Academia 101: Introduction to Religiosity and Conformity

As a lifelong Mormon, I'm often accused of living in a cult--and this accusation is no longer jarring. Ironically, having spent nearly half my life learning and teaching in academia, I've decided that university and college campuses are transforming into a cult-like environment---and at an alarming rate in the last three years. Acceptance of differing viewpoints is diminishing. My claims regarding academic religiosity and cultishness might sound ironic coming from a "cultish" devout Mormon. Still, I would argue that my Mormon "cult status" enables me to more fully recognize and understand religious and cultist mindsets and conformities. Furthermore, my academic expertise involves teaching critical thinking, argumentation, debate, interpersonal, and small group dynamics in written and oral communications. In other words, my skill set includes critical analysis in reasoning and argument. My job is to teach my students how to think, not what to think. I expose them to multiple ideologies and how to find merit in all viewpoints. When students cannot figure out my social and political proclivities, then I know I'm correctly doing my job. And yet, I truly believe that my teaching style is a growing anomaly.

As a student 25 years ago, I knew some of my professors were circling the edges of indoctrination---but that's because I was an adult when I went back to school; I wasn't an inexperienced and vulnerable teenager. Now, many, if not most colleges and universities don't even hide their attempts to propagate. They take pride in pushing transformative political activism.  
Having said this, please know, dear readers, that I don't claim to be bias free or to have all the answers. I'm a political moderate and embrace multiculturalism, pluralism, and equality. And I sorrow over the historical oppression of marginalized groups. I seek and work for a peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society. I'm obviously writing from my own perception. Still, I know what a religious and/or dogmatic environment feels like. I know what teaching in a religious environment feels like. (I've taught many religious classes within Mormonism.) I also write with some fear and anxiety. I fear some of my colleagues (should they read this) might feel betrayed and offended by my claims. I fear losing friends in speaking my truth. In answering these potential dilemmas, I can only say this: Like my colleagues, I seek to promote student learning outcomes that will ultimately contribute to society's greater good. And in my view, that means a university experience that promotes, not suppresses, free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

In this and some future posts, I will briefly discuss academia's increasing religiosity along with its seemingly cultish expectation and compliance regarding social and political activism. I will also discuss how identity politics is fueling academia's increasingly suppressive and totalitarian environment.
Academia As Religion: The Platinum Rule
In my previous post, I discussed the growing subversive and sectarianism (especially in regard to identity politics) in academia. I also discussed academia's moral imperatives derived from its socially constructed godhead of racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism. In other words, academia promotes and politically pushes for a society completely void of "ism's" or "trans-isms." Additionally, the academic culture of sectarianism also identifies various "sins" encoded in written and unwritten rules or commandments. One could easily label these edicts the "Bible of Trans-isms." Most of us are familiar with Christianity's Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Likewise, academia has its own humanitarian rule but uses it as a repressive tool for social and political activism. Their Platinum Rule dictates: "Treat others as THEY want to be treated."  (Translation: Identity politics is the new norm, and we all had better conform to their definitions of social justice---or else.)
On the surface, The Platinum Rule sounds kindly, compassionate, and virtuous. However, the Platinum Rule is an impossible standard to uphold. And, beneath its inclusive and affirming surface, this Rule is viciously judgmental and unforgiving of any dissent. And it's impossible to please everyone in every single moment. I know because for the last 20 years while teaching at San Jose State, I've twisted myself into a hundred emotional knots in attempts to adhere to this unreasonable edict. (And so have other professors, students, and college administrators on university and college campuses across the nation.) Consequently, I'm emotionally exhausted and demoralized. The obedience, devotion, and fervor to the Platinum Rule is akin to God-fearing Christian zeal but cloaking itself in seemingly "benign" and "neutral" language.
Jewish scholar and former Communist, David Horowitz, has written extensively about political activism (meaning social justice edicts) in academia. Years ago, he wrote and proposed a students' "Academic Bill of Rights" to push back at the singular ideology propagated on college campuses. Many left-wing professors, students, and college administrators detest him. Some students wrapped themselves in chains to protest Horowitz's presence when he came to speak on college campuses. However, his observations reflect many of my own. And I admire his courage of his convictions. He specifically uses religious metaphors to describe academia's increasingly suppressive methodologies:

