From the President 2-26-2017

April 10, 2017

In his address to the entering Freshman Class of 2020 at Yale University, President of Yale University, Peter Salovey, spoke about “Countering False Narratives.” Let’s overhear in part what he had to say:

  • “My sense is that we are bombarded daily by false narratives of various kinds, and that they are doing a great deal of damage.”
  • “ . . . I am . . . hoping to persuade you that advocates on any side of a question can be tempted to exaggerate or distort or neglect crucial facts in ways that serve primarily to fuel your anger, fear, or disgust.”
  • “ . . . an important aspect of your education here will be learning how to recognize and address these kinds of accounts. In the course of that, you should pay especially close attention to the narratives that seem to align best with your own beliefs.”
  • “To the extent you hold strong political or cultural or religious or economic beliefs, you will simply be like all the rest of us if you gravitate toward explanations that seem to provide confirmation for those beliefs or to demonize those who hold different ones.”
  • “All of us are strongly predisposed to accept accounts that align with the opinions we already hold, and to ignore or dismiss those that do not.”
  • “ . . . I want to claim that your Yale education will not only enlarge your imagination, advance your knowledge, and propel your career, but also that it will be absolutely critical to your capacity for playing a positive, leadership role in these increasingly polarized and fractious times.”
  • “What unites our faculty (from engineering to economics to English to environmental studies) is a stubborn skepticism about narratives that oversimplify issues, inflame the emotions, or misdirect the mind.”
  • “No one is free of biases, of course, but as a community of scholars we subscribe to the ideal of judicious, searching inquiry in the service of reasoned discourse about the matters we investigate and care about the most.”

President Salovey goes on to say two things more: (1) A good education is one where you become “a more careful and critical thinker,” learning “the difficult, painstaking skills you will need in order to evaluate evidence, to deliberate more broadly and more carefully, and to arrive at your own conclusions.” (2) A good education is one where you “learn how and why to gravitate toward people who view things differently than you do, who will test your most strongly held assumptions.”

From my earliest days in the church, I have witnessed the church to be a Yale-of-sorts — a place to come and reason together, a place to experiment, a place to sift through all sorts of ideas, beliefs, and world views. The educational components of the worshipping community always keep debate of one sort or another alive and well. People in the pews learn how to wrestle with all kinds of viewpoints and perspectives. Often it is the preacher who opens us to the wide diversity of opinion and thought, helping people learn to think for themselves. Really good preachers teach  people to search for their ideological cliffs, sprout wings, and fly.

I once heard it said that the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and that the Bible is the smallest library. Likewise, I have come to view the church as the largest university in the world and every human being in their quest for understanding as the smallest university. Each Sunday the church gathers together all around the world to equip the saints to do some deep thinking on matters of importance, helping “to construct new foundations for tackling the most intractable and challenging questions of our time.”

Been thinking that the church is insignificant, immaterial, impertinent, irrelevant, and out of touch. Not my church. In my church hearts are touched, eyes are opened, ideas are shared, problems are solved, no one is expendable, and all are loved. I believe that my church can change the world for the better. I believe that my church will change the world for the better. There is nothing else like it in all the world, not even Yale.

Churchly speaking,