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In Defense of Bob Jones
The separation of church and state.


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Jonah Goldberg

Noted Zeus worshipper and Weekly Standard writer David Brooks says Bob Jones University is the “Willie Horton” of the 2000 election. John McCain declares that the school needs to get out of the 17th century. George W. Bush flogs himself like a 17th-century monk who’s been misbehaving because he didn’t challenge BJU’s “divisive” policies. Dodging subpoenas, Senator Robert Torricelli is sponsoring resolution after resolution condemning the school for its proscriptions against interracial dating and its anti-Catholicism. And the media, good golly, the media has simply accepted the idea that the school is indefensible while it hands Al Sharpton a towel to wipe the blood off his hands.

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Okay, I’ll admit that BJU is way too uptight for me, as I come from the “true love is patient” rather than “true love waits” school of romance. At Bob Jones U., students are allowed to “date” but they aren’t allowed to hold hands. One wonders how many hot-blooded BJU students have risked everything just to get some pinky. Until last week, different racial groups were not allowed to date each other. Obviously, there is no drinking, cussing, or dancing. Russ Meyer film festivals seem totally out of the question.

Now consider this. The San Francisco Art Institute has been undergoing its own controversy lately (veteran culture warriors are already saying “uh-oh”). It appears that a 24-year-old “scholar” named Jonathan Yegge is getting criticized for a recent, um, exhibit. As this is a family website I will try to be mercifully quick.

Mr. Yegge was asked by the professor of a performance-art class to put on a show. Mr. Yegge agreed. He asked a student volunteer to help him with his performance art. He informed the student of what would be involved and the student signed a contract agreeing to participate.

The volunteer was then bound and gagged, though he could still see and speak. His pelvis was left exposed and with plenty of maneuvering room (now the culture vultures are saying “oh dear” — and if you are squeamish, do not read the next paragraph). The young man was led to a public place on campus, where members of the class could get a good view. Others who happened by could rubberneck too (for reasons that will be obvious in a moment, “rubbernecking” sounds awfully dirty).

Mr. Yegge, under the supervision of campus security and the class’s professor as well as the audience, then proceeded to Lewinsky the guy. The guy in turn Lewinsky’d him. There were fecal-enemas (apparently, this is the practice of putting someone else’s stuff where yours goes — who knew? Who wanted to? Talk about misdirected energy). In fact, there was a lot of playing with the feces back and forth, in a manner that one would not need to refer to a Freudian textbook to decipher.

When the administration and the rest of the faculty learned of the “performance art” and the fact that the volunteer was having regrets about his raw deal — okay I admit it, some pun intended — Mr. Yegge was chastised. The administration had two objections. Can you guess what they were?

Well, if you guessed, I dunno, anything having to do with Western Civilization or general human disgust, you’d be pretty far off.

The main objection was hygienic. Matt Smith of SF Weekly, which broke this story, writes that “discussions focused on the dangerous nature of exchanging bodily fluids for art’s sake. Implicit was the litigiously dangerous nature of allowing this to go on in a supervised classroom.” In other words, in a world without AIDS, what would be the big deal?

The other objection? It wasn’t particularly good art. Yegge admits that he hastily threw the piece together to show students the kind of thing they could expect if they’d stayed in the course (they were close to the add-drop period and the professor, presumably, wanted to keep the kids’ attention). Yegge says that even though his “art” was about “Heidegger, Derrida — all this stuff,” it was nonetheless kind of “schlocky.”

Call me square, but I come from a world where crying clowns on velvet is schlock.

Obviously, the San Francisco Art Institute is no Bob Jones University. In fact, that’s the point. I guarantee you that if I exhibited the slightest bit of disgust at a school where people can play patty cake with human fecal matter and fellate each other as part of show-and-tell, a vast number of liberals would say, “Oh, why do you care? Lighten up. It’s not your business. They’re not hurting anyone.”

We’ll take up that argument another time. But for right now, okay. Let’s apply the same standard to Bob Jones University. Who’s getting hurt? Black students are allowed to attend the school and do. Nobody enrolls without knowing the score. Nobody is “surprised” to find out they can’t date or that the school is, shall we say, “un-Catholic.” Unlike the San Francisco School of Art, I’m sure, no federal dollars make their way to Bob Jones.

What is embarrassing to secular liberals about Bob Jones University is that it has the inconvenient policy of believing its own doctrine. Senator Torricelli and the vast hordes of hypocrites he speaks for are unwilling to admit that pretty much every religion has inconvenient doctrine on the books. As Reverend Lovejoy (on The Simpsons) once observed about the Bible: “Have you ever read this thing? Technically we’re not supposed to go to the bathroom.” This may explain why so few people at the San Francisco School of Art read it.

For many Christian denominations, a central tenet is that you’ve got to accept Jesus in order to get into heaven. If this means that a few branches of Christianity actually believe non-adherents are going to Hell, who cares? Will Catholics go to Hell if Bob Jones is right? Maybe. So what? What does that have to do with anything? If Bob Jones is wrong, he’ll be the one playing Parcheesi in Hell with Sid Blumenthal and the cast of Cats. By the way, why isn’t Torricelli denouncing the Catholic Church for being pro-life, a.k.a. “anti-choice”? He will surely denounce the Republican nominee for holding that position. If Bush speaks at a Catholic Church, will he be ridiculed for not speaking out against the Church’s “divisive” agenda? If anybody speaks at a Mosque — Islam is, shall we say, very un-Feminist — will NOW go nuts?

If the rule in America is that we can’t really believe our religions, than we have lost perhaps the most central reason for the founding of this country.

But to be honest, what bothers me the most about all of this is that America is losing one of its greatest strengths: institutional multiculturalism. The reigning philosophy today says that individual diversity is an imperative, a great good. The freedom to get extra credit at the San Francisco School of Art is great, but the freedom to limit one’s choices in a religious environment is somehow archaic. Any institution, regardless of its private status, is vulnerable to attack from a certain mutated breed of libertarian who believes that no one has the authority to tell other people what is right or wrong.

Indeed — get this — Mr. Yegge is furious that the San Francisco school has barred him from having public sex on campus. “If I have to not have sex on campus anymore, they’d better put that in the student handbook, and then we can decide whether that’s an appropriate rule or not.” One wonders how minimal a restriction on his personal liberty would have to be for Mr. Yegge to believe it is “appropriate.”

Getting back to Bob Jones, what is so wrong about allowing young people to voluntarily constrict — if only for a few years — the range of individual choices available to them? Must the Federal Government and its fellow-travelling social cleansers make use of a cookie-cutter on every institution? It’s long forgotten now, but the separation of Church and state written into the constitution was directly intended to preserve the liberty of small Churches and religious sects who deviated from the national religious norm. It was not intended to banish religion from every public institution. If you are a small religious institution, what difference does the government’s motive make? If they want to make you Episcopalian or if they want to make you atheist, the fact remains that they want to destroy what you are now.

Where will it stop? Already the military is being besieged by social planners who cannot fathom why individual liberty should not be maximized in the barracks. Will nunneries be chastised for not allowing sexual freedom? Will priests be brow-beaten into condoning homosexuality? Will Bob Jones University be required to invite Mr. Yegge to put on a show?

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