Campus Unrest: The Collision Point
B. F. Skinner and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – no two figures in the 20th century more vividly demonstrate the collision of the spiritual and the physical in the modern era. Some of the current “unraveling” on university campuses can trace its roots back to the collision of these two powerful ideas (Naturalism and Supernaturalism). Each idea had as its champion one of these two intellectuals, Solzhenitsyn representing the Spirit, Skinner opposing it. But, I’ll come back to these two men a little later in this article.
Lest we forget, the word “establishment” when used as a pejorative, is a word from the 60’s, my generation. We too railed against it. Our generation helped to take down two American presidents, one by resignation and the other by a refusal to run for reelection. The riots and protests had taken their toll. Both the Johnson and Nixon administrations were plagued with massive unrest on American college campuses. I spent some time locked up in jail. Now before you start checking my resume, I was a student at Southern Illinois University and also a young pastor for a local church. I was visiting an inmate when the SIU riot broke out and the jail (which was ground zero for the protest) went on lockdown. My total time in jail was slightly more than two hours.
In those days, protests were generally for a higher cause. They were against the draft and against the war and against poverty and against racial segregation. The unrest of the 60’s and 70’s had to do with higher causes; I’m not saying they were righteous causes, I’m just saying that students were demanding that their voices be heard. Today’s university protests are more likely caused by overhearing a trigger point remark which cause some students to get their feelings hurt before they can make it to their safe place where they would literally be provided Play-Doh, cookies, and coloring books (New York Times, March 21, 2015). Disagreement of ideas seems too much to bear by traumatized students who were raised by over-protective and coddling parents.
Anthropology (the study of man) becomes theology (the study of god) when secularism reigns. A leading candidate for the presidency is a self-proclaimed socialist and secularist who promises a free college education for all. To Senator Bernie Sanders, education is a human right. In a recent Democratic Town Hall meeting in Detroit, he was asked where our rights come from. His rather incoherent answer was “From being human” (Transcript, Democratic Town Hall Meeting in Detroit, March 7, 2016). If Human beings can give us our rights, then human beings can take away our rights. For the most part this is what humanism has accomplished and we are left with nothing higher than ourselves.
Such was Skinner’s doctrine. He reinforced the philosophy of physicalism by providing it with a sturdy psychological foundation. To be sure, his was not the only voice moving us that direction but it was one of the most influential.
Solzhenitsyn was the Christian from atheist Russia and. Skinner was the atheist from Christian America. Solzhenitsyn had been a prisoner in the Russian Gulags for his faith. Skinner was named America’s most influential living psychologist (Review of General Psychology, 2002). He had succeeded in convincing Americans, at least those in the educational establishment, that there is no such thing as free will; there is no God and there is no soul, only meat and bones and stimulus and response.
The two men probably never met, but no doubt, they knew about each other. Both men would find their respective acclaim on the cover of Time within a three year span. Both men were renowned intellectuals but it would be Skinner who held sway over the next generation of Americans. Now it is the children of that generation who attend today’s universities who require the safety zones so that their paradigm of the universe will not be challenged or disturbed.
Skinner was a professor at Harvard when he published his Magnum Opus, Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Released in 1971, it is clear that freedom and individuality were his chief nemeses. His design for the perfect society would be the communes of Walden 2. One of these communes, East Wind, is less than 200 miles from Tulsa. The name East Wind comes from the quotation by Mao Zedong in 1957 regarding the rapid spread of communism (National Geographic, August 2004).
Solzhenitsyn delivered Harvard’s commencement address in June of 1978. The title of his address was A World Split Apart. His message was clear. America is in crisis, and it is a crisis of the Spirit. If his thesis was freedom, the antithesis would be the ideas of Skinner.
But, back to the current unraveling of American Universities, there are even more contrasts between the protests of yesteryear. The protests of the 60’s and 70’s were about demanding more free speech. When the administration at the University of California at Berkeley, attempted to shut down political activity on campus, the students began a movement called The Free Speech Movement (Lovio, 2013). By contrast, many of the current protests are for speech suppression. The megaphones of the 60s have been traded for muzzles to silence anyone who might cause a student to feel insecure (Milligan, 2015).
