Wednesday, January 8, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, January 8, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Worldview Diversity (Or the Lack Thereof) on College Campuses: The Secular Transformation of American Higher Education
Over the last several decades, we have seen sector after sector of American society comprehensively transform, but none so transformed as the sector of American academia, particularly higher education. If you go back to the founding era, not only of the United States, but of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in this country, you will discover that virtually all of them were established by Christians, by Christian churches and denominations and philanthropists, and with the background of a commitment to the Christian worldview, and often with the foreground of a commitment to the training of Christian ministers. But now, as you look across American higher education, it represents the most highly and aggressively secularized space within the entire culture.
The transformation of American higher education has been traced by many historians, and it goes back to the last decades of the 19th century, not by coincidence with many of those institutions trying to emulate the newly emerging German universities. And the belief was then, and it continues even more aggressively now, that breaking totally from church control or theological influence would be necessary in order to have a prestigious, truly academic institution. By now, most of the elite academic institutions in the United States are so secularized that they have actually turned into an adversary culture against the founding convictions that brought the institutions into being.
Furthermore, the space is now so aggressively secular that it is no longer even necessary to acknowledge it as such. It's the only state of affairs imaginable amongst most faculty, students, and donors. Years ago, the historian Paul Hollander pointed out that most of these campuses have become an adversary culture to the country at large. Culturally, morally, and politically, they were basically representing a subversion of the very worldview and values that students had before arriving, and that parents and the larger population largely had, even as they entrusted their offspring to these universities and colleges.
Keep that background in mind when we turn to an article that ran at the Yale Daily News, that's the campus newspaper of Yale University, on the 6th of December of last year. The headline was this: “Faculty Call For Ideological Diversity.” Here's how the reporters, Valerie Pavalonis and Matt Kristofferson tell the story, “Despite Yale's push for increased diversity among faculty members, specifically with regards to demographic categories such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, several members of the university community voiced their concerns about the lack of political diversity." We will interrupt here to say that political diversity in this case is a stand in for worldview diversity.
But the reporters go on to tell us, “According to data from the Yale Office of Institutional Research, the faculty gender gap is shrinking. Since 2006 the percentage of female faculty of arts and sciences members has grown from roughly one quarter to one third. Yale faculty have also,” say the reporters, “grown racially more diverse over the years,” but, "conservative professors criticize what they saw as a lack of effort to recruit a faculty body that better represents the nation's political makeup."
Four professors interviewed by the Yale Daily News said that as it is, Yale's climate stifles political discourse. The reporters went on, "According to a 2017 survey, almost 75% of Yale professors said they were liberal. Still according to university president Peter Salovey, Yale is actively seeking to recruit scholars from a range of backgrounds with different perspectives." President Salovey said, "I think diverse points of view, ideas that challenge the mainstream, represented in a university setting are critical to both providing a great educational environment and also to making headway in scholarship and research." He went on to say, "And that diversity of thinking includes but is not limited to a range of political opinions." But if Yale really were to be committed to any kind of worldview, ideological, or political diversity, it would be. After all, it has set out certain goals for diversity and it is meeting those goals, but not when it comes to political diversity.
There are still just a handful of conservative faculty or faculty willing to be identified as conservative at Yale, and they've cried foul against the university's commitment to diversity, pointing out that it is not committed in any meaningful or truthful way to ideological diversity. As the reporters for the Yale Daily News said, "The university's reputation as a liberal school is not new. Conservative pundits often consider Yale to be a perfect atmosphere for snowflakes, a term used against students and faculty members who passionately advocate for ideas far to the left of the American political spectrum."
The article in the Yale Daily News tells us that a 2017 survey undertaken by the paper indicated that under 10% of Yale faculty members identified as conservative. The finding, according to the paper, "Nearly matched nationwide data from a different faculty political opinion poll cited by Inside Higher Education in 2007, nearly a decade prior." The take home from all of that is that the liberal trajectory, the extremely liberal trajectory of America's elite higher educational institutions, isn't new. The data indicates a stability of movement in and reinforcement of a very liberal worldview. Faculty are basically self-selected. Faculty members form the committees that make the hiring decisions. They make the recommendations concerning tenure and other kinds of employment decisions. They set the tenor for the entire institution, and if anything on most of these campuses, the hired academic and student services administrators are even more liberal than the faculty.
