Right-Wing Political Correctness

Have you been following the goings-on at Wheaton College?

Last week, Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones took the first step toward firing Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the college for more than eight years, who posted on Facebook last month her intentions to show support for Muslims feeling besieged after the Paris terrorist attacks.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on her Facebook page. “And as Pope Francis stated ... we worship the same God.”

According to the private evangelical college, not clarifying what makes Christianity distinct from Islam put Hawkins in conflict with Wheaton's statement of faith, 12 evangelical beliefs that all Wheaton professors must sign and live out.

It would seem that according to the Wheaton Provost, insufficient hostility toward Muslims is a firing offense. I had no idea Protestant theology called for denying that Muslims were people of the book. That Christians, Jews, and Muslins worship the same God is a very mainstream view among all of those religions.

Extremists and fanatics are always intolerant of any dissent from their views. Any time a left-leaning student suggests people should be more sensitive towards minority groups, there is endless whining and gnashing of teeth from the right. We hear about fascism and political correctness and the end of the university. But there is just as much fanaticism on the right, and they are far more ruthless in enforcing their will.

Writing at National Review, David French defends Wheaton. His post is called, “The Radical Left Will Never Let Christian Colleges Be Christian,” but the most vocal opposition is not coming from the left at all. It's coming from students and faculty at Wheaton. And the links he provides, supposedly to radical leftists are, as Kevin Drum notes, actually to criticisms that are incredibly mild and temperate. But people like French just love to play the victim card.

Leaving that aside, here is French's view:

One of the nation's premier evangelical educational institutions -- Wheaton College -- is under intense fire for its decision to begin termination proceedings against Larycia Hawkins after she publicly declared her belief that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” (I wrote about the controversy on the home page last year and outlined the traditional Protestant argument that Muslims do not, in fact, worship the God of the Bible.) Terminating a Christian professor — or any other employee of a Christian institution — for expressing beliefs out of line with the organization's statement of faith is common and should be uncontroversial. Christian organizations have the same right to define their mission and message as any other expressive organization. Does anyone think it’s unjust that the Sierra Club won’t hire fracking advocates or that LGBT activist organizations aren’t open to Christian conservatives?

But it's not as though she denied the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus. It should not be commonplace to fire someone for dissenting from an especially extreme view on a minor point, even at a Christian college. Wheaton's statement of faith does not directly address this question. Not at all.

Wheaton is not taking this action because they worry that Hawkins will inspire a wave of heresy among their students. They are doing it because they were inundated with complaints from angry alums, and they needed an excuse to get rid of her.

Things get stranger when you follow French's link to this article, where he explains his view that Muslims worship a different God from Christians.

Theologian R. C. Sproul puts the contrast in similar terms: To Muslims, god “is a single person, transcendent. The God Christians worship, on the other hand, is the maker of heaven and earth. He is one being and transcendent, who exists in three persons, which are also immanent.” Critically, “Neither the one-ness nor the three-ness of God are tangential attributes. They are instead essential attributes; they define who He is.” (Emphasis added.)

Writer Trevin Wax states the blunt and plain truth: “God is not God apart from Jesus. It is pointless to try to define the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from Jesus Christ.” In the Muslim view, however, Jesus is not God. Full stop. Reformation giant John Calvin said, “By their rejection of Christ, [Muslims] substitute an idol in his place.”

Go to the original for links.

By this logic, Jews also don't worship the same God as Christians. But if Hawkins had expressed her solidarity with Jews, French would not be getting the vapors over it. Leaving that aside, his argument is theological nonsense. That Jews and Muslims reject the Trinity is, from a Christian perspective, an error on their part. It does not in any way imply that Jews and Muslims worship a different God.

Historian Mark Noll, himself an evangelical Christian, once wrote a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In his words, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. People like French and the Wheaton provost are perfect examples of what he had in mind. Their kind of fanaticism in rooting out perceived heresy is not consistent with a serious institution of higher learning.

It is an attitude that is far more prevalent on the right than on the left.

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Excellent catch, Jason.

Here's the relevant statement from Wheaton's statement of faith:

"WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory. "

The operative phrase is "We believe in one sovereign God," and the rest is further clarification of that belief.

Further, the statement of Trevin Wax, cited in another of your links, "...God is not God apart from Jesus..." has the direct effect of denying Christians' common bond with Jews as well. Citing Wax opens the door to anti-Semitism.

Clearly, what's going on here is that Wheaton is reacting to overt bigotry on the part of alumni. Whether the firing rises to the level of an unlawful termination is up to the lawyers and courts to decide, and much will hinge on the details of the professor's contract.

However it is likely that this professor is headed for the Religious Left, which I'm sure will welcome her even if she has other views that are more conservative than the Religious Left's views in general.

BTW there's another outrage in the religious university universe:

Oral Roberts University is now requiring incoming freshmen to wear Fit Bit tracking devices, and will be monitoring their output including GPS, for disapproved activities such as visiting places the university declares to be off-limits. No doubt they'll also be expelling students who are found to have elevated pulse and breathing rate after curfew hour at night, or at other "inappropriate times and places" such as alone in their dorms or bathroom stalls.

These types of developments add up to truly totalitarian ideologies enforced by truly totalitarian means.

The Stasi would be proud.

Who would have guessed that the Religious Right would have so much in common with the secret police of an officially atheistic state?


And the moral of the story is: If Ted Cruz gets into the White House, this is only the tip of a very very dangerous iceberg. Cruz is a Dominionist extremist through & through, and a keyword search of "Cruz" + "Dominionism" will no doubt bring up numerous articles on the subject. See also the site talk2action.org for high-quality reporting on the Religious Right including Cruz.

Christian organizations have the same right to define their mission and message as any other expressive organization.

