Chambers: Higher Education & Despair

Book Cover 1What led Whittaker Chambers to become a communist? His university education was one source, not because it taught him communism per se, but because it offered nothing to believe in. Faced with a choice between nihilism and communism, he chose the latter. Here’s an excerpt from my new book that I hope you will find enlightening with respect to the decline of higher education.

Chambers chose to attend Columbia University, close enough to home that he could save money by staying there his freshman year. “When I entered,” he explained, “I was a conservative in my view of life and politics, and I was undergoing a religious experience. By the time I left, entirely by my own choice, I was no longer a conservative and I had no religion.”

It is a statement that begs for more. How did this happen, precisely? What exact role did Columbia play in this dramatic turnabout? Who and what were the influences on Chambers at this time in his life?

He entered Columbia in the fall of 1920. Already damaged from his upbringing, having viewed the less seemly aspects of life in D.C. and New Orleans, and contemplating the social and economic crises that resulted from the recent Great War, now known as World War I, Chambers was soon to be firmly convinced that the world was on the brink of catastrophe.

He referred to it later, when he could explain it better, as a fault line. As with a physical earthquake, so also society was cracking under pressures and stresses that would ultimately lead to a cataclysmic upheaval. The problem was that most people did not understand what was happening; therefore, neither did they have a solution. During his time at Columbia, he sought to figure out the nature of the crisis and to discover the solution. In the end, the university did not provide the answer.

In effect, I was asking: Please tell me what our civilization means in terms of God and man, for I cannot make head or tail of it.

It was very much as if I had gone to a madhouse and said, cap in hand: Please explain to me the principles of sanity and sane living. Again, this is entirely without any special animadversions upon Columbia University. Exactly the same thing would have been true, in one degree or another, if I had gone to any other of the top secular universities in the country. Nor would the colleges have been at fault. Their failure merely mirrored a much greater disaster which was the failure of Western civilization itself.

Columbia was, he declared, “a citadel of the mind swaying in the vertigo of a civilization changing (without admitting it) the basis of its faith from a two thousand-year-old Christian culture to the new secular and scientific culture.” Whereas the Christian culture “placed God at the center of man’s hope,” the new secular faith, which was “exclusively rational and scientific,” replaced God with Man.

This was not indoctrination into communism, at least not explicitly. “No member of the Columbia faculty ever consciously guided me toward Communism,” he stated. “Columbia did not teach me Communism. It taught me despair.” That despair opened the door for the communist solution.

Searching for meaning in life, Chambers found that his university education provided only despair. Only much later did he finally come to realize that true meaning is found only in God, to Whom he eventually surrendered his will.

Campus Insane Asylums

On the higher education front, welcome back to the 1960s. Well, sort of.

College Protests

Yes, the latest round of protests from people with great experience in the world (aged 18-22) isn’t quite what it once was. Not that I cared for the 1960s protests, you understand. I was in college at the time myself. But this new protest movement from those who think they know everything is even more self-centered than the previous one.

It’s all aided and abetted by those who are doing the teaching, though:

Vivid Imagery

The professors who now continue the indoctrination of young minds who have been already been indoctrinated in our public school system have created some rather unrealistic expectations. Combine self-centered immaturity with a skewed view of reality and here’s what you end up with:

Can't Believe It

Socialism Will Work

The problem is that this immaturity spills over into society at large, escaping from the campuses to do greater damage. Of course, there are many adults who have the same worldview. One of them lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind this particular protest if he were completely open and honest with us:

Rainbow House

Free speech and open discussion are becoming endangered on campuses. It’s sad to witness those in charge (supposedly) cave to the pressures:

Yet Another

I’m grateful for some of our Christian colleges and universities that have not yet bowed to the new cultural sensitivity. One Christian university president made news recently, calling out a student who tried to force him to go along with the culture.

Everett PiperDr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, related how one student wrote that he was offended by a sermon at the university that told students they needed to be more loving. You see, that sermon made the student feel bad because it seemed to indicate he was not loving enough. Thus the basis of the complaint.

