On Thursday, the 26th of January, the West Chester University community was treated to a visit from two dutiful members of “Matthew 24,” who had come to deliver the lost among us into the light. Unfortunately, I was unaware of their presence until it was too late, but I have had more than a few interactions with the various brands of faithful, whom visit us so regularly. On every occasion I have invited them into my classroom for a more in-depth conversation about the logic, rationality and source of their certainties, but each time my offer has been refused. They never seem overly interested in dialogue.
My understanding is that many of those present took offense to the absolute truths our guests had come to share, and given what I know of their professed dogmas, I am certainly not surprised. However, I am not merely writing to add my voice to the choir of those who decry their shouted demonization of all non-heterosexuals or their damnation of non-believers and deviant masturbators, nor their condescending designation of women as property to be owned and controlled by men. Although, I find each of these proclamations, and many of their other godly dictates, to be very much worthy of the venom (and eggs) they received.
What I would like to take a moment to point out to my fellow WCU citizens is this: the spectacle that you witnessed on the “Quaval” was not merely a couple nasty fellas with a difference in opinion. In fact, it is not really accurate to call their belligerent shouts “opinions” at all. Those who have been baptized in absolutist, singular beliefs never truly own their ideas; their ideas own them. What you really witnessed was a grand example of the authoritarian mind, laid bare in all its glory. A type of molded consciousness so addicted to the comfort and safety of absolute certitude that it will go to every length to protect its ontological security. And, make no mistake, the fact that you and I breath air while not embracing their truths – in exact line and verse – does, in fact, threaten that security. There should be no surprise that they chose to visit a public university – ignorance has always been the ally of mental despotism, while an education dedicated to logic and reason, its greatest adversary.
What the boys of Matthew 24 actually provided us is a valuable and vivid lesson in the cult-like nature of absolutist-religious belief, which has proven so very disastrous to humanity throughout our history. From the Crusades to the Inquisition to centuries of Jihad, from the Salem witch hunts to the Holocaust and countless other wars and atrocities, the reality of what happens when such dogmatic mindlessness prevails and takes power couldn’t be more frighteningly evident.
Setting aside our disgust for their hate speech, what should be of most concern for us as citizens, within an increasingly at-risk democracy, is that the type of consciousness they display does not simply stay sequestered in the parts of the mind where godly instructions are downloaded on Sundays. In fact, once the mind is shaped and formatted for monologue rather than dialogue, especially during the early stages of development, it tends to seek out such circumstances wherever and whenever possible. In other words, authoritarianism tends to exist as a “viral meme” that spreads throughout the host mind, totally defining their relationship with the world by way of a looping, singular and all-encompassing “answer” to all of life’s ambiguities and uncertainties. When such consciousness becomes overly prevalent within a society, public discourse is infected and the political, social, and economical circumstances are perverted as they increasingly fall under the influence of those who lack the basic capacities to decipher reality from fantasy. Worse yet, such pseudo-citizens vigorously abdicate such responsibility.
It is my opinion, that defending against the rise of these circumstances – by way of fostering the development of logic, reason, criticality and independent thought – is the most fundamental mission of a university. I consider this to be especially true for a public university like WCU.
So, in response to Matthew 24 and those of their ilk – of whom we have certainly not seen the last – let us channel our anger and commit ourselves to the ever sharpening of our capacities for, and commitment to, logic, reason, and discourse. In the long run, these are the values that will serve to defend against such individuals actually realizing the world they pray for. In fact, these are the values that have always served as the greatest defense against the tyranny of absolutism, while simultaneously promoting the fundamental ingredients and hope for a humane, compassionate and democratic society.
Let me leave you with the words of Robert G. Ingersoll, a great freethinker who spent his life fighting for this very cause, and wrestled with more than his share of the pious, faithful, and fanatical along the way. Perhaps we can share his words with the boys of Matthew 24 during their next deployment:
If cathedrals had been universities
If dungeons of the Inquisition had been laboratories
If Christians had believed in character instead of creed
If they had taken from the bible only that which is GOOD and thrown away the WICKED and ABSURD
If temple domes had been observatories If priests had been philosophers
If missionaries had taught useful arts instead of bible lore
If astrology had been astronomy
If the black arts had been chemistry
If superstition had been science
If religion had been humanity
The world then would be a heaven filled with love, and liberty and joy
Dr. John Elmore is the department chair of professional and secondary education. He can be reached at JElmore@wcupa.edu.