Editor’s Note: We acknowledge that Critical Race Theory and the issues that its practitioners desire to address are extremely complex topics. As an independent publication, The Beacon refuses to shy away from these difficult conversations. We believe that through open dialogue and good-faith discussion, we grow wiser, foster peace, and determine measured solutions. In an effort to support free speech and productive dialogue, we welcome all opinions. When you disagree with an author we publish, we strongly encourage you to help expand the conversation by submitting a comment or response at pepperdinebeacon.com/join.
Author’s note: This essay, written in November of 2020, was part of an ongoing discussion about the 1619 Project at Pepperdine and in response to the claims and demands of Pepperdine faculty and others who voiced support for Critical Race Theory and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”
Hope breaks in. Hope breaks through the fear and sadness, even the moral disgust, of this time. I detect the lineaments of greatness at Pepperdine even as I hear (or, rather, read) the hateful baying of moralists—mobs (1) of PhDs who have abandoned not only Christian charity but all pretense at intellectual integrity. Hate revealed draws forth magnanimous souls—or at least those souls armed with a Christian vision of a great university dedicated to truth and love rather than ideology and hate. Anti-intellectualism invites a reaction by those who love truth and the permanent things.
I write this letter because I believe that Pepperdine University is in the throes of an identity crisis, which is to say a crisis of mission and purpose. However painful this enterprise, it is also a great opportunity to gain new clarity, to see with new eyes, to rethink the most cherished ideals in light of new circumstances. While others who are aware of my letter are willing to sign it, I write in my own name, taking full and sole responsibility for the claims that I make. Here I want to penetrate to principles and contrast the kind of university being invoked by ideological calls for transformation with a vision of a Christian university devoted to the pursuit of truth and the formation of liberal, free, and magnanimous souls.
The Woke University (2)
To this end, I want to begin by offering as generous a characterization of those with whom I disagree as possible, though I do not expect any one person to agree fully with my broad characterization. I’m hoping to provide the kind of defense of their ideas that they themselves (3) have, so far, refused to offer. As shorthand, I’ll refer to this vision as a “woke university” and one that employs the key categories—categories used frequently and officially at Pepperdine University—of “diversity, equity and inclusion,” and is broadly organized around the theoretical structure known as Critical Race Theory (CRT) and dedicated to, among other things, the goals of social justice.
A woke university exists for the purpose of changing or transforming society—this is its highest and most pressing mission. Society needs fundamental transformation rather than reforming, to say nothing of conserving, because it is systemically unjust, the product of some sort of conquest (varying in particulars) and the means of ongoing oppression. In contrast to the existing oppressive society, a woke university must offer both a compelling vision of a just society and a means of revolution. This combination of a theory of a just society and the means of accomplishing it is called praxis: theory-inspired action dedicated to the goal of social change. For this reason, the institution historically most associated with retention of culture and intellectual progress, for reflection in the pursuit of truth, must have its mission redefined to be devoted to the surpassing task of preparing people to act (praxis). Reflection without action, no matter how radical the ideas, only supports the existing oppression. Always, the key fact to remember is that all evils we face are products of a system and so the evils can only be eliminated by transforming the system.
To empower people for praxis they must come to understand the world as it is (the theory side of praxis) and to understand the systemic nature of the oppression, including its more seductive, and often hidden, elements. Students need to not only internalize the claim that they live in a society built on oppression and exploitation, but they must be able to identify and label the specific expressions of this oppression with particular emphasis on the deeper structural elements that otherwise enslave people in a false consciousness. In recent years, the dominant theory has come in the form of Critical Race Theory, which argues that race is the primary means by which the system oppresses. A racial hierarchy is built into our society and into our entire history, with whites on top and blacks at the bottom. (Similar claims could be made about gender.)
The privilege of whiteness, given this view of society, is the beginning place for theorizing toward action today. Because the problem is systemic and the system works on every single person within the system in ways that are often invisible without the lens of the proper theory, we can speak of people in terms of groups and know that every member of those groups has the same essential characteristics. White privilege affects all whites and gives them advantages that only white people can have—advantages that whites must be compelled to recognize. To see one’s privilege requires that one listen and not speak (speaking is an exercise of power in this context), to recognize and eventually to confess publicly that, until the society has undergone a fundamental transformation, one will remain privileged. This privilege means that white people are naturally (essentially) racists and those white people who deny that they are racist by reference to some set of beliefs or actions only expose their fragility (4) through defensiveness. Similarly, blacks cannot be racists since they belong, by virtue of their black-ness, to the oppressed class. Their oppression is real no matter their accomplishments or situation and certainly it is real no matter their beliefs. Importantly, these are structural elements and so racism is necessarily a part of our society until the structure is dismantled and replaced with full equality of outcome, i.e., equity.
