After four years at Cedarville, three years of involvement with The Ventriloquist, and two years serving as the editor of the paper, it’s finally time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life. I’ve lived through perhaps the most turbulent period in Cedarville’s history to date (although I suspect that the turbulence is not yet complete) and I’ve seen the university change in ways that I never would have imagined possible just a few years ago. As a farewell, I offer a few reflections on my perceptions of the direction and focus of the campus community.
I’ve heard and seen quite a lot about “the agenda” of The Ventriloquist over the past few years. (By the way, I find it fascinating that in the past three years not a single person has reached out to ask what our agenda is.) As would be expected, people hold a wide variety of stances towards the paper, from complete support to outright hostility. From the latter camp, I’ve read quite a bit about how I’m attempting to “destroy the university” with my “anti-God” agenda and other similar sentiments.
So I suppose I will use this space to clarify and explain what my agenda actually is. While The Ventriloquist has published various types of views and calls to action over the past few years, my agenda is not inherently one of political goals. My goal is to influence the campus community to think more and think more critically. To that end, we’ve published a wide array of theological, political, and campus news articles during my tenure as editor. While I am personally progressive, I have published a number of articles that I do not agree with on an individual level, because they contained well-constructed arguments or unique perspectives. The mission of The Ventriloquist, summed up in a sentence, is to provide a platform and a voice for ideas and perspectives that cannot find it elsewhere on campus.
To a large extent, I think that The Ventriloquist has failed in its mission. Especially over the year, the general orientation and attitude espoused by the administration and mirrored by the student body is one of ideological fascism. By that, I don’t mean campus safety beating down dorm room doors but rather a firm belief in a faith, doctrine, and world that contain no shades of gray. If you’re a feminist, you don’t believe the Bible. If you’re pro-LGBT+, you’re exercising revisionist hermeneutics. If you publish a newspaper with controversial opinions, you’re pursuing an anti-God agenda. If you’re female and you want to teach the Bible to men, or if you’re gay, or if you’re insufficiently Baptist, you’re not welcome here.
Ideological fascism is problematic because it is the enemy of thought and inquiry. Regardless of how confident we sound behind chapel lecterns and pulpits, we are imperfect human beings, which means that it is exceptionally likely that a large number of our views, beliefs, and doctrines are wrong. Thought and inquiry are the symptomatic medicine to our human condition: when we think critically about our beliefs and engage in good faith with those who disagree with us, we are able to identify and correct mistakes and wrong beliefs. Thought and inquiry in the face of prevailing theological opinion have been essential to making the church throughout history more like Christ, from the Reformation to the abolition of slavery to the women’s rights movement.
But ideological fascism cannot tolerate critical inquiry because good-faith dialogue with opposing views requires mental consent to the idea that we could be wrong. If we take the claims of feminism seriously, we must also open ourselves to the possibility that some of our beliefs and attitudes towards women are in need of correction. If we allow gay students to lead our campus community, we must also dialogue with a different perspective on the church’s attitude towards the LGBT+ community. If we allow atheists to speak on campus, we must take challenges to the ideological foundations of our worldview seriously. And that’s scary. It’s much more appealing to dismiss challenges to our beliefs with ad hominem attacks or straw figure fallacies. And so, we address the anti-Biblical “feminism” that wants to abolish the institution of marriage, assume that that particular view is representative of the entire feminist movement, and call it a day. But by doing so, we intentionally blindfold ourselves to our own inadequacies and mistakes. By trying to ensure that nothing ever changes, we inadvertently guarantee that nothing ever gets better.
Critical thinking isn’t just an issue of progress, either. It’s a Biblical issue. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12, Paul instructs the church to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (ESV). Implied in this mandate is the responsibility to actually do our best to understand other ideologies and worldviews and find if they are good before holding fast or rejecting them. Caricatures and straw figures don’t cut it; it’s impossible to test an idea in good faith if you aren’t even stating the idea correctly. On the same level, the Bible consistently expresses the importance of bearing accurate witness and maintaining intellectual integrity; to fulfill these goals, it is essential that we engage in honest dialogue with a wide variety of views.
The goal of The Ventriloquist, put simply, is to counter ideological fascism. To present controversial views or unique perspectives in the words of their own authors, so readers are at least forced to consider the existence and (hopefully) best arguments of another point of view. That’s why we carry out our mission and why we publish articles that are controversial or unpopular. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the paper next year, and I am pessimistic about the direction and focus of the administration. So to you, the reader, I leave this challenge: when somebody, anybody, tells you that their view of Scripture or politics or theology is the only correct or Christian view, don’t believe them. Do your research, find the best arguments from both sides, and decide for yourself. Be The Ventriloquist in your own mind: think and speak from another perspective, and interact in good faith with the best opinions and perspectives that the world has to offer. There’s a big, beautiful world of inquiry outside the bubble of Cedarville, waiting to be discovered; and the process of thought, discovery, and self-reflection is what allows Christians to become more like Christ.