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The Cutting Edge: Blog of Ed Knudson
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Ed Knudson's Passing  11/3/2017  (126)

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Members of Trump's Religious Advisory Council Have Not Resigned  8/25/2017  (310)

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Southern Baptist Pastor Calls for Holy War against North Korea  8/9/2017  (246)

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Protestants Need a Pope  9/30/2015  (1107)

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Martin Marty Center Publishes Column in Support of Disgraced White Nationalist, Milo Yiannopoulos
2/28/2017

Update on 3/2/17: The editor of the Sightings column, Brett Colasacco, put together a Packet on Rachel Fulton Brown which contains several significant reactions to her writing, including a very strong repudiation from a former student (Miles S. Hopgood, Princeton Theological Seminary). What is interesting to me in an unfortunate way is that we here have a very conservative professor writing standard, hateful anti-university platitudes who then thinks that she can gain attention by supporting an otherwise sad figure like Milo Yiannopoulos who makes political outrage, not research and reflection, into an industry for profit, and then thinks what is really hate speech should be freely presented on college campuses in the name of free speech. Milo should go to Liberty University to give his remarks. "Conservatism" is anything but really conservative today. It's the way of the media, only conflict gets attention for profit, even in academic venues.

I was surprised to see an article by Rachel Fulton Brown at the Sightings column on February 16, 2017, at the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, one of the more important places for doing public theology in the country. Usually Marty himself has written the column and I haven't kept up with changes that have been made. Others are now writing for it I guess. And the Brown piece was really something else.

It came to the aid of Milo Yiannopoulos. Just to remind people here is how the column begins:
On Wednesday, February 1st, there was a riot at the University of California, Berkeley. The College Republicans had invited Breitbart Senior Editor Milo Yiannopoulos to campus for what was supposed to be the concluding event of his year-long “Dangerous Faggot Tour.” Over 100 UC Berkeley professors signed a letter saying that Milo shouldn't be allowed to speak, but the administration let the talk go ahead, acknowledging that the First Amendment prohibits public universities from censoring speakers on the basis of their views.
Breitbart is the media agency which was run by Steve Bannon, now chief strategist for Donald Trump, which is why this is no small matter. The agency just a few days ago fired Yiannopoulos, due to a rebellion against him by other staff. Yiannopoulos had also been disinvited to a recent conservative convention because he had made online comments about the appropriateness of homosexual relations between older men and boys. Bannon has said that he wanted Breitbart to be a platform for the "alt-right" which is a term for a political orientation associated with white nationalism.

I watched many campaign appearances of Donald Trump. He regularly and explicitly used racist rhetoric. In fact, of course, he was widely reported in the press for his comments about the Obama birth certificate, an issue which appealed to white racists whether consciously or subconsciously. Trump in many ways indicated he was not going to reject the support of racists. Yiannopoulos calls Trump "daddy" indicating strong affection for the man, apparently, though with Yiannopoulos it is difficult sometimes to know when he is being sarcastic or serious. In fact, that aspect of the Bannon/Trump phenomenon, whether there is any "truth" in their statements, has became a very major issue in public life today.

So I was surprised to see a column in "Sightings" which gave substantive support to Yiannopoulos and what he was trying to do with his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.”
Milo himself has characterized the violence at Berkeley as fundamentally political, but the fervor with which students supported the rioters suggests that it has deeper roots. “Politics,” as Andrew Breitbart liked to say, “is downstream from culture.” But culture's wellspring is religion, the one thing that most colleges and universities, their students, and faculty claim—as a result of their commitment to academic freedom—not to have. More even than the current tensions in the political sphere, this denial of religion as the basis of culture is the source of the violence we are now witnessing, both on campuses and across America at large.
Now, I had to read this paragraph several times. Rachel Fulton Brown is repeating the common modern notion that religion is not the center of thought in higher education institutions today, as it was in the medieval period. But then she says that religion comes before culture and somehow that is crucial to know, yet she has not demonstrated why or how the two are so different. And then she says that the "denial of religion as the basis of culture is the source of the violence" on and off campuses, so this is a really, really big deal, it would seem. She is talking about "the source of violence" itself in our society. And she blames the university.

