The Power of Words: OKWU Commencement

Dr. Everett Piper

The Power of Words: OKWU Commencement

The Power of Words: OKWU Commencement

Everett Piper, President
December 2016 Commencement Address

Today we gather to celebrate the academy and your accomplishments therein. We march into this hall in our regalia – in our heavy robes and mortar boards, our funny caps and gowns – as if we are the Oxford monks of old. We take great pride in the pomp and circumstance of commencement and all that over 1000 years of “liberal” learning has contributed to the onward march of human civilization. Today we celebrate your degree, your academic accomplishments, and your education. Today we rejoice in all the University stands for – the uni-verities, the uni-veritas: the unity of what is right and just and real and true as we seek to know and be known by what C.S. Lewis called the “measuring rod outside of all things being measured.” Today we applaud both “you” and the “U” – You for what you have learned, and the “U”niversity for what it has taught.

But before we make too much of the ivory tower as if it is perfect, let’s take a look back at this past year or so at what we have seen in the nightly news. Frankly, this has not been a good year for the industry of higher education. When we do any google search of current university news, we don’t see headlines highlighting the free exchange of ideas or the celebration of open and robust debates, rather, we see story after story of what has been dubbed the “snowflake” rebellion. We see students protesting against what they call “micro-aggressions.” We see faculty being fired because they dared to express an idea that made someone feel uncomfortable. We see administrators providing counseling centers with coloring books and Play-Doh and puppies because some student or students literally cried that they felt threatened by a guest speaker’s ideas or the results of the recent election. We see calls for “trigger warnings” and demands for “safe spaces.” We see campuses that look and act like “day cares” more than places where adults actually gather to learn.

Many of you likely know I am the university president who wrote the viral op-ed that was actually titled “This is Not a Day Care, It’s a University.” This story goes back to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season a year ago, and it centers on this article, which resulted in over 3.1 million views on the internet, not only here in the U.S., but around the world. And the story is still alive and relevant today. Just this past month, our internal tracking shows it received another 150,000 views on a variety of sites here and abroad.

If you don’t know the “Not a Day Care” story, bear with me a bit and let me set the context…

November a year ago, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young man felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

Upon hearing of this student’s complaint, I had a message for him and all others who cared to listen, Here’s what I said on our website….

That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization. 

Let me offer some advice:

If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.

At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.

This is not a day care. This is a university.

Well, this caused a bit of a grassfire, and before I knew it Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck, NBC Today, Dr. Drew, Stewart Varney, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Drudge and Dreher, CBS, CBN, National Review, the American Spectator, the Washington Times, the Chronicle of Higher Ed and even newspapers and magazines in Canada, Great Britain and the Far East were all interested. Apparently, I said something many were waiting to hear. Apparently, this simple and brief response struck a chord. Many who even openly disagreed with what they called “my religion and my politics” wrote in to say “thank you… this is long overdue.”

Why?

I believe it’s because we intuitively recognize as rational human beings made in the image of God that there is great power in ideas and that at the end of the day, civilizations are built and cultures are conquered not so much by armies and navies, but by speeches and lectures, by blogs and books, by the power of ideas much more so than the threat of bullets.

In 1948, Richard Weaver told us “ideas have consequences.” A few short years earlier, Hitler said, “let me control the textbooks and I will control the State.” Huxley and Orwell warned of dystopias where education would be used as a means to total power and total control. Yes, ideas clearly do have consequences. Good ideas lead to good culture and good government, and bad ideas lead to bad culture and bad government. As your grandmother said: “Garbage in, garbage out.” She was right – ideas matter.

Education today is clearly in crisis. The contemporary university is no longer known for pursuing truth, but rather, for celebrating tolerance. And in the name of tolerance, we are told our intolerance is intolerable. Education’s elites actually parrot this pablum, and they do so with a straight face. It is as if we are watching a dog chase its tail. It would be humorous if this self-refuting duplicity weren’t so sad.

The result of this nonsense is that the tradition of good teaching has become a rainbow flag of tyranny almost overnight. What was academic freedom just yesterday is ideological fascism today. Rather than celebrating liberty, liberals now demand conformity. Campuses are now bastions of speech codes rather than bulwarks of free speech. Faculty and students alike are more interested in “trigger warnings” than they are in pursuing truth. Run by the State and its thought police, colleges across the land have become more indoctrination camps than campuses of open inquiry. Propaganda and power now reign where there used to be a pursuit of truth.

