When Damon Linker taught political philosophy at Brigham Young University, his contract required that he, one of few non-Mormons at a college run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “abide by the university’s strict honor code, which mandated that I shave my beard, refrain from uttering curse words, and forswear alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea for the entire duration of my employment.”
Yet strangely enough, he discovered that within a system of strict behavioral requirements, academic freedom flourished. “I was perfectly free to teach whatever I wanted in the classroom. And I did,” including the radical writings of everyone from Machiavelli to Rousseau to Nietzche and his suggestion that “God is dead.” When a singular complaint arose about a scandalous scene in Aristophanes’ The Clouds, the department chair let Linker know “that I had his support. There was no reprimand” — nor demand for trigger warnings or syllabus alterations.
Linker’s conclusion, that faith-based schools not swept up in illiberal thought currents might become the last bastions of liberal thought, provides an interesting contrast toThe Atlantic‘s epic critique of higher education, a contrast that begets broader questions about the role of religion in promoting true tolerance. While elite college students in The Atlantic‘s analysis fall prey to living in perpetual victimhood, labeling, and viewing anyone in disagreement as an enemy, religion encourages personal responsibility, outreach, and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
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