Noah Riner

CHURCH/STATE AT DARTMOUTH By William F. Buckley Jr.
Tue Sep 27, 8:06 PM ET

The whole business of whether public schools can permit “intelligent design” to be acknowledged as an alternative to Darwinian evolution in explanation of human life will begin democratic exercises in a courtroom in Pennsylvania this week. There are regular flashpoints on this matter of the separation of church and state. Some of them test out constitutional questions, others merely modi vivendi. A week ago Noah Riner, the president of the Dartmouth Student Assembly, ran into the wrath of orthodox hard-liners.

What happened was a convocation welcoming the freshman class to Dartmouth College. The student president traditionally speaks at these convocations, and this time it was the young man from Louisville, Ky., who uttered what turned out to be an inflammatory couple of sentences. He told the freshmen that the mere imparting of knowledge is less than what a college education should seek to do for students. The development of character is the higher goal.

“Character,” said Riner, “has a lot to do with sacrifice, laying our personal interests down for something bigger. The best example of this is Jesus. … He knew the right thing to do. He knew the cost would be agonizing torture and death. He did it anyway. That’s character.”

That violation of secularist decorum brought on great indignation. A petition drive against the young student body president is contemplated. A vice president of the Student Assembly wrote to him, “I consider your choice of topic for the convocation speech reprehensible and an abuse of power. You embarrass the organization, you embarrass yourself.” A sophisticated defense was tendered by a Jewish student who wrote, “Many of us in the Dartmouth community proudly disagree with that and other aspects of Riner’s religious beliefs, but our disagreements do not give us the right to limit his speech.”

Riner himself gave a shrewd appraisal of the nature of the taboo. “The problem is not that Dartmouth has a formalized speech code. That would be easy to deal with, and easy for students to break. The problem is that Dartmouth has a speech culture, where some topics are off-limits and some perspectives shouldn’t be uttered. (Such) speech restriction is much more difficult to break — as I have recently discovered.”

A few years ago the president of Dartmouth, dedicating the Jewish culture center, said that Dartmouth had a history of anti-Semitism, for which the college sought to shrive itself. Such prejudice was widespread before World War II, and the effort to expunge it engaged attention in the university world so high as to court the danger of drifting into a de facto prejudice against Christian expressiveness, as young Mr. Riner discovered.

An effort was made (I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times and gave a lecture at Dartmouth) to make the sensible distinction: to eliminate anti-Semitic discrimination should not require the rejection of Christian traditions. The opposite could be held, inasmuch as a Christian who practices discrimination violates not only federal law, but also Christian law.

But as with the quarrel over the mere mention of intelligent design, the distinction struggles for air. The planted axiom being encouraged by the secular community is that an acknowledgment of biological evolution not only acquiesces in scientific certitudes, it cannot coexist with any thought of intelligent design. And this is true no matter how many metaphors are introduced (“We don’t mean Noah actually got all living creatures into an ark …”) to concede the morganatic difference between intelligent design and Darwinian evolution.

Those at Dartmouth who objected to Mr. Riner’s obeisance to Jesus acted as though he were bent on repealing the First Amendment. It wasn’t as if he had been appealing to restore Dartmouth’s original charter — which called for Christianizing the Indians.

Well, his experience helps him, and others, to develop the character, courage.

[For the original article, go here.]

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4 Responses to Noah Riner

  1. “Dartmouth’s original charter — which called for Christianizing the Indians”

    Free country. [check]
    Private institution. [check]

    I fail to see what’s wrong with a charter calling for Christianizing anything,
    everything, or nothing. This would be a matter for Dartmouth to decide. In grand old capitalist tradition anyone that doesn’t like the policy is free to go to a different school more suitable for them.

  2. “I consider your choice of topic for the convocation speech reprehensible and an abuse of power. You embarrass the organization, you embarrass yourself.”

    that quote is just scary. talking about how it might be good for everyone to have a character like jesus is reprehensible? embarassing? you could be an atheist and deny he was the son of god, yet you cant deny the strength of his character.

    personally i blame liberal ideology and the so-called “tolerance” brigade. you notice how they always want tolerance, but only tolerance for “progressive” ideas such as on-demand abortion, homosexual marriage, “free-thought” humanism, and those sorts of ideas. tolerance NEVER seems to include christians or ANYONE who dares speak the name of jesus.

  3. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news.....eazar.html

    The Wheelock Succession of Dartmouth Presidents
    ELEAZAR WHEELOCK, 1769-1779
    Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, founded Dartmouth College in 1769 and served as its first president. The last of the Colonial colleges, Dartmouth was established by a charter granted by King George III, with funds from the second Earl of Dartmouth and others and a grant of land from John Wentworth, Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire. Wheelock had earlier established Moor’s Charity School in Lebanon, Connecticut, to provide education to young American Indian men and train them for missionary work. Hoping to expand his school into a college, but unable to gain a charter in Connecticut, Wheelock looked to the north, where settlements were growing and, with them, the need for educational institutions. Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock’s first students, was instrumental in making Wheelock’s dream a reality by raising funds and goodwill from English and Scottish missionary organizations.

    A major figure in the first Great Awakening, Wheelock was a visionary and a preacher of some renown, a career he continued at Dartmouth where, in addition to President, he was also Trustee, Professor of Divinity and Minister of the College Church. Devoted to the College he had carved out of the wilderness, Wheelock was also thoroughly practical and throughout the difficult years of the Revolutionary War forged the political alliances and raised the funds necessary to keep the fledgling enterprise open. Largely because of his efforts, Dartmouth is one of the few American colleges to have continually graduated a class since 1771.

  4. I guess we can safely assume that Eleazer Wheelock is spinning in his grave…

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