Now remember this news article is actually published in the Yale Daily News right there on campus and the reporters tell us, "According to another study conducted by a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and a researcher at Stanford University, academics in the Northeast,” that means the American Northeast, “are polarized even more. The ratio of liberals to conservatives is 28:1 according to this data from 2019." Carlos Eire is not only a Yale graduate, he is also a prominent and influential member of the faculty teaching history and religion. He said that Yale's liberal bent can choke productive discussion. In his words, "Yale takes a lot of diversity, but basically all that diversity means here is skin color. There's definitely no diversity here when it comes to politics. The liberal point of view is taken to be objective, not an opinion, not a set of beliefs."
The reporters go on to tell us, “When it comes to politics, Professor Eire said that his views do not exactly align with one party. Nonetheless, because he is in some sense conservative, he is in almost every sense out of step with his faculty colleagues at Yale University. Speaking of the self-selection process, the article states, "Eire said his political beliefs are the source of faculty whispers, which he said can prevent open dialogue and contribute to a culture of silence. In turn, this leads to alienation, that Eire said also weeds out conservative graduate students, resulting in a faculty hiring pool filled with liberal leaning professors." Professor Eire said, "It's not helpful if you want to have an open society with creative and productive political dialogue. If everything you say is immediately invalid because you are not virtuous, then there's no dialogue."
A very prominent computer science professor at Yale, David Gelernter, he went on to say that faculty political diversity is low. He estimated it at 0% in an email to the newspaper. According to the report, "He added that while there are a few conservatives, including prominent ones, their numbers are not high enough to have a significant impact on campus culture." Professor Mark Oppenheimer is also cited in the paper as saying that the liberal trajectory at Yale goes back to the midpoint of the 20th century, but was accelerated during the 1960s and the Vietnam War.
Indeed, we should remember that it was in 1951 that William F. Buckley Jr. published his first and arguably most influential book. It was entitled God And Man At Yale. It was subtitled, “The Superstitions of Academic Freedom.” Back in 1951, William F. Buckley Jr was not yet a household name in American politics and intellectual life. He had just recently graduated from Yale himself, but his book was a blockbuster, and the title said it all, God And Man At Yale. The whole point of Buckley is that Yale had, even by 1951, turned into what Paul Hollander would call that adversary culture. In the preface to the book, Buckley wrote, "The duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world." He went on to say, "The struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same battle reproduced on another level."
The book was not only a bestseller, it did ring an alarm about the massive transformation of American higher education, but the thing to note is that even by 1951 when William F. Buckley Jr wrote that book, the people who were in control of America's universities, and especially the faculty who were coming of age, they were absolutely determined not only to maintain the trajectory that Buckley had criticized, but to accelerate it, and that's exactly what they did.
William F. Buckley Jr pointed out that Yale, even in 1951, was teaching aggressively what was actually in contradiction to the university's charter, but that didn't matter anymore because the charter really wasn't binding. And of course the convictions that had been the very founding of the institution had been long abandoned. Professor Gelernter pointed out that if Yale were actually serious about hiring conservatives, it would have done so and it could do so even now. But he said, "I'm not holding my breath." But what Christians really need to keep in mind as we think about not only Yale University, one of the most prominent of the Ivy League universities, but about American higher education writ large, is that it is a culture of mutual reinforcement. The institutions such as Yale don't exist in a vacuum. Yale and Harvard and other institutions were influenced in the late 19th century by trying to keep up with their German competitors.
And in the United States, virtually all of the other academic institutions take their cues from schools like Harvard and Yale. They want to be just like them. And that means not only in terms of assets and policies and faculty depth, not only in curriculum, it means in worldview. And the worldview is also the process of an incubation. Those university campuses are incubators of young people, who turn out intellectually in their worldview formation and also in their moral judgment, very different often than when they enrolled.
So what keeps so many of these institutions in business? Why do the millions and billions of dollars continue to flow? Why are the applications coming at a record rate? It is because those institutions offer in modern, or you might say even postmodern America, enormous cultural value. But perhaps the strangest element in all of this is that Christian parents would be fighting so hard to get their children into schools that are intended by their faculty to undermine everything those parents believed and have even taught their children.
But that's not just true of universities like Yale or just true of the Ivy League. It's not even just true of America's most prestigious academic institutions. It probably, if the truth be known, is true of the campus near you, right down the street.
Political Donations of University Employees Confirms Overwhelming Support of Far Left Candidates: Political Monoculture Extends Beyond Yale University
But before leaving this issue entirely, I want to point to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by James Freeman. Freeman reports that at the University of Chicago, a report emerged recently that of the $193,985 in political donations in the 2020 election cycle given by University of Chicago employees, only $1,475 or 0.76% went to Republican causes and candidates. Again, this is cited from Matthew Lee at the Chicago Maroon student newspaper there, saying that less than 1% of employee donations from the University of Chicago went to Republican causes and candidates. Just keep in mind that this political dimension reveals an even deeper worldview dimension.