Piper’s response was right on: students are being too coddled, he remarked, and then added, “This is not a day care; this is a university.” Our culture, Piper continued, “has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic.”

Piper also took a shot at fellow academics, noting,

A liberal arts academy is about learning. It’s not supposed to be a place to suppress controversial ideas. My point was to challenge my own industry — to look my academic peers in the eye and say: “We’ve caused this.”

How refreshing to hear a voice of Christian sanity in a college world that all too often looks like an insane asylum.

That’s the voice all Christians are called to be in this culture. How many of us will stand up and be counted as one of those voices?

A Toxic Campus Environment

This new outbreak of campus unrest is more than slightly reminiscent of the turbulent period between 1964-1973, which coincided with the Vietnam War. Along with the war protests, however, we also experienced a major shift in culture. Traditional morality based on Christian faith was largely jettisoned on campuses, and in the intervening years, hostility to Biblical faith and morality has only increased.

While the ostensible rationale for the current unrest is racial, what we are seeing is a bandwagon effect as the old stale tirade against the establishment raises its ugly head once again.

What’s ironic, of course, is that the establishment in the universities is predominantly allied with the leftist agenda. Apparently, they are not being leftist enough.

The demand for free speech that supposedly was the basis for the earlier protests has been turned on its head. Now it’s free speech for me, not for thee.

Free Speech

Some fragile students are offended by almost anything with which they disagree. Everyone must come around to their point of view . . . or else. And if you deny this is happening . . .

Denier

College is also supposed to be a place where one receives a “higher” education. In some departments that has become laughable, and for certain students, it’s not even a goal:

Shocking Sports Story

And where education presumably is occurring, one has to be aware of what that education is comprised:

Imperialist Religious Fanatics

Many have commented that this generation of college students is perhaps the most coddled, immature, and crybabyish (new word?) in our history. For me, it’s always comforting to resort to one of my favorite sources of wisdom:

Perspective

Proper perspective is essential. The current generation, adrift in a sea of moral relativism, quasi-Marxism, and a sense of entitlement, is oblivious to real history, to any foundational understanding of how government under our Constitution is supposed to operate, and to the Source of all our liberties and social responsibilities.

Liberal Education Isn’t Liberal or Education

I was a college students during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War. My campus, Purdue University, probably wasn’t too different than others, caught in the wave of dissent over the war and in revolt against Biblical morality. Yet no violence ever erupted there, no one was kept from studying, professors were not publicly abused verbally, and no administrators resigned after massive protests over alleged grievances.

All of that is happening now, though, and college campuses are once again becoming battlegrounds that are, unfortunately, rather void of the intellectual firepower that they should be engaged in. Instead, what we see is an attempt to substitute slogans and anger for genuine solutions.

The latest eruption stems from perceived racial insults, but evidence for those insults appears to be thin, about as thin as the skin of those claiming to be harmed. And if you disagree with their viewpoint? Well, you should just shut up.

Suppression

By the way, we now know that the black student who started the disturbances at the University of Missouri and who went on a hunger strike to protest “white privilege” is the son of a multimillionaire. White privilege? There are a lot of white people in America who would jump to take advantage of the privileges this young man has had. He has also stated that his university education is what radicalized him.

And we still keep sending our children to these universities?

I’m blessed to be teaching at a Christian university where none of this has boiled over. I know for a fact that I would be one of those whose speech would be suppressed if I ever tried to teach at a typical public university. What’s ironic is that professors who have fomented this attitude—who euphemistically refer to themselves as “liberal”—are now seeing their words and actions come back on them in ways they never imagined. Many are probably still blind as to how they have created what we now see:

Out of Hand

Created a Monster

All the rhetoric about “safe spaces” has another unintended consequence—a “safe space” from thinking:

Safe Spaces

A segment of our population, both in so-called higher education and outside of it, is so perpetually aggrieved by everything that one cartoonist believes he has come up with the perfect editorial cartoon, one designed never to offend anyone:

Editorial Cartoon

Actually, that will be judged rather offensive, too, I believe, because it pokes fun at those who are so easily offended. Such insensitivity!

