Preposterous Universe

Friday, June 17, 2005
Persecuted minority

It's tough sometimes, being a middle-class straight white American male. I mean, we rule the world, and it's really hard to get anyone to feel sorry for us. We have feelings too, you know.

So it's good to know that, as an atheist, I'm a member of an honest-to-God persecuted minority. The latest example comes from Brooklyn College, where Timothy Shortell was forced to decline the position of chair of the Sociology Department after the tabloids discovered that he was an atheist. (Don't they realize how hard it is to get good department chairs?) Read the story at Majikthise and Feministe. The real source of trouble was an essay on anti-naturals.org, in which Shortell had not-so-nice things to say about religious morality. As Lindsay says,

The essay argues that religious faith undermines an agent's capacity for true morality. The author makes the rather commonplace observation that people who use a code of "revealed truths" to guide their behavior are shirking the hard work of moral deliberation. The author calls these people "moral retards." Unfortunately, the author conflates blind followers of religious dogma with thoughtful believers who reason independently within a religiously-informed framework. Make no mistake, the former really are moral retards. They may conduct themselves well if they seize on a sound set of rules, but "just following orders" isn't a moral position, even if you think you're just following orders from God.

I'll be blunt, anyone who claims to be shocked by this line of reasoning in 21st century is either ignorant or disingenuous.* Would the tabloids have prevented Freud or Nietzche from chairing a department at CUNY? They disparaged religion in much harsher terms than poor Tim Shortell, and they did so in the scholarly works that made them famous. Heck, Plato more or less demolished the divine command theory of morality 2400 years ago with the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Jokes aside, this is a completely inexusable violation of academic freedom, not to mention religious freedom. The administrators at CUNY (of which Brooklyn College is a part) should be ashamed of themselves.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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