Notre Dame and the Fundamentalist Dream

Is it practical? I have no idea. But the proposal last week from students at the University of Notre Dame to block porn from campus pushes all the buttons that animated fundamentalist college reformers a century ago. It goes against the very openness—as Gene Zubovich wrote recently—that has led Catholic higher education to be so much more intellectually vibrant than the conservative evangelical versions.

notre dame

Can they keep the baby if they block the bathwater?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for student activism against pornography. I admire the zeal and vision of the Notre Dame students. I’m especially happy to see my fellow men stand up against the exploitation of women and children. As the Notre Dame signatories argued,

We are calling for this action in order to stand up for the dignity of all people, especially women. . . . Pornography is the new sex education, providing a disturbing script about what men find sexually appealing and what women should do to please them. Notre Dame’s sincere efforts to educate students about consent and other aspects of healthy sexuality are pitifully weak in light of the fact that by the time students arrive on campus, many have been addictively watching pornography for years. . . . ​Porn is not acting. The overwhelming majority of contemporary pornography is literally filmed violence against women — violence somehow rendered invisible by the context.

I don’t dispute any of that. Historically, however, the goal of blocking and shielding students as part of a righteous college education has had some unintended consequences. As I argued in Fundamentalist U, the heart and soul of the fundamentalist college dream was to block, ban, prohibit, limit, encircle, and deny. In short, what fundamentalist school founders wanted was to create an alternative system of higher education in which young people could learn without being exposed to the behaviors and attitudes that had taken over mainstream higher education.

As Gene Zubovich argued recently, Catholic higher education has had a different tradition. Of course the Catholic Church has its own long, lamentable tradition of prohibition. Nevertheless, Catholic intellectuals became the big brains of America’s conservative movement in the twentieth century, Zubovich wrote, because

Unlike evangelicals, conservative Catholics could draw on research universities, law schools, medical schools, business schools and other intellectual-producing institutions in the fight against secularism.

Now, I disagree with Zubovich’s across-the-board dismissal of academic and intellectual life at evangelical universities. It was not only Carl Henry (whom Zubovich mentions) who dreamed of creating an academic intellectual powerhouse. As I recount in Fundamentalist U, the roots of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities were in another ambitious and practical plan to improve the tenor of intellectual life in evangelical schools.

However, that quibble is beside the point this morning. Zubovich is absolutely correct in marking a big difference between the attitudes of leaders at Catholic universities, compared to evangelical ones. Faculty at Catholic universities do not have to sign detailed statements of faith. Hiring for academic positions is done by credentials, not by faith backgrounds. Most important, the expectations of students at Catholic universities has never matched the sometimes-extravagant lifestyle controls imposed by evangelical schools.

What does this all have to do with Notre Dame’s proposed porn filter? Just this: imposing a block or a filter might seem like a laudable purpose, but the long-term impact on any academic institution will be serious, even severe. Do Notre Dame’s signatories want to take their institution down the long path to wall-building?

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Some of the big stories n stuff about ILYBYGTH themes from around the interwebs this week:

The big one: Trump administration might redefine gender, at NYT.

Reactions:

Oh, no. Iowan burns gay-friendly books, at DMR.

Want to start your own NFL team? The Green Bay Packers got started for only $500, at HT.

acme packers

Got 500 bucks?

Want to succeed in life? Go to a rich-kids’ high school, at IHE. HT: MM

Why did Saudi Arabia kill Khashoggi? Mark Perry says he pointed out an unbearable truth, at AC.

David Berliner on the real roots of America’s school problems, at WaPo.

Difficult truths: Peter Greene on the hardest part of a teacher’s job.

Creationism and climate-change denial lose the standards fight in Arizona, at NCSE.

The latest from the Harvard trial: If you want diversity, forget about race and use this factor instead, at CHE.

Ouch. After all the shouting, Jennifer Burns offers yet another scholarly take on Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, at HPE.

Democracy in Chains promised to do many important things: insert Buchanan and public choice theory into our history of conservative thought and politics; highlight antidemocratic tendencies in libertarian thought; and probe the intersection of midcentury libertarianism, Southern segregation, and white supremacy. Unfortunately, the book is too heated, partisan, and shallow to accomplish these tasks successfully. Even more unfortunately, at a moment when the nation desperately needs new and creative political thinking, of the kind that often emerges out of liminal spaces between ideologies and academic disciplines, the book serves to reinscribe a Manichean right/ left binary onto the past. Rife with distortions and inaccuracies, the book is above all a missed opportunity to encourage critical thought about intellectual and political change on the American right. . . . MacLean’s eagerness for a conviction leads her to browbeat the jury. . . . Ultimately it is not a book of scholarship, but of partisanship, written to reinforce existing divides and confirm existing biases. As such it will not stand the test of time, but will stand rather as testimony to its time.

Thomas Aquinas and evolution, at Touchstone.

Catholics for Fundamentalist U: Notre Dame men’s group requests a porn filter for campus.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

While we were getting ready for Memorial Day, the world kept on turning. Here is some of what we might have missed this past week:

Polite protesters pique Pence. Notre Dame students walk out on VP Mike Pence’s commencement address.  HT: MM

reading cat

Words, words, meow…

If you want to keep your job at Yale, don’t make fun of your “white trash” neighbors.

What happened at Duke Divinity School? A professor retires angrily after a blow-up over mandatory diversity training.

Kicking white supremacists out of your gym. A Georgetown professor takes on the alt-right.

The state school board in Texas gets more power to reject textbook content.

From CNN: ten tweets that define the weird Trump/Pope Francis relationship.

What school cuts will the Trump budget make? Politico dishes on the slices. There are a few surprises.

How non-Christian does a charter school have to get? Allie Gross explores the conversion of Michigan’s Cornerstone schools to officially secular charters.

Thanks to all who sent in stories and tips.