Its summer, and Ive let my reading go a little. Only today did I catch up with a perceptive discussion of the recent Supreme Court decision, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, posted by Robert K. Visher on The Public Discourse .
The majority in Martinez upheld the decision of the Hastings Law School to deny student organization status to a group of Christian students that required agreement to Christian principles of marriage and sexual morality for membership.
In The Ethics of Rhetoric , Richard Weaver observed that every age has its God terms. Writing in the 1950s, he identified progress as a god term, a rhetorical trump card that conveyed vaguely allied sentimentsrather than a coherent thought or idea.
In his analysis, Visher observes that among the god terms of our age are diversitya verbal gesture conveying good intentionsand discriminationa curse word.
Here is the gist of Vishers reading of the case.
Put simply, the case is a lesson in the legal norms surrounding dangerously amorphous concepts such as diversity and discrimination, and is an example of how those concepts can contribute to a robust, thick conception of the common good . . . or not. There are central questions that do not even appear to be on the radar screens of universities, courts, or other decision-makers that are shaping the course of these conversations: Is discrimination always bad? If diversity is an important value in our society, where does associational diversity rank? Does our framework of liberty include the right to exclude? The factual history and legal analysis of Martinez leave us to wonder whether we even have the resources and inclinations as a society to engage these questions, much less to draw meaningful distinctions among types of discrimination.
Vishers is surely right to be pessimistic. God terms dont admit of analysis.
I remember going to a curriculum meeting as a young faculty member. We were redesigning the common core for undergraduates. A major faction was campaigning for more diversity. I asked if a course on the Council of Nicea would count for the proposed diversity require.
After all, none in attendance were in any sense Europeans. My comment was greeted with cold stares. No, no, no, was the implicit response. Diversity doesnt mean diversity. It means DIVERSITY.
Yes, diversity is a god term. Id include relevance and inclusivity.
Any others to add to the list?