Matthew Lee reported in the Chicago student newspaper, "Bernie Sanders has pulled in 26% of all donations to presidential candidates by University of Chicago employees, with Pete Buttigieg at 20% and Elizabeth Warren at 15%. Former Vice President Joe Biden lags behind, drawing just 3% of money donated by university affiliates." The bottom line here, it is not only indicating a uniformly liberal position, but a very liberal liberal position. With Joe Biden, after all drawing just 3% and with Republican causes drawing less than 1%. The headline of Freeman's article makes perfect sense, "The Faculty Lounge Is Sanders Country."
The Resurgence of Astrology Among Millennials: Why the Big Questions of Life Just Won’t Go Away
But next, we shift to the issue of astrology and the new found popularity of astrology amongst American millennials, and in particular metropolitan millennials. We're talking about it today because the recent Sunday edition of the New York Times ran an article with the headline, “An Astrologer For The Internet Era.” The subhead: “Chani Nicholas doesn't want to tell you who you are, but who you can possibly become.”
Jasmine Hughes is the reporter. She writes, "The first time I met up with the astrologer Chani Nicholas in Los Angeles in December, it was for a lunch interview. We sipped our drinks and chewed truffle French fries. I asked questions and she answered them. The conversation flowed easily. We laughed a lot.”
Well, you can just say that this was a friendly interview. It's actually a public relations piece for the astrologer and for her website. It's published in the New York Times and the reporter tells us, "Ms. Nicholas, like my mother, my crush, and the DMV knows the exact date, time, and place of my birth. We had met twice before at the brunch of a mutual friend where I gave her this information, raw from a breakup and looking for any kind of salve. And then briefly at a coffee shop to talk about it." So she says when she received a copy of Chani Nicholas's most recent book entitled You Were Born For This: Astrology For Radical Self-Acceptance, she tells us that she wanted to have another conversation.
"Thus began the part of the interview that was about me, which I loved." Writing about astrology, the reporter tells us, "I've heard two main criticisms of astrology, that it's fake and that it's narcissistic. Many things are both, but astrology seems to bear the brunt of all this ire. A friend of mine", she says, always says that astrology is fake until it's real. That is until it confirms a presupposition or dovetails with a future outcome. But," she says, "I never gave it much thought until I came out as queer a few years ago and found that my new dating scene was populated with people asking not just what's your sign, but for my whole astrological chart. Over time," she said, "I have found it to be a useful organizing system towards self-definition and a fun way to deploy memes." Listen carefully to the next sentences. "The rise of astrology, especially among the internet generation has been widely chronicled. It travels because we love arch types. It's easy to understand because we all love apps. It's popular because we are all miserable. But," she tells us, "Chani Nicholas, age 44, and other socially conscious astrologers managed to sidestep the individualized self-obsession of it, which can easily venture into amateur self-analysis and endless confirmation bias. She approaches it more as a system of encouragement toward living a life in accordance with one's skillsets and values."
Well we can just stop at this point and say that we have faced a massive contradiction. We are told by this reporter that this particular astrologer has managed to help astrology to escape from self-obsession, but the entire article is about self-obsession, and the book that this astrologer has just written is after all entitled, You Were Born For This: The Astrology Of Radical Self-Acceptance. This isn't escaping self-obsession. This is bathing in it.
Chani Nicholas also participated in a conversation, another very positive conversation with the media, this time with public radio WBUR in Boston and it's Here & Now program. The program transcript reads, "Long relegated to the annals of the age of Aquarius generation, astrology is back in vogue and in particular among millennials. According to a 2018 Pew research center survey, 37% of women and 20% of men believe in astrology, with the highest numbers among people between the ages of 18 and 49. And it's becoming a lucrative business with Americans spending an estimated 2.1 billion on the mystical services market in 2018."
You might not have heard of this before, the mystical services market. It's like the New York Stock Exchange for astrology, but it's big money, $2.1 billion according to this estimate by public radio. But in worldview analysis, the next part of this conversation is really interesting. WBUR asked the question, so what's driving this renewed interest in the Zodiac? And then we are told Chani Nicholas, Oprah Magazine's resident astrologer and the author of the new book, You Were Born For This: Astrology For Radical Self-Acceptance believes astrology's resurgence is because, "Astrology is perfect content for memes." In other words, for self-expression.
