Hey Pastor Fosdick, The Fundamentalists Did Win

The worldly worldlings are worried about speech and its power to hurt

The desire to make the world a tolerant and liberated place has now extended to Princeton University where students are objecting both to associations between the institution and its former president, Woodrow Wilson, but also to the word — wait for it — “master.” (Will Princeton stop granting “Masters” degrees?)

 

First it was smoking. I grew up in a fundamentalist home where smoking was off limits. I have also related the story of how devastated I was when I first saw Richie (later Dick) Allen smoking in the Phillies’ dugout. But now the world has turned into the Hart home (of my parents). Thankfully, the missus tolerates an occasional cigar indoors. But everywhere else in “the worldly world,” I can’t smoke (at least indoors). Not even women, who have absolute sovereignty over their bodies in the pro-choice world, may light up indoors. When will that barrier to human freedom topple?

Now it is language. The worldly worldlings are as worried about speech and its power to hurt as my fundamentalist fellow believers were about four-letter words and references to sex or body parts. The desire to make the world a tolerant and liberated place has now extended to Princeton University where students are objecting both to associations between the institution and its former president, Woodrow Wilson, but also to the word — wait for it — “master.” (Will Princeton stop granting “Masters” degrees?)

The group Black Justice League occupied the office of President Christopher L. Eisgruber at Princeton and offered a series of demands: that the university “acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and how he impacted campus policy and culture,” and that all buildings and programs named for Wilson have their names changed. The students also demanded that a portrait of Wilson come down from a dining hall. Other demands include having “classes on the history of marginalized peoples” be added to distribution requirements, and that a “cultural space on campus” be “dedicated specifically to black students.”

Also on Wednesday, the masters of Princeton’s residential colleges decided to stop calling themselves masters and instead to use the term “head of the college.”

At protests at Yale University, minority students have said that the word “master” is associated with slavery in ways that make it an inappropriate title for a college official.

Princeton’s announcement of the change noted that the use of “master” in the sense of an academic leader predates American slavery and has nothing to do with it.

“Though we are aware that the term ‘master’ has a long history of use in universities (indeed since medieval times), it seems to me by now to be anachronistic and unfortunate for the positions we hold,” said a statement from Sandra Bermann, head of Whitman College, Cotsen Professor of the Humanities and professor of comparative literature. “We are glad to take on the designation as ‘head of the college’ that describes our role more aptly.”

My forebears would have put “head” in Margaret Gray’s “filth file” because of its phalic associations. But everyone knows that contemporary fundamentalists give a pass to sex.

Perhaps the oddest part of this story was the following comment:

“We owe nothing to people who are deeply flawed,” the essay says. “There is an impulsive reaction to want to ignore uncomfortable or questionable legacies. However, what does it say about our society if we continue to glorify legacies without acknowledging — and at the very least caring about — the continuous promotion of unrectified inequalities and injustices? … By not recognizing the importance of this discourse, the university is telling its marginalized community and the outside world that it values its bleached-clean version of history over the prolonged discomfort and alienation of students of color. This erasure is especially dangerous in the present context of state-sanctioned violence against black people that prolongs this genocide.”

Actually, everyone owes a debt to our deeply flawed first parents, which is what we call original sin. But today’s self-righteous never recognize their own flaws or the possibility that they may have them.

And forget about all that outrage over Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo for its iconoclastic and blasphemous covers. The self-righteous, whether believers or tolerantists, cannot abide sin in this world.

Wait, maybe Fosdick won after all.

D.G. Hart is Visiting Professor of History at Hillsdale College in Michigan, and also serves as an elder for a new Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Hillsdale. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.