I AM AN ALUMNUS of Grove City College. This is not something that I ordinarily advertise, but recent events there compel my engagement, and in this particular matter, I speak from extensive personal experience.
At the outset, I want to congratulate Ms. Wicker on a well-written piece, and for achieving the rarefied goal of publication in the paper of record. Her writing is both restrained and measured in tone and style, and reflects well on the college, which is neither. A careful reading, however, betrays the unsettling extremism that undergirds the contemporaneous facts that have given rise to the occasion for such a piece.
Ms. Wicker reports that “Grove City is proud of its image as a steadfastly conservative Christian oasis in the increasingly liberal landscape of higher education.” About the pride there can be little doubt, but the remainder of the statement is offered without evidence, and despite “study[ing] the politics of Ronald Reagan” and alleged merits of “tying faith to politics,” one can reasonability suspect that this is a cultural, rather than a political assessment. Institutions of higher learning are meant to be, and should be, liberal in the finest sense — evoking freedom of thought and inquiry, promulgating tolerance of differing points of view, rigorous in adherence to reason, and welcoming of the broad cultural spectrum of the human condition. In my time there, Grove City was none of these things, and there is no reason to suppose that this has since improved. Like all religious institutions with which I have experience, it sought to indoctrinate first, pacify second, and educate only third. In this regard, Grove City is similar to other, more famous evangelical institutions that seek to spread their homogenous version of “values” as widely as possible, and which attempt to legislate Christian morality by fictionalizing American history and sanctifying the secular civic realm.
It is a poor and impoverished faith that relies on indoctrination as it’s primary means of propagation. (Note: Most do.) Wicker reports that the undergraduates are largely insular, with “little exposure to popular culture or liberal politics.” To a lesser extent, such was my upbringing as well. Wicker offers no opinion on the matter, but it’s worth noting that insular thinking is precisely what any responsible educational institution should seek to eradicate. Proper education is about nothing if not opening the mind to inconvenient truths, and uncomfortable paradigms, and the marvelous, magnificent, difficult complexities that constitute the American landscape. Very little should be doctrinaire beyond verifiable fact, the scientific method, the primacy of reason, the importance of the arts, and the inextinguishable wish to explore the unknown. The rest is just shiny objects and suggestibility — the stock and trade of every extremist organization.
Like all the students there, I had been immersed in religious culture, and had inevitably developed naive and stupid beliefs about the nature of society and my place in it. My eyes were finally opened during my senior year by a man whom I had until that time respected as a man of science, Professor Everett Develde, under whom I studied in the college’s fledgling computer science curriculum. This seemingly wise and kindly fellow one evening attempted to convince me that astronomy was not a real science, because it was all foolishly predicated only on “little points of light in the sky.”
Pause for slack-jawed astonishment.
This led inexorably, and quickly, to the idea that the fossil record was neither real nor reliable, as it had been placed there by God as a test of faith. Exit, stage left. This encounter proved to be a profound and horrifying moment of awakening for me, and while I do not think he would countenance the sentiment, I remain grateful to professor Develde to this day.
Impressionable, insular minds are susceptible to this kind of nonsense, and the nonsense taught at such institutions is now legion. Young Earth Creationism, The Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God, the founding of the United States as a Christian nation, the patriarchal society, the genetic superiority of the white race, convictions about the deserving poor, the evil of alternative lifestyles, salvation by faith, saltwater economics, the rapture, the eternal damnation of the unbelievers, blah, blah, blah. This profoundly destructive bullshit was taught then, and there is every reason to suspect that it its taught today, now, in varying degrees, at my Alma Mater. It is to weep.
