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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Proofs Society Is Regressing: Abdicating Our Right to Speak

Imagine you had two children. One became a philosophy professor, the other an engineer. Which would you say chose the more valuable occupation? Would the choice of their respective careers demonstrate which child was more intelligent? Which one knew the world better? Today, it is the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses that are emphasized in schools. The humanities, like literature, history, and philosophy are considered additions to the sciences, not equally necessary to them. But that's because our society is terribly biased.

The bias stems from a widespread belief that society always progresses forward. That is, the beliefs and knowledge we have today supersedes those of a century ago. Three hundred years ago humanity was even more superstitious and ignorant than the people of the last century and a thousand years ago they were even worse. Humanity has been marching in an upward trajectory and we've never been smarter or understood our world better than we do today.

I think that such a belief is itself indicative of the poor intellectual shape to which modern culture has succumbed. Of course we know more about science. We can do things that were heretofore unimaginable. But while it is true we know more about the workings of our world, it is equally true we know less about the workings of ourselves and what makes civilizations prosper. We've emphasized our ability to manipulate our environment while abandoning the values and philosophies that allowed us to achieve such feats in the first place.

Living in The Age of Feeling

Historians sometimes classify human history into specific ages where the culture stresses specific aspects of their society. We had the Age of Empires with Greece and Rome. Then, as Fulton J. Sheen notes, the Middle Ages would be classified as the Age of Faith. After the renaissance, humanity entered the Age of Reason. So, what age now we are living now? Sheen says we are now living in the Age of Feeling.1 We are living is what Sorokin labeled a sensate culture. We place too much value on the feelings we and others feel, and it is making us stupider as a culture.

I can think of at least three ways our culture has demonstrated it values feeling about all else:
  1. We would sacrifice our rights rather than feel uncomfortable
  2. We would ignore our biology instead of recognize human limitations
  3. We would sacrifice excellence in exchange for parity
Let's look at the first of these; our society is giving up our rights as human beings in order to promote the comfort of others.

Uncomfortable Speech is No Longer Tolerated

During the Age of Reason, very intelligent people recognized that a free and modern society could only prosper through the free exchange of ideas. This meant that freedom to express unpopular ideas would be crucial to advancement. Today, we have taken the opposite position, and this has been never more apparent than in our institutions of higher educations. Colleges were viewed as the place that promoted the free exchange of ideas. Now, they shelter and cloister their students from anything that a small elite defines as "hateful" or offensive.  Schools like Oberlin College offer "trigger-warnings" on course material that may upset a student.

Other schools like Rutgers University and Smith College have disinvited speakers because a small group of students and faculty disagreed with their political positions. Oberlin did host Christina Hoff Sommers, only to have students protest her presence, try to shout her down, or like those at Georgetown create "safe spaces" for students where they wouldn't listen to the speaker and instead take comfort in the seclusion of comfortable ignorance. How is this helping to shape the future leaders in society? How can we take Oberlin or its students seriously when instead of listening to an intelligent, articulate adult present her case on a position you may disagree with, you instead want to act like a child and hold your fingers in your ears? That isn't progress; that regress.

There are two additional ways our society demonstrates that it is becoming less advanced rather than more advanced. I will look at each ibn upcoming blog posts. But for now, pray that enough people become sickened by such antics that they stand up for our right to free speech, even speech with which they disagree. One good way of doing this is to not give money to any college or university that upholds things like speech codes on campus. See the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's latest report to find out which schools meet this criterion.

Continue to part two of this article ».


1. Sheen, Fulton J. Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. Print. 23.
Image courtesy Emanuela Franchini and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

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