E pluribus v. unum

As a followup to our discussion with President Briggs this afternoon, a few prompts, questions and discussion points we didn’t get to in our brief time in class:

  • Should Berry in fact be in the business of building character?
  • What should that look like?
  • Are we in fact a Christian community? What does that mean? How do we agree on the moral point of view Briggs asserts in his column that we should have?
  • How does freedom of expression (and religion), in  Briggs’s words, “imply that all beliefs should be considered equally valid?” Where is that implication? Who should get to decide what is more (or less) valid?
  • In Christian understanding, personal freedom “is a great good but not an absolute good.” What does that mean?
  • Paul in Romans 14 exhorts us to serve each other out of gratitude toward Christ, to sacrifice some of our radical grace (freedom) in order to build and preserve fellowship (community). Reactions?

And any question you wanted to ask but didn’t get to. Right here. Right now.

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14 Responses to E pluribus v. unum

  1. I forgot to add — “and any reaction, comment or really anything you wish to add to today’s discussion” — it doesn’t have to be a question.

    Now to find that University of Ottawa provost letter . . .

  2. The offending letter issued to Ann Coulter by the provost of the University of Ottawa. Unbelievable. This provost is an idiot, which I can say in this country. And I’m not Ann Coulter fan by any stretch. I don’t think fear-mongering and demonizing are healthy for the body politic and its discourse.

    (DISCLAIMER: These are merely subjective opinions the expression of which is in the United States protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as ‘fair comment and criticism’.)

  3. shiner says:

    I guess Berry “should” be in the business of building character. Places of learning (whether lower or higher education) are other areas where it is just as important that kids and young adults learn the rights and the wrongs. You are challenged in these arenas, intellectually, personally, spiritually, physically even, just by being confronted by all sorts of new ideas and people. The question in my mind is: where is the line? Where does Berry stop really “building” character and start enforcing its own “community” beliefs, to the point of stoning members if they don’t follow the letter? Being one of many facilitators in building the character of everyone involved is ok with me, but trying to be the only doesn’t work for me (not saying Berry is, but just the general idea here).

    I think Briggs should stop playing the game of “a school based in Christian principles” versus being a “Christian college.” He needs to make up his mind, because to me those are two vastly different things. I do have to say that after our talk on Tuesday, I understand better the idea of community and why communities limit for the sake of self-preservation. I’m still wrestling, however, with that instilled American value of individuality.

    The implication of all ideas being considered equally valid comes from the fact that all (with limitations) expression is (legally) protected, even opposing ones. If they are all protected, that “must” mean they are all valid. The individual must decide what they think is more or less valid, but that doesn’t mean they get to go and impose that view onto everyone else. You can share your opinion all you want, but forcing people is never the way to go.

  4. cobarron says:

    In our discussion with President Briggs, we covered what it means to be a community, and how we must have set standards that we accept to abide by to reside in that community. I agree that in order to actually reside in a community that certain standards need to be in place, but I also felt that when we were talking about these standards it was more in regarding the appearance we should look like, but almost like turn your head and look in the other direction if its not quite right.

    Choosing where the line is drawn on what is morally acceptable on campus is extremely difficult. Here on campus we have a smaller community, yet it is still extremely diversified. Each culture may very on what they see as offensive or something that is not a very big deal. Not everyone is from a Christian background on campus, let alone a religious background which can become a touchy subject to different people because what one belief may value the other may frown on.

    Quite honestly I believe that with such a diversity on our campus, and it being a college that is supposed to have many of its graduates superior to their colleagues they need to allow different levels of standards into the community, for students to pick and choose from. The students are for the most part adults and have the right to decide for themselves along with the need to learn what they feel is appropriate for themselves. Berry takes pride in setting its students up for the real world, but at the same time I feel that its being its own devil’s advocate by pretty much saying we want you prepared for the real world, but we don’t want you to experience that. I think students should have more of a right to decide things, if we do not care for something, then at least we can walk away.

