Academic integrity or the lack of it – a thought about the Rollston saga

I learn from Paleojudaica today that a US academic, a certain Christopher Rollston, is in trouble with his employer because of an article that he wrote on the leftist Huffington Post site, entitled The Marginalization of Women: A biblical value we don’t like to talk about.

The article makes clear that Prof. Rollston is a practising leftie.  Charmingly, he recites his faith in the current shibboleths of early 21st century liberal America almost in set terms:

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman’s body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as “legitimate rape.” One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women’s rights.

Emphasis mine.

Well, a man is entitled to hold political views, however daft or repellent they may be to sensible people.  In a free nation he is surely equally entitled to call for the expulsion of all blacks, all Jews, and all Mexicans from the USA, with the words “One step forward, two steps back in our battle for an Aryan America”.  Isn’t he?

Live and let live; the fact that he holds political views with which we disagree (or don’t) is no business of anyone else.  Isn’t it?

But what he really wants to talk about is the bible:

From Mesopotamia to Egypt, women in the ancient world were considered property — valuable property, but property nonetheless. And it’s true of the Bible’s view as well. Yes, there were biblical women who flourished in spite of the patriarchy, women like Ruth, Esther, Lydia and Priscilla. But women in the Bible were normally viewed as second class, if even that.

Emphasis again mine.  Well, this was true in biblical times, certainly.  All sorts of views are reflected in the scriptures.  The patriarchs engage in polygamy, for instance, but … the bible does not teach polygamy. And here we reach the problem with Dr Rollston’s article.

The hostility of the political left to the bible is well known.  What, then, does Dr Rollston have to say?  I’ve taken the first sentence of every paragraph:

The Decalogue is a case in point. … Because the Ten Commandments are so well known, it’s quite easy to miss the assumptions in them about gender. But the marginalization of women is clear.

Women are marginalized in the book of Proverbs as well.

The New Testament contains texts that marginalize women as well.

Of course, there are even more difficult texts, with men said to be willing to surrender women to horrendous violence.

Thankfully, some biblical authors who pushed back against the marginalization of women.

People today often wish to turn to sacred literature for timeless trues about social norms. … After all, to embrace the dominant biblical view of women would be to embrace the marginalization of women. And sacralizing patriarchy is just wrong. Gender equality may not have been the norm two or three millennia ago, but it is essential. So, the next time someone refers to “biblical values,” it’s worth mentioning to them that the Bible often marginalized women and that’s not something anyone should value.

He isn’t talking about attitudes reflected in the bible.  He’s talking about the bible.  He’s talking explicitly about biblical values.  He’s attacking them, and stating that biblical values are … “not something anyone should value”.  He is, in essence, accusing the bible of heresy, heresy against the One True Teaching, that of the political left in the early 21st century USA.

Doubtless he does not value biblical teaching.  And why should he?  An unbeliever is under no obligation to listen to the scriptures.  Let him genuflect humbly to a set of values made up by the babyboomers, if he so wishes, and is so uncritical in his politics.  Just because we may laugh at his credulity in political and theological matters — for of course we are much better informed, and our own political and religious views are above reproach — does not mean we should nail him head down to a lump of wood.  Live and let live.

All in all, so far, so tedious.

But I gather from Paleojudaica that his article has had consequences.  For, it seems, Dr Rollston holds a post at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  His colleague, Paul M. Blowers, wrote a quick criticism of the article on Facebook, which was seen and roundly abused by a certain Tom Stark who wrote an article at great length in which he quotes the remarks of Dr Blowers here, and attacks him for objecting to them.  He also describes another article by a group of objectors as:

…a bloviating, self-important, contemptuous, slanderous, malignant, condescending, pretentious, cynically dishonest, and ironically oblivious piece of garbage.

The language of political hate is rather in evidence here, which again indicates that we are not dealing with any academic issue.

Even so, Mr Stark accepts:

Yes, as a faculty member at a faith-based educational institution, Dr. Rollston should not publish something in the public square that, say, contradicts anything he would teach in class or say to a Christian community. For instance, Dr. Rollston should not write a Huffington Post article in which he rejects Christianity or rejects the Bible.

And yet, as we have seen, Dr Rollston has done exactly that.  I fear that the problem is much simpler; Mr Stark shares the political and theological views espoused by Dr Rollston.

Various other bibliobloggers have written similarly. Tom Verenna wrote a response along the same lines.  Dr Blowers wrote an article here, rebutting the criticism, for which he too received the lynch-mob treatment.

