Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Liberal Education

Ed Brayton has a couple of posts about conservative Christians blaming education and (shudder) atheistic professors for suicides among their youngsters. One father (via the ever-reliably lunatic WingNutDaily) blames Richard Dawkins for his son's suicide and Dr. Bob Jones Sr., founder of Bob Jones University (which just got around to apologizing for its "past" racism), has some gloriously melodramatic Chick tracts, sans cartoons, telling of the destructiveness of learnin'.

Interestingly, John M. Crisp, who is a member of the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, discounts the picture conservatives have of "colleges and universities as strongholds of liberal indoctrination [where] conservative students enroll in college and emerge a few years later with liberal tendencies or, in some cases, as full-blown leftists."

No apologist for liberalism, Crisp finds the parents' fears not to be irrational and cites to surveys showing that 43 percent of full-time faculty members classified their political views as "liberal," and almost 8 percent called them "far left," with the numbers for both categories rising to 59 percent of the faculty at public universities. I'm not quite sure what the "correct" proportion of liberal faculty is supposed to be but Crisp certainly doesn't take into account the possibility that education engenders liberalism simply because reality, as revealed by education, has a bias in favor of freedom of thought.

Be that as it may, Crisp doesn't think conservative parents need to worry, based on:

... three current studies that suggest that college teachers have little impact on the evolution of their students' political principles.

In fact, one study by three professors from George Mason University indicates that parents, family, news media, and peers have a much greater influence over students' political leanings than college professors do. One of the professors argues that when it comes to politics, it's "really hard to change the mind of anyone over 15."
Relevant to the claims of the mystical power of atheism to kill by even reading about it, Crisp notes:

This notion [of the lack of professorial influence] is supported by my own teaching experience with several thousand freshmen and sophomores at colleges and universities during the last 25 years. In general, students get their politics from the same place they get their religion: their parents.
Maybe those conservative Christians should be looking to how good a job they are doing rather than trying to lay off the blame on others.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn't place too much credence in Crisp ... after all he actually said this as well:

I'll admit to exposing my students to Michael Moore's "Dude, Where's My Country?" but never without balancing it with a book by right-wing counterparts like Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly.
I haven't read Moore's book so I can't give an opinion as to the appropriateness of assigning it to college students but any professor who would force anyone with an IQ above the average temperature in Nome to read Coulter or O'Reilly is unfairly pushing a liberal agenda by trying to make conservatives as a group look stupid.

When I read stories like Bob Jones Sr's little fantasies, I am reminded irresistibly of the phrase "O ye of little faith." Or maybe "It is foolish to resist, my son. You do not understand the power of The Dark Side."

Not that I believe a word of them. Even if they are based on true stories. I would not believe Jones's account of them without substantial corroboration. They make no sense, anyway. If you are suddenly persuaded that there is no afterlife, that this is all there is, then it seems a little shortsighted, to say the least, to end the only bit of life you have before it is absolutely necessary.

On the other hand we have plenty of evidence that religious belief can dispose a small but significant number of adherents towards committing suicide and taking as many of their perceived enemies with them as they can.

Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of the credulous who are convinced that exposure to atheism will destroy you just as surely and just as horribly as drinking from the wrong chalice when deciding which cup is the Holy Grail. So, if one were in a mischievous mood, one could spread a rumor that the Illuminati were planning to destroy Christianity by secretly beaming readings of The God Delusion into churches. The beams would be ultrasonic so they couldn't be heard consciously but they would still be absorbed by the unconscious mind.

Then one would wait for an explosion of requests to have religious buildings soundproofed.

If one were mischievous, that is, which of course we are not.
So, just how have you started to spread the rumor?
"Which cup is the Holy Grail?"

The chalice with the phallus has the brew that is true. (hat tip to Danny Kaye)

Bob Carroll
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