  5. tschneider says:

    I think for many people it is difficult to imagine some other person or group to decide what is best for us. For many we have this notion that our parents are the providers of what they believe to be qualities of a good christian character. For me, I have a hard time understanding how someone wants to teach me the christian ideals and what is best for my christian character when those types of beliefs and ideals are so biased. I think it is scary concept that a college has the ability to do this because the first thing that I think of is…brainwashing. I know that it is not Berry’s intent but I get the eerie feeling that they think their ideals are the only right ideals.

    As a Christian myself I can not totally disagree with Briggs article because I think that we should educate both the head and the heart and we have an obligation as Christians to always strive to achieve the best character. However, to say that Berry is a ‘Christian’ community is not totally false but it is not exactly all ‘truth’ either. Berry was founded on Christian principles but we do not claim any denomination because we want Berry to be open to all types of people. However, this seems contradictory because as stated by Briggs we want to teach everyone the Christian principles of good character. This seems to block off certain people who do not believe in Christianity. Therefore, if we are open to all then why do we inadvertently exclude others. That is not the Christian way either.

    In the Christian understanding, absolute personal freedom is not possible because as a community of Christians we are all under the same mindset and follow the same beliefs and rules and not one person can have more personal freedoms than the other. This can be difficult to apply here at Berry because not everyone claims to be a Christian. Although a majority of the student body is a christian it is not everybody’s belief. How can we deny personal but not absolute freedom to all if not everyone thinks or believes the same?

    Some other questions: How can you deny a Unitarian/Universalist and the GLBT student group on campus, if we claim to be open to everyone? Denying them the official right to be called a group does not make them go away? What were the reasons that they were not allowed to form? It is rumored that if they were to be given a student group that potential donors would be dissuaded from donating, if this is true does that not go against the Christian morals and principles that Berry wants to teach to its students?…That it is ok to exclude others based on money or of fear?…

  6. Emily W says:

    Berry College, as fast moving and secular as the world is, should remain and hold true to the original Christian founding’s. It’s a sticky and twisty world when trying to distinguish a standing. And I find it even more difficult when faced with a question and challenge. Dr. Brigg’s discussed the community that we build, and do we have the option to “pick and choose” those that we invite on campus. I think that we most definitely do, but I would encourage us to not necessarily discriminate who we invite on campus, but instead invite them into our community. Respect who they are as an individual, but when they come onto Berry’s campus…when they enter our community…they become a temporary part of it. They should be asked to consider and mold to our standings and beliefs. Not permanently, by any means, but out of respect for our Berry community, they can make a temporary shift to our standings.
    During a reading last week, I came across this quote by C.S. Lewis, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” I think this quote really captures what we’ve been discussing in class. Knowledge is good, education is beneficial, but without a set of values and morals to reinforce that education, what can you do with that knowledge? How can you apply all you’ve learned without a set of values. Instead, man falls into himself and falls into a world of no structure, parameters or form. Man becomes lost. And sometimes man can become evil.
    In Christian understanding, freedom is indeed a great good. However, it is not an absolute good. We are not absolute. Therefore, we make sacrifices for the good of others. We realize that there is something greater than us (not necessarily God for some people, but maybe its things like “respect,” “morality,” “love”). Absolute freedom can become selfish and self-absorbing. Freedom is something we all embrace, and in the Christian belief, the greatest freedom is giving up ourselves. Accepting the greatest sacrifice.

  7. Ben says:

    I could not agree more with Emily. In fact, I would say that Berry College as the “counter-culture” does an extremely fine job at educating its student body in the liberal arts, i.e. inculcates moral virtue (as Aristotle and Lawler assert). The big point here being: I don’t know that the people who want to hear Ben Folds, or here Comedians do their stand up routine, disagree with this fact. Nor do I, feel morally corrupted as a free and equal individual, having been subjected to them. I have gone to many CE credits that I felt more corrupted by then a comedian hyperbolically postulating a straw man argument for laughs.
    Furthermore, I would like to assert that the discussion we had was purposefully and righteously steered by Dr. Briggs away from real censorship that is taking place with the comedians, to fake pseudo censorship that he wanted to talk about, that of the Ben Folds incident. HE DIDN’T CENSOR BEN FOLDS, he merely postulated his position on values and community and rightly pointed out that the lyrics of the song “Bitches Ain’t Shit” violated our belief’s and values. Not once did he take up or defend his policy of censoring comedians because he knows that it is censorship and is not based on the notion of christian values, but manipulation and power. Speaking of power and repression, I am reminded why the founders spoke so forcefully for the freedom of religion and speech — James Madison: “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted”. We cannot like sheep follow our president just because he stands behind a facade of values and morals. There is nothing in the values taught to me by berry that are violated by listening to a comedian. His actions demonstrate his position on censorship and i could not disagree more and believe that his position is fundamentally wrong.