The political left which has orchestrated [personal attacks on myself] and has a long history of conducting its campaigns through ad hominem charges. It is not for nothing that the word 'purge,' for example, is a left-wing coinage, or that every purge has featured the slander of its individual targets. The political purge is a purification ritual and its roots can be traced to the fact that radical politics is essentially a religious vocation. This religious character is determined by the fact that its adherents conceive their projects as 'revolutionary' or 'transformative'---secular terms for what in effect would be a religious 'redemption,' albeit an earthly one. Looked at from this vantage, the radical goal is a secular redemption of society from its vale of 'oppression.' The redemption is accomplished by creating a world without 'racism,' 'sexism,' or 'classism,' the current term of art for which is 'social justice'---a secular version of heaven on earth. The extravagant goal of redeeming humanity justifies uncompromising means. Social redeemers regard themselves as an 'army of the saints,' and their opponents as the party of sinners. They do not view their conservative opponents as supporters of alternative means for improving the lot of women, minorities, and the poor, but as enemies of women, minorities, and the poor. Progressive agendas cannot be opposed, therefore, on grounds that are principled or practical or compassionate. Opponents of 'progressives' are DEFINED as 'reactionaries'--advocates of racism and sexism, practitioners of 'McCarthyism,' and other incarnations of social evil.The clear goal of such courses is not to educate students in the methods of critical thinking but to instill ideologies that are hostile to American values" (One- Party Classroom, 2009, Preface).
I've included some typical commandments from a typical university reflecting academia's "Bible of Trans-isms." Bucknell University's website outlines some of its rules and regulations below:
"Bucknell University’s diversity efforts broaden and deepen our personal and intellectual horizons, preparing all of us – students, staff and faculty – to make thoughtful, responsible contributions as individuals, community members and professionals in a diverse, globally integrated world. An essential component of Bucknell’s commitment to academic excellence is our commitment to fostering an inclusive, diverse campus community. Bucknell’s understanding of diversity is broad-based, emphasizing the identity and experiences of groups that have been historically under-represented in higher education, and encompassing age, class, culture, (dis)ability, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, immigration status, national origin, race, religion and spirituality, sex and sexual identity, among others. We affirm that diverse experiences and perspectives in the classroom and across campus enhance everyone’s educational experience. Together, we are building and nurturing a community that embraces, respects and celebrates diversity in all its forms" (Student Handbook, p. 8).
These ideas sound fair enough. They sound innocuous enough. They sound broad enough. Yet, try living, teaching (especially teaching argumentation), or simply communicating---verbally and non-verbally---under these rules and conditions. It means to exist in an increasingly fearful, repressive, and confined space. (Much like living within a strict religious organization or cult.) Academia's growing sectarianism prolifically preaches (and rightly so) against Christianity's terrible judgment of gays, lesbians, and other marginalized groups. Yet, for all its faults and its condemnation of sinners, Christianity at least offers hope through healing prescriptions of forgiveness, transcendence, and redemption from sin. And forgiveness is surely, and often, quickly obtainable.
Unfortunately, "sinners" who fail to conform to the "Church of Wokeness" can forget about notions of forgiveness and redemption. Committing any sin---no matter how slight---results in harsh judgment and retribution. Punishments may come in the form of stigmatizing, shunning, or complete excommunication. One accidental slip of the tongue, one well-meaning but "wrongly worded" email, one "off" sentence or word, one dissenting blog post, one "offensive" reading assignment has generated hysteria, protests, condemnation, and at the very minimum---lasting suspicion for an increasing number of scholars and professors here and abroad. The social stigma and its accompanying cancel culture is akin to the Medieval era public stockades. 

Enforcing Dogma and Emancipatory Oppression
In the name of emancipating the historically marginalized, academia uses well-meaning but increasingly oppressive methodologies to "encourage" compliance to identity politics and social justice edicts. Thus, it practices exclusion in the name of "inclusion." It practices injustice in the name of "justice." It claims to be a bastion of free speech and ideas while suppressing and demonizing dissenting speech and ideologies. It attempts egalitarianism outcomes. (I don't mean to imply that egalitarianism or radical leftist ideologies are inherently wrong or bad. I honor noble objectives. However, I do object to their methods of adherence.) Indeed, my observations echo leftist writer and political pundit, Kristen Powers:

The people who routinely demonize those who express the 'wrong' views, are what I call the 'illiberal left.' They are most prevalent on college campuses and in the media---not insignificant perches from which to be quashing debate and dissent---but their tentacles are expanding into every sector of society. They consider themselves liberals, but act in direct contradiction to the fundamental liberal values of free speech, debate, and dissent. What distinguishes them from mainstream liberals and your average Democrat (who shares many of the illiberal left's policy inclinations) is not so much WHAT they believe, but HOW they believe it. Most people who reside on the left side of the political spectrum can tolerate difference of opinion without turning into authoritarian speech police. They can either engage or ignore people with whom they disagree. The illiberal left, on the other hand, believes that people who express ideological, philosophical, or political views that don't line up with their preferences should be completely silenced. Instead of using persuasion and rhetoric to make a positive case for their causes and views, they work to delegitimize the person making the argument through character assassination, demonization, and dehumanizing tactics. These are the self-appointed overlords---activists, university administrators, journalists, and politicians [and professors]---who have determined what views are acceptable to express. So, shut up---or else" (The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, 2015, p. 2).

David Horowitz underscores Ms. Powers' observations:
The new political orthodoxies insinuated into our universities by the left do not derive from traditions of a shared American heritage and culture, but are sectarian attempts to subvert both---by deconstructing the nation's identity and by dividing its communities into warring classes, genders, and races---into victims and oppressors. For academic radicals who hope to 'change the world,' teaching is not a disinterested intellectual inquiry but a form of political combat. The banner of this combat is 'social justice,' the emblem that signifies to the post-Communist left the triumph of the oppressed over the oppressors. An academic movement for 'social justice' has inserted its radical agenda into the very templates of collegiate institutions and academic programs, and into the curricula of secondary schools as well. Pursuit of this goal both requires and justifies indoctrinating students in the ideas that radicals regard as 'trans-for-mative' and 'progressive.' What we are witnessing in the liberal arts programs of American universities is the collapse of standards on an alarming scale. To describe this problem as one of 'liberal bias' or a 'lack of balance' is to misrepresent and trivialize it. All faculty, whatever their point of view, have intellectual biases and a right to express them. But the same right comes with an important and long recognized caveat. Professors have an obligation to be professional in their instruction. They are expected to refrain from imposing their personal views on students through the authority they exercise in the classroom, or through the design of the course, or through their power over student grades, they should not represent mere opinion as scientific fact. The problem posed by the incorporation of ideological agendas into the academic curriculum is not the opinions of a particular instructor or a particular idea introduced in the course of instruction. The problem arises when the course of instruction is not guided by scientific method; when it is not constructed as a scholarly inquiry within a scholarly discipline; when the instructor fails to present students with divergent views on controversial matters or with access to materials that will enable them to think intelligently and for themselves. The problem facing the university today is that many academic courses are designed to train students in sectarian ideologies and recruit them to sectarian causes" (One Party Classroom, p. 9).
For further examples, refer to my previous post and its accompanying links. Here's some additional examples. In the link below, you can read about the fate of former Harvard President, Larry Summers for making a "sexist" remark:
or (outside of academia) the fate of Mozilla Firefox's former CEO and founder, Brendan Eich, for making a political contribution back in 2008:
Here's professor Edward Schlosser's academic experience. He's a liberal and says he's terrified of his liberal students:
Or watch these Dartmouth protestors harass unsuspecting white students in the university library. (Regardless of whether one agrees with the Black Lives Matter movement, the ends don't justify the means in terms of harassment and intimidation.)
Here's why comedian Chris Rock refuses to play college campuses:
And, comedian Jerry Seinfeld:
Comedian Bill Maher will probably think twice before speaking on a college campus:
(Note: None of these comedians are conservatives.)
Leftist and former Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz, is fed up too:
Even President Obama weighed in on this issue: 
This suppression continues to fester because too many professors and administrators are fearful. Or many of them truly believe in academia's role in transformative politics. Many students conform out of fear or desire to be found acceptable and "worthy." Also, acknowledging ideological inconsistencies and hypocrisies tends to jeopardize the power to shame and stigmatize dissenting voices. Thus, truth and truth telling becomes the collateral damage. Facts and factual propositions are being eclipsed by feelings and subjective value propositions. And transformative politics aims at restructuring and maintaining social and political power.
So, what does this have to do with a cult?
Steven Alan Hassan from the Freedom of Mind Center is an expert on cults and defines them using his "BITE Model," which stands for behavior, information, thought, and emotional control:

  • Behavior control: major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals; need to ask permission for major decisions; need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.
  • Information control: access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged (keep members so busy they don't have time to think) and extensive use of cult-generated information (newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.).
  • Thought control: need to internalize the group's doctrine as 'Truth' (black and white thinking; good vs. evil; us vs. them, inside vs. outside) and "no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.
  •  Emotional control: excessive use of guilt (identity guilt: not living up to your potential; social guilt; historical guilt); phobia indoctrination (irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader's authority; cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group; shunning of leave takers; never a legitimate reason to leave; and "rom the group's perspective, people who leave are 'weak,' 'undisciplined.'

Do these attributes sound eerily familiar? (And I don't mean Mormonism.) Again, as a critical thinking and debate instructor, I have no problem examining all types of arguments and sources from the left and the right. My concern centers around a single ideology promoted on college campuses. Leftist professors often claim that students need exposure to opposing viewpoints other than "society's status quo." This claim would have been legitimate 30 or 40 years ago when traditional values and conservatism was more the cultural norm. However, exposing students to varied ideas is one thing. Promoting one idea while suppressing opposing ideas is propaganda and indoctrination. (In other words, a cult mentality.)
So, how does this apply to you, dear readers? 

  • Well, have you attended or hope to attend college? 
  • Do you have (or will have) kids in college? 
  • Do your tax dollars help fund state colleges and universities? 
  • Are you at a loss for words or made to feel shamed for not fitting into a "protected group" or demographic? 
  • Are you made to feel shamed for not showing enough empathy, compassion, or sympathy for specific groups?
  •  Are you afraid of being called racist? Sexist? Homophobic? Islamophobic? 
  • Are you made to feel like a xenophobe because you believe in America's exceptionalism? 
  • Are you made to feel shamed and your experiences "null and void" because of your "privilege?"
  • Are your views and experiences dismissed and silenced by the phrase, "Check your privilege?" 
  • If you're a white male, are your views dismissed as "mansplaining?" 
  • If you're a white person, are your opinions or your hardships dismissed as "whitesplaining?" 
  • If you disagree with progressive feminism, are you dismissed as a hateful proponent for the "war on women?" 
  • Are your opinions dismissed as "hateful" or lacking in "compassion?" 
  • Do you feel a growing hostility against Christianity? 
  • Are you told that religion is the cause of all wars and social ills? 
  • Are you familiar with the transformative ideology behind the term "social justice?" 
  • Are you made to feel like you cannot be a critical thinker and a conservative or even a moderate?
If you felt attacked or defensive regarding any of these questions then you've probably been "gob-smacked" by a "social justice warrior" or a clueless wannabe. Or, perhaps you are a proponent of social justice. And that's fine. The above questions are all related to "identity politics," and there is much merit to these types of arguments. I'm not arguing that marginalized groups haven't or do not suffer. But no individual or group has a corner on the market when it comes to human suffering. Furthermore, constructive discussion is one thing, purposely shaming or ostracizing is another. The bottom line: If a person's attitude toward social justice edicts or identity politics embraces "either/or propositions" or "scorched earth tactics" or a "take no prisoners" or "the end justifies the means," or any other type of oppressive approach, then that person is part of the problem; not the solution.

Make no mistake: It takes courage to stand up and push back against injustice and tyranny in any form or in any context. Expect criticism. Expect to feel fear and anxiety. Expect disapproval. Expect to be hated. Expect to be called "hateful." Expect to lose some friends. Expect to make some enemies. Regardless, we must educate and familiarize ourselves with the strategies and methods propagated by those who seek power for self-serving and unrighteous dominion. We must push back against destructive, divisive narratives and strategies which are rapidly staining and threatening our freedoms and rights to self-determination. A peaceful and pluralistic existence is possible. Discipline, maturity, and sacrifice are required to attain and maintain it. The demise of the Nephite civilization recorded in 3rd Nephi, and Moroni's courage in writing the Title of Liberty has personal and profound meaning for me. Those prophecies were written for us. And they were written "for such a time as this."
In my next post, I will discuss identity politics and how they are shaping and changing public policy decision-making on national and global levels.
Press forward and lean in,