tuned institutions cannot by themselves create a political culture of civility. To do this requires hard work on the part of the people themselves, probably starting at the local level and working with the existing institutions of civil society. Change may come over many years—perhaps generations—but it will require more than a measure of patience on everyone’s part.

02 February 2011

Tchividjian corrects defective theology

The Rev. Tullian Tchividjian effectively skewers the popular “left behind” theology in this article in The Worldview Church: Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different.

Matthew 24:37-41 is a key passage some Christians use to justify an escapist theology, approaching this world with a “Why shine the brass on a sinking ship?” attitude. In this passage Jesus likens “the coming of the Son of Man” to the time of Noah, when people “were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.” Then Jesus gives two brief pictures of the effect of his coming: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.”

These verses have been employed to support the idea that God will one day evacuate, or “rapture,” all the righteous people, leaving behind an evil world destined for annihilation. Therefore, the thinking goes, Christians should focus exclusively on seeking to rescue lost souls rather than waste time trying to fix things that are broken in this doomed world. This perspective is evidenced in a comment I read not long ago from a well-known Bible teacher: “Evangelism is the only reason God’s people are still on earth.”

But a closer look at the context reveals that in those pictures Jesus gave of men in the field and women at the mill, those “left behind” are the righteous rather than the unrighteous. Like the people in Noah’s day who were “swept away,” leaving behind Noah and his family to rebuild the world, so the unrighteous are “taken,” while the righteous are left behind. Why? Because this world belongs to God, and he’s in the process of gaining it all back, not giving it all up.

This is taken from Tchividjian’s new book, Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different. If this brief excerpt is any indication, the book as a whole should be worth reading.


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