Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dinesh D'Souza at Vanderbilt on “How Christianity Shaped America: Religious Liberty and Liberal Intolerance.”

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Mr.  D’Souza speak at Vanderbilt University on the topic, “How Christianity Shaped America: Religious Liberty and Liberal Intolerance.”

 Mr. D’Souza is an American immigrant from India. He is the author of several best-selling books and regularly appears on TV news cast and talk shows. He has been called one of the "top young public-policy makers in the country" by Investor’s Business Daily and The New York Times Magazine named him one of America's most influential conservative thinkers. He is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and is the President of The King's College in New York City.

In his speech he defended Christianity and discussed the challenge of modern atheism and secularism. He spoke for a good 45 minutes and engaged in questions and answers for at least another 45 minutes. He was brilliant! He was thought-provoking, humorous at times, motivational and inspirational. Unlike many political speakers who preach and appeal to the emotions, D’Souza teaches, explains and reasons.

He made the point that Christianity changed the world and that our concepts of human rights and the worth of the individual are Christian concepts. He said that when there is a natural disaster somewhere in the world, that it is America and European countries of the world that send aid. China, Saudi Arabia and other countries have wealth but it is people in the Christianized world that feel they are their brother’s keepers. This concept of having a responsibility for the well being of others is not a Roman or Greek idea, but a Christian idea. In ancient Greece it was common practice to put an unwanted child out on a hillside to freeze to death. We do not have a record of the great philosophers on ancient Greece condemning this practice.

He said that in India, there is a saying that, “the tears of a stranger are as water.” In most of the history of the world, family or tribe was important, and compassion for others was unknown.

He answered the critics of religion and critics of Christianity who point out that horrible things have been done in the name of religion. Much of what is described as wars over religion are really not, he said. The battle between Israel and the Arabs is not over weather Abraham or Mohamed was the better prophet but is a battle over land. He said the war in Northern Ireland was not a war over religious doctrine but was a battle over political control.

To critics who bring up the worst of Christianity such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials, he pointed out that, while these things were terrible, the Spanish Inquisition lasted 400 years and a total of about 2000 people lost their lives or about five a year. In the Salem witch trials, a total of 19 people were killed. He said if you developed a balance sheet and compared those who were killed in the name of Christianity, compared to those killed in the name of atheism, on the atheist side you have the dead of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Pol Pot which adds up to many, many millions. The number killed in the name of Christianity cannot compare.

In the question and answer period one young man asked a question that has bother me, and I think many people who have ever examined their faith. The questioner asked how do you reconcile the horrors and genocide and partiality of God as reported in the Old Testament, to the gentle teachings of Jesus which teaches compassion and the value of the individual in the New Testament. D’Souza said that in his view, it is a mistake to view the Bible as a single book but it is rather a collection of books that cover generations. The Bible reveals an evolution of our concept of God as time progresses. God is “revealed” in the Bible over time, he said. He elaborated at length on this and I cannot recall the fine points of this theological argument, but I found it persuasive. Coming from a fundamentalist background, I have heard explanations that failed to satisfy or I have, more often than not, just seen this conflict between the nature of the early God and the nature of Jesus just ignored. I am sure D’sousa’s explanation would not be satisfactory to the more fundamentalist Christians who preach the Bible’s inerrant infallibility.
 
I asked Mr D’Douza about his thoughts about the current situation regarding Muslims in our community. I explained that in Murfreesboro, where a Muslim congregation is seeking to build a mosque, that there has been vocal and widespread opposition. Many of the opponents of the mosque, I explained, argue that Muslims should not have the right to build the mosque and are not entitled to freedom of religion. Those who take this position, I said, argue that Islam is not really a religion but a cult or a way of life or a political systems. Also I told him that there is widespread opposition to any workplace accommodations to Muslim and outrage whenever there is any accommodations.

Mr. D’Souza said that clearly Islam is a religion and a religion with a rich and long history. Islam helped improve the lot of mankind he said. He gave the example of the Bedouin and their practices before and after converting to Islam. He said clearly Muslims should have the rights of any other Americans. We should not make accommodations to practices that compromise our laws, such as we cannot excuse honor killings as an acceptable practice, but if one wants to bow and pray five times a day to Mecca that is a practice that hurts no one else.

A questioner asked Mr. D’Sousa his thoughts about the current situation on Vanderbilt campus which has adopted a policy that prohibits religious organization from discriminating. Under this new policy, a religious organization cannot require that students seeking to join the organization or become a leader of the organization agree with the principles of the organization. A Christian organization, under this new policy, cannot require that their members live what they see as a moral lifestyle or subscribe to the values and tenants of the organization.

The questioner pointed out that sororities and fraternities openly and unabashedly discriminate. These Greek organizations have selection committees and may fail to select someone because of their looks or because they are insufficiently wealthy or just because they don’t think the person would be a good “fit.” How, asked the questioner, can Vanderbilt allow these organizations to be selective and not allow religious organization?

 It is about power, said D’Sousa. Sororities and Fraternities have long established histories and alumni who contribute to the university. The University would not dare try to prohibit this type of discrimination. Vanderbilt being a private university, he said, has the right to establish whatever policy they want. This issue is not about Vanderbilt doing something illegal, but doing something that is wrong.

Of course, liberal academics do not see discriminating against Christians as wrong. Liberals delude themselves into thinking that their discrimination is moral and right and that the discrimination of others is wrong. Universities claim they seek diversity, but it is a certain type of diversity. They really don’t want diversity that includes conservatives or Christians. These people make them feel uncomfortable. They find them embarrassing.

Rod Williams, Dinesh D’Souza, and Gene Wisdom
Another reason this kind of discrimination is occurring is because Christians are not demanding enough. There is too much "turning the other cheek." He said that recently he was to have a debate at a college with an atheist and the Christian group sponsoring the debate said they would prefer that the event be billed as a “dialogue” rather than a debate. The difference, said Mr. D’Souza, between dialogue and a debate is that a dialogue is a debate where no one is allowed to win. It is this attitude of not wanting to appear pushy that puts Christians at a disadvantage. Christians are too meek and mild.

I am so glad I got to see Mr. D’Sousa speak and to meet him. He is a brilliant man and immensely likeable and he makes a strong defense of Christianity and Christianity’s contribution to the world. To learn more about Mr. D’Sousa follow this and this link.

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