The height of the crybaby mentality surfaced this past weekend when some of the Black Lives Matter protesters were outraged over news coverage of the Paris attacks. You see, that distracted people from the REAL attacks on the feelings of college students.

Here’s a word of caution for those whose feelings are so hurt:

No Lives Matter

Time to get a grip on reality and the real problems we all have to face together.

What People Don’t Know

Teaching about Andrew Jackson and his faith in the common people the other day, I noted another of my Snyderian truisms: “Public opinion polls are not the fount of all wisdom.” I mentioned to my class that it really would be nice if voters had some concept of how our government was set up in the Constitution and what limitations there are on the federal government’s authority before allowing them to vote.

Of course, it would be rather unwieldy to quiz each voter as he or she approaches the voting booth, but one can dream, right?

And then, shortly after commenting on this in the classroom, I came across a couple of comic strips that addressed that very problem. I thought you might like them today; they may provide a few minutes of profitable meditation:

Small Test

Voting Test

And then there’s our citizens’ knowledge base about the rest of the world:

What's Canada

If you think my blog today betrays the weariness of a professor attempting to enlighten the current generation of college students, you are a person of great insight. I have to keep in mind the encouragement of this Scripture:

And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.

Thank you, Lord, for the reminder.

Fruits of the Sabbatical

My 27th year of teaching at the college level begins today. I’m a little out of practice, though, after a year’s sabbatical. I’ll have to change my mental outlook and reorient myself.

The sabbatical year was a real blessing. When some people picture a sabbatical, they probably think of someone relaxing for a year, playing golf, etc. Well, I haven’t played golf since I was 18 (that was at least a couple of years ago) and for me, relaxation consists of reading, researching, and writing.

And that’s what I did for those many months.

What did I accomplish?

20141025_095359I researched at six presidential libraries—Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton—and at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College for a collaborative effort with a colleague on what we hope will be a book (books?) on spiritual advisors to presidents.

That research resulted in a mass of information in the form of letters, memos, etc., that still need to be examined more closely to decide what to use. Once a book contract for this is achieved, I’ll gladly let you know.

C. S. Lewis 5While at Wheaton, I delved into papers on C. S. Lewis at the Wade Center and came away convinced that a book should be written on Lewis’s influence on Americans. That turned into a major research project in which I read and took notes on all letters Lewis wrote to American correspondents.

As I was nearing completion of the book, I found an agent who is now working to place it with a publisher. As of this date, there is a bright prospect that one publisher is serious about it, but I’m still awaiting final approval.

Just last week, another breakthrough occurred. I had finished a book-length manuscript comparing the optimism of Ronald Reagan with the pessimism of Whittaker Chambers back in 2010. At one point, I had a publisher but had to withdraw from that contract. Now I have another contract on that one, and the book should be ready for the market either late September-early October.

El PradoSo, all in all, this has been a wonderful year of devotion to scholarly pursuits. I will always be grateful to Southeastern University for its confidence in me and the funding it provided for all those research trips.

My research deepened my own knowledge significantly. One of the fruits is a new course I will be teaching this semester on the influence of C. S. Lewis. That will be fun. Is it okay to have fun as a university professor?

So it’s back to “normal” life now. My spirit has revived and I’m ready to accept the teaching challenge once again. I thank God for the opportunities He provides.

Our Wonderful Education System

I just want to have a little fun today at the expense of our fine educational establishments, if you don’t mind. The Mallard Fillmore comic strip is one of my favorites, as you probably know if you have read any number of my posts. It had a three-part series this week that I thought was quite amusing, taking aim at the loss of basic knowledge in our society. Perhaps we all ought to try this and see what happens:

Getting Pranked

Security

Micro-Aggression

And how can I omit my own sphere, that which is sometimes referred to as higher education?

Tenured Professor

I don’t believe in tenure of that type. A nice rolling contract is fine, but we all need to be held accountable for the quality of what we do in the classroom. No one should get a free ride.

Education that is judged on merit, not length of time served or the political correctness of what one teaches—imagine that!