Our track record is terrible. Decade after decade, we’ve taught our next generation “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you,” that all morality is relative, and that good and evil are merely subjective social constructs. Year after year, we’ve preached that pastors and priests are stupid and that liberation theology is the only “good religion.” Day in and day out, we’ve fomented class resentment and racial animus and diminished excellence while extolling entitlement. Why are we surprised at the result? Our leaders have lost their courage. Our congress has lost its conscience, our kids have lost their character, and our culture has lost its soul.

Yes, ideas do have consequences, and the lousy ideas we have been teaching in our colleges and universities for the past several decades are bearing themselves out daily before our eyes.

But there is an answer to this absurdity. It is found in the historical liberal arts and the premise that there are certain moral and intellectual laws tested by time, defended by reason, validated by experience and endowed to us by our Creator. As far back as Moses, and later from Jefferson, we are told that only by trusting in this “paradox of liberty and Law” can we ever hope to protect our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and, thereby, be a free people and free country.

Freedom trusts in principles rather than people, power, or politics. Freedom honors the debate because it knows there is an answer – a true north – a “measuring rod outside of those things being measured,” as C.S. Lewis put it.

G.K. Chesterton once told us that if you get rid of the big Laws, you don’t get liberty, but rather thousands of little laws that rush in to fill the vacuum. Academic freedom has never been found in the rules of government, the power of professors, or the temper tantrums of students, instead, it is found in the few and simple Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. There is a reason that dozens of universities were once emblazoned with the motto “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” There is no liberty without Law and there is no freedom if we stop teaching this truth.

The solution to nonsense can only be found in common sense, sense that is common: In self-evident truths endowed to us by our creator rather than self-centeredness that is entrenched in arrogant and calloused hearts. In the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. The truth of God is written on every human heart. We do know certain things. There is common knowledge. For example, we know that rape is wrong and that racism should be reviled. We do know that the holocaust was evil and that slavery was a bad thing. We hold these truths to be self-evident, not socially constructed. Why? Because there is a Creator and it’s not me! The solution to this nonsense is to return to teaching the laws that make sense. We need to have confidence in the laws that bring liberty and stop teaching the lies. Natural law leads to freedom. Man-made laws bring nothing but more restrictions, more government, more division, more control, more fascism and less liberty.

It may seem a bit pedantic, even redundant, but I’d like to leave you today with a very simple message: Culture is about ideas and ideas are defined by words. In other words, words mean something.

Sidebar: Always remember that he who controls the words – he who defines the ideas – wins the debate.

Education is about words. Politics is about words. Culture is about words. Words mean something. They have definitions.

Words like green and gay, left and right, change and choice, right and wrong, up and down, good and evil, male and female, moral and immoral… All words mean something. As thinking human beings and thoughtful moral agents, we do know what the definition of “is” is and we also, intuitively, know something else very important – changing and manipulating the meaning of words IS called something – it IS called lying. We also know that deceit, DOES bring consequences. As we are told by the prophet Isaiah, “woe unto him who calls evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness, bitter sweet and sweet bitter…” Lying about words and with words – turning them upside down – IS always wrong. As self-evident as it should be to all of us, the challenge I want to remind you today that Words mean something!

Let’s return to the example I mentioned above of the contemporary argument for tolerance: Many who now march across our campus greens and protest in our city’s streets do so in the name of “tolerance.” But is their cause and their message really tolerant? When they say they can’t tolerate the intolerant, that they hate those hateful people, that they are sure nothing is sure, that they know nothing can be known, and that they’re absolutely confident that there are no absolutes; it makes your head spin. It doesn’t take an eighth grade education to see this for what it is: self-refuting nonsense. Pablum and its politics at its worst. It is anything but a principled, cogent argument. Any school boy can see that the premise posed by such progressives isn’t really about tolerance. It never has been. To the contrary, it’s really more about tyranny and power. At every turn we see it on our campuses, in our courts, and in our culture: Angry read faces shouting, “You must agree with us! You must celebrate everything we do! You must believe everything we believe! You must watch and you must applaud!” Tolerating anything they find intolerable is of no interest to them. In the end, their worldview isn’t grounded in coexistence but rather, it is a poster child for contradiction.