This is true, but it is also true that employers are not free to change the details of an employment contract after they and the employee have signed it. Prof. Hawkins already agreed to abide by Wheaton's Christian Statement of Faith, and she does so. If Wheaton has recently decided that the statement of Faith must be changed, then they can do that...and then renegotiate every employment contract they have with their employees.

I don't think Wheaton will do that, because I cynically believe that theological complaint is only a thin veneer they're putting on this to have some vaguely legal justification for doing it. In reality, they object to her politics not her theology. She is engaging in public, symbolic, political speech in solidarity with Muslims. If they change the Statement of Faith and ask all professors to sign the new one, they run the risk that Prof. Hawkins will happily sign the new one, agree publicly that Muslims don't worship Jesus-God, but then continue to wear a headdress in solidarity with Muslims and speak out about their plight. And that is manifestly not what Wheaton wants to happen.

Why are we, as a bunch of atheists contributing to a science blog, remotely bothered about this Gulliverian dispute?

If one particular theo-loon runs up against the theo-loonery of another bunch of theo-loons and the two of them manage to come into an invented form of theo-loonery conflict, then how are we supposed to arbitrate?

Jason, I’m a little surprised at you – how do you expect us to distinguish between what the nature of one non-existent entity might be in comparison to the nature of another? Given that any judgement (by which I mean rational/philosophical judgement, not legal judgement – the lawyers will surely find some sort of pseudo-traction with which to form a pronouncement), must be contingent on finding such a distinction, then what view can we possibly take?

Perhaps, as a university employed academic yourself, you are feeling some solidarity with the plight of another? If so, might I suggest that in this case your sympathy is misplaced? Surely it is impossible to invoke any sort of civil/employment rights argument either one way or the other, given that both hold untenable positions. The question of rights in such circumstances, at least that we as atheists can recognise, simply cannot arise. We just end up going to war over which end of our boiled eggs we should crack open.

Can someone explain to me, what dog do we have in this race?

"It is pointless to try to define the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart from Jesus Christ" (Trevin Wax in the quotation). Wouldn't that would be news to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!

By Miles Rind (not verified) on 15 Jan 2016 #permalink

Why are we, as a bunch of atheists contributing to a science blog, remotely bothered about this Gulliverian dispute?

Well I'll let Jason answer for himself. For me, I dislike religious intolerance directed at anyone, not just myself. Moreover, there seems to be a very bad trend in academia towards demands for extreme ideological purity by both the left and right. Jason being an academic, this trend is probably of interest to him. He has previously written and commented on some examples of the left doing it so that's a pretty good indication he thinks the subject relevant. This is a right-wing example of similar conduct, so it's no surprise he's similarly interested in it.

eric - the problem is this:-

2 parties are involved in a theological dispute, a dispute which in my view (and I presume yours too), is essentially meaningless. If you or I choose to take one side or another in this argument, It necessarily follows (whatever the legalistic niceties on one or the other side) that we must express a theological view - it is implicit in our lending such support that we also express a theological preference for the god of one party or the other. We thereby lend an illegitimate meaningfulness to the whole mad enterprise, a meaningfulness which we would, at the outset, strongly wish to deny. We cannot therefore express any preference without implicitly contradicting our own position.

As it happens, like you and Jason, I have a sneaking degree of sympathy for this woman, who is probably a very decent person who has been unkindly treated. Having said that, we cannot officially support her position without implicitly supporting her worldview and that, in the end, I cannot bring myself to do.

P.S. - At its most fundamental this argument actually has nothing to do with "left-wingness" or "right-wingness".

P.S. – At its most fundamental this argument actually has nothing to do with “left-wingness” or “right-wingless”.

Comedy - you can't be serious. Do you live in a world with no connections? Just the other day Congressman Brat claimed that the Republicans "owned" Christianity in response to Obama. This is more political than theological.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 15 Jan 2016 #permalink

Please note the "at its most fundamental" preamble. If you wish to add any number of layers of varying types of human interaction on top of some pre-existing structure, then all such human interactions can, in the broadest sense, be labelled "political". In this case the basic argument is theological, not political. I suppose you can consider theology to be a subset of politics, but we then descend into a word playing game.

Certainly, by any definition, this dispute has become political, but that does not detract from the fact that we can't join in without expressing a theological positon, the superimposed political element notwithstanding.

Phil@6: Wheaton College administrators may be claiming in public that this is a theological debate. But I've been reading Fred "Slacktivist" Clark's coverage of this case, and he has seen private e-mail from at least one administrator demonstrating that it is not theological at all. The issue is not what Prof. Hawkins said, but what media incorrectly reported her as saying, and it's the latter that has alumni donors calling for Hawkins to be fired.

As Michael says above, this is political, not theological.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Jan 2016 #permalink

Michael Fugate at #7 - what does the view of some Congressman or other on the ownership of Christianity have to do with the matter at hand?

Eric Lund at #9 - I do understand that this matter is highly political. However, if there is no underlying theological difference between this professor and the people who run the college, then what is the basis of the political dispute in the first place? How and why did it arise? What exactly are the points of difference between her and her bosses if not, at least initially, theological? Are you perhaps saying that the whole thing is a media invention from start to finish, created entirely through false reporting?

It seems logically obvious that the God worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims represent different beings. Jews believe that God forbids eating pork; Christians believe that God doesn't forbid eating pork. The same agent cannot hold two explicitly contradictory beliefs. Hence, these three religious groups worship different Gods.

Well, possibly. Alternatively they worship the same god, it's just that one or the other, or both, just haven't quite understood what he's actually saying. Maybe that's their fault for not listening carefully enough, or maybe it's god's fault for not making himself clear enough. Or. just possibly, perhaps they're all each worshipping a figment of their own imagination, and the profiles of the 2 or 3 or more figments don't quite match. Which do you think it is?

