My colleagues at the University of Chicago have spent the weekend talking about the article that I wrote about Milo published by Sightings on Thursday. The article was aggregated by Breitbart on Friday, where it has received 511 Facebook shares and 663 comments. Milo shared the article on his Facebook page, where it has received 6.4k Likes, 641 shares, and 261 comments.
Last night I posted this response to the listserve where some of this conversation has been going on. Full disclosure: my colleagues do not seem to have realized that I was privy to their discussion.
You are all purposefully misunderstanding what I said in my "Sightings" article, although I appreciate you do not share my admiration for Milo as I have expressed it on my blog. I said two things in the "Sightings" piece which seem to be troubling people: 1) that it is considered a terrible breach of etiquette to argue as a Christian within the academy, and 2) that the universities were founded as places to argue theology and that arguing theology needs to continue to be one of their functions. You are all proving 1) right, from the ways in which you have decided that I need to be shamed for expressing my position as a Christian. You are assuming that I meant "Christian" theology when I said we need to give our students practice arguing. I meant theology in the sense of dealing with the deep and difficult questions that ground our understanding. Everyone has a theology, it is simply not always described as such. I am assuming from your comments about my piece that most of you would argue as atheists, which would be a good medieval position to practice. Some of you might argue as humanists or Jews or Muslims. But you would all be arguing from a theological position, about which you should be honest. In my classroom, I am: I am utterly upfront with my students when I am arguing from a Christian perspective. I mark it clearly for them and say, "This is the way it would look from within this perspective." I make it utterly clear to them that I do not expect them to be Christian or to agree with me. But I do not lie and pretend that I do not have faith. I know the difference between preaching and teaching. For those of you who feel it was wrong for "Sightings" to run a piece about Milo in the first place, I give you this comment from one of my friends, a lawyer, who is astonished at the close-mindedness of the academy: "The utter lack of self reflection is astonishing. Mr. Yiannopoulos is a phenomenon within the academy, where he provokes reactions as few (if any) have ever done before. That, if nothing else, is worthy of some analysis. What is it about this young man is it that inspires outrage from an academy that has heretofore been comfortable welcoming the likes of Ward Churchill, Norman Finkelstein and Bernardine Dorhn? If nothing else, Professor Brown offers a new perspective on a man who is sending paroxysms through the academy. How can her colleagues wish to suppress that? Have they no curiosity at all toward the things that press their buttons?" This was the purpose the editor of "Sightings" had in asking me to write the article. He specifically asked me to reflect on the importance of Milo's tour for American academia and the study of religion, as that is the remit of "Sightings," to observe religion in public life. He was also interested in having a different view of Milo than that which everyone was hearing in the mainstream media, and which you all clearly have heard. I have been following Milo's campus tour since September, when Dean Boyer sent out his pamphlet on academic freedom. I am therefore in a unique position to comment on Milo's understanding of what he is doing and to reflect on why his campus tour has excited the response that it has. The piece as I originally wrote it was somewhat longer, which the editor of "Sightings" shortened considerably so as to fit into the usual "Sightings" format. I have been and will be blogging about the larger argument that I would make. I invite you all to read what I have written since September; it is the most complete account that anyone has given of why Milo has attracted the following that he has. I am, yes, I will use this hated word, disappointed that not one of you had the collegiality to contact me in person to ask me how I came to my appreciation of what Milo is doing. In the hope that the future conversation may be more open, Rachel