Friday, December 9, 2016

Where are the Safe Spaces?

Quest Forums articles always concern topics about which I am passionate, but they are rarely personal. This week’s post is an exception. It was recently brought to my attention that an online petition has been circulated to create “safe spaces” on the campus of my alma mater, Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. You can read the full petition here. I would recommend reading the entirety of it for context, and because it is quite brief. Also, you should never just take my word for it. I have a considered opinion, and I do hope to help in informing yours. But it is always possible that I have missed something or read too much into something else. Ultimately, you must make up your own mind.

Safe Spaces

One immediate impression I gained from reading the petition is that it is very cleverly worded. With phrases like “affirm[ing] … our Catholic identity and Benedictine heritage” and “pledg[ing] to each of you that we will resolutely uphold Saint Vincent College as a place of hospitality and hope for all who enter,” it is made to sound like little more than an extension of the college’s existing culture. Furthermore, it is written in such a way that anyone who would dare criticize or question the petition would seem monstrous. Be that as it may, I am going to do it anyhow.

The giveaway is in the final paragraph, in the phrase, “safe spaces.” In a stunning example of Orwellian doublespeak, this construct obscures meaning and chills debate. Saying that safe spaces must be created suggests that the college is currently unsafe. That is why it is so difficult to criticize. To say there is anything wrong with this initiative is to open yourself to charges of being bigoted, and desiring to harm the psyches of others. Furthermore, the creation of safe spaces would be prone to making the campus less safe rather than more so.

That is no mere claim. It is already the reality. At campuses across the country, commentators like Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos (of whom I am not a fan, for the record) are being uninvited, boycotted, protested, shouted down, and decreed against in the name of “safe spaces.” And more often than not, it is the universities and their professors themselves who guide these efforts. It sends a single, unmistakable message: no challenges to postmodern Progressive orthodoxy allowed.

And there, then, is the irony. There is the lie. Safe spaces are only safe for those who already engage in the proper groupthink (wow, two Orwell references in one article. Now that’s unusual for me). Step out of line, and you must be destroyed for daring to have a different opinion. “Safe spaces” are about making debate and disagreement impossible.

Too Close to Home

I have been aware of safe spaces for some time, of course. Most of us have. It is the current trend in academia, as schools twist themselves in knots to be in compliance with the new taboos of an increasingly-religious secular left. It may not yet be a modern Inquisition, but it is taking a lot of its cues from a medieval unwillingness to hear something new.

I never expected it to hit so close to home, though. The Saint Vincent I knew, the one I hope survives this effort to stifle free thinking, was already a safe space. It was safe in the only way that mattered, because it was a place where you could have your own opinion, where you could challenge and be challenged by ideas, and where the freedom to disagree was sacrosanct. And as an evangelical Christian at a Catholic school, and a conservative student with liberal professors, I had plenty of occasion for disagreement. But I never felt unsafe.

In part, that was because of the environment of the campus. But more so, it had to do with my own fortitude. I was not so weak-minded that every new idea was like a wave buffeting me into rocky shoals. I was blessed with an upbringing that stressed having a firm foundation in faith, while also having the humility to hear others out. I did not need to be protected.

Perhaps I was lucky. But is it really helping those less fortunate than me to shield them from reality? Or is it not better start late rather than never? If children are being coddled in their homes, as they seem to be, then the colleges need to be places where they are finally prepared for the real world. And in the real world, they are going to hear things with which they will not agree. There will be struggle. That is what makes you strong. If you have a college that provides “safe space” rooms for students to watch soothing videos and squeeze stuffed animals after hearing ideas contrary to their worldview, then they are not helping them. They are infantilizing them.

The Need for Offense

Above all else, however, the “safe space” initiative is troubling from my perspective as a minister and a Christian. I have made no secret about my disagreements with Catholicism, but I have also been transparent about areas of agreement. I thought that one of them was our understanding of truth. Truth is exclusive, it is divisive, and it is offensive. It is exclusive, because Jesus is the only “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is divisive, for as Jesus said, He did not come “to bring peace on earth” (Matthew 10:34–39). And it is offensive because Jesus is “‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word” (1 Peter 2:8). Christ’s word is light, but “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19, 20).

The Gospel message is one that says there is something wrong with fallen humanity. It also offers a solution. In fact, it offers the only solution. But it is still difficult to hear that there is something wrong with us, and many people cannot stand to be told. Does that mean we should not tell them? Should we be silent, fearing to offend or to make them feel “marginalized, dismissed, maligned, and even attacked”? God forbid! No, we must show them that they have marginalized themselves, dismissed themselves from the presence of the Lord, maligned the sacrifice of Christ, and attacked the only truth that saves them. Challenging them is the only way to rescue them. It would be the epitome of hatred to remain silent. Nothing could make them less safe. Should we be cruel in the way we say these things? No. Or can we force them to accept this truth? No again. But we should not hide our light under a bushel just because it hurts their eyes.

The Best Approach

That is my perspective. There are other issues at play, of course, issues of race and of politics that can also be divisive. But stopping discussion is the absolute worst way to handle them. And it is also the least free. Young people are going to hear things they don’t like, at least as long as liberty lives in this land. They need to grow up by listening, evaluating rationally, making a decision, and then, if necessary, producing a counterargument that leans on more than emotionalism. Professors should be teaching that approach, not making little automatons that cannot process new information. They should not be teaching new generations to eviscerate the principles found in the First Amendment. And if they will not do what is right, then parents and alumni need to stop sending money to their institutions.

I hope Saint Vincent College will not give in to this ridiculous concept. I am disappointed so many people have supported it. There are names on that petition I know, which I am shocked to see. Hopefully they do not agree with this nonsense. The most credit I can give them is that they were pressured into doing so by fear of persecution, or they were not well enough informed to know what this petition implies. I hope they can come to see greater wisdom. Other names are not so surprising. More than likely, they were the ones creating trouble where it didn’t exist in order to silence dissent. May they repent. But however it turns out, I know one thing for certain. The safety that matters most is the safety to say what you believe. I won’t be giving that up just because it makes people uncomfortable. There is no right to freedom from offense.

Thanks for checking out the Quest Forums blog! If you enjoyed this post, please consider following me here, on Twitter (@Quest_Forums), or on Facebook (“Quest Forums”). Links are in the sidebar. I am always looking for new questions and comments, so submit yours on any of these sites or by emailing And please, spread the word! The share buttons below are a great way to do that. I want to connect with as many people as possible, so if you know anyone with questions about the Bible, send them my way.

No comments:

Post a Comment