The responses that I have seen all deploy the tired old “academic freedom” argument:  If you don’t allow our religious views to be expressed at your private college, if you don’t give us a platform, then you aren’t academics at all. I hope we all laughed to see this dreary old attempt at manipulation trotted out again.

The joke about this, of course, is that there is any amount of comment on the web on the policies of American universities, which state that several have developed a hideous political conformity, to the extent that expressing any non-left views at some of them risks harassment by the authorities!  Yet I do not hear similar complaints from the same people.

It’s all deeply tedious, all this special pleading.  Anyone is allowed to hold any views they like, in a free country (although I believe quite a number of US Republican bloggers believe that, if you hold views of the political right, this does not apply to you).  But no-one is entitled to demand, as of right, that other people pay for him to advance those views.

There is no special moral principle here.  If I join a university founded by atheists, I can hardly take their money and use it to attack atheism.  To do so would be dishonest.    If I wish to abuse them, I must stop taking their money.  Likewise, if I take money from scientology (which God forbid), I cannot honestly write an article in a major publication holding up L. Ron Hubbard to ridicule.  To do so is dishonest.  If I gain employment from the National Union of Perverts and Paedophiles (will become a privileged minority in California by around 2020, if history is any judge), I cannot take their money and write against them in the national press.

This elementary moral point has always been ignored by those who call themselves liberals, since these can rarely find anyone willing to voluntarily fund them.  Instead they assert a right to loot the funds of others.

In a state university a diversity of views should certainly be permitted, which reflects the fact that the taxpayers who pay for the staff are entitled to expect that academics who share their political or religious views are not prevented from holding a post there.   Whether this is indeed the case in a liberal theological college, or a liberal controlled university in the modern US, we need not enquire curiously.  But this is not because the university is “neutral”; nor does it imply that Catholic universities are not universities, or any of the other hysterical claims being advanced.  It is simply because there is no agreed basis for belief.

Tom Stark has written, I gather, that Christopher Rollston may now be under investigation at his employers.  Considering the nature of the article that Dr Rollston has published, I would hope that this is so.  For that article makes pretty clear that, to him (at least as edited by the Huffington Post), the bible is not the final authority of faith and morals.  That exalted role is reserved for the edicts of those who control the media agenda in the time and place in which he happens to live.  And a person holding those views can hardly continue to take the money of those who believe differently.  But of course Dr Rollston may not hold the views that the article pushes at every person who can read; for we must never forget the power of the editor of a site.

There is indeed a question of academic integrity here, and of integrity among “bibliobloggers”.  There is nothing very fine about campaigning for other people to endorse your views at their own expense.  On the contrary, it is a selfish, greedy, intolerant game.  I’ve read quite enough paragraphs asserting that the article states “uncontroversial views” — yes, of course, any views you agree with are “uncontroversial”, if you are self-centred enough.

I would ask all those who have written “in support” of Dr Rollston — really of the sentiments of the article in the Huffington Post, for I know nothing against the man himself — to ask themselves if they would feel the same if he had written in support of an Aryan America.  If they would not, then I suggest they withdraw their comments and search their souls.

For the measure we give is the measure we will undoubtedly get.  It was the legislation of the liberal Weimar Republic that made the Nazi state possible.  Those who establish the principle that academics who conform to societal values, and reject the values of their employers, may not be expelled for so doing, may not enjoy it, when those societal values change.  And if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that societal values change, and often violently.

For the right to create a private university, where the evil of the times does not seep in, where the commissar may not meddle, is of inestimable value in an oppressive state.  In communist Poland it was the Catholics who kept things alive.  To continue to exist, such universities must expel those who would wreck their purpose, or cease to exist.  There is, after all, nothing very praiseworthy about the man who, supported by every engine of the state, demands that a minority “tolerate” him.  On the contrary, we should treasure these islands of rebellion and different thinking against the certainties of “society”.

Live and let live.

UPDATE: Within 12 hours of my writing the above, mentioning the lack of openness to different views alleged against some US universities, comes the news that “Gaullaudet University has put Dr. Angela McCaskill, its chief diversity officer, on paid leave because she signed a petition to put gay marriage before the voters of Maryland…”.  That is, she signed a petition which suggested that this particular policy should be voted on rather than just enacted.  Apparently that is grounds for disciplinary action.  I don’t believe this (deaf, black) woman is an academic; but it shows how little respect for dissent there is in US universities.