A misunderstanding, in word
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, March 3, 2009
This letter is a response to Jeremy Lamb’s Letter: “A misunderstanding, indeed” (March 3). Mr. Lamb is eloquent, idealistic, and passionate, but I am afraid that his conceptions of logical arguments are not really those of logic, but of persuasion. Validity, logically speaking, is not established by a “proverbial nail in the coffin” at the end of an argument, but rather by a relationship between its premises and conclusion, such that if all of its premises are true, then the conclusion must follow. Validity is about construction, not about truth. Eloquence and “the ability to fashion language” into logical arguments are not the source of their strength, nor of their truth. Rather, the soundest arguments are those with premises that are true and cannot be doubted, and are often stated most simply. Indubitable premises would yield indubitable conclusions, but Mr. Lamb’s premises are not indubitable.
There are varying conceptions about what things like “education” and “the university” are or are supposed to be. There are no doubt many, like Mr. Lamb, who might believe that the end of education is life experiences and cultural interactions, and as such the purpose of the university would be to foster such interaction; but there are also others who might accept an alternative, such as that suggested by John Henry Cardinal Newman, who believed that the purpose of the university was to cultivate in its students the understanding of the inter-relatedness of all the parts of the universe in one integrated whole, which can only be achieved through the study of essential subjects. For Newman, the most important of these subjects was Theology, which is the knowledge of things in their proper place in relation to God. A Catholic university, then, would adopt Catholic Theology as that subject which bears on and unifies all of the other various subjects into one integrated whole.
Mr. Lamb contends that “by depriving its students of the opportunity to experience homosexual culture in a way that they probably haven’t before, the University is failing to provide us a true education.” On the contrary, the Latin root of “education” is a word which means “to lead forth,” and a truly Catholic education would then be a leading forth of students in accordance with Catholic theology. The sort of “cultural interaction” Mr. Lamb seeks does not require an institutional setting or sponsorship; students can and will interact with whomever they choose and however they choose, and no one is preventing organizers from undertaking to host this festival or any other at some other venue. What is at issue here, then, seems not to be cultural interaction, but rather an attempt to alter the policies of a Catholic institution as derived from Catholic theology.
If the mission of a Catholic university is something like that which I have described, then a festival whose purpose (by definition) is to celebrate a lifestyle which is contrary to the theology of the Catholic Church is then contrary to the mission of a Catholic university, and if so, the university not only has reason to not allow such a festival, but is duty bound to do so. Stated simply, in a Catholic university, the word “Catholic” modifies the word “university.” The university does not modify what it means to be Catholic.