And by the way, if you look at this conversation, she means exactly what she is saying. These millennials are so desperate for popularity by memes, that astrology offers an opportunity to gain attention. She's very honest about this. She says, "I think that astrology is the perfect content for memes. It's very shareable and human beings really want to know about ourselves. I want you to tell me something where I'm like, ‘Oh my God, that's so me. I relate to that.’" Now remember the New York Times tells us that this very astrologer has helped astrology to escape self-obsession, but she declares that a part of the value of astrology is people looking at other astrological references and saying, "That's so me."
Indeed, it's so you.
But we also need to know that there is a political dimension to all of this. That is inescapable when you think about the worldview significance, and Chani Nicholas goes on to say in this conversation, "I think the baby boomers came out of a time when they were part of a culture change that was really breaking from this fake nuclear family facade that was very like white supremacist and very classist and very, you fit into the mold and the baby boomers came along and they were like, 'No, we need to break this whole thing open.'" Notice that this just is supposed to go without comment or response, and national public radio, his particular program at WBUR where this astrologer actually says that the very idea of the nuclear family, "Was very like white supremacist and very classist."
She very clearly identifies herself as doing astrology for social justice. There is a wokeness to this that is indescribable, but there's also at an even deeper level, something here that Christians need to understand. Explaining why so many millennials turn to astrology, Chani Nicholas says, "And people really need to know is there some reason for this, and astrology," she says, "is one lens that can be like, well, this is the timeframe and this is what is happening in this timeframe, and so if we can look back and see that timeframe versus this timeframe, we can kind of get a context of what's happening and that can help to quell our panic and maybe move toward a solution in the moment. That's my hope for it."
The really meaningful and fundamental thing for us to note here is where she says, "People really need to know is there some reason for this?" You could expand that and say that what she really means is people have to want to know is there any meaning in this? That's an astoundingly revealing statement coming from this astrologer. Put everything aside and just consider the fact that every single human being has to be continually asking the question about our lives. Is there some reason for this, and the events of our lives and the events of history? Is there some reason for this? Is there any meaning in this? Now, the really sad thing is that by the time you read these interviews, it becomes very clear that for this astrologer, meaning is whatever you can find to write on to the event or to write onto yourself, or whatever you can conjure up to express yourself. If it helps you to put that into an astrological frame, then she says, "That's my hope for it."
So from a Christian worldview, perhaps the most important issue that we can think about here is the fact that when we meet anyone, we need to recognize that made in the image of God, there is a deep spiritual yearning within them. Every single person we meet who is of a sufficient age to think consciously, is wondering is there a meaning to all of this? Now we know they're asking that question because they cannot not ask that question, but when they are asking that question, that means they are seeking an answer and that's where we have a very real opportunity for evangelism. For saying to people, "Yes, there is a reason. Yes, there is meaning and it's not going to be something you find merely by looking inside yourself, and it's certainly not something you're going to find by gazing up at the stars."
That gives us a great opportunity for a gospel conversation. But it also reminds preachers, Christian evangelical, biblical preachers that in our sermons and in our church ministries, in our conversations, in relationships, we need to be constantly attentive to the fact that people really are asking this question. They're asking it all the time. Is there some reason for this? Is there any meaning in this? Let's keep that very much in mind and let's be really careful not to keep the real reason, the truth, to ourselves.
When you look at this kind of interview, it's very easy to see, as we have pointed out, the fact that even in claiming to escape self-obsession, it really becomes a demonstration of self-obsession, even an obsession with self-obsession. But even as we look at this, we need to recognize that's exactly what we human beings will do. After all, unless we are rescued by God, unless we're rescued by revelation, unless we're rescued by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we really don't have any other impulse than to try to find for ourselves some way of conjuring up a little meaning, some way of dealing with the events of everyday life, some way of being able to close our eyes at night and sleep.
You know, when you think about the popularity of astrology, let's just remember that astrology is found in the Bible. It's clearly condemned in the Bible, and it's in the background of both the Old and the New Testaments. Indeed, the reality is that we will seek to worship something. We have to worship something or someone, and if we don't worship the Creator, then we're likely to worship some aspect of creation. If we do not hear from the Creator in revelation, then we're going to try to hear some kind of message or find some kind of pattern. And that's why so many human beings, lost in confusion, have been staring for so long at the starry heavens in the sky.
So the bottom line is this: Astrology is back and in a big way, precisely because the questions won't go away. If we operate from a biblical worldview, we cannot look at astrology as anything other than a pathetic lie, a desperate attempt to try to find some kind of meaning, while ignoring the meaning that's right before us. But we also need to see this kind of yearning as a great opportunity, an opportunity to tell people that the questions are actually the right question. Is there some reason for this? Is there any meaning? Christians need to seize upon those questions as a great gospel opportunity.
Thanks for listening to the Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for the Briefing.