It is important to note that the goals of antiracism as understood by the woke university requires destroying all narratives (all histories) that are not fixed on the story of conquest and the subsequent structures of oppression. The narratives that flow from the system reinforce the inequality, the racism, and the other evils that praxis is supposed to address. This oppressive narrative, insofar as it is repeated and believed, perpetuates oppression, making the subversion of the oppressive narrative a high priority, even a necessary condition, for the fundamental transformation of society.
The final goal of praxis (5) is transformation to full equality of outcome. The goals of social justice all relate to one form or another of equality. Equality is the most important moral objective but it is also among the most complex ideas and goals. Full equality is necessary for many moral purposes including the goal of having an individual pursue her own life, to craft her own identity authentically and freely. To be so liberated and empowered to craft one’s own identity requires that others recognize the authenticity of one’s self and so necessitates a social order that affirms all such efforts. The final objective of equality (but not the only one, as I’ve shown) is equity, which is equality of outcome—the fullest measure of equality.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are the key institutional elements. Diversity refers to those groups (essentialized necessarily because of the system of oppression) that are not privileged, that are oppressed. An institution needs to focus on bringing in members of these groups so that they have a voice, so that those who have privilege can hear their authentic stories and experiences, and so the institution as a whole will be transformed by empowering them. Inclusion requires a system of acceptance of all the experiential knowledge (6) the various members of these communities bring to the institution. Those with privilege must defer since they lack the experiences that allow them to know or understand. Equity is an ideal that structures the moral purpose of the institution, going beyond equality of access or opportunity to an instantiated, performed, equity. Only with equity can we say that the institution has been transformed.
The Christian Liberal Arts University
The woke university, for reasons I’ve tried to explain, is not organized around the pursuit of truth, the virtues of reflection, or the unchanging human questions. The woke university is action oriented around a system of beliefs that function as unquestioned (and unquestionable) knowledge about social reality and moral claims about human goods. To put it one way, the woke university is concerned with a certain definition of justice and not political liberty; it is focused on monism (singularity of purpose and belief) not pluralism, it is more interested in power (and the uses of power) than it is in authority, on purity rather than human complexity and messiness. These contrasts are important to discern differences in purpose and mission.
With Andrew Yuengert, I wrote a defense of a Christian University as a countercultural idea; you can read that here: https://lawliberty.org/the-countercultural-idea-of-a-christian-university/. In the current statement, I want to give a different account of this kind of university that will suggest the contrast between these competing and, I believe, incompatible, visions. We can hope to “see” the way the other side sees but we cannot expect to merge the horizons.
Organic. A university ought to be organically connected to its founding purposes, to its various responses to emerging circumstances, and to the way this historical institutional reality engages in its own time. Each of these elements is constitutive of a healthy institution (or a healthy person) that knows what it is and how to be true to its deepest self even as it adjusts. What we were before is part of what we are now and both are necessary to understand what we can be in the near future. Transformation means death to this university—a destruction of what we have been in order to become a new institution organized around a non-historical, non-organic, and abstract ideal.
As a result, the search for Pepperdine’s mission and purpose today must begin with an understanding of its past. This includes not only the way the institution has declared and has instantiated its mission over time, but a deeper and more nuanced conception of how it relates to a religious heritage that serves as a foundation without Pepperdine becoming a denominational university.
Retention. Humans are cultural beings. We deepen our humanity through cultural accomplishments like language, art, norms, folk-ways, and technology, among others. A university has, near the center of its purpose, the obligation to retain and pass down a cultural inheritance in all its richness and complexity. Each student has a right to the riches of her heritage, and at a university she can begin to take hold of Homer, Ralph Ellison, Dante, the Beatles, Newton, Plato, and an overwhelming richness of thought, beauty, knowledge and techniques. As an institution rooted in a historical stream, drawing sustenance from the many rivulets of traditions that become part of that stream, a university invites all manner of people, from all cultures, to take claim to this inheritance as their own and on their own terms. But this invitation is impossible without a university so rooted. A globalist university, standing above traditions, is a thin and vacuous place, prone to the intellectually effervescent and swept away by shifting moral winds. Deracinated, globalists lack the ground—the cultural home—from which to engage the complexity of the world, making them strangely provincial, especially historically provincial. A globalist university is as rootless—clueless—as the global citizen. Every human deserves a home from which to venture into the world.