It isn’t about tolerance or freedom. It’s about fascism, pure and simple. A fasces was a Roman bundle of sticks bound together so tightly in commonality that its strength could not be broken. Today’s neo-fascism is likewise an unbreakable bundle of power. It is group of people bound together tightly in unbroken compliance. No dissent! No differences! No diversity! It is the rule of the gang! It’s unquestioned and unchallenged power. The call to arms of these modern day Jacobins? “You must submit!”

The question we face today is whether we want to be ruled by this ideological fascism or enjoy religious freedom. Should our government have the power to force religious syncretism on its citizens or do we have freedom to believe and behave by the dictates of our conscience – unimpeded by government hubris?

Should the government have the power to force a Jewish owner of the meat processing business to process pigs?

Should the government have the power to force the Muslim owner of the local newspaper to print Charlie Hebdo cartoons?

Should the government have the power to demand that a Catholic owner of a convenience store sell bread and wine to a Satanist church for a mock Eucharist?

Should Washington, D.C. be able to force an Anglican owner of a billboard company to sell his services to someone who wants to mock Christmas or Easter?

If your answer to all the above is no, then how in the world can you possibly think the government should have any power to force the owner of a flower shop in the state of Washington to participate in a religious service that directly violates a key sacrament of her faith? How could anyone who believes in freedom of thought and freedom of expression and the separation of Church and State suggest otherwise?

Should the government be able to force a Catholic order called the Little Sisters of the Poor to buy an insurance product that includes contraception they don’t want and won’t use? The Little Sisters are Catholic my land! They are nuns! They are celibate! Don’t these women understand their church, their faith, their bodies, and their vows a lot better than the government? Shouldn’t these Sisters as well as the pro-life women at Oklahoma Wesleyan University have the right to make their own decisions about what pills they do or don’t want in their health insurance? And, how, in the world, is it possibly pro-women to suggest otherwise?

Another sidebar: What could possibly be more misogynistic than for the elites in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York to tell all of the country that we now are required by law to ignore the empirically obvious fact of the female and to thereby tell women that they don’t even exist biologically and that if any man (despite bearing all the distinct male physiology) says he is a woman that this makes it so? Can’t we all agree this is nonsense? It literally denies our senses. It denies science and denies the evidence. This trans-misogyny literally says “I want to live in a fairytale. I want to pretend.” It’s a make-believe fantasy where illusion is more important than reality and the trick is more important than the real. It’s a delusion and it demeans a woman and declares that if anyone wants to construct female identity out of thin air then that makes it so. In such a world, actually being female means nothing. Newsflash: Women are not pretend, they are real. They are not leprechauns or unicorns. They really do exist.

But I digress … Back to my main point.

Forced agreement is Totalitarianism. It is not tolerant. Requiring women to submit to the whims and wishes of a male driven government hegemony is not feminism. It is misogyny. This is ideological fascism. It is not intellectual freedom and it is a clear example of the government establishing what religion is acceptable and, then, prohibiting the “free expression” of any religion in disagreement with it.

Words mean something. Today, on your commencement, I want give you this one clear and simple challenge: As graduates of OKWU, hang on to your words. Define them and defend them. Honor freedom and fight fascism. Stand for truth and fight tyranny. Stand for love and fight hate. Stand for the rights of women and fight against their subjugation. Stand for liberty and liberation. Fight licentiousness. Remember the words of Bonhoeffer – They mean something! “Not to speak is to speak and not to act is to act. Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless.” There is a reason that Jesus is described in the Gospel of John as the Word! He means something. He cannot be changed. He is the logos. He is the way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. Remember he is the Word and remember and defend His words: Remember “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” Remember he said, “I am the Alpha and Omega”. Remember that he is the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. Remember that he has said “behold I am coming soon!” May the Word be your confidence and your courage as you fight the good fight to win the prize for which Christ – The Word – has called us heavenward.

Congratulations. The faculty of OKWU and I are very proud of you. Now go! Leave here with confidence and courage as you fight the good fight, reclaiming every inch of creation for Christ and his kingdom!

And in the days ahead, always remember that you graduated from a University and not a Day Care!