"Not to address these issues openly does not allow students to keep an open mind. Their minds are already open—and being filled with what they are given in place of religion: multiculturalism; race, class, gender; the purportedly secular ideals of socialism and Marxism." Yes, there it is, the problem is that the professors are teaching socialism and Marxism. Wow. She says that is her experience as a professor for over 30 years. And this is what is causing violence in our society. Now, I would like to say that I worked at a public university for four years (Bemidji State University) and never once heard any professor promoting socialism and Marxism. The one strange fellow I heard about at the University of Minnesota who called himself a socialist had become a popular speaker at church youth meetings.

What Brown claims is that Yiannopoulos is trying to make Christians of the students who come to listen to him, he is trying to convert them. And the students and faculty of secular institutions are so afraid of religion that they violently refuse to listen to someone like this. This is an especially weird way to think about religion. In fact, it gives religion much more power than I think it has on campus or in public life. What Brown is not seeing straight is that religion is being used by the political right to gain political power over others of a different religious point of view.

To show this just take a look at the speech at Mankato State University (also in Minnesota) referenced by Brown, available at Breitbart. The speech, believe it or not, is all about the "fact" that "liberals" and "the left" hate Christmas. Yes, I know, it is hard to believe this. This has become the big conservative talking point, especially around Christmas time. The left hates Christmas and you need to vote for Republicans because they will bring Christmas back again. I believe this is a huge abuse of religious faith, it is ridiculous. But for Brown, this is central, apparently, proof that the university has gone totally pagan.

Yiannopoulos says: "Leftists wage the war on Christmas using their traditional methods- government fiat and the court system. They never win voting, and they certainly don’t win in the free market, so they bravely fight their battles through big government."

Yes again, it is "big government" that "leftists" use to try to deny the celebration of Christmas. The fact is that the talk of "happy holidays" is heard primarily in the big shopping centers and chain stores, or, otherwise, the "market" and not big government. I myself have assisted the ACLU in banning Christian symbolism from government property because I don't believe government should be in any way a custodian of the symbols of Christian faith. That is the church's work.

And, of course, as Yiannopoulos says clearly, Christianity is the religion of white people. And leftists hate white people and love Muslims. Yes, he says all that sort of stuff and apparently for Rachel Fulton Brown this is at the basis of violence in our society.

Well, maybe she has something there. The violence done to others in name of white Christianity over the centuries is actually something that should receive serious reflection. Yiannopoulos wants Christianity to help Republicans dominate governmental power. He says he is himself a Catholic, but he is actually talking like a representative of the religious right, those who take pride in the fact that they have elected Donald Trump. And that is the true source of a terrible violence that continues in this culture. Trump just the other day said he will propose building more nuclear weapons so the United States is at the top of the pack. Some Christian orientation.

It is that kind of talk that can, indeed, destroy the world God has made. Milo Yiannopoulos is using religion to make himself into a public figure by which to enrich himself. That is his true god, the so-called "market". He markets himself by saying outrageous things, just like so many on right wing radio and television such as Ann Coulter. This is not responsible politics and there is every good reason for university officials to question the misuse of outrageous behavior. And the Republican Party should ask itself whether it really wants to be associated with such a person as a kind of spokesperson for their cause. Furthermore, there is a certain point at which sheer stupidity should no longer be deemed to qualify as free speech in public discourse. The way Yiannopoulos refers to "the left" and "liberals" is just stupid and false but this is the way right wing media talk all the time. There is a certain point at which telling gross lies again and again should not allowed if it requires public resources like the air waves. Professor Brown repeats the worst sort of right wing propaganda as if it is scholarly truth. If there is an issue of how the university treats religion it is certainly not true that Yiannopoulos represents any kind of solution.

But why would the Martin Marty Center put up something this bad by Rachel Fulton Brown? I went to the center's Facebook page and there is nothing about it there. Maybe they should take it off the site. It really is not worthy to be considered in the world of public theology today. The way to deal with troubled children like Milo Yiannopoulos is to ignore their antics.












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