When I was in high school, I was often warned about the road ahead. My church’s youth leaders painted a dark picture of public universities as a place with no moral standards. College was supposed to be a place of assaults on Christianity in the classroom and depraved behavior outside of it. I was told that my beliefs wouldn’t be respected, that moral deviance was the norm and that the university would be openly hostile to Christianity. In effect, I was told I was moving into Sodom and Gomorrah.
When I got here, I found out that a large percentage of the student body at this university profess the Christian religion. There are a multitude of Christian religious groups with membership in the thousands. Most of my professors do not make mention of their religious or political views in class, and more than a few made positive references towards Christianity. Acts of moral depravity of all sorts were more often a product of the rumor mill, rather than something I witnessed firsthand.
It turns out, the rumor mill was what most people back home were going off of. The Sodom and Gomorrah, Bart Ehrman-will-turn-you-into-an-atheist-communist-hedonist mindset was nothing more than the prognostications of people who knew only of twisted second and third hand stories.
I’m proud to report that the University of North Carolina is in fact a place of healthy intellectualism. For every person taking a position on an issue (be it political, social or religious), there is likely to be someone to counter it. In this environment, both sides’ arguments are made better by the existence of opposition.
Rather than avoiding them, we should all listen to people who oppose our views, for the simple reason that competition breeds improvement. When our own ideas are challenged by conflicting ideas, our ideas are refined into something better. In other cases, our ideas are bad and they get tossed out.
This Darwinist competition of ideas breaks down when outside factors intervene to try and stop the competition. By and large, Carolina has been free of this. There have been some exceptions where one faction has attempted to shut down the voice of another. However, such examples as the controversy over Carolina Students for Life, SDS/YWC, or the Board of Election’s abuse of campaign laws have been the exceptions rather than the rule. By and large, the competition of ideas flows freely each day on campus. And I am thankful for that.
Now, many would say the state of morality in the United States is far below an acceptable standard. However, this has been true of every civilization throughout history. The fact is, people are less than perfect no matter where they are. Human progress is an illusion. Hence, I am not going to single out the University as a place of exceptional immorality, because it does not appear to me that this university is any more or less moral that American society as a whole. The problem is not with this university’s administration or its student organizations, but with American society at large. America’s institutions are a reflection of its people. Any attempt to reform public morals by reforming university administration is like trying dam half a river. The current will still flow, it will just be re-directed slightly for a while and it will eventually erode the dam.
In short, our University is not an intellectual wasteland. Rather, it is a hotbead of intellectual discussion, which is exactly what a university should be. This competition of ideas can only benefit our society. If ideas are allowed to be expressed and evaluated freely, truth will come out on top. Like economic markets, this competition stops working when interlopers begin to fiddle with stuff in an attempt to engineer their own desired result. Attempts to control the competition of ideas usually backfire on whoever is attempting the controlling. People begin to wonder: What are they trying to hide? What are they afraid of?
Be they conservative Christians or anti-“hate speech” liberals, interlopers who attempt to control the competition of ideas not only produce unintended consequences, but they betray their own ideas. If they have faith in the truth of what they believe, the superiority of their ideas should be self-evident and they should not need to seek other means to ensure that their ideas are adopted.
Fortunately, although the competition of ideas is not flowing freely in many parts of the world, it is flowing much better at UNC than at most places. We have an atmosphere of exceptional intellectual vitality, and we should strive to keep it that way.