Thursday, 31 March 2011

Another outbreak of 'tolerance'

More evidence of western cultural and historical self-loathing - report from Wales Online:

"THE University of Wales could face an inquiry into an allegation it is breaching a new equality law by validating degrees at Christian fundamentalist colleges run by groups that believe homosexuality and sex outside marriage is sinful.
A number of senior academics in Wales intend to make a formal complaint about the university’s involvement with such colleges to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
On Tuesday, Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 comes into force. It introduces a public-sector equality duty which imposes on public authorities a legally enforceable obligation to “have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act”.
One of the “protected characteristics” defined in the Act is sexual orientation. Public bodies that fail to comply with the equality duty can face action in the civil courts.
A report written by a professor at a Welsh university, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons, examines the University of Wales’ association with eight colleges that subscribe to a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint.
One of the colleges referred to in the report – the Danish Bible Institute – operates through the Copenhagen Lutheran School of Theology (LSTA in Danish). The report reproduces a screen shot of an LSTA web page which states: “In 2005 LSTA started its own Danish theological Bachelor programme, which takes four years and is validated by the University of Wales. The BA students get their teaching at LSTA, where, also, all assessments take place.
“All teaching is academic and seeks to equip the students to serve the Church in different ministries after graduation. In the BA programme an obligatory trainee period is put in. Add to this that the BA student is expected to engage him/herself into various ecclesiastical tasks, eg youth work, charity work, missions to vulnerable groups of society.”
The report goes on to quote from another section of the website that makes it clear the college – and another in Denmark, which also has degrees validated by the University of Wales – subscribe to the doctrines of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, which believes homosexuality is a sin and is Creationist in its belief.
The report states: “Such alliances by the University of Wales are at clear odds with statements made by Professor Marc Clement, vice chancellor of the University of Wales, that ‘there’s no circumstance where we would tolerate discrimination on the grounds of sexuality’.”
Altogether, the report catalogues eight colleges in the UK, the US, Denmark, Finland and Singapore which have a similar perspective.
Professor Debbie Epstein, of Cardiff University, a leading expert on issues of sexual identity and one of the academics backing the formal complaint, said: “In my view, there are three reasons why it is wholly inappropriate for the University of Wales to be validating degrees offered by these colleges.
“First of all, there is the issue of having to accept the inherency [sic - inerrancy?] of the Bible as the word of God.
“For these people, there is no debate – and that is incompatible with the fundamental basis on which universities operate. Secondly, it is not acceptable for universities to operate a policy of only accepting staff or students who subscribe to certain belief systems.
“Thirdly, and particularly after the general duty to equality becomes a legal requirement next week, it would, in my view, be unlawful for a university to condone, through its degree validating procedures, colleges that do not uphold equality.”
She added: “You don’t expect to find this in universities.
“I believe the University of Wales should cease its connection with these colleges immediately.”
The author of the report has already approached the Equality and Human Rights Commission and intends to make a formal complaint next Tuesday, when the public sector equality duty takes effect.
The commission said it would begin an inquiry, should it receive a formal complaint."
Full report here

I don't know enough about the Evangelical Lutheran bodies mentioned to be able to comment upon them, perhaps they do not, in fact, meet the rigorous and critical academic approach to theology and scripture which seems to be demanded (I know this in itself begs quite a few questions for the Church), although one would imagine this would have been previously verified by the University of Wales.
However, the reasons stated in their complaint by the group of academics refer specifically to recent equality legislation, a very different issue and one which has significant implications for the exercise of religious and civil freedoms  - implications which have never been the subject of serious public (or academic) debate. It is clearly the beliefs of the religious bodies themselves which are the cause of disquiet for the group of university teachers, rather than anything  more directly concerned with questions of academic rigour.

It is more than a little ironic that this group of academics mentioned in the news report should call in aid the tradition of academic debate in the universities, itself a product of the vigorous medieval Catholic Christian high culture with which they would doubtless not wish to be associated. But perhaps the more serious and fundamental irony is exemplified by the comment made by  Professor Epstein herself, "For these people, there is no debate" - quite.
Why does the phrase trahison des clercs spring so readily to mind here? Perhaps that in itself has become a western tradition.
Every society in human history has sought to impose by legal sanction its own particular belief systems. Contemporary post-Christian western culture is no exception. The mistake would be to confuse this kind of coercion with "freedom," "tolerance" or "diversity." Relativism when it is enshrined as a guiding principle is proving to be curiously narrow, sanctimonious and prescriptive and, when combined with the extraordinary and unprecedented degree of conscious and unconscious repudiation of tradition and history which we are now experiencing, is a recipe for cultural suicide.
Our culture resembles now little more than one of those impressive Georgian buildings designed to be lived in and  whose facade remains intact, but whose interior has been gutted and replaced with fibreboard and plastic and now probably houses an advertising agency or something equally productive.
Freedom is something which has to be defended constantly, even the freedom of those with whom we viscerally disagree and whose beliefs we find offensive - something we in the West now seem to be in serious danger of forgetting.

On a lighter (and, of course, completely unrelated) note, there has been a bizarre story about a house in Swansea which is meant to resemble ...... Hitler.
Judge for yourself:

Perhaps not so much Hitler as ( for those who remember the television comedy "'Allo, 'Allo" ) Von Schmallhausen

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