Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
STRAUSS, Danie. The new Threat to Societal Freedoms: A return to the persecution of Christians?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.3, pp.422-436. ISSN 2224-7912. http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2015/V55N3A7.
Societal freedoms need to be understood both in terms of structural pluralism and directional pluralism. The former concerns personal freedom as well as the plurality of societal entities present in a differentiated society while the latter accounts for the freedom allowing diverging life- and worldviews to live to the full their deepest convictions in all walks of life, liberated from any form of unlawful interference. Acknowledging this distinction exceeds the limitations of the underlying atomistic (individual-centric) underpinnings of modern social contract theories (such as is found in Locke's view: "for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal"). This spirit is breathed by the so-called "conscience clause" almost hundred years ago introduced in the Private Law of South African universities (it started with the University of South Africa and the University of Stellenbosch, respectively in 1916 and 1917). The University of Potchefstroom as well as the Homeland universities did not inherit this clause. It is striking that universities, as academic institutions, were confronted with a religious clause, as if a university is a faith community. The conscience clause is still at home within the positivist idea of an un-prejudiced, objective and neutral science mediated by factual sense data. This positivist view was thoroughly criticised by the philosophy of science of the previous century (Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, Toulmin, Stegmüller and many others). The idea of an autonomous individual gave way to the collective identity of supra-individual institutions, which had to account for their directional orientation by formulating mission and vision statements. It falls outside the sphere of competence of the government to interfere with the directional choice of a citizen in non-political contexts - and the same applies to the domain of the public opinion. In the Netherlands it is still possible, for example, to promote the ideals of a specific trend of thought in scholarly pursuits by establishing special chairs at public universities. During the third decade of the 20th century this was done by the Bolland Foundation which established in Leiden a special chair in Hegelian Philosophy. At the moment there are still special chairs in Reformational Philosophy at six public universities in the Netherlands. Academic freedom, individually and collectively, entails directional freedom. Currently the Darