Debate Forum Left, 9/27/11

Sins of Faithless Trolls (SOFT)

By  Benjamin Tompkins

Benjamin Tompkins

Well of course the University of Dayton (UD) is “allowed” to deny the Society of Freethinkers (SOFT) the right to organize, the same way the Catholic Church is “allowed” to deem homosexuality a sin and Ben Roethlisberger is “allowed” to rape people as long as he’s winning Super Bowls. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and UD is a private school which can do whatever it wants. If they chose to exercise that right in a way that degrades their intellectual and religious beliefs, I suppose that’s their choice.

And yes, I said “degrades.” See, in many ways the Catholic Church views their beliefs in the same way my grandparents view home décor. They evolved with the times until one day they decided to absolve themselves from the responsibility of evolution. Unfortunately for people with epilepsy, my grandparents made this decision around 1977. Orders of magnitude more unfortunately for the rest of the world, the Catholic Church made that decision about their beliefs and the nature of the universe around 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea, and ever since the paddy wagon of “undeniable reality” has had to drag them into the future kicking, screaming, torturing, excommunicating and generally condemning everything in sight.

This is why I don’t have a particularly high regard for the “Catholic tradition of education.” The Catholic tradition of education, and indeed all religious education, is and has always been predicated on the idea that education should reinforce religious belief. That’s why the Catholic Church’s power peaked in the Dark Ages. Monks in ivory towers were able to use Aristotle and Plato to ennoble Catholic belief because nobody else could read and think critically about the veracity of their ideas. Once we got to the Renaissance, the Catholic Church began taking a very dim view of any scholarly thought that challenged the carefully constructed worldview around which they developed their faith. Think of how well it went for Galileo when he had the audacity to suggest that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe.

One would think, and I suppose that implies a willingness to think, that ideas which challenge one’s worldview would be skeptically welcome to any serious scholarly body. Take a look at CERN and the apparent discovery of particles that violate the Theory of Relativity. If this is true, it is the single most important development in physics in the last 100 years.

As extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, the scientific community is moving forward very skeptically. But they are moving forward. They are willing to test and ultimately accept whatever the repeatedly confirmed evidence may show regardless of the intellectual comfort afforded by Einstein’s body of work. This is the action of intellectual courage.

Any education system whereby articles of faith are allowed to supplant free thought and the pursuit of rational evidence is a system of intellectual cowardice.

This is the great failing of all religious education. There comes a point — there always comes a point — where the curriculum becomes governed by the fear of cognitive dissonance.

This is why arguing with irrationally over-dedicated religious individuals is horribly frustrating. They will at once declare themselves the caretakers of all ethical thought, and then have the audacity to place their beliefs beyond intellectual reproach. It’s not only sickeningly arrogant, it’s dangerous, and to that end I repose myself on the judgment of my readership. The only thing worse than being that person, is being the person who is silently complicit with this behavior because the Constitution of the United States says they are “allowed” their opinion. Far worse than being ignorant is being too lazy to do anything about it.

Back to UD…

By denying an otherwise reasonable application for SOFT to become a recognized student organization, UD is admitting their own lack of faith in the values of the mission statement in which they are so proud. That would be:

We have faith in knowledge.

We have faith in community.

We have faith.

If they truly believe that the foundation of higher learning is the belief in a higher power, then what better way to express their confidence in this principle than by allowing the student body to create a forum in which this idea is discussed? Yes, they are a Catholic school. Yes, they have a stake in the validity of Catholic thought. But when you decide that there comes a point where your ideas should no longer be challenged, you surrender the right to be taken seriously as an intellectual or educational institution. The erosion of that confidence should be the single most terrifying thing that can happen to a university. Thank God UD has the vestments of their faith in which to enrobe themselves for consolation..

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at BenTompkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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