I recently came across a several week old column by Rod Dreher. in which he bemoans the state of religious liberty in the USA. (HT: Paul Caron) What particularly caught my eye, however, was Dreher's report of a conversation with a Christian law professor at an elite law school:
I spent a long time on the phone last night with a law professor at one of the country’s elite law schools. This professor is a practicing Christian, deeply closeted in the workplace; he is convinced that if his colleagues in academia knew of his faith, they would make it very hard for him. We made contact initially by e-mail — he is a reader of this blog — and last night, by phone. He agreed to speak with me about the Indiana situation on condition that I not identify him by name or by institution. I do know his identity, and when he tells me that he is “well-informed about the academy and the Supreme Court,” I assure you that from where he sits, and teaches, and from his CV, he is telling the truth.
I will call him Prof. Kingsfield, after the law professor in The Paper Chase.
What prompted his reaching out to me? “I’m very worried,” he said, of events of the last week. “The constituency for religious liberty just isn’t there anymore.”
Reasonable people can disagree about the state of religious liberty in the USA these days. But that's beside the point (or, at least, the point I want to make).
I agree with Kingsfield that secular elites at high end universities and colleges are an annoyingly self-satisfied:
To elites in his circles, Kingsfield continued, “at best religion is something consenting adult should do behind closed doors. They don’t really understand that there’s a link between Sister Helen Prejean’s faith and the workd she does on the death penalty. There’s a lot of looking down on flyover country, one middle America.
“The sad thing,” he said, “is that the old ways of aspiring to truth, seeing all knowledge as part of learning about the nature of reality, they don’t hold. It’s all about power. They’ve got cultural power, and think they should use it for good, but their idea of good is not anchored in anything. They’ve got a lot of power in courts and in politics and in education. Their job is to challenge people to think critically, but thinking critically means thinking like them. They really do think that they know so much more than anybody did before, and there is no point in listening to anybody else, because they have all the answers, and believe that they are good.”
Which is precisely why Kingsfield needs to come out of the closet. Sadly, however, he is going deeper into the closet:
The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.
“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”
He's right. I've been there (albeit for saying something obnoxious unrelated to my faith). But so what?
Polycarp wasn't threatened with people making his life miserable. He was threatened with being burnt at the stake. And he refused to deny Christ. And he went to his death thanking God for allowing him to be counted among the Church's martyrs.
The Christians beheaded by ISIS faced a fate far worse than a smear campaign by academic lefties and they refused to deny Christ.
Put simply, being a Christian is supposed to be hard. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."
It is true that Christ tells us that we are sheep among wolves and so must be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But going into a religious closet is not shrewd.
"Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."
I am a sinner who is far from perfect. But I refuse to be a closeted sinner. So I am going to continue teaching and writing about Catholic Social Thought. And I'm going to go on having a picture of St Thomas More in my office. And I'm going to go on having many books on religion in my office. And I'm going to go on wearing my ashes to class on Ash Wednesday. And I'm going to go on pushing back when people infringe on freedom of speech and religion, especially on campuses.
And if my colleagues don't like that, all I can say is "Come and Have a Go If You Think You're Hard Enough." After all, if I may be forgiven quoting the great reformer, "Here I stand; I can do no other."
Update: I've edited this post to eliminate some digressions and generally tighten it up.