When my daughter was little, she read like crazy. She chewed through the entire Harry Potter series in second grade and like a lot of kids, loved the magical, imaginative, world of possibilities it created. Around that same time, controversy surrounding the movie version of another young adult fantasy series, The Golden Compass swirled, forwarding the idea that this movie was an attempt to peel kids away from Christianity. I wasn’t surprised when my daughter came home from her Catholic school repeating this. I told her then and have repeated many times, “Never be afraid of someone else’s ideas.”
Now a teenager, she told me recently about a movie they discussed at her church youth group, God’s Not Dead. The plot of the movie, as she relayed to me, involves a Christian student being told by his college professor that God is dead, and said student proves him wrong.
Alarms in my head went off.
I explained to my daughter that this movie sounded like a bunch of right-wing propaganda, reinforcing the popular but crazy notion that universities are packed with evangelical atheists who are out to subvert your child much like the devil tried to subvert Jesus in the desert. That set me off down the path of the rant about the anti-intellectual movement in certain factions of the right-wing. The real question here, I told her, is why it is that the leaders of this movement are so scared of their children getting an education.
My daughter, a solid rule follower, asked me if I was saying she wasn’t allowed to see it. Fully immersed in my own momentary righteousness I said, no, she wasn’t allowed to see it. Remembering my mantra about ideas, I backed off it and said I’d have to think about it more. It turns out that she hadn’t made any plans, she was just wondering what I would say. I hasn’t come up again.
Was I being a hypocrite? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. I think there is a strong argument to be made that this movie is more propaganda than an invitation to engage ideas. Still, I really do want her to make up her own mind. It’s just that in her world, there is not a lot of counterpoint.
This is coming up today because of this excellent Facebook post from Robert Reich.
Several of you tell me I’m wasting my time preaching to the converted; I should be aiming my writings and videos at conservative audiences. The problem is they’re very hard to reach. They live in their own hermetically-sealed bubbles (Justice Anton Scalia recently told a reporter he got his news only from the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal) just as many progressives live in their own bubbles. Yet the only way we’re going to move forward as a nation is by talking and arguing with people who disagree with us.
Which is also why I find so troubling the recent “disinviting” of several high-profile commencement speakers in response to student and faculty protests – Ayaan Hirsa Ali, deemed too controversial for Brandeis University; former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, objected to at Rutgers because of policies she advocated in the Bush Administration; Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, turned back by Smith College because of certain IMF policies; and Robert Birgeneau, former Chancellor here at Berkeley, disinvited by Haverford College because of how he handled student demonstrations in 2012.
Progressives who disagree with the views or actions of people invited to their campus can peacefully protest. But “disinviting” them from even presenting their views or defending their actions contributes to the escalating unwillingness of Americans to listen to the other side – a deeply dangerous trend.
Now, there’s an argument to be made about whether a commencement address is a free exchange of ideas, but his larger point is well-taken. It has become too easy in our hyper-connected world to seek out information that only confirms our own ideas, without ever considering anything that challenges us.
That, as Reich says, is deeply dangerous.