Every human being needs to distinguish truth from error. God gave humanity intelligence to perceive the truth. Training the intellect is a life-long pursuit.
Professor Nicholas Merriweather teaches philosophy at Shawnee State University in Ohio. He believes that his primary task is to help students recognize and appreciate the difference between truth and error. Many liberals contest this mission. Since they run his (and almost every other) university, he has made himself a target for dismissal.
Acting on Principle
There is only one truth, but individuals can react to it emotionally. Modernists try to center the search for “truth” on those emotions. This process divests the truth of its universality and makes it relative for each person. It does not take much to arrive at the nonsense of “my truth” and “your truth.”
On January 9, 2018, Professor Merriweather was teaching his political philosophy class. He responded to a question from a young male student named Alena Bruening. Part of the response contained the phrase, “yes, sir.”
Mr. Bruening approached Professor Merriweather after class, explaining that he was “transgender” and demanded that the professor use female pronouns in any further conversation. When the professor said that he could not comply, Mr. Bruening became belligerent.
The professor knows that Mr. Bruening is male. That is a biological fact, determined at the time of conception. Every chromosome in his body attests to that fact. His emotions about his “gender” cannot change anything. Coddling him with female pronouns testifies to a falsehood. Mouthing such a lie violates both Professor Merriweather’s traditional Christian beliefs and professional ethics.
A Plethora of Pronouns
Shawnee State University sees the issue very differently. In their world, emotions triumph over facts. As summarized in a civil complaint filed by Professor Merriweather, the University’s Nondiscrimination Policies state that, “students may demand that professors refer to them by any pronoun they choose, from the standard English pronouns (e.g., ‘he’ or ‘she’), to the standard pronouns applied in a nonstandard way (e.g., ‘they’ used to refer to one person), to those invented within the last few years(e.g., ‘ze,’ ‘zie,’ ‘sie,’ ‘hir,’ ‘hirs,’ ‘zie,’ ‘xe,’ ‘xem,’ ‘xyr,’ ‘xyrs,’ ‘per,’ ‘ve,’ ‘ver,’ ’vis,’ ‘fae,’ ‘faer,’ ‘ae,’ ‘aer,’ ‘e,’ ‘ey,’ ‘em,’ ‘eir,’ ‘eirs,’ ‘tey,’ ‘ter,’ ‘tem,’ ‘ters’) to any others that the student idiosyncratically requests.”
Thus, if Mr. Bruening believes himself to be a woman, the entire university, including Professor Merriweather, must contribute to that fallacy. Should Mr. Bruening’s emotions point him in a different direction tomorrow, all must indulge him. The professor’s refusal led to a formal charge that he created a “hostile environment.”
Professor Merriweather brought suit to have that charge expunged.
A typical media reaction came from the Kansas City Star. “A college philosophy and religion professor is suing after he says he was ‘punished’ by his school for refusing to call a transgender student by female pronouns, which he says would violate his ‘sincerely held Christian beliefs,’ according to a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Ohio.”
The Star revealed its stand in the third paragraph of the story. “The Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent conservative judicial activist group that was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is assisting with the lawsuit.”
The Star’s reference to the Southern Poverty Law Center is a tipoff to the newspaper’s leftist orientation. In the SPLC’s world, one does not have to hate to be a “hate group.” The SPLC charges that the Alliance Defending Freedom has “litigated lawsuits that target transgender students in public schools by denying them access to bathrooms in accordance with their gender identities and attempting to ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports.”
To the SPCL, principled opposition feels like hate, and therefore must be hate. Facts are unimportant when emotion prevails.
Some Scholars Still Believe in Truth
Professor Merriweather lost his case in the U.S. District Court and is currently appealing it to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The National Association of Scholars filed an amicus brief in support of Professor Merriweather. Its president, Peter Wood, explained the reason for their support. “This isn’t just about a pronoun, it’s about what that pronoun means. It’s about endorsing an ideology. Forcing the use of a pronoun based on gender perceptions rather than sex is forcing the professor to endorse the idea that he rejects… This is a case about university bureaucrats attempting to override the judgment of an experienced and highly regarded faculty member in order to impose a controversial belief of their own.”
In the legal brief, the NAS lawyers observe that “For about 1,000 years, ‘he’ quietly served as the third person nominative singular generic pronoun in English, denoting either male or female…. More recently—and more radically—a frontal assault in this pronominal revolution was launched using novel third-person pronouns, both masculine and feminine, singular and plural. This assault has been led by the transgender and ‘gender queer’ movements. Both reject the Standard English practice of referring to biological males with male pronouns and biological females with female pronouns.”
“Genderqueer” is a term loaded with meaning. Merriam-Webster applies this definition, “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.” Its first known use was in 1995. Other roughly synonymous terms are “genderfluid” and “non-binary.”
Self-described “genderqueer advocate” Jacob Tobia tried to explain the new rules in a 2016 article in Time. “You can never make any assumptions about what pronoun someone uses based off their appearance. There is no such thing as ‘looking like’ a he, a she or a they. The only way you can know what pronoun someone prefers is by asking them. In practice, you should ask everyone what pronoun they use if you don’t know.” (Emphasis in the original.)
In reality, this controversy over pronouns is another way that the left is sowing confusion and denying the truth. From the beginnings of spoken language, he and she (and their equivalents in other languages) have been sufficient. Since there are only two sexes, only two singular pronouns are necessary to communicate accurately and truthfully.
It would be so easy for Professor Merriweather to accede to the University’s demands. He is stalwart in refusing. May others draw inspiration from his example and devotion to the truth.