When George Santayana made his claim that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” he was stressing the necessity of retention. If one loses access to Shakespeare, or Gibbon, or Virgil, one must begin without the aid of their greatness (one cannot stand on their shoulders); one must begin one’s thinking, one’s art, and one’s search for truth as though one is starting over again, on the ground and in nature. The loss is catastrophic—incalculable. Not only does one lose one’s cultural and intellectual inheritance but one must live a closed and provincial life, unaware, unaltered, by the special kind of knowledge that comes by way of history and heritage, by broadening one’s horizons to include the strange and mind-expanding times that both shape our own culture AND are yet sufficiently alien to our experiences to force an expansion of our imagination. Nothing else functions this way,—to help explain one’s own life in time while shaking one out of the provincialism of one’s own time. The way a deep understanding of the past serves to help explain ourselves while altering ourselves is something unknown—even unimaginable—to both the uneducated and the ideological.
Because retention of a heritage, a culture, requires the narration called history, we come to discover something about human nature that is profound and not available any other way. Humans are historical creatures. We are who we are only because of what happened before us. We employ a language handed to us. We operate with norms and habits that we didn’t create alone. We suffer from injustices that reach back centuries and that darken our own self-understanding. Through all of these things, and so much more, we confront the crooked path of history: the contingency of human life in time, the irony and unexpected consequences of human actions, the imponderables that impinge, like acts of God or nature, on the course of human history. In no other way can humans come to appreciate fully and properly the fact that we did not create ourselves, that human life is never clean, that human knowledge is dim, and that we live in stories that we do not write fully ourselves and that, as we participate in these stories, we necessarily alter the lives of those many generations that are to follow.
Translation. The university is both a product of a historical culture and a creation meant to shape humans to be cosmopolitan, open, and inquisitive. One of the truly beautiful opportunities of a university education is to learn the art of translation. By translation I mean many things, including the ability to engage with many different “others” —things and peoples and concepts most alien—and decide which of these others ought to become a part of one’s self.
Translation, therefore, is a challenge to the characterization of the encounter of two cultures as “cultural appropriation,” “cultural borrowing,” “cultural blending,” or “cultural competency.” “Cultural appropriation,” when taken in combination with a race-based hierarchical view of the world, necessarily sees the act of incorporating foreign ideas, cultural forms, norms, folkways, or customs as an act of power that reifies oppression. “Cultural borrowing” assumes that these cultural forms, etc. can be had only on a temporary basis, on loan. “Cultural blending” suggests that those cultural forms, etc. lose their distinctive qualities in the act of encounter. And “cultural competency” assumes that cultural forms, etc. are discrete and can, therefore, be tested and mastered. All four assume a purist notion of culture, language, and ideas that reinforces othering. Such a purist understanding of cultural encounters problematically suggests the need to police cultural boundaries, in the way that L’academie Française polices the Anglicization of the French language.
By contrast, translation suggests that foreign cultural forms, etc. can be incorporated into one’s own culture or self, not merely borrowed, and that such translation can be made a full part of the receiving culture without necessarily assuming that such a move is oppressive. Most importantly, translation assumes that the receiving culture or person will grow as a consequence of encounters with the foreign. No one language grows more rapidly than when it meets another; this is how we get most of our new words.
Translation, in the way that I mean it, however, also requires a well-formed person who is rooted in her tradition, in her own civilizational heritage. When we encounter difference—particularly difference that enchants or puzzles—a well-formed person doesn’t just incorporate or reject that difference, but instead handles and processes it with full consideration. To engage in this complex form of translation is to be a growing and creative being who sees all of history and all of the world as resources to which she has full rights to lay claim and to do so in a way that is meaningful to her “self” (and identity) and her purpose in life. Only a person who is rooted deeply in a civilizational heritage is capable of translation—only a person who knows who she is has the capacity to develop well in confrontation with difference. But—and here’s the surprising part—invariably, it is this confrontation with difference or foreign-ness that brings into relief what her own civilizational heritage is. This rich formation of the cultural self empowers a person while also enriching her. Yet, the entire process is possible only because she first embraces understanding instead of mere tolerance, understanding being the much higher virtue.
