In today's polarized political climate, many people are afraid to voice their beliefs. Across ideologies, philosophies, and religious backgrounds, many have found themselves demonized and silenced. We at the Love and Fidelity Network, and our students, are too frequently subjected to retaliation for emphasizing the importance of discussing family, marriage, and sexual integrity, which is why we signed the Philadelphia Statement on Civil Discourse and the Strengthening of Liberal Democracy this past Tuesday.
Civil Discourse on College Campuses
What is civil discourse? Put simply, discourse which befits a citizen invested in the public good. Such discourse is marked by mutual respect and good will. A citizen who truly respects his interlocutors will have internalized the truth that Descartes articulated in his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason:
"When people have views quite contrary to ours, that doesn't make them barbarians or savages, and that many of them make use of reason at least as much as we do."
When ideology supersedes this understanding, civil discourse comes to be viewed as a luxury, not an obligation. As institutions come to adopt certain ideologies as the reigning orthodoxy, they and the people who comprise them assume that different or opposite viewpoints are illegitimate. Consequently, they come to treat those with different views, or those who simply disagree, with pity and contempt. Some of our students have unfortunately encountered such scrutiny on campus, with peers unwilling to discuss, let alone associate with, anyone who does not profess progressive beliefs about marriage, family, and sexual integrity. Rather than enter into a conversation, these peers may shout them down, call them names, accuse them of bigotry, ostracize them, or file a report against them to the administrative authorities.
Purpose of Education is to Form Good Citizens
These conditions deepen the yawning chasm between social life and academics, which could ultimately endanger the future of universities. Intellectual growth is aided by deep friendship, and requires a standard of civil discourse to make it possible for students of different backgrounds and experiences to ask questions of their peers and professors. In this way, students will come to know their own beliefs better by comprehending why other have come to different conclusions. To build up a thoughtful, gracious citizenry, we need to begin by striving for friendship, placing each other's good prior to our desire to win an argument on behalf of ideological commitments.