Nessie for Student President, or, The Tyranny of Uniformity

Welcome to Bowdoin College, where the rules are made up and your beliefs don't matter. From the Washington Post:

BRUNSWICK, Me. — For 40 years, evangelicals at Bowdoin College have gathered periodically to study the Bible together, to pray and to worship. They are a tiny minority on the liberal arts college campus, but they have been a part of the school’s community, gathering in the chapel, the dining center, the dorms.

After this summer, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship will no longer be recognized by the college. Already, the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers.

In a collision between religious freedom and anti-discrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association.

Somewhere along the line - I don't know if was in my generation or the previous, I have no qualms taking responsibility if only as a step towards the solution - the American democratic ideal ceased to be "equality" and became "uniformity." In the former, peace is sustained when citizens hold each other in mutual regard even knowing their differences. In the latter, calm is enforced when differences are eradicated. Equality asks that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, each of us being an image-bearer of God (or an image-bearer of Chance, if that is your opinion). Two things equal to the same thing are equal to one another; believers and skeptics alike concur that men are created alike and created equal. But we are not created the same. Uniformity commands sameness, that we remake our neighbor in our own image and then love our own image as we love ourselves.

I do not know the expectations and requirements of leadership in other religions, and I cannot therefore speak to them or for them. I do imagine that a Muslim who joined a Muslim student group would prefer to hear guidance and teaching from a Muslim leader. I do not see why he should be forced to consider a Jewish, Hindu, atheist, or even Christian leader when he so pointedly sought out the company of fellow Muslims. (I use the example of a Muslim because this is the test of democracy: if you are unwilling to defend the rights of those with whom you disagree, then your own rights are forfeit).

Now, in the case of Bowdoin, there is of course no requirement that an "other" be appointed to a position of leadership within religious organizations, merely that no one may be disbarred from entering the election for that position based on their beliefs. The democratic process would in that stage effect a veto. This policy would be innocuous if it were not a neon-lighted billboard for intellectual infirmity. Every position of leadership has qualifications. I suspect Bowdoin has in place measures preventing my bid for president of their college. The United States does not allow native Frenchmen to run for president. Amputees, largely, are not selected as NFL starting quarterbacks. If I did not believe in Australia I would not be asked to captain a ship there. Leadership is meant to embody the core beliefs and objectives of a group. It is reasonable to expect the group is allowed to have permissible parameters for that position of leadership. If I were an astronomer, I should hope that we could disbar a man who refuses to learn about telescopes from running for president of the local astronomy club. 

Christianity is similar to astronomy in that we use a particular set of lenses to observe the world about us. We expect leaders capable of using these tools and capable of teaching others how to use them as well. We require a Christian leader to be a Christian who leads, not a leader who coincidentally just so happens to be Christian. The requirement is not sentimentality. It is credal. A non-Christian leader of Christians isn't simply anathema; it is non-existent. To require a group of Christians who gather as Christians to consider someone other than a Christian as a leader is the same as asking them to consider Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster for treasurer. It is not only a logical absurdity but a denial of the validity of those beliefs, a strike against the religion itself. It denies differences and seeks to erase the very outlines of individual character. This is not equality, for equality celebrates that the mass is made of individuals. This is instead uniformity, the dreadful sameness of lazy intellectualism that like Polanyi's Satanic Mill grinds men into masses, bereft of voice or identity. 

I would be far more charitable towards Bowdoin if they had required religious groups to consider the Yeti for club president. That, at least, would be an honest statement of their feelings toward freedom of belief.

I end with the mascot of the titular college in NBC's Community, the Human Being. A running gag on academia's poorly conceived struggle for neutrality, the Human Being is a horrific creature without race, sex, identity, or future. Meant to be everyman, it is no man, and no one. This is humanity dehumanized, and it is the utopian goal of policies like those of Bowdoin.