Truth. If a Christian university rests on one assumption, it is that there is Truth, and its corollary, that humans are so designed as to be pursers of Truth. As a Christian university, we claim that our faith itself requires us to engage in inquiry of this sort and that the love of Truth, rather than the possession of Truth, is defining of our faith; God made us to be searchers. We believe in Faith seeking Understanding. Our inquiry is freighted with existential or even ontological significance since the relentless pursuit of that which we love—Truth—alters or shapes us.
To this end, we distinguish between knowledge and Truth. The former is important and necessary for a well-functioning society and warrants our devoted effort to pass down to each generation, but the latter is both a personal and an institutional imperative and a higher goal than knowledge. The permanent questions must form the foundation of our university rather than claims to apodictic knowledge. As each generation, each person, pursues these permanent questions, they participate in a great historical and philosophical conversation even as the peculiar conditions and opportunities of being human press on us afresh and we live as we ought: engaged in the quest to know, to understand, the yearning we detect in our souls to find Truth, to find God, to know who we are and the meaning of our lives.
Knowledge and the Useful Arts. Truth, as stipulated by a Christian university, is one—singular. As such this quest to know is something that binds the entire institution in a common purpose, no matter the academic discipline. But knowledge is plural. The university is a place to transmit knowledge (which is part of retention) and to pursue new knowledge in many different disciplines. To this end a university must devote itself to the various methods and tools meant for exploration, for the discovery of new knowledge.
Exposure to the breadth of knowledge found at a university is crucial to the formation of a well-balanced, inquisitive thinker. Therefore, students (and indeed faculty) need not simply to be exposed to a range of inquiries and bodies of knowledge but, more importantly, we must help them form a useable knowledge of reality: knowledge of the natural world, the moral world, the social world, the economic world, and the political world. A proper university must provide an integrative education where students cultivate curiosity and competence in every field of inquiry.
In the pursuit of new knowledge, a university ought also to develop expertise in specific disciplines, learning and teaching the most advanced methods, and pushing into ever new territory. Among these pursuits ought to be access to applied knowledge that ranges from the sort that prepare people for useful work to the sort of knowledge helpful in being good citizens, good neighbors, and good family members.
Faith and the Architecture of Faith. The Christian university ought to be a place that allows for at least two kinds of inquiry about faith: those who seek to understand the architecture of their faith (the meaning or structure) and those who are exploring the claims of faith as part of their search for Truth. A Christian university invites both the believer and non-believer into a zetetic search and, in their own ways, these belong to the same existential questioning that is at the root of all human life.
With regard to the first of these inquiries (these are not mutually exclusive), we might usefully call it “faith seeking understanding.” I make special note of Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Both ontologically (substance of things hoped for) and epistemologically (the evidence of things not seen) rest in faith itself, not outside of it. The uncertainty that rests at the heart of Christian faith sends us in search, in that famous “cloud of unknowing,” to understand that which we possess—faith, which comes by grace. We seek to understand its meanings, its structure, its call on us, the obligations and promises that attend it. It is a “heroic journey of the soul” as Eric Voegelin famously put it.
The spiritual stamina required for this journey ought not be underestimated even as the faithful invite those who cannot yet see with the eyes of faith, cannot see in faith either the substance of things or the evidence of things. For these souls, a Christian university is a special place of openness to any and all questions, any and all doubts, any and all evidence. It may be that many find faith in this environment of rigor and grace, where doubting is recognized as part of the journey of the soul even for the faithful. In genuine pursuit of truth many will find faith and, at a Christian university, all will come to understand the Christian call to believe (7).
Freedom of the Mind. A servile mind is the greatest danger among intellectuals. The yearning to know and to have the security that comes from having excluded all doubt or moral uncertainty from life, overwhelms those either without faith or with insufficient spiritual stamina. Dogma, however, allows one to end the journey and to trust fully one’s own knowledge, abetted by the community of knowers to which one necessarily belongs. Servility of the mind is a peculiar weakness among the intellectual classes where knowing, or claims to knowing, is the justification for their lives. Ideology often triumphs over principles, dogmatic answers supplant the quest to understand the permanent human questions.
