Don’t divorce faith and debate

Individuals should always have to justify their assumptions during a discussion, but we should not stop them from using their faith to do so.

This is a letter in response to Thursday’s opinion, “Challenging one’s beliefs and values is an integral part of modern higher education.” I do not desire to make any points about the proposed Academic Bill of Rights, but rather to make an objection to several ideas with which I strongly disagree.

I agree with Michelle Mason’s statement that academia has the duty to “(engage students) in the pursuit of truth” and to get students to wrestle with their core beliefs, especially in the area of moral philosophy. Like Mason and many others, I have spent considerable time formulating my own ideas and views about how the world works, the nature of humankind, politics, etc. and how they are all related to morality.

Similarly, my stance on moral issues is also intimately related to my political views, which are the products of my intellectual reasoning. However, I am likely to arrive at different conclusions than Mason is when it comes to moral issues. Why is that?

It should come as no surprise the answer is because of my religious beliefs. Mason thinks these beliefs should not be associated with academic moral debate because they do not provide “public reasons” sufficient enough to be included in intellectual discussion. The author conveys the idea that it is possible for someone to dissociate herself or himself from her or his religious views to make ethical judgments and engage in intelligent conversation regarding morality.

It also appears as if Mason thinks the presence of any resemblance of religious thought in moral philosophy is a litmus test for an illogical argument. This could not be further from the truth.

Just as Mason’s moral convictions are intimately and irrevocably linked to her political views, and ultimately her worldview regarding basic assumptions about God (or lack thereof), humanity and the purpose of life, religious people’s moral assessments are also irrevocably linked to their worldview and core assumptions.

To ask a religious person to separate his logical reasoning of moral issues from the core of his whole belief system and the worldview that allows him to judge reality is an academic injustice.

There can be no such separation when it comes to wrestling with difficult moral issues. It is, therefore, impossible to ask religious students to “justify their moral beliefs without relying on theistic premises that they cannot reasonably expect their fellow citizens to share.” Such a statement is like asking an atheist to make moral judgments using only theistic premises.

I understand Mason is attempting to put all of her students on the same playing field by forcing them to accept the same basic assumptions and how this is an attempt to get her students to think critically about their moral beliefs and even question them.

But by requiring students to justify their moral stances without reliance on intimately related religious worldviews, Mason is ripping away the whole framework of their logical thought process and dissolving the glue that provides cohesiveness for integrating intellectual reasoning with moral conviction. Using religious premises in moral debate is not an attempt to escape the intellectual responsibility of thinking critically about an ethical issue.

A religious worldview is not just a crutch for the weak-minded. Despite what Mason might think, applying religious beliefs to the formulation of moral convictions requires valid, logical thought processes, and her attempts to stop religious students from participating in moral debate with their full intellectual arsenal is a clear violation of academic rights.

Kendall Sawyer is a veterinary student.
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