Kim Jong-Il, who until his recent death was the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – or North Korea – once made an almost superhuman five holes-in-one in a single round of golf. His final score of 38-under par still stands as a world’s best for a regulation par-72 golf course. And, get this – it was his first try.
Golf was not Jong-Il’s only demigod-like talent. He could also, as just one example, control the weather through his emotions. Flood? He was annoyed. Drought? Stubbed his toe. Sunshine? A laughing baby.
He was also a global fashion phenomenon, invented the hamburger and, if you can believe it – I still can’t – never once defecated.
We’ve come to know these facts as mere propaganda extolled by a dictatorial regime. But a subtlety persists: how do we know? We know because here, unlike in North Korea, inquisition and dissent are existential aspects of everyday life.
That is why the questions raised by eccentric groups from the Christian right who spent time last week proselytizing students underneath Main Campus’ Bell Tower, should be vigorously safeguarded.
The Bread of Life Fellowship, along with associated groups, visits colleges nationwide propounding a message in support of the traditional definition of marriage, the biblical interpretation of the creation of the world and the belief that a child’s life begins at conception.
Or to some, a message that is anti-gay, anti-reason and anti-freedom-to-choose.
Or, as for many, somewhere in between.
The questions they raise are important not just for their intrinsic value, but also for the substantive conflicts they address, many of which remain unresolved. Same-sex marriage, for instance, has been legal in Pennsylvania for all of five months. Just 18 years ago, a near-unanimous Congress and a Democrat named Bill Clinton elected to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that evolution is correct, according to the Pew Research Center, but a 2014 Gallup poll found 42 percent of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
And there is perhaps no greater debate at present than whether the Federal Constitution protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
Are these really the debates worthy of suppression?
It is perhaps a dispositive irony that the question of whether some people can say certain things, objectionable though they may be, is being posed in an institution of higher learning like Temple – whose very existence depends on controversy.
Truth will never be determined by some neutral arbiter, a la the wise man standing in the corner at a dinner party, but will always be – or at least should always be – the byproduct of a roll-up-your-sleeves open marketplace of ideas.
Whether the forum chosen is the center of Main Campus or the pages of a newspaper, open and honest debate should be supported and encouraged.
I’m confident in my stance on the topics raised by the Fellowship – but not that confident. And certainly not confident enough to sacrifice my ability to at some point think otherwise.
Kevin Trainer be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @KevinPTrainer