A liberal education at a Christian university is devoted to breaking dogmas, humbling those who claim to know, and opening minds to complexity, to nuance, to breadth of evidence and ideas, and to the bewildering but intoxicating scope of human experiences throughout history and across cultures. But a liberal education is not simply exposure to this multiplicity. The overwhelming nature of such exposure easily contributes to the desire for gnostic security. Rather, a well-wrought education forms the person into someone who quests, who examines (and learns how to examine) evidence, who doubts without surrendering to nihilism, who has a well-designed philosophy of life based on knowledge and reflection, and who is equipped with methods of analysis that allow one to examine new evidence and perspectives clearly. In short, a liberally educated person ought to know who she is and what she believes (and why), while also leaning excitedly into the vast array of sources, ideas, and beliefs, so that she never hardens into an ideologue. This is a humble person, capable of living in suspense and anticipation of an answer that cannot be had in this world. Suppleness of mind, combined with the skills of discrimination and judgment, are the hallmarks of a good mind—a free mind.
Character and Virtue. If the key word for the educational goals of the woke university is praxis, the key word for a Christian liberal arts university is phronesis. Usually translated “prudence,” phronesis stresses the cultivation of wisdom in preparation for practical action—and nothing could be closer to George Pepperdine’s vision for this university. Phronesis may not be the highest virtue, but it is a peculiarly important one with regard to a good education. A university dedicated to the cultivation of this kind of prudence must ask what it must do to produce wisdom, which we tend to associate with the subtle moderation that comes with rich and deep understanding of the human condition. Wisdom is impossible without a rich grasp of human nature, of the meaning of life lived in time and space while being called to eternity, of the complexity of motives, play of circumstances, understanding of the shadow of the past on the present, and knowing the moral jeopardy of present actions on future generations.
An education designed to cultivate these insights produces in the earnest and eager youth a regard for what she cannot yet know fully but which are the deepest truths of human experience. Praxis calls upon students to break from the past as evil in favor of an abstract vision that, through knowledge and power, they can instantiate. Phronesis asks students to recognize the depth of knowledge beyond the seemingly self-evident moral claims of their generation and to think about preserving while reforming, and learning the soft and useful art of practical action. Phronesis seeks the wisdom that allows people to act without full knowledge or the comfort of certainty, to act in a way that mitigates harm and, in the dim light of partial knowledge, does good.
The larger language for this is the cultivation of character—and it is crucial that character is not natural or the simple product of age, but requires cultivation. To develop character one must not only understand the role of virtues (8) but develop the habits appropriate to these virtues. In this way a person improves, by choice and persistence, the parts of the self that we associate with a mature and well-balanced human. Self-reliance, honesty, resilience, and courage all contribute to character, which ground a person morally—allowing her to know herself and strengthening her to resist conformity, to withstand the winds of public opinion. Virtue is true authenticity—an authenticity that is formed or cultivated rather than the false authenticity of the natural, untutored, self. A person with a well-developed character is free precisely because she knows herself and is immune to the seduction of ideology.
Any education properly called liberal must concentrate on the formation of character and the resistance to conformism.
Liberty and Order. The ideal of liberty is to live without interference because one is self-governing. It follows that liberty requires character lest it become license, and when liberty becomes license then one is enslaved, bound to her desires or drives. Learning to live well with liberty means learning to be free, physically and morally—to freely act as a self-governing human. A liberal education, thus, helps people understand the ordering presence necessary to a life well lived. God and God’s moral law (natural law) supply the structure that, once internalized, gives a person, a society, a people, the means to live in freedom. People so constituted have a jealous regard for their freedom and they are constitutionally incapable of surrendering to a tyrant or a tyrannical society. A liberal education prepares people to form societies organized around ordered liberty even as it empowers them to resist the powers of tyranny, as I’m doing now with this letter.
The two paths I’ve described diverge. The path Pepperdine will take—whether one of these or some other path—depends on which vision—which destination—the board, administration and faculty find compelling. Before I conclude with why these are incompatible visions, we might pause to ask whether, and perhaps how, both visions might be part of the same university. In my view, there is only one way that works: a federal and pluralist understanding of our union. Because the woke university vision does not tolerate difference, it will seek ideological purity. If this happens at any given school at Pepperdine, and if the faculties of Pepperdine remain separate (as they are now), then ideological purity in one school need not lead to ideological purity in another. This model will produce tension over time, but it will allow for deliberation over university-wide matters in a way that forces accommodations with competing beliefs, pedagogical methods, educational goals, and so forth. Over the long run, however, the Pepperdine mission, and its brand, will become bland because no bold vision could possibly emerge from a compromise of these two.
While I’ve attempted to describe both visions accurately, I have not suggested that these are both compelling. Indeed, I find the woke university to be a betrayal of the very idea of a university, and the Christian liberal arts university to be a much-needed vision in our disordered age. I conclude, therefore, by highlighting some key differences.
