Rabbi's Message

RABBI’S MESSAGE JUNE 2015

            Having spent many, many years of my adult life on college and university campuses, I am quite sensitive to the ideological climate that prevails there.  Although educationally the university has many strengths ( and some very significant weaknesses) it is the only path to many upper level professions.  Also foreign students still flock to our institutions of higher learning both for the substantive knowledge to be gotten there and for the prestige (either here or “back home”) of having an American University degree.  I could spill a lot of ink writing about the merits and demerits of our higher educational system.  But that is not my purpose here.  My concern is with the emotional tenor of opinion and activity that prevails on campus and within  the lecture hall outside of the supposed substantive information and guidelines to critical thinking that are supposed to be provided there.

            Specifically I am concerned with the influences exerted on students in the areas of politics, religion, Israel, and the Jewish people more broadly.  For many years a decided left-ward tilt has prevailed on campus.  The famous Bennington Study 80 years ago showed that tilt which has become ever more pronounced as the years have passed.  Of course even medieval college students were more liberally inclined than their parents and professors.  But today professors are at least as politically liberal or more so than their charges, and in many cases pressure them rather than just presenting alternate ways of thinking.  Of course, having an open mind is a prerequisite for being taught new ideas, information and ways to be changed.  These would otherwise knock without answer on a closed-door mind.  But it is one thing to present the new and the possibly better to a young brain to evaluate.  It is quite another matter to pressure, brow-beat and shame students who hold to traditional beliefs and ways, especially when the new is dramatic, deceptively attractive, but untested, while the old for all its failings may have endured for good reason.

Recently a movie called “God’s Not Dead” was broadly screened in the U.S. Its plot involved a philosophy professor who demanded at the beginning of the semester that the students sign a “disloyalty oath,” denying their belief in God. Otherwise they would fail the course.  One believing student who refused to sign such a pledge was threatened with having the professor do his best to ruin the young man’s future career.  The film created some furor, although I found its premise to be somewhat overstated.  But a spate of letters flooded the film’s producers, letters reporting similar although not quite so dire experiences in their own academic lives.  Further, a well-done study on the subject showed that students with less liberal leanings had to pretend to conform publicly to the majority view or to protest strongly against it.  There was no live-and let live middle ground. 

            Author David Friedman has written and lectured for many years now about the anti-conservative bias on campus, finding that non-liberal political views can be a serious social problem for students and even a severe impediment to becoming a faculty member.  The outgrowth or concomitant of the politics of academia is a disposition towards anti-God and anti-religion attitudes.  In the movie “God’s Not Dead” this anti-God attitude took an extreme and ugly form.  The reality is not quite as bad as that fictional account, but it’s not that remote from it either.  Many superficially thinking professors and scientific “luminaries” delight in denying God’s existence and the value of religion.  There’s even a society called the Foundation for Freedom from Religion.  It is led by “exalted” academics who don’t bother to recognize the reality that finite human beings are totally incapable of conclusively affirming or denying the existence of an entity which is of a higher order than humanity.  Immanuel Kant showed that conclusively over a century ago.  They also fail to recognize that there are societal moral underpinnings being washed away by their anti-God, anti-religion rantings.  The alcohol and drug-ridden campus lifestyle, the sexual promiscuity and probably the declining rate of subsequent marriage are likely consequences of this anti-religion tidal wave.  When your child or grandchild comes home from college and you try to interest him/her in going to schul, what do you say when he/she replies, “ My professor,” (and here come the academic credentials) says that God doesn’t exist and religion is a lot of hooey” (kind word substituted for the unprintable in a synagogue newsletter)?  Making matters still worse, you have Black Studies and Islamic Students and other such organizations on campus who are anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and anti-white and who are active and militant.  I and other Hillel representatives were personally threatened with death on the future day of Black revolution by one of these Black Student Union members with whom we were trying to communicate and empathize.  Incidentally, I encountered this same sweet soul in a position of leadership 20 years later on a West Coast campus.

            Simply put, we cannot tolerate the present situation as Jews, as lovers of Israel, as parents or grandparents, or as people who shudder to turn over our country to those who have been forcibly brain- and morals-washed at college.  What can we do?  We can inform ourselves about the problem. For example, read David Friedman.  We can find out more about the organizations, Black Students, Islamic Students, or anti-religious in the colleges our children and grandchildren attend or the schools to which we contribute as alumni.  We can call the Hillel director or Jewish Chaplain or Rabbi on campus or in the adjoining town to see what’s going on.  We can pressure our State legislators to be vigilant to the threat and to act in accordance with the moral high ground and financial power they hold.  We can write to school administrators and inform them of our concerns.  We don’t need to support professors, whether tenured or not, if they advocate to overthrowing the U. S. government, the killing of Jews or the destruction of the State of Israel.  We can withhold our alumni support, use alumni organizations as levers to press for change.  We can check out schools before our kids and grandkids enroll to see if problems exist and if they do, how bad things are.  We don’t have to send our dear ones to such schools. There are better choices.  What we can’t do--- is nothing.  Our future depends on it.

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