So Mike Pence is giving the Grove City commencement address, and this has the campus in a tizzy. Well, the campus ought to be in a tizzy, but not only for the reasons stated. Proximity to Donald Trump is an excellent reason to protest, of course, but Wicker reports that Mr. Pence would be most welcome under other, less egregious circumstances, as have other conservative figures in years past. I am quite certain that this is true, and one notes the conspicuous absence of personalities who might vaguely be regarded as liberal. Far more important to reinforce the ideological walls around impressionable minds than open them to alternative points of view. This is precisely where Grove City goes off the rails, of course. Of the uncountable luminaries in the arts, humanities, sciences, and public service that might be engaged to nourish their departure into the wider world, Grove City picks Mike Pence. Protests ensue.
The central issue is that Mr. Pence is more than worthy of protest in his own right, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with his recent association with Mr. Trump. His record as Governor of Indiana is horrifying and highly controversial, even as the great majority of his extremist tenure has been lauded by the Evangelical Community. Here are a few highlights, courtesy of Mother Jones Magazine:
Pence signed a bill into law requiring burial or cremation for aborted fetuses. A federal judge subsequently blocked the Indiana law from going into effect.
Pence signed a 2015 bill — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — permitting Indiana business owners to cite religious beliefs as a reason to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers.
As Indiana’s governor, Pence slashed Planned Parenthood funding, which subsequently gave rise to the largest HIV outbreak in the state’s history.
During his 12 years as a congressman, Pence voted against nearly every piece of environmental legislation.
Pence voted to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.
Pence voted for opening the Atlantic up to offshore oil drilling.
As a congressman, Pence gave a floor speech advocating the teaching of creationism in public schools.
Pence wrote an op-ed arguing that “smoking doesn’t kill.”
Pence has advocated the use of public funds for conversion therapy, a discredited and potentially harmful form of anti-gay therapy.
Pence funneled $3.5 million in Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, intended for needy families with children, to crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel women against having abortions.
Pence refused to comply with Obama administration rules aimed at reducing prison rape.
As a congressman, Pence voted in favor of a bill that would have allowed for the detention of undocumented immigrants seeking hospital treatment.
Pence co-sponsored a bill in Congress that would have eliminated automatic citizenship for children born on US soil to undocumented parents.
Pence was one of 31 governors to oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state, declaring that state agencies wouldn’t cover the cost of some social services for Syrian refugees. His behavior earned him a strong rebuke from a panel of three federal judges, including one whom Donald Trump put on his Supreme Court nominee short list.
This is a record of startling extremism in service to his own bilious brand of Evangelical Christianity at the expense of the public good. No person of good will and even rudimentary conscience — let alone an institution of higher learning — can reasonably support such a profoundly destructive and unintelligent civic agenda. But this is not why Grove City is protesting; they are unhappy that Donald Trump has not, will not, and cannot also do these things, despite his cellophane promises during the campaign. They are unhappy that Pence has managed to diminish himself from this already neanderthal standard to nothing more than the mendacious rubber stamp mouthpiece of an areligious sociopath. Methinks they dost protest too much.
Trump was inexplicably supported by the Evangelical community during his campaign, who were newly impervious to his obvious lies, ineptitude, misogyny, bigotry, and hate speech, and because these were all somehow preferable to electing a woman. Now that the rubber-stamp chickens are coming home to roost, Grove City is suddenly upset. Well, Grove City ought to be upset, but not because Trump is unworthy of the office in every conceivable respect, and not because Pence is arguably the most extremist and destructive politician currently serving on the national stage. Grove City should be upset because their own brand of ideology has made them blind to what is obvious, impervious to what is otherwise common sense, and deaf to the cries of a once-great nation, conceived in the sure and certain knowledge — borne of centuries of English strife — that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is predicated on freedom FROM state-sanctioned religion, and not the other way around.
The central hypocrisy of Grove City College is that real education is the mortal enemy of extremism, which has almost nothing to do with the “greater good” that Wicker believes Mr. Pence should promulgate. The central hypocrisy of Mike Pence is that the United States Constitution, and with it, the civic health the nation, is the mortal enemy of state-sanctioned religion.
So, by all means, protest. Stand, turn your backs and shun the man if you have the courage. But in the name of all that is holy, do it for the right reasons, and not because of what you’ve been taught.