The Unlikely Discipline: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, a study of Liberty University in Virginia, has sat on my night stand for about three months, and I have made only the most half-hearted attempts to read through it. The few failed attempts I've made track with most of what Barbara Kay confirmed in yesterday's National Post: while constructed under the veneer of empathy, the book is essentially a political treatise on the dangers of "homophobia" and "shameless anti-intellectualism" intrinsic to religious, especially evangelical Christian environments.
Old news, since the book was published in 2009 and rides that parallel wave of the demolition of the religious right, and outpouring of memoirs and essays of burned activists, smoking for revenge. But Barbara Kay gets it wrong when she says there is a problem with Christ on campus—not just because it's an old news fight, but because she extends the logic of Liberty to all evangelicals, everywhere.
Underwriting her column is the tired, historically illiterate argument that religion is the enemy of knowledge. Mercifully, according to scholars like Peter Berger and Scott Thomas, such faddish secularism is an historical blip that will come and go with no one to write its eulogy.
But in the here and now self-identified Christians, and folks who have gone through a system like Christian education, can rightly be bothered by this kind of reductionist assault. To judge a group by the activities of its fringe is hardly the work of charity, or even good journalism or scholarship. To insist that the activities of its fringe are endemic to the whole, despite its protestations, is not only uncharitable but slanderous.
This matters to more than just the few that were educated in and support worldview-aware education, like Christian colleges. According to The Christian College Phenomenon the last twenty years have seen explosive growth in institutions affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. In the United States, for example, public institutions of higher learning experienced a 3% growth in enrollment from 1990-1996 while CCCU institutions witnessed a 36.9% growth in that same period. In 2006, enrollment over the previous year at public universities grew by 13% and at other private colleges by 28%, while enrollment at CCCU institutions rose by 70.6%.
In other words, Christian colleges aren't going away. And popular assaults on their integrity, exaggerating their fringe as iconic, polarizes more than it informs. It is a reactionary outcry that obscures rather than enlightens. Christian colleges are public colleges too, filled with voters and citizens, convicted and often working for the common good. Nor are they unassailable. The sooner we move past this polarizing rhetoric and toward conversation, the faster we may find that a pluralist system of higher education, debating and encouraging, has something vital to offer Canada and the world. That's pedagogical pluralism worth writing about.