  8. Jaci says:

    To say Berry is a Christian community is a bit of a stretch. While the beginning of Berry was highly Christian, we as a community are not. To say that we are implies that every person or even the majority are Christian, and while that may or may not be accurate, it is not like we are all required to attend sunday school and Bible study every week. I think Berry has more of the goal to build character, or at least for those values to be taught through things like the community service work day freshman do before classes even begin, than to preach Christianity. I guess it could be argued that the values that are emphasized at Berry are also ones that are emphasized in Christianity. This does not mean that the values are Christian or that Berry is “Christian.” To me, it just means that the Berry community is one that has a history of emphasizing helping others and ourselves through using our “head, heart, and hands,” and this is a tradition that, as far as I know, everyone has been fine with and has embraced as much as they want to. No one, not even Briggs, is forcing these values on anyone. While at Berry, I have learned a lot about different religions and points of view from the various events, professors, and students. Part of my experience with Berry is that being here has allowed me to be more open-minded, without having to commit to another point of view or feel the desperate need to defend my own. I have always felt like my ideas and contributions were respected and listened to as much as the next persons.
    Having said that, in response to whether it is Berry’s place to build character, I say it’s fine as long as there is no force to demonstrate these characteristics. As I said before, in terms of values Berry has always been pretty open about what this college stands for and wants to represent and provide for students. I say, if you don’t want to be a part of it, then don’t come. There are too many schools in the world and even in Ga who are so different from Berry in how values are dealt with. For me, I wanted to be at a place where I could learn other points of view and not feel like my values were always being threatened and me feeling the constant need to defend myself.

  9. Lindsay says:

    -Are we in fact a Christian community? What does that mean?
    After participating in a student panel this weekend at Decision Berry, a father approached me and asked if I could enlighten him on Berry’s position regarding religion. He was confused because he had heard that Berry was a “Christian college” but he wasn’t sure (or he pretended not to know to prompt my response– parents do this all the time at these panels) what that meant since the school didn’t promote itself as “Christian” like other faith-based colleges do (example: Liberty University, etc.).
    At this point, everyone in COM 429 is familiar with the “Christian in principle” stance that Berry takes in its purpose statement, so I won’t detail that. I’m confident that even if I did detail Berry’s situation, questions regarding Berry’s faith statement would continue to arise as the college filters its decisions through a Christian moral code. This is because it is hard to convince people that you are not solely committed to one religion when you operate solely based on the morals of one religion.
    Personally, I do not disagree with Berry adhering to a Christian moral code. However, I would not be convinced that Berry was not a Hindu college if it proclaimed to be “Hindu in principle.”
    Why is this all such a big deal? Because Martha Berry has been dead for a long time and time has a way of distancing an institution existing in a face-paced society from its founding principles. Without a clear, concrete explanation behind the reasoning and significance (beyond “this is it what Martha would have preferred”) of Berry’s decision to adhere to a Christian moral code, it will eventually evolve (or evaporate) into something else

    As a disclaimer: I didn’t say all this to the father. I simply explained that if Berry were not to identify with a moral code like it does, and instead have a free-for-all of religion; it would strip every religion of its value. I explained how Berry strives to cultivate a community this way.
    And this wasn’t a PR move on my part. After speaking with President Briggs, this is what I whole heartedly believe to me Berry’s stance. My frustration is that it took me talking to President Briggs to somewhat understand that. Not everyone with questions has that opportunity.