I've heard both opinions expressed. There was the American General who was speaking (I think to a church group) about the Iraq Invasion and claimed something to the effect, "No wonder we won; we worship a god, they worship an idol." On the other hand more than one of the recent Popes has tried to reach rapprochement with Muslims, and there's this:


"The latest report reiterates claims that it is only thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection that all people have the chance of salvation, but accepts that Jews can benefit from this without believing in him."

The split on this issue seems to be between evangelical Protestants and most other Christians. The eP's think everyone but themselves are wrong. Sometimes I suspect (but don't know) the Catholic hierarchy with their much longer history know at some level that it's all a con and think cons should respect other cons' con-games.

One possible benefit of publicizing such dissensions and tensions is that there is a chance it will make some of the indoctrinated people think about what it says about their religious leaders' lack of tolerance, undemocratic practices, general hypocrisy, and rather incoherent theology. Or not.

Phil B.:

2 parties are involved in a theological dispute, a dispute which in my view (and I presume yours too), is essentially meaningless. If you or I choose to take one side or another in this argument, It necessarily follows (whatever the legalistic niceties on one or the other side) that we must express a theological view – it is implicit in our lending such support that we also express a theological preference for the god of one party or the other

I completely disagree. There is no need at all to take a theological position to defend Prof Hawkins. See my post #2 for a very nontheological defense of her position, based instead on the argument that a contract once signed cannot be modified unilaterally by one party.

eric – I think we may be talking at cross purposes here. Prof Hawkins’s lawyer, who may be charged with bringing her employment case in some court or another, may well be able to defend her position on purely legal grounds – contract etc., - and may well wish to quote in her defence her right to free expression, academic freedom, whatever – without in any way needing to defend her theological position as such. We must distinguish her legalistic defence on the one hand, from the more general intellectual defence of her position as a whole on the other. If you wish to side with her lawyer on the legal points, then that’s fine – and I would probably even agree with you. In short, whether or not Wheaton must be forced to accept her contrary theology is an entirely separate issue from whether she’s actually right, in principle, or not.

However, that is a wholly different matter from defending her position in totality, that is to say on a moral or philosophical basis. This you cannot do without endorsing her theological views over those of her theological opponents at Wheaton. Personally I cannot possibly take sides on such a non-issue. Can you? Or perhaps we should agree to differ on this one?

In short, whether or not Wheaton must be forced to accept her contrary theology is an entirely separate issue from whether she’s actually right, in principle, or not.

What contrary theology? She signed their statement of faith, and AFAIK nothing she's saying contradicts it. The desire to fire her came from here political actions - donning a scarf and saying she was supporting repressed Muslims. As far as I can tell, they're using the theology argument simply because they can't legally fire her for politics and this is the best they could come up with.

However, that is a wholly different matter from defending her position in totality,

I don't see anywhere in either Jason's posts or in anyone else's response a defense of her position "in totality." I mean really, that's just silly. Jason is an atheistic cultural Jew, while Prof. Hawkins is an evangelical Christian. Of course he doesn't think she's right "in totality." I think here you've set yourself up a straw man and are intent on knocking it down, because as far as I can tell, nobody set out to do the thing you are objecting to. *I* certainly don't think she's right "in totality" because I'm not an evangelical Christian either. I think she's being wrongly fired because Wheaton doesn't like her politics, and they're using their status as a private religious school as the lever to do the firing. I object to that. And IMO, I *can* object to that without affirming or supporting Ms. Hawkins' sectarian beliefs.

But your argument does lead to some highly amusing scenarios. If I oppose the wrongful firing over political activism of a Buddhist, Jew, and atheist, does that mean according to you that I'm signing up for all three positions simultaneously "in totality?" How could that be?

The concept of "the same one" is very context-dependent and sometimes quite fuzzy. Confusion over this concept goes back as far as the philosophical conundrum of the ship of Theseus, and continues today with philosophical discussions of transporter thought experiments: is the Kirk who comes out of transporter B the same person who went into transporter A?

Particular problems arise in the case of fictional characters. Are all the Superman characters who've appeared in movies the same person, even though some might look rather different from others (being played by different actors) and there might be some other notable differences between them? We're inclined to think of them as the "same person", I think primarily because they have a common intellectual origin going back to the earliest Superman comic, but the degree of similarity matters too. If a Superman character was clearly inspired by the original but very different (e.g. was Chinese, wore a very different costume, had a very different alter ego, had a different collection of powers), we might be more reluctant to say he's the same person. If we say he isn't, then just how great do the changes have to be before we take that position? Obviously, there's no sharp demarcation line.

Consider the case of the "reimagined" version of Battlestar Galactica. Some fans of the original series were incensed by the differences that they called it GINO (Galactica In Name Only). Were the characters the same people as the similarly named characters in the original? Presumably not as far as those fans were concerned. Was the female Starbuck of the new series the same person as the male Starbuck of the old? Is this even a meaningful question? Not really. If we're concerned with the existence of a common intellectual origin, or with the degree of similarity, it would be better to ask those more specific questions. If we're not concerned with those matters, then I think the question is entirely vacuous.

We need something in the context to make a substantive difference between the two answers: same or different. In most ordinary situtations where we ask such questions, there is such a context. "Is that the same man I saw yesterday?". In reality, people are sufficiently distinct from each other that there is a real matter of fact as to whether I saw one man or another. Philosophers often use language in a context where there's no such genuine distinction to be made. Then it becomes empty "metaphysics".

What real distinction is being made when people ask whether God A and God B are the same God? None, as far as I can see. But if it promotes harmony between groups, let them say they're the same. If you're going to make stuff up, it might as well be stuff that promotes well-being.

