Good Evening CCS Board, administration, faculty and staff, parents and families, students, and to you, the class of 2019.
In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the return of Sauron was possible because the creatures and men who peopled Middle Earth had forgotten the great evil and destruction that he brought. When they finally realized that he was back, and once again must be confronted, two hobbits, small and seemingly insignificant, were sent on a perilous journey to defeat him.
I hope you remember from our discussions in literature class that whenever anyone in a story gets up and goes somewhere, it’s a quest; and I hope you remember that the real reason for the quest is often unknown to the quester. The stated reason for your quest—to learn what it means to be human, to be a follower of Christ—you have already begun, and will now continue somewhere new, with new people and experiences, with new joys, and new trials. I pray your quest is also a quest where you learn to die to self, as you refuse, unequivocally and unapologetically, to deny Christ. You may think you are going to places where you will be able to discuss what you believe with your professors and fellow students with truth and civility. And maybe once this was true, but we have reached a tipping point. You are about to enter a strange land where these things will be difficult. Many universities and colleges, although doing the important work of protecting minority voices, have been driven, or have allowed themselves to be driven, to a place where in order to protect some voices, others must be silenced; where biblical truth and virtue are often scorned, if not dismissed entirely, for fear of giving offense. And herein, questers, lies your first trial. Protection has become oppression and a culture of victimhood rules.
C.S. Lewis said, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Victimhood culture, this culture that says, “You may not hurt my feelings,” is incompatible with the goals of a place of higher learning. Students are no longer taught to ask “What is true?” or “What is good?” or “What is beautiful?” but “How do I feel about it?”
Proverbs tells us that the way of fools seems right to them and forty percent of institutes of higher learning in the U.S. surveyed now have speech codes that substantially prohibit constitutionally-protected speech. These so-called codes are in place, ostensibly, for the student’s well- being, but really to avoid the possibility that any student may feel offended, unsafe, or unwelcome when confronted with opinions contrary to their own. However, in 2010 even the four liberal justices on the Supreme Court, as well as Justice Kennedy, agreed that the First Amendment protects speech that could be considered by some as “discriminatory viewpoints.” The whole reason for constitutionally-protected speech is to protect views you disagree with. Uncontroversial speech creates no such need.
I suppose silencing your opponents does have the benefit of making your extremism look less so, by suppressing the evidence of who you really are. Disturbingly, more than twenty percent of students polled in a recent Fox News poll said physical violence is okay as a tactic to suppress conservative students and campus speakers, calling it “self-defense,” and it’s happening with more and more frequency, while many of the administrators at these institutions of higher learning sit by silently. This is chilling—exactly the tactics that the Sturmabteilung (or Brownshirts) used in Germany in the 1920s and 30s even before the National Socialist Party had taken power. I wonder if the students who are being attacked feel safe, or welcome? In Galatians, the Apostle Paul asks, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
Many universities and colleges, subsidized by tax payer dollars, largely push left-wing ideologies and then mandate rules so that students who disagree are not allowed to dispute these ideas unless in a “free speech” zone. When an institution of higher learning fails to support free speech for all sides they are engaging in suppression of it. If uncomfortable ideas are off limits, how do we learn to think? John Stuart Mill said, “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and even if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” Those who stifle the opinions and ideas of those with whom they disagree are not infallible. All silencing of debate is an assumption of infallibility. Why is it they think they are right? This is ironic as the residents of this strange land—let us call it “the land of lies”—have already insisted that there is no such thing as objective truth. In fact, Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth.”
The nonsense that academic elites and student activists tell themselves that they are only “intolerant of intolerance” is swallowed unquestioningly by unthinking students. You will hear things like, “I disapprove of what you say therefore you may not say it”—a terrifying change from the America of not so long ago where instead you might hear, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Questers, here is your second trial: you are heading off to places, some of you, where there are active attempts to destroy the history of this country in an often misguided effort to be progressive. The French writer Charles Peguy said, “It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.”