  10. K Beard says:

    I do not believe that Berry should be in the business of building character other than to foster the development of character. Certainly, Berry should provide a place for morality (and by morality, I mean our own personal standards of morality) to blossom and mature; however, this does not mean that Berry should have a moral code that it forces upon us. I believe that although we are founded on Christian principles, it does not mean that we are a homogenous Christian group – so why does Berry treat us that way? I believe that many of the Christian principles certainly contribute to a moral way of life; however, we need to have greater understanding of these ideas than just “for the Bible tells me so.” That may work in Sunday School but it doesn’t work here on our college. If you are going to be in the business of producing morality, Berry, show us how Christian principles ARE moral. Show us how these are part of our lives.

    I do believe that all beliefs are equally valid, whether we agree or not. Certainly I am in no position to condemn someone’s speech. I approach this from Kant’s categorical imperative: Act in such a way that you would will it to become a universal dictum. I do not condemn the speech of others because I do not want my speech to be condemned.

    I understand the Christian idea of personal freedom as not necessarily absolutely good; however, the slope is too slippery for us to safely descend it. As it is, we already have a strong enough struggle in terms of defining personal freedom for people in a legal sense. This should apply more to actions (murder, rape, kidnapping, etc) but not to speech. Certainly not to words.

  11. bmays says:

    I think that Berry is a place to build character. Students will be able to learn from each each other whether it it be religious or political. They can also learn from each other from a tradition that Berry has had and that is learning through head, heart and hands.

    I think that when Berry first started it was a Christian community. It was built on Christian ethics and beliefs. Today though, while the majority of the students are Christian, not everyone comes from this religious background. There is diversity of religions on campus while some don’t practice any religion. I think that as a community, students learn from each other using head, heart and hands.

  12. KLavey says:

    Administrators have a mission to the school, so they say. Are they providing the best ways of communicating or defining how the school should be “run,” such as these Christian principles, maybe or maybe not. They are being paid to promote and give Berry a certain name, while we pay to come here and are entitled to try and understand the foundation of Berry. Is that our fault we don’t understand? We blame the administrators for their ‘rules,’ maybe they should define them better or inform us as to why things are or how they came to conclusions. With freedoms, come responsibilities for both administration and students. I realized it’s the student’s duty to recognize and research about the school before attending or even when they are here, continuing to ask questions. Is the school following it’s own guidelines? For example, our conduct code (Viking Code) has “disguised speech codes,” would they be upheld if we challenged them? We can have an adult conversation about it without thinking the other party as an “agenda.”

    Topics such as morality and a Christian lifestyle/belief are different for everyone and Berry should recognize this. Sometimes, regulations cannot be moral, laws are not always moral and within the community rules may not be moral to some, while outrageous or immoral to others. It is inevitable. In theory, a line has to be drawn as to what the college does and what the students do, but since it’s a college, lines should not be definite. I highly believe students and administration should act/negotiate productively to redefine these lines because change is always occurring. The way Berry does keep things vague, ‘Christian Principles’ can have its disadvantages. I would say there could be a more democratic way for deciding certain polices because sometimes it feels as though they keep things vague for their benefit. And when deciding on polices a separation of religion needs to take place, just as a democratic society. But in action, there is no true separation.

    As for the second to last bullet, I believe personal freedom (whatever it maybe) is achieved and an absolute good. We should strive for it. College allows us to do so. On principle, I don’t believe I should sacrifice my personal freedom to benefit the community, even though I do. It also is bound to happen, especially in a college atmosphere to maintain a stable environment, which is beneficial.

  13. James Clarke says:

    I am still disappointed that I missed this visit!

  14. Kyler says:

    While I agree with the sentiments of some stated above regarding Berry having a responsibility to build character, I think their communication of what kind of character that is can be intentionally very vague. A liberal arts education is deeply rooted in a sense of strong moral and social values. I find it to be very consistent with those principles for Berry to build moral character in students while on campus.

    What I disagree with is the way in which our “Christian” values are communicated, as some have already stated. I understand the rationale of not wanting to turn students off to Berry by advertising that it is a college with Christian moral values, but it would behoove the administration and the students to make those values clear in the recruitment process. You never buy a house without examining the structure and solidity of the foundation. The same principle applies here. If people aren’t expecting a “Christian” place, we will always have conflicts like Ben Folds and the Universalist Group’s denial, simply because people won’t know what they’re getting into.

    I think it would be interesting to study Berry’s marketing materials for any trace of Christian values. My bet is you wouldn’t find the slightest hint.

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