The ideals and language of the woke university are, when decoded, dangerous to a free society. Consider the key words of the woke university and their meanings. Antiracism requires that we accept individuals as, essentially and necessarily, members of groups and to judge them based on skin color. If racism includes ascribing to individual persons certain attributes because of their race, and if it is also discerning if a person is guilty or innocent of something based on his race, then antiracism is racist. Antiracism is, moreover, a direct repudiation of the centuries-long effort to treat individual persons as bearers of natural rights, of God-given dignity, making a mockery out of the Declaration of Independence and, for that matter, Christian scripture.
Diversity, when people use it as shorthand for race, also treats people according to essentialist categories rather than as distinct persons. The diversity industry seeks to reproduce the same distribution of racial and other essentialist categories in every major American institution while imposing an ideological conformity that justifies it. Diversity is, in short, anti-diverse, anti-intellectual, anti-individual, and rejects pluralism in favor of sameness.
To understand the constricted and ideological use of diversity at Pepperdine, consider the official statement that was adopted outside the normal protocols for developing consensus of university positions. It reads: “Pepperdine is a Christian University fully committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our faith cherishes the sacred dignity of every human being and celebrates diversity as a true representation of God’s love and creative expression. We endeavor to build a diverse community that fully engages the transformative educational process across expressions of human difference. Therefore, we strive toward academic excellence and a shared sense of belonging with the understanding that a broad range of diverse perspectives enriches the quality of our learning, scholarship, and leadership.”
Putting aside both the infelicities and dubious theological/philosophical claims, note how a statement dedicated to pluralism rather than diversity as an ideal might read: “Pepperdine is a Christian University. As such we are a community dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, truth, beauty and goodness in both inquiry and teaching. To these ends, and following the admonitions of ancient Christian teaching, we recognize that the unity of our purpose requires that our community, like the Church itself, be composed of unlike parts that work in harmony, consistent with our shared mission. Without rich pluralism in expertise, methods, in human experiences, perspectives, intellectual dispositions, we lack the resources necessary to our singleness of purpose. Even more basic, because our community is dedicated to the intransigent search for truth and knowledge, we actively encourage an intellectual and cultural pluralism that requires a continuous challenge of our most basic assumptions believing that the life of mind as well as the life of the spirit requires constant testing and challenge for it to mature and develop. So, in support of both our scholarly and our teaching purposes, Pepperdine cultivates a certain diversity appropriate to our purposes, always testing ourselves to determine how we might incorporate differences and inculcate richer variety in support of our community of purpose.”
Note that a commitment to pluralism stresses the centrality to specific differences relative to mission or purpose. The university statement on diversity is a template diversity (the same diversity everywhere based on an ideological construct of diversity) and the pluralism statement rests on mission and purpose, and employs certain kinds of diversity in the pursuit of the good that defines the university. As such, a dedication to a plural university is one that sees difference in terms of common purpose, not diversity as an end in itself.
Equity, again, employs the same essentialist, group categories and presents an idea of equality in which all manner of things are distributed in such a way as to bring out the same outcome for all groups, destroying the American focus on opportunity. Equity also rejects the long-standing idea of equality in which stereotypes and other group ascriptions no longer influence public life. In its place is a system of distribution of goods based on group identity.
Inclusion is the most pernicious term, I believe. Like all the others, inclusion rests on essentialized groups rather than individual persons and particulars. The woke insist that a person’s status as victim (as determined by where one fits in the unquestioned racial hierarchy) requires that every institution treat victims and their stories of victimhood as defining of their institutional purpose. This is not the same thing as “belonging” or similar concepts in which persons (individual persons with distinctive personal histories) from all manner of backgrounds find a place, a way of fitting in, of belonging, as part of a plural group. Belonging is about focusing on the person; inclusion invokes group identity and the steel cage of race. Inclusion undermines belonging by treating people as representations of groups, by causing them to conform to pre-determined ascriptions of their place in the world, and it destroys the natural play of human interaction out of which real attachment emerges. Inclusion is part of an ideology that requires all participants to see the world a certain way, to see all others through the lens of race or other factors, and so is the most destructive ideological element of all. Inclusion undermines our ability to be fully human with others, to learn from the rich particularism of human gatherings, and it destroys freedom of thought on pains of ostracism. Under inclusion, everyone is oppressed.