By Richard Wein (not verified) on 16 Jan 2016 #permalink

eric at #16

“What contrary theology?”

Well, let’s take a look at that question; Hawkins tweets (according to Jason) “And as Pope Francis stated … we worship the same God.” So, in one sentence, we have a supposedly fundamentalist protestant, employed by a fundamentalist protestant institution quoting the head of the Roman Catholic Church to the effect that both of these, and their Muslim brethren, all worship the same god. Can we perhaps at this stage begin to see the germ of some contrary theology entering on the scene, well before any political dimension has yet crept into the equation? Hawkins has everyone “worshipping the same god”. She supposedly conforms to her employers’ theology, and presumably they expect her (reasonably or otherwise) to reflect this common theological position in her public actions and pronouncements. Fundamentalist protestant colleges do not subscribe to the ecumenical theological view that we are all “worshipping the same god”. So, when she comes out in public making statements to this effect – in effect saying that she, supposedly endorsed by her employers, worships the same god as the Muslims – can you perhaps understand that Wheaton might object to the implication that they too worship this same Islamic god? It is inconceivable that any such institution as Wheaton would concur with this theological position – a fact of which Hawkins must surely have been aware at the time. All the “statements of belief” that she or others may or may not have signed bear no relevance to this question – she has, quite clearly, deliberately stepped outside to express a view which her employer would consider at least unorthodox, and probably frankly heretical and, from their point of view, would appear to have done so in their name, whilst not authorised so to do. Do we yet have a theological question? Furthermore, all the political components of this dispute have not yet arisen – such elements can only derive, solely and exclusively, from the pre-existing theological disagreement as described above. They necessarily come after the fact, and they cannot be divorced from their own causation with which they are intimately and inextricably intertwined. Jason rather gives the game away when he says this:-

--“That Christians, Jews, and Muslins worship the same God is a very mainstream view among all of those religions.”

Well, perhaps – but it is anything but a mainstream view among protestant fundamentalists – or does Jason (or do you) have a view as to which theological position these people should all occupy on the question of whether they’re all worshipping the same god?

Now I realise that you and Jason and others are not wishing to defend her “in totality”. However, in order to defend her politically, as opposed to totally, theology and all, you need to separate the political component of her problem from the rest – which you can’t do. The only way out might be to fudge the issue by playing word games. You could for instance define all contrariness in human interaction as primarily “political”, including theology. If theology is re-defined as a subset of politics then OK – this is a political dispute. However, I hardly think that you would be happy to occupy such a clearly intellectually dishonest position as to start playing word games to salvage your view.

The one person who might be able to defend her without endorsing her theological position is her lawyer, and even then, only in a very narrow sense. If a prosaic set of formally codified rules, commonly called “the law”, can determine her employment rights in this situation according to its pre-existing and highly generalised dictats, then good for her. Such a ruling need not tread on any particularly theological territory.

So if Wheaton has, as you say, fired her for political reasons (and they may well have done), then those “political reasons” must have their basis in her theological differences with Wheaton, and all the politics must derive therefrom. By supporting her position (beyond the legal niceties, whatever they may be) then you are in the position of being a left wing atheist deciding that he prefers what he perceives as ecumenical type left wing theology over what he perceives as narrow minded separatist right wing theology. This is not a rationally tenable position.
Having said all that, my sympathies in the matter, on a purely emotional level, are entirely with the Prof – please don’t imagine for one moment that I have the slightest tendency to side with the reactionary Wheaton. That said, what was someone with her views doing in accepting a post at somewhere like Wheaton – of whose basic nature she must surely have been well aware at the time – in the first place? Could she not perhaps have anticipated that this would end in tears? Or did she, perhaps, engineer this in the first place in order to attract adverse publicity to an institution with which she has basic doctrinal differences? Or is that being unfair to her? Who knows.

Your final remark about Buddhists, Jews, or whoever else we may have political disagreements with is a thoroughly false analogy. Clearly one could agree or disagree with the political views of these or any other individuals quite independently of whatever their theological positons may be – unless of course, as in the case in point, such political considerations were inextricably linked to some theological position that they also espoused. That might complicate things.

Finally, on a totally different and unrelated matter, well done over at the “Creationist testimonial” post. You have been hugely patient with Michael K, and I dare even to hope that it may have done some good in rescuing a young man from the dark side – I detect that his position is slowly, perhaps ever so slowly, just about coming round to a more considered one. I responded to him again a little while ago. Would be grateful for your view on my latest.

Best Wishes,

Phil B

For someone without "a dog in the hunt" you sure are expending a hell of a lot of verbiage and engaging in theology as an atheist.

Pretty strange - given your initial comment.

As for Michael K, I think your biggest fault is in naively believing he is who he claims - how many 17 year olds do you know?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 16 Jan 2016 #permalink

No - I haven't engaged in any theology at all - my whole point has been to try and stop people from doing just that! I've simply pointed out to others, who on the face of it seem largely to share our world view, that if they are not very careful they can end up seeming to support one or another theological stance when they may not really want to be doing that. My "verbage", as you put it, has all been directed at trying to prevent us from entering dogs into races that there is no advantage in winning. What's strange about that?

You might possibly be right about Michael K - maybe I've been taken in. On the other hand, if you analyse the style of his various contributions, it does seem pretty naive and gauche. i think it's at least plausible that such material might indeed come from the fairly bright but relatively untutored mind of a curious 17yr old who is keen to enquire about the world and is looking for answers. So, for the time being at least, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. If, in the fullness of time, it should become clear that he's taken us for a ride then so be it - and I'll be the one taking a lesson. For now, I'll take the risk.

