Jerry Falwell was a tree. Old and rotting at the core, but big – oh very big. And it is the oldest, biggest trees that do the most damage when they fall in a forest.
Newt Gingrich gave Saturday’s commencement address at Liberty University. Between bible verses, Newt had this to say:
A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot profess the truths on which it was founded. We are told that our public schools can no longer invoke the creator, nor proclaim the natural law nor profess the God-given quality of human rights.
In hostility to American history, the radical secularists insist that religious belief is inherently divisive and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms.
“Radical secularism”, “Hostility to American history”, “God-given … human rights”. Gingrich is hitting all the hot buttons, isn’t he? This further demonstrates that Christianity, as a religion, requires enemies in order to survive, and if there are none to be found then they will be created, either by demagogues or through religious groupthink.
Liberty University is a poor excuse for a school. It’s greatest claim to fame is that it recently gained provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association, which allows graduates of Liberty University to take any bar examination in the United States. Even before its accreditation it offered a “School of Law” that theoretically prepared its students for the bar exam. Liberty University, as a Tier 4 school, probably doesn’t worry too much about academics. Tier 4 schools usually have a student body GPA of between 2.5 and 3.5, while a Tier 1 law school will expect an average student body GPA of between 3.3 and 3.9.
The science course at Liberty University seems to leave a lot to be desired. Liberty does teach the theory of evolution, but I think that’s a requirement for accreditation. Alongside evolution, they also teach Creationism of some sort – probably the young-earth version of creationism as shown by this FAQ that answers the question, “Were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark?”:
Dr. H. L. Willmington addresses this question in Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, p. 29, as follows:
Perhaps no other single question concerning the Flood will more quickly bring out the agnostic’s sneers and the believer’s fears than will this one. But there is now mounting evidence that man and dinosaurs did indeed live on earth at the same time.
Thus, to answer the question concerning whether dinosaurs were on the ark, it may be said that inasmuch as they definitely existed with man prior to the Flood, the chances are good that a young pair of these huge reptiles may well indeed have been aboard!
Just in case you might object that perhaps Dr. Willmington’s book isn’t part of Liberty University’s curriculum, the FAQ helpfully appends a little paragraph attributing the origin of this answer as being prepared by Jerry Falwell, Harold Willmington, Elmer Towns and Larrie Schlapman at Liberty University. The FAQ adds:
May you consult these answers with an open Bible and an open heart thus allowing God’s Holy Spirit help you find the truth (John 14:26). (Verse: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.)
If I took a physics test at Liberty U. and one of my answers included a violation of the conservation of energy, could I still get that answer marked as “correct” because the Holy Spirit told me that God created everything out of nothing?
What sort of damage must we undo from Falwell’s legacy? Graduates of Liberty University may not be well schooled in the sciences, but they are extremely well schooled in loyalty. George Bush has taken advantage of that, perhaps as a gift from one demagogue to another. Positions of power in the Bush administration have been given away to the marginally (or un-) qualified simply because of a demonstration of loyalty. As Cynthia Tucker has said:
When President Bush ascended to the White House, he allowed loyalty to him and to Christian fundamentalism to dominate the hiring process. Competence no longer matters. Neither do top-notch educational credentials and expertise.
Graduates of fundamentalist Christian institutions, especially Mr. Falwell’s Liberty University and the Rev. Pat Robertson’s Regent University, have been given free rein. Regent law school graduate Monica Goodling – who recently resigned from the Justice Department because of her central role in the burgeoning scandal there – was given broad control over hiring attorneys, despite her limited experience.
In his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote that similar loyalty tests were used in the hiring process for those charged with rebuilding Iraq. Two applicants told him they were asked their views on Roe v. Wade. Given those priorities, the reconstruction process was doomed from the start.
There is a community of people who believe in keeping the State separated from the Church. Some of us are secular, some not. The people in this community believe in keeping science separate from belief, and keeping the study of the natural distinct from philosophies of the supernatural. This community is at risk from religious fundamentalists who are happy to lump the liberally religious together with secularists like myself merely because we agree that scientific explanations of Nature make more sense than supernatural explanations.
Is this “reality based” community slipping? Are we failing the next generation? Could we be doing anything better to teach science and rational thinking to ensure a better legacy for those who come after us? What is our legacy?
Zev Chafets wrote in the Los Angeles Times that he had asked Falwell what his legacy would be. Falwell replied:
This university [Liberty University] has 10,000 graduates in pulpits and church boards all over the country,” he said. “There will be more every year. They’ll carry on.