Normally I don’t click anything on the tab “popular on youtube,” but one feature video clip caught my eye because it highlighted my undergrad alma mater U.C. Berkeley (Go Bears!). I entered Berkeley as a pre-med English major back in 1986 and graduated with the class of 1991 (with an interm year as an English teacher and short term missionary to Japan in 1990). In 1986, it was at the peak of the Berkeley protests against Apartheid in South Africa. I remember the protests vividly and became quickly enthralled with the free speech movement, its history and practice, on the campus.
|Free Speech Demonstration in front of Sproul Hall at
the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid/late-1980’s
image credit: Regional Oral History Office of UCB
Apparently the (in)famous talk show host Bill Maher of RealTime with Bill Maher was asked to be the commencement speaker for the December graduating class of 2014 at Cal Berkeley. Some have urged U.C. Berkeley officials to rescind their invitation in light of some comments he made concerning Islam that they found offensive. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Maher, and some of his caricatures of Christianity are inaccurate and hyperbolic in my opinion (though he at times does point out some real issues of hypocrisy so we can learn from the man!). I’m not a political liberal, nor am I a conservative. I vote on issues and across party lines.
However, I did think his short 3 1/2 minute excursis on the nature and purpose of liberal arts education was a fantastic segue into a deeper conversation on the Christian liberal arts curriculum. You can watch the video below:
Bill’s best line is: “Whoever told you that you only had to hear whatever did not upset you?!” (2:20). I showed this clip to my undergraduate Paul course before we move to the 3rd leg of the course: themes and major issues of contemporary importance in the Pauline letters. I exhorted my class to learn how to exchange ideas and hear the other person, even a person’s ideas with whom we strongly disagree, and let the exchange lead to a deeper discourse so both parties can benefit and learn from each other.
I’m not a fan of censuring or silencing a critic. There are ways to voice disagreement that lead to further dialogue and understanding, rather than stifle them. If there are bad ideas in circulation and popularized by our North American culture, then the solution to bad ideas is not censorship. It is replacing bad ideas with better ones. That is the nature of a liberal arts education.
For the Christian, the church needs to finds ways to enter the public forum, fight for its religious freedom, and not let itself be censured. The contribution that the church can make to public policy and programming can help our neighbors understand themselves more critically. Hearing our neighbors helps us test the basis of our convictions and see ourselves more clearly as well. Hopefully we can return to the roots of the liberal arts education and present a distinctly Christian voice and contribution to public dialogue on issues that are dear to us all.