Nobody asked me, nor ought they to, but ;;;

1) As blog host, Dr. Rosenhouse gets to post on whatever interests him, dog in the hunt or not. We can disagree, but not on his decision to post it (grounds for banning on some sites where the hosts have short tempers - not that I agree with that).

2) The issues of this post aren't highly interesting or important in the scheme of things to me, hardly worth commenting on. Mainly it adds one more anecdote to my perception of how some religions try to stifle independent thought, which is incompatible with the goals of education and science.

3) I thought Phil B's last comment on the Creationist thread gave the most complete and best exposition of science vs. ID on that thread (and that Eric gave the best examples of specific scientific data, over several comments).

Jim - my "no dog in this race" comment towards the top of this post was not in any way meant as a criticism of Jason for choosing this particular topic, and I do hope it didn't come across that way. Clearly he has the right, on his own blog, to post on whatever he may feel like at the time, and I would not disagree. All I meant by it, as I hope I made clear later on, was to caution people against getting inappropriately involved (perhaps unwittingly) in theological discussions which, as you have observed youreself, "aren’t highly interesting or important in the scheme of things".

As for religions that "try to stifle independent thought", are there any that wouldn't fit that category?

I recall seeing comments elsewhere that claimed some form or forms of Buddhism do not make any rigid epidemiological claims, so I decided to respect that view, although I am not an expert in Buddhism.

I think I have also seen it claimed that one or more atheists have made good theologians, and Wikipedia has an article on it, but again I am not personally qualified to judge this.

Erratum: That should be "epistemological claims".

Phil B: I guess I don't see her political and theological views linked "inextricably" the way you do, and thus I have no problem seeing this as an issue of (some) conservative Christians objecting to any positive voice raised in support of Muslims, even a voice of their own group.

You should IMO also read the Statement of Faith of Wheaton before you claim that they object to someone quoting the Pope or that the statement rejects the notion of the three religions worshiping the same God. Wheaton considers Christianity to be all one church - that part is practically verbatim taken from the Nicene creed, pretty much THE mainstream statement of faith of western Christianity - and that anyone who accepts Christ is a Christian. . They also consider the Old Testament to be about their God, and the OT is the linkage to both Judaism and Islam as both accept it to be talking about God, their God, the one and only God, etc.

Now, are there evangelicals that see the Pope as some sort of evil antichrist or nonChristian idol-worshipper? Of course. And are there evangelicals who think their God is not the same as Allah? Of course. But those claims aren't supported by the Wheaton statement of faith, so as far as I can tell, she's not breaking it. In claiming she is, the school administration is really creating an ex post facto violation: reinterpreting their own position after the fact in order to get rid of a troublemaker. At least, that's the way I see it.

Well OK, we could discuss the ins and outs of the Wheaton statement, and no doubt her lawyer will do so in an attempt to win her employment case, and good luck to the 2 of them. However, the details of the smallprint contained therein need not concern us - as I said at #18 above:-

"– a fact of which Hawkins must surely have been aware at the time. All the “statements of belief” that she or others may or may not have signed bear no relevance to this question -"

The point is that Wheaton see her as acting in contradiction to their own theological position, and that makes the basis of this argument theological, irrespective of what the signed statement may or not provide for in black and white. The statement may be able to serve for the purposes of one legal nicety or another, but we can't expect Wheaton's or Hawkins's theological positions to be restricted to the provisions of such a limited document.

Wow. There is a LOT of mistaken and erroneous belief about the "peoples of the Book" here. I guess I shouid not be surprised that so few people have even a smidgen of an accurate idea about how Judaism, Islam and Christianity are far apart in theory as well as in practice. Most of this is due to the fact that, today, a great part of those who "practice" or who claim to be Christians and Jews are so very much more civilised in camparison to what was once the case in the followers of these religions.

To anyone who wonders whether they're all worshiping the same God, THINK: read the Jews' morning prayer--supposed to be recited on rising each day. A male first thanks God for his having been born a Jew--as opposed to "anything else," and next thanks God for having been born a male, i.e. for having not been born a female. Many Jews today don't know Hebrew of any kind, Biblical (Torah) Hebrew in particular. So it helps to hear from one who knows this language well. Israel Shahak has explained much about what Jewish doctrine really says and what many Jews really believe--though are greatly "reluctant" to admit outside the fold. Read his book for a good grounding in the essentials.

Next, in Islam, Allah (God) supposedly has laid it down as an offence to eat pork products. The Jewish God is similarly intolerant of this. And this proscription is, by far, the one which many Muslims, if not also Jews, take the most seriously. Murder, rape, theft, adultery, lying, cheating--that's all part of human frailties, But eating pork products is truly an abhorent thing for Muslims.

The Christian God wants his worshipers to remove their hats in Church--it is disrespectful not to. The Jewish God insists on the contrary: the head must be covered while in the Synagogue--it's disrespectful to do otherwise. Allah requires that prayers be said in a kneeling, prostrate position, head down to the ground, And it's important to face toward Mecca--whichever direction it may be, and, in in Mecca, then face in the direction of the sacred Mosque. Jews and Christians have various formal prayers but they may recite them (aloud or silently) anywhere and at any time, and in any posture.

For Catholics, one should not eat meats on Fridays--so fish is traditional. Wine (and other alcohol) is okay for Christians and Jews. But it isn't for Muslims.


Eric, I agree with your views à propos the question of do "we" have a doy in this fight. I think so. Our "dog" is the promotion of tolerance--"even" for the religious because they, and other morons, must be protected from being required to adhere to any sort of conventional opinion even if it is good or common sense--lest the rest of us, too, find ourselves outlaws in our opinions on matters of faith and conscience. This is a matter of conscience and all people who are enlightened liberals should know that justice and human frailty obliges us to defend freedom of conscience--even for the idiotic and the ignorant and stupid.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 18 Jan 2016 #permalink

Phil B:

we can’t expect Wheaton’s or Hawkins’s theological positions to be restricted to the provisions of such a limited document.

No, but we can expect their firing actions to be restricted to legal firing actions. When a place like Wheaton makes "agree to X theology" their condition, then X is how they're going to be judged by employees, by outsiders, and by the courts. They don't get to fire people for 'unstated post hoc add-on Y.' And whether I believe in X or Y makes no difference whatsoever: I can certainly defend, support, and empathize with someone who is being fired for not holding Y theological position in this case, because that firing is unfair.


You almost had me agreeing with you there, right up until your very last word. Whether Wheaton's firing of Hawkins was legal or not will be decided by the courts, according to their pre-existing rules, and no doubt lawyers will argue one side or the other - the outcome being what it may.

However, as soon as you declare her firing to be "unfair", then you have made a value judgement, presumably on some sort of moral grounds, in favour of one side over the other. In other words, you prefer her theology over theirs. After all you did say "for not holding Y theological position".


Thanks for the theology lesson, but I am already aware of the various positions these people may occupy on food, prayer position, wearing hats, whatever. It really does not matter to me whether they are or are not worshipping the same god - to me it is a non-question. What matters is whether the various adherents of one faith or another themselves believe that they are worshipping the same god or not. With regard to the case at hand, clearly one side (Wheaton) believes the answer to this theological question to be no, whereas Hawkins takes a different view.

You spend 3 or 4 paragraphs seeming to suggest that they are worshipping different gods, and then you come down on the side of the party who claims they're all worshipping the same god! - Well, which is it?

Like you and eric, I have much sympathy with the fired Prof., but this does give us a problem. You state:-

"This is a matter of conscience and all people who are enlightened liberals should know that justice and human frailty obliges us to defend freedom of conscience–even for the idiotic and the ignorant and stupid."

I presume you would include Wheaton College and its rulers among the "the idiotic and the ignorant and stupid". Could it not be the case that their "freedom of conscience" is infringed by their being forced to employ someone who clearly departs from their own stated position? Please understand that I am not making a case for Wheaton - far from it. All I'm asking you to do is to acknowledge that by taking moral sides on this you are unavoidably, as I said above, occupying the position of the libertarian left wing atheist who is preferring libertarian left wing theology over right wing theology. The problem is that we can't separate the theologies of these warring parties from their "rights" or their "freedom to express" (although the lawyers, within the context of their very narrow discourse, may be able to). If we support one or the other - on supposedly moral grounds - we are engaging in a theological discourse and expressing a view thereon. Are you entirely happy to do that?

A few thoughts on the topic:

1) I, for one, think that the case is interesting because it highlights the clash of values involved: religous pluralism and tolerance vs. hegemony and intolerance. To the extent that I think that religious tolerance is usually a social good, I can take the stance that Ms. Hawkins should retain her job (that is, it would be more moral for Wheaton to let the matter drop and let her keep her job than to take action against her) without agreeing with any part of her religious beliefs per se.

2) I think that if you asked Muslims, Christians, and Jews about certain properties of God, you would probably get more points of agreement than of disagreement. For example, I think that all of the above would agree that God created the world; created the first man and woman; flooded the world; spoke to Abraham/Ibrahim and commanded him to sacrifice a son; revealed the law to Moses/Musa and sent plagues on Egypt . . . and so on and so forth, until we get to Jesus/Isa having been sent from God (which would be agreed upon by Muslims and Christians in that weak form). Now, while the point of God being a trinity, and Jesus being part of that Trinity, is a huge difference and disagreement between the three religions, the long list of points of similarity should be sufficient to at least make a case that it's the same God, even if there are some differing beliefs about that God.

3) Consider this scenario: Let's say that Islam, as it turns out, is true. The world ends, and the Day of Judgement arrives. What would Christians (and Jews, I suppose) do? Would they argue before the throne of God that they were indeed idolaters worshipping a false God, and so deserve to be condemned to Hell (or Jehannam, I suppose)? Or would they say that they did indeed worship the same God as the Muslims, and just got some of the details wrong?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 18 Jan 2016 #permalink

RE "It really does not matter to me whether they are or are not worshipping the same god – to me it is a non-question. What matters is whether the various adherents of one faith or another themselves believe that they are worshipping the same god or not."

And I'm not arguing about whether or not practicants believe or don't believe they worship the same God as that of other religions--this is rather beside the point. Some do and some don't. That depends most on the individual's personal (relative) moral enlightenment.

I'm stating as a fact that, in Jewish theology, God is predicated on an exclusive relationship with Jews, In Christian theology, a personal and exclusive relationship with professed Christians: in Christianity, according to the New Testament, only believers (who assert such a belief and invoke "salvation" "for Jesus' sake) are regarded as saved. In Islam, a personal relationship (through the prophet Mohammed) with Allah, which is definitely not the God which Jews or Christians worship as that is understood by what Allah demand and requires from the faithful. Membership in the Catholic or Protestant Churches is by voluntary election to join a congregation and be baptised, These are not my beliefs, they are stated and published doctrines. For Islam, it appears that the faithful are in general thought to be members by birth to a practicing Muslim family. Though among those, there are those who "practice" and those who more or less do not. Again, according to the varying requirements of these different faiths' doctrines, we cannot "arrange" to have a God whose divine obligations upon the faithful are practically compatible.

That isn't an opinion, it's a fact by virtue of the conflicting demands of each doctrine. It is only in some ethereal sense, divorced from human life's affairs, that one can attempt to shoe-horn a "one-size-fits-all" God into the different sacred texts' doctrines,

What individual worshipers may think or profess on these matters is of course another question. That is why I stated at the outset that, if we are going by what various worshipers say and believe about their own professed religion, then we admit nearly everything, including a host of ideas that are flatly at odds with the texts, the doctrines and the histories of the religions--Jewish, Muslim and Christian, in this case--because, quite simply, so many worshipers know so very little about "their own" damned religion.

That's their fault and their problem, not mine. I'm discussing what the authorities of these religions have and do say about what they are and what they require in practice and in belief from their faithful. Everything else is irrelevant here since people are a mass of contradictions and ignorance.

There is, of course, nothing wrong, per se, with everyone in practice or in belief, whether mistaken or not, "worshiping" the same God. This might even be the best course available. But, in that case, the texts go "out the window" in one sense or another because they cannot be reconciled in doctrinal matters. That may be a shame but it is nevertheless a fact.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

@ 22: you should really meet & talk to the guy who wrote post #3 because one of you is contradicting the other.

@ 29: we can indeed defend the professor's right to speak without sharing any of her opinions--religious or otherwise.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

The problem is that all god concepts are incoherent - no matter how hard theologians try to work around this. The only way you can maintain order is by executive fiat -" if you want to join our club, then publicly declare god is x, y and z." I would content that it is highly unlikely that any two people believe in the same god.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

Phil B:

However, as soon as you declare her firing to be “unfair”, then you have made a value judgement, presumably on some sort of moral grounds, in favour of one side over the other. In other words, you prefer her theology over theirs.

I don't think this has anything to do with theology. My calling Wheaton's actions 'unfair' is based on the notion that ex post facto judgments are unfair. As far as I know that notion is held by people with a wide variety of religions and none, and is not generally considered to be a "theological" claim at all.

@ 34: Right. And this: if merely hearing and judging the dispute implied taking one or the other party's theological view then a law court would supposedly be doing that simply by hearing this as an employment dispute. Clearly that's not the case.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

I guess I could continue more or less indefinitely here with a point by point rebuttal, but I'll just end up repeating myself in any number of slightly different ways. I've given a view, and I stand by everything I've said above.

In the end, if I'm out-voted then so be it. As suggested some time ago, perhaps we'll just have to agree to differ on this one.

Well Phil, let me try a counter-example to assuage your fears that my defense of Ms. Hawkins is not based on agreement with or sympathy for her brand of theology. Let's take the hypothetical situation where the theologies were reversed, and we were talking about a liberal private Christian school seeking to fire a conservative, YEC Christian professor. We'll say that, like this case, the teacher has made statements that did not "on paper" disagree with the school's faith statement, but which were theological and political in nature and unpopular with the administration as well as major alumni donors. The school responds by claiming that these statements violate the theological stance of the school - again, maybe not 'on paper', but in terms of their wider field of beliefs. Now let's ask: would I support the teacher or the administration in that case? Would I call the firing fair or unfair? And if I support the teacher, does that mean I'm agreeing in part or whole with their conservative YEC theology?

Answers: I would support the teacher. I would call the firing unfair. And neither of these answers means I support conservative YEC theology in part or in whole.

Does that help? Or, in your opinion, does that mean I'm now supporting both liberal and conservative Christian theology, because I'm willing to defend both in similar circumstances?

Oh dear, just when I thought we might have put this one to bed, you insist on dragging me forcibly back to the negotiating table!

Let’s transfer your neat little thought experiment (which, on the face of it, might nicely illustrate your Voltairian sentiments) to a real world example. This example is not, admittedly, a precise parallel – but it has a few points in common, and might well serve to illustrate. Furthermore, if you can postulate an imaginary scenario, then no doubt your generosity will extend to allowing me to take the same liberty by inserting the occasional added twist into my “real world example”.

You will probably recall the case of John Freshwater, a YEC loon teacher, who was fired by an Ohio school 3 or 4 years back for violating school board directives with regard to what he was or was not permitted to bring into school. He mounted a very vigorous defence on “freedom of conscience” grounds, losing only by 4 – 3 in the state court – end even the US Supreme court did not rule against him on all counts. In other words, it was a close run thing. {Incidentally, he also claimed (like Hawkins), to have been the victim of a political coup but, again like her, the basis of his problem was theological (and then legal,) and not primarily political}.

Now – and here comes the “suppose so” bit – had the ruling tipped just slightly the other way, and instead of losing 4 – 3 he’d won 3 – 4, would you be vigorously defending his rights, as in the case of your hypothetical YEC Prof at a liberal theology institute? Indeed, before the legal ruling while Freshwater was arguing his “freedom of conscience” position, were you supporting him?

Personally, I have no recollection of the scientific/rationalist/atheist/free-thinking community leaping energetically to the defence of Freshwater’s rights in this regard, all their Voltairian ideals notwithstanding – and nor, in my view, should they have done.

No, because as you point out, he violated school board directives. Moreover public high school and university are very different animals; attendance is voluntary and universities don't typically have state mandated curricula they must follow in their classes. If they did, and Ms. Hawkins' taught something the state had said cannot legally be taught, then I'd most likely say her firing was fair.

IIRC, in the Freshwater case he went to the administration with a plan to teach ID and they said no. Then he taught it anyway, and they said stop. He didn't stop, so they fired him. That seems like a reasonable disciplinary case. To try and analogize it as much as possible to the current case, if the President of the university issues a direct order to Ms. Hawkins to not speak out in solidarity to Muslims, and she continues to do so, then maybe they have a case for firing her. However it appears at this time that the university is doing everything within its power to not issue such a directive because they want to appear to be the good guys, and not heavy-handed ideological authoritarians.

Personally, I have no recollection of the scientific/rationalist/atheist/free-thinking community leaping energetically to the defence of Freshwater’s rights in this regard

AFAIK nobody (well, maybe I should limit this to "not me") demanded Freshwater be fired for being a creationist or expressing support for creationism on his own time. They only demanded he stick to teaching the state-mandated curriculum in class. Ms. Hawkins has no state-mandated curriculum and as far as I can tell, her content-teaching is not even an issue. It's her public political activism that appears to be an issue.

So, here's the short version: for both Ms. Hawkins and Mr. Freshwater, if they sign a contract to teach A and they teach A while expressing their political and religious beliefs as private citizens, I will defend them. If they sign a contract to teach A and they teach B while [etc], I will not defend them. Hawkins seems to be in the former category, Freshwater in the latter.

OK, that's pretty much what I expected - that you would point out the obvious differences (despite the many similarities) between the 2 cases. However, your decision not to support Freshwater rests on the fact that the court decided his actions were counter to the law. As we have seen, he came horrifyingly close to winning. So:-

1) Had his actions been declared legal, and not counter to his contract of employment, would you have supported him?

2) Prior to the court declaing his behaviour to have been illegal, did you sympathise with his "freedom of conscience" defence?

3) Should the courts rule in favour of Wheaton over Hawkins, will you change sides?

You end up with "If they sign a contract to teach A and they teach B" etc. Problem is that whether they are or are not teaching A or B is decided by the court!

So it would seem that your disapproval of Freshwater is dependent on what the court says. Is your support of Hawkins similarly contingent?

@ 36 : "As suggested some time ago, perhaps we’ll just have to agree to differ on this one."

We disagree--and that's true whether we "agree to disagree" or not. It's a vain platitude offered up by people who find themselves short of a compelling argument to make. Instead of granting a point to a correspondent's argument where that is merited, this phrase implies on its speaker's part that there's an impasse and that this is due to the other's failure to see.

You haven't made a good case in the face of Eric's points and now you're ready to "agree to disagree"; but you could have done that at the outset and saved yourself the labour of being put in a logical difficulty.

We all agree here, I suppose, that the reality of a God is so outlandish as to be not worth our taking it seriously as a fact. That leaves us in the position of skeptics who observe the faithful quarrel over the details of God's being and purposes. Since we discount His actual reality, the only salient points under consideration are the various beliefs of the faithful as they agree or disagree about God and theology. Accordingly, what these faithful know or don't know regarding the historical record and the facts of their own and of others' religious doctrines is indeed not just germane to this discussion, it's the whole point of the discussion. We can't bother about God's reality, only about what others say they believe about that.

So, when a Christian woman claims that as she sees it, "we all worship the same God," she is talking nonsense since, on the facts of various other faith's doctrines, the assumptions about the character and import of God just cannot be reconciled--whether she knows this or not.

We needn't agree with her religious opinions in order to see a good reason to defend her right to hold her opinions--however that we disagree with them. Our case is simply the right to hold an opinion even if its ridiculous and not be dismissed from employment because of holding that opinion when, on the facts, the opinion isn't clear grounds for dismissal.

That's a restatement of Eric's points--which stand without refutation so far.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

And I suppose, then, that it's inconceivable that a religiously faithful person ever supported the rights of Dayton Public school-teacher, John Scopes, to teach his pupils about Darwin's work on evolution? Yet, I'm sure that even in 1925 or thereabouts, there were those who did--Quakers, for example, probably would and did defend Scope's position; Unitarians may have as well. They needn't have personally agreed with either Scopes' opinions or with Darwin's findings and what they indicated about the coherence of conventional Christian doctrine.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

@ 40 : "So it would seem that your disapproval of Freshwater is dependent on what the court says."

Where do you get some of this stuff?!?

My hunch is this (and of course, he can speak for himself) : Eric would say that he'd have considered Freshwater's dismissal justified even if the court, on appeal, had found in favour of Freshwater and ordered his reinstatement.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 19 Jan 2016 #permalink

1) Had his actions been declared legal, and not counter to his contract of employment, would you have supported him?

Legally? Yes. I'm not a judge, I will generally defer to their understanding of the law. Just as every other American I'm perfectly happy to complain when I think a case is wrongly decided, but the Freshwater case involved a lot of detailed contract issues about what sort of communications passed between him and the administration, when, what they said, what the administration’s duties under law are, etc. So if a court had found that he had been fired illegally, I would’ve accepted that judgment.

I really don't have much issue with the thought of the Freshwater case going the other way. Because of SCOTUS' overaching rulings about creationism, a decision in favor of Freshwater would almost certainly have been based on some procedural point of law or administrative mistake, not because that local court decided that ID was legal to teach.

2) Prior to the court declaing his behaviour to have been illegal, did you sympathise with his “freedom of conscience” defence?

No, because SCOTUS has ruled it unconstitutional to teach religion as science. And again, before you start claiming this is a theological issue, I don't think any High School teacher has the right to violate rules regarding the state-mandated curriculum and the teaching of religion. I would be equally opposed to a liberal Christian sneaking their theology into a science classroom. I would be equally opposed to an atheist sneaking humanism into a science classroom.

3) Should the courts rule in favour of Wheaton over Hawkins, will you change sides?

I am not sure what you mean by "change sides." Like the Freshwater case, because contracts are complex subjects and questions about whether proper procedures were followed might hinge on facts I don't know, I would likely defer to a judge's ruling over whether her future firing is legal or not (note, AFAIK she hasn't been fired, so this is all hypothetical). But you have over and over again claimed this is a theological dispute and that the reason we support Hawkins is that we like or accept her theology. To which I say: a Wheaton win will not cause me to accept a different theology. Of course I didn't accept hers or Wheatons in the first place, so I have no idea whether you are going to call my legal deference "theologically changing sides," but for the record, I certainly don't consider it that.