The Christian liberal arts university is the remedy for the ills of ideology. By treating people as complex humans, as selves who belong to many groups, who have rich and complicated histories and traditions, and who are beloved by God equally, this kind of university invites each person on a journey of exploration. The journey toward God and Truth is open-ended, full of the unanticipated, the dangerous, and the profound. Along the way, the university prepares people to love the particular, the brilliant, and the eccentric. It invites people to explore all that human history has to offer and to do this in a way that sinks deep roots in culturally rich soil. This university encourages the pursuit of the Good, the cultivation of virtues, and the development of the faculty of discernment and judgment based on moral truths. This university teaches people that they belong to stories, that they didn’t create themselves, and that they owe to countless others their very being, their culture, and art, and even their language. And as they come to understand themselves inside of history, before the creator God, in community with so many others, each student finds her place in the great mystery to which we all belong.
Ted V. McAllister
- I use “mob” because the behavior of me-too-ism, anti-intellectualism, emotionalism without rationality, the security found in numbers, the tendency to declare rather than to argue, to assert rather than discuss, are all present. While many different kinds of people are prone, at different times, to mob behavior, a modern manifestation has emerged with the rise of ideologies and the combination of circular reasoning and moralism.
- I use “woke” because it has become widely used in the last few years to express a constellation of beliefs most associated with Critical Race Theory. I do not here mean “progressive,” since that word, rich with historical meanings in the United States, would include liberals and the woke university excludes liberals.
- Here I refer to those at Pepperdine who have declared without explaining in multiple recent statements and declarations.
- **** White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, has made this phrase code for the defensiveness white people have when charged with racism. Claims to not seeing color or to acts that ostensibly demonstrate their dedication to racial justice only prove that they remain blind to their inherent racism caused by a system of racism in which whites are necessarily privileged by their skin color.
- It is important to note frequently, by reference to praxis, that the goal of this sort of education is action—the goal is to empower people to transform society. This is a fairly radical alternative to traditional understandings of university education and so to keep in mind the centrality of this theory-leading-to-action idea is important to understand the contrast and the stakes.
- We are reminded frequently by woke academics that linear thinking, reason itself, are products of white privilege and are, therefore, used to perpetuate the current system of oppression. As Freire in his now-standard text in schools of education (and cited frequently at GSEP), The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, declares, the oppressed have knowledge from their experiences that needs to be released, or uncovered. Rather than instilling knowledge, the crucial knowledge is experiential and so listening to themselves is key to discovering their knowledge while others, who are oppressors (however generous of spirit they may be) must recognize that their reason and logic and even evidence are completely tainted by the system of corruption. They can only learn by listening to the oppressed.
- The contrast with modern Gnosticism, of which CRT is only one variation, is important to note. Modern Gnosticism requires three components. First, one must have a strong sense of alienation, that some essential part of one’s humanity is unfulfilled. Second, one must be in revolt against the conditions that created that alienation. But most important, third, “a belief that human knowledge is sufficient to overcome these conditions, that humans have the power to transform themselves, or both.” See my Revolt Against Modernity p. 22. The key here, of course, is the contrast between the belief in transforming knowledge (woke, CRT ideology) vs the power of faith in search of truth and the God who is the author of the Truth.
- This is not the place to outline the specific virtues and the means by which a liberal education supports their formation, but a university ought particularly focus on the intellectual virtues. A Christian university ought also to foster or cultivate the Christian virtues. Both sets of virtue are necessary for living the good life.
Wow! So much truth to reflect on here. I hope many, many students, faculty and alumni (like myself) will read and understand the consequential points articulated in this letter and that Pepperdine will take the correct path from here to avoid the destructive trap of “wokeness”!
Such a thoughtful and well articulated essay. Ted McAllister is a treasure for Pepperdine, this essay a gift. Our society has simplified all of these issues as a right/ wrong , single question and McAllister delineates all of the complexities that require consideration as people seek to over simplify and construct an “us versus them” dynamic everywhere within our culture. I will pray that this important essay gets the attention, thoughtfulness and respect it deserves, and that Pepperdine indeed will understand and embrace an understanding of choosing a “ course” , and the implications of not making such an informed choice, but rather allowing the woke narrative to drive its direction with all its’ unintended consequences. Thank you for this.