So to protect our students from hearing something that might make them uncomfortable, former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was disinvited from Rutgers, Ann Coulter was disinvited from Fordham University, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the leading Islamic proponent for women’s rights in Islam was disinvited from Brandeis University, and even President George W. Bush, has faced at least seven attempts to prevent him from speaking on universities campuses. The list grows longer every day.
Solzhenitsyn was not disinvited from the Harvard Commencement address in 1978. After he had finished speaking, no doubt, there were those who probably wished he had been disinvited. If you watch the video of his address you can hear the “boos” and you can see faculty and students walking out on this distinguished Nobel Prize winner.
I’m providing a collection of some of his most poignant quotes in that Harvard Address. He accused the Western culture with a softness that could prove deadly.
In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. (1978)
From world history, he traced the record and extracted from it a caution for America’s future.
The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. The West has now come to another important turn in history as we have turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal.
This will exact from us a spiritual upsurge requiring us to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era. (1978)
In May of 1983, Solzhenitsyn received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. This address is almost a perfect summary of his Harvard Commencement speech. In it, he was even more prosecutorial toward the West as he declared “Godlessness is the first step to the gulag” (Orthodox America, 1983).
Our culture stands on the front porch of the postmodern age. Oklahoma Wesleyan is strategically positioned to provide redemptive direction to a culture gone crazy. Two components were necessary to get a rocket to the moon, propulsion and navigation. Like a sniper’s bullet, Western culture is hurtling into the new era at Internet speed. The greater the propulsion, the greater is the need for sensitive navigation. The Gospel is the only force powerful enough to provide redemptive guidance. Oklahoma Wesleyan, located both in the spiritual and geographic heartland of our culture is perfectly positioned to provide redemptive navigation. While some other universities continue to unravel, OKWU is directed by a university president who understands this culture and provides vision, voice, and direction to the future. Without the Word of God, we are a racecar without a steering wheel.
I am not advocating for a return to the protests of the 60’s. I am advocating that college faculty and administrators go back to being the grown-ups and start challenging their pupils as students rather than catering to them as coddled customers. Can you imagine the first university, Plato’s Academy, refusing to allow uncomfortable speech? Plato was mentored by Socrates who chose death over the suppression of his speech. Yes, Free Speech is worth dying for.
In the end, it seems that Skinner has won, at least for the short term. Atheism, Secularism, Humanism are all on the rise. They are aggressive, even evangelistic. But the Solzhenitsyns are still out there. We remember the name Socrates. Does anyone reading this article know even one name of the more than 500 jurors who rendered his verdict? Whenever and wherever liberty is suppressed, like a river finding a new course, freedom will continue to find its way.
Jesus could have saved His own life, had He just been willing to be silent. It is by His refusal to have His speech suppressed, that we are saved.
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Lovio, G (2013, August, 28). Berkeley in the sixties’ aims to affect the present. The Daily Californian. Retrieved from http://www.dailycal.org/2013/08/28/berkeley-in-the-sixties-aims-to-affect-the-present/
Marison, A. (August 2005). Not quite utopia. National Geographic, August 2005, np. Retrieved from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0508/feature7/
Milligan, S. (November, 2015). From megaphones to muzzles. US News and World Report, November 25 2015. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2015/11/25/from-megaphones-to-muzzles-free-speech-safe-spaces-and-college-campuses
Sanders, B. (2016). Transcript of the Fox News Democratic Town Hall Meeting. (March 7 2016). Detroit, MI.
Shulevitz, J. (2015, March 21). In college and hiding from scary ideas. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html?_r=0
Solzhenitsyn, A. (1983). Men have forgotten God. Orthodox America. Retreived from http://www.roca.org/OA/36/36h.htm
Solzhenitsyn, A. (1978). A world split apart. Harvard Commencement Address. Video Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=solzhenitsyn+harvard+address&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=solzhenitsyn+harvard+address&tbm=vid