Our past, in many cities and states, led, in most cases, by the local universities, is being systematically erased because this idol of progressivism requires its sacrifice. And it’s not just bits of concrete and offensive murals that are being hurried off into the dark; it is the very founding ideas of this country. Just last week, a West Coast school began the debate to remove images of George Washington from its walls as they are traumatizing to some. The how-to manual of the land of lies clearly must be George Orwell’s 1984 where “every book has been rewritten, every painting has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been [destroyed or] renamed…History has stopped.” America has historically been known as the land of opportunity; but now, according to the training guide of the University of California, to call America “a land of opportunity” is a “racist micro-aggression that suggests that those who do not succeed have only themselves to blame.” As the creatures and men of Middle Earth learned, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Your quest will take you, many of you, to places where people believe that they have a right not to be offended, not only by words or objects, but even by ideas. But ideas have consequences, and if you have a right not to be offended that means someone must police what I say about you, as well as what you say about me. Since “offense” is subjective, the power to police it will be too, and it will be vast and arbitrary. Banning ideas which one group finds offensive does not lead to social harmony. Instead, it gives everyone the “right” to take offense. But pursuing truth with vigorous debate will always have the potential of causing offense. In these lands, questers, you will find those who believe that if we can get rid of all values and morals, then we can automatically get rid of all judgement. No judgments, they say, equal no disagreements and, no disagreements mean no wars. With no wars you will have no poverty, with no poverty, no crime, without crime, no injustice. As John Lennon wrote in his song, “Imagine”: “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Living for today…” The song goes on to ask you to imagine that if there were no countries, no religion, no possessions, that all the world would be as one. These ideas were the philosophies of Maoist China, Soviet Russia, and North Korea, who assumed (and assume) that group identity should be exalted over the individual. But who gets to decide what that group identity will be?
When you speak the truth in the land of lies, you may be called a fascist (ironically), a hater, a bigot, a racist, a patriot. However, if your opponents are going to attempt to use words as shackles, they will soon find themselves shackled. Howard Zinn, one of the foot soldiers of the far left, actually wrote, “Objectivity is impossible. It is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable.” It is easy, once truth and morality have been cast off as irrelevant, to take the high ground and criticize others for failing to meet the standards which you have renounced. These slurs that you hear, and these attacks you will face, they must be confronted—and it will take courage. Courage is the one virtue required of all of the other virtues. For instance, it takes courage to tell the truth, it takes courage to defend the truth. And you are called to do this in love. This might be difficult to do, but remember, it is not the people that you are confronting, it is the powers that hold them. Second Timothy 2:24-26 says, “And the LORD’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
Never doubt, questers, that Christianity gives us an absolute moral order, and we cannot serve two masters. The declaration of some things as “good” and some things as “evil” puts the people residing in the land of lies in a horrible position, because their land is founded upon the idea that nothing really means anything beyond the definitions of truth and morality that they have created for themselves. The Christian faith is a challenge to people who would rather not be told that their choices are bad and their lives not virtuous, where they must admit that the ideas they do profess to believe are mostly evil, and already tried and failed, in most cases, costing millions and millions of lives. Unmoored from God-ordained morality and values, life is defined by purposelessness and suffering. In following their own desires, and feelings, in blindly believing their own lies, the inhabitants of the land of lies have become like the idol worshipers of Israel travelling the broad path to destruction.
Class of 2019: you are brave and loyal. You love fiercely, and you are feisty. All things which will help you to face—with courage and love—the people and ideas you will meet as your quest continues. Christ’s Great Commission was given to a small band of unlikely people who were sent into an idol-worshiping world similar to this one. They stood firm, and they obeyed. You must not turn away from these trials no matter how uncomfortable they make you, even if a grade is on the line, or a friendship is at stake. In the Gospel of Luke, we read, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” You have been the Cary Christian School Knights on the sporting field for the past four years. Are you ready to be Warrior Knights for Christ as you embark on this perilous journey? Take chances. It is impossible to live without failure—unless you live your life so carefully and cautiously that you fail anyway, by default. Do not be indifferent to these trials, as these trials have been given to us by God. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, “Indifference is not a response. Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor.” You must take a side. There is no neutrality. That is another lie the world will tell you. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at the hands of fascists, said that not to choose is to choose. Freedom of speech is the bedrock upon which all of the other liberties stand. Ultimately, freedom, any freedom, can be quashed, can be negotiated, unless it rouses itself to fight back, or someone brave comes to its defense. Perhaps this fight, the fight to be free to speak the truth, is the real reason for your quest. And there are much bigger things at stake than the survival of our shared culture and history.
This is your third and final challenge, questers: turn a deaf ear to those who seek to harm you or silence you and believe that Christ is beside you on this journey, knowing He Himself said, “for your reward in Heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets before you.” Put on the armor of God. Emulate Him, learn His words, speak His words, put on His righteousness, His goodness, speak the Gospel of peace, with faith as your shield, and the Word as your sword—and we will pray that your faith in Christ Jesus is strong so that, as the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” And take heart, because Christ tells us in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Thank you again, class of 2019, for the chance to see you again. It was a joy and a blessing to speak to you once more. Now go and light up the world. Congratulations, and God bless you all.
Photo by Mark Lindsay