Thank you Professor McAllister for taking the time and effort to write so eloquently about these issues that face Pepperdine and other Christian universities. As I read and reread the strategic plan for Seaver College, my head started to hurt with the over abundance of useless buzz words. After reading it 3 times, I still had no idea what “their plan” is? What a stark contrast to the words from George Pepperdine years ago, as he clearly stated his plan and purpose for starting this university. After 3 years at Seaver College my daughter sometimes says she is getting her degree in “Acablamia”. I am an alum of Seaver and I have great admiration and respect for so many at Pepperdine but in so many ways, Seaver College has forgotten it’s roots. I often think of these words from the apostle Paul in Colossians; “See to it that no one take you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than in Christ”. How often we humans tend to trust our own wisdom first rather than getting on our knees first, and asking the creator of the universe for HIS wisdom.
Julia, I’m pleased to know that you have taken the time to read Seaver’s proposed strategic plan. This pleases me because I see no good way forward for Pepperdine as a whole without having engaged and vocal alumni who take their roles as part of this community seriously. Since I’m at SPP and not Seaver, I prefer at this point to speak more generally about the broader tendencies of these sorts of documents at Pepperdine and elsewhere. The embarrassing use of what you call “buzz words” is a symptom of deeper problems with academia. In some cases these phrases–many of which border on nonsense–are essentially concealing purposes and meanings, the buzz words functioning as peculiarly ugly jargon. In other cases they point to an emerging problem with the American professoriate: it is largely uneducated. Here I mean educated in light of the liberal arts concept of education that I defend in my essay and in contrast to two real problems: ideology as substitute for an education and a hyper specialization. Both of these problems rob the community of simple, understandable, and meaningful words that can serve to unite people in a community of shared purpose (there can be no meaningful community without a shared language or vocabulary). As you rightly noted, George Pepperdine did just that. Meanwhile, the more members of the Pepperdine community (faculty, students, administrators, alumni, staff, donors) insist that the university be true to its mission, produce documents that support that mission in language that is clear, precise, and free of jargon, the better chance we have of being Pepperdine rather than being “transformed” into an institution dedicated to indoctrinating the next generation.
I want to thank Ted, my friend and former fellow congregant, for his, as always, thoughtful essay. I am a Pepperdine graduate of the class of 1969 at the L.A. Campus. Those of us there that year, have indelibly imprinted on both our memory and our consciences, the senseless and unjustifiable shooting of a young Black neighborhood teenager, named Larry Kimmons by an aging White security guard, Charlie Lane. Many of us were jolted into a heightened awareness of the seriousness of racial bigotry and profiling. I certainly was, and carried that awareness into my life as a minister, with a deepened longing for racial justice and reconciliation.
It is, for precisely that reason, I must oppose a woke ideology and especially Critical Race Theory. The idea that at birth, we (any single one of us) are either oppressed or oppressors, makes reconciliation practically impossible. I have seen the divisions in families and in churches this has caused; separating, in anger, people of good will and intentions. Theologically, this ideology is directly at odds with the Christian view that all things and all people are reconciled in Christ, and it is for this reconciliation we strive. In its social determinism, it has become hyper Calvinism, but without God or Gospel. Falsely claiming to be the only alternative to racism, it engages in racialized politics which subverts any true reconciliation. For the church, the call to welcome everyone from every tribe and nation (which is not color-blindness but color welcoming), is replaced by a new tribalism built on race and ideology.
Of course, the church has a very spotty record in this regard, and much of it needs to be confessed in lament. Yet, the answer to the church’s many failures is not to tear her down, but to rediscover the calling of her Lord. When we do that, we will also be in solidarity with those who have sacrificially given of themselves to end discrimination and slavery, in the name of Christ. Beneath the cross of Jesus, we can be in solidarity with those who, like Larry Kimmons, suffer injustice, poverty, and discrimination.
I meant to send a private note to Ted, thanking and congratulating him. I think, though, that the wider community may benefit from seeing this encomium. This eminently sensible work represents a complete payment on the trust placed in Ted McAliser when he was attracted to Pepperdine. As an alumnus from very long ago, it provides a moment of pride, of which I have had too few in recent memory. As someone who has published at length on these topic (and there are several broached here), I say with great respect that Ted has done more in a single production than anyone else I have ever read. I may say this, even while I may find elements here and there that I would express differently. As one of the earliest introducers of the term “inclusion,” in particular, I find it charming that I did so precisely in the terms used here to define the pluralist university, while reminding of the etymological distinctions between uni-versity and di-versity. Insofar as the subsequent elaboration of “inclusion” departed far from my intention, however, Ted’s account accurately depicts what has become of it. What this means is that USAGE has prevailed over THOUGHT. Hence, the real danger of dedicating a university to parroting usage rather than encouraging thought is precisely the result in abdicating the latter.