On Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings

The current state of higher education is one of the greatest tragedies in North America today. Institutions that were built on the premise of intellectual rigor, technological advancement, and the shaping of human beings who can contribute to society has been hijacked by the liberal agenda. College and University campuses are now better known for safe spaces and trigger warnings than they are for education. Being micro-aggressed and marching in protests are seemingly more central to the educational experience than actual learning. What once was a central bulwark of society is relegating itself to an irrelevant laughingstock.

Of course I am being over-simplistic in my judgment of post-secondary education. There are decent schools and decent teachers out there. But without a doubt the overarching trend is not towards the building up of young minds but the tearing down of the Judeo-Christian roots of the educational system and Western society. Gone is the concept of objective truth; gone is the notion of universal morality; gone is the reverence, or even tolerance, of any notion of God. These are ideas that have been largely tossed out onto the dump heap and left to rot. It is the first time in North America that we are attempting to march on without these foundations, but the new structure of secular humanism is a wobbly tower that is destined to collapse.

It is a sad experiment we are playing. The lab rats are the precious minds of young people who are buying into the self-centred, intellectually dishonest postmodernism they’ve been spoon fed since kindergarten. And make no mistake about it, that is the agenda of modern education. It is not about genuine discovery. It is about the formation of a specific worldview. Just as Christian Bible colleges aim to produce sound followers of Christ, so mainstream colleges and universities intend to produce sound followers of secularism. I understand that this is to be expected, but it is still lamentable.

As someone who mentors young people, I am sincerely bothered by the future that lies ahead of them. The current education system, especially the post-secondary form of it, is failing to prepare people for the real world. We are now well into this experiment and the results are piling up. Numerous grad students are walking away from their college or university experience $50,000 in the hole and with a degree that hardly opens up any employment opportunities to them. But, on the bright side, they did manage to march against oil companies and cry quietly in their safe space. Groan.

I really care about young people. I want them to flourish and succeed and be all that they can be. I want them to go to college or university and be trained to be critical thinkers, though ideally this training would have already begun years earlier. Some charge Christian folk like myself with blind faith and having abandoned reason, but I could not disagree more strongly. I believe that Christianity, like any other worldview, ought to be thrust into the public sphere for scrutiny and testing. I have put my own faith through such a wringer and discovered that it was up to the task. Unlike some believers, I am not afraid of having my beliefs questioned or having core doctrines challenged. It is only through such a process that a long-lasting faith will form. Young people need to have their beliefs “thrown into the fire” so to speak to see if they can withstand the heat. Truth, morality, and religion are all open for a pummeling, but modern secularism is guarded like a quarterback during practice. The educational system should be part of this idea-testing process, but alas it seems to have abdicated this responsibility due to playing favorites with worldviews.

Here’s the reality: the educational world is not meant to be a safe space. Safe from physical danger, yes, but not safe from the most dangerous force in the world: ideas. Academia is supposed to be one of the main arenas where competing ideas duke it out in a fight to claim superiority. The pursuit of truth requires a sort of intellectual violence against lies. There once was a time when this pursuit was noble and sought after, but that is no longer the case. The whole point of micro-aggressions and safe spaces and trigger warnings is to ward off ideas that one might find personally offensive. Yet how can a mind grow if it is not opposed by differing viewpoints? How can ideas that are better than others rise to the surface if they are not allowed to stew in the same pot? The answer is that they can’t, and what we are left with are young people who are more confident of their own viewpoints without ever having them battle-tested. It is a kind of pride that is totally unwarranted and unearned, much like the the participation trophy that probably still sits on the bookshelf at home.

The “snowflake” cultures of post-secondary schools are troubling for me personally, parentally, and pastorally. As an individual, the coddling of students from ideas other than their own is both dangerous and demeaning. It is dangerous because it fails to allow for the free exploration of ideas and a robust and resilient worldview to be formed. It is also demeaning because it assumes that people can’t withstand intellectual confrontation and be better off as a result. I do not feel this serves human beings well as individuals or as a collective society.

As a father, it is painful to know that I simultaneously want to encourage my children to pursue education and yet also wish for them to steer clear of the destructive liberal ideologies that are not allowed to be questioned in post-secondary education. I have no problem with my children knowing that other beliefs exist out there other than the ones I wish to pass on to them; however, I want my children to discover those beliefs in a setting that encourages a fair fight of ideas, not one that stifles opposing viewpoints.

As a pastor, I am concerned that the young generation has done away with truth and objective morality to the point that humanity will eventually erode into animalism. That is, in some sense, what is already taking place. The secular worldview is one that rejects belief in God but still wishes to borrow some of the benefits of a Christian worldview. For example, the modern notion of “follow your heart” has the possibility of leading to all kinds of moral chaos. What if my heart is telling me that I’m superior to other races? Or that I sexually desire children? Should I still follow my heart then? The secularist would answer “no”, but has no reason to give for why that would be. If there is no God and no absolute morality, then all that is left are opinions. There’s no such thing as right and wrong. Therefore, the education system that seeks to oust God is also ousting the very moral system that our civilization was founded on. It is nothing short of a revolution in the truest sense, but we ought to know that kicking the legs out from under a chair will certainly lead to injury. One glance at college campuses will verify that many students steeped in secularism behave in a way that is not tolerated anywhere else in society. I would rather live in a world that can participate in thoughtful, rational discussion than one that is run by subjective feelings, mob violence, and public shaming of those who don’t fit into the modern mould.

These issues matter to me as a Christian because I care about truth. I care about a flourishing society and the good of all people. I want people to have the abundant life that Jesus came to offer them. The farther away from truth we stray, the farther we separate ourselves from the wholeness that truth can bring. I am convinced that the state of modern education is bent on abandoning any real pursuit of truth, and the inevitable result will be damage to young people and society in general. As long as we continue to create environments that aim to protect ideologies instead of test them, we won’t get any closer to the truth. My heart aches for young people who are growing up in a culture that has so marinated them in these ideas that they can’t even recognize it. Unless somehow common sense, logic, and a hard-nosed pursuit of truth resurrect, our generation will continue to stagnate in safe spaces. A resurrection like that though will require a miracle almost of the same magnitude that left the tomb empty 2,000 years ago.

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