I sat down to lunch yesterday with two classmates I had never truly spoken to, both of whom live in my dorm. More quickly than I could scarf down my salad, the discussion turned political – and not the rational, objective, constructive, perhaps impossible but certainly elusive type of political conversation that conservatives and liberals alike claim to crave. This interaction was an articulation of common suffering – a venting session – and I felt as if there was a strong unspoken assumption of shared belief from which I was immediately excluded.
Their topic was a particular student who did not hide his Christian convictions in class discussions, who spent his time and energy defending them when they fell under attack, who oriented his responses and thoughts around his faith and who was consistently Christian in thought.
His tendency to dominate discussion wasn’t what actually irritated them: it was his “bias” that infected everything he did, his inability to not be Christian for a moment, the way he never set his religious convictions aside to engage in the class’ search for real truth. I felt like dropping my fork, cleaning my glasses, trying in every possible way to see their point of view, to understand their reasoning, to put myself in their shoes, or better yet, brains. But I found I’d confronted an insurmountable contradiction – a thorough inconsistency that seems to be at the heart of the liberalism that they were both implicitly coming from and defending.
Prior to the presidential election, campus was ripe with encouragements to vote; the sidewalk chalk messages, emails, door-to-door volunteers with ballot information all spoke of our right to free speech which we ought to exercise through the voting system. Yet the day after the election, the campus-wide grief prevalent in every class and event revealed that messages should have read “Go vote for Hillary!” instead of merely “Go vote!”
I had never been less able to say what I actually thought than on Nov. 9 in the face of a crowd of people who had, the day before, preached free speech to me. I had never felt so sure that someone would ban me from a class, leave messages on my dorm door, deface my property, flat out spit in my face or involve me in some physical altercation.
One of my philosophy professors once said that Nietzsche was so terrifying because he is one of very few atheists – or perhaps the sole one – who was actually consistent: he carried his line of logic to its full conclusions when others shied away from what their presuppositions would mean to others. But his consistency and stalwart embodiment of his beliefs made Nietzsche a thinker worth reading, confronting, debating and understanding.
If you want to be a convincing liberal worth considering and whose voice is worth being heard, be consistent. Only champion freedom of speech if you’re willing to hear speech that doesn’t agree with your own. Only preach diversity if you’ll allow something besides your own liberalism. You don’t have to agree with the conservative position or any religious convictions someone may hold that you don’t. But if you’re going to be liberal – actually be it – you must practice what you preach.
If you profess freedom of speech, it can’t be merely freedom of speech for liberals. It must actually be what it is, or else liberals will create a new minority through marginalization and persecution which they are so passionately claiming to preserve and protect. Having therapeutic music and craft sessions in Buntrock, preaching about grief and the corresponding need for hope from the pulpit during chapel and similar events blatantly assume a unanimous acceptance of liberalism that is universal and monotonous, not diverse.
As for my classmate whose religion inflicts biases on everything he says, model that consistency. You, as a non-religious autonomous liberal individual who champions free will, are subconsciously subject to a religion, too. Your religion is feminism, unbounded human will, freedom of speech and other pillars of the liberal agenda. Hold to your religious convictions alongside the Christian if you want your views to be contestable. Be worth fighting against. At least be a human body instead of a scarecrow.
Madeline Miller ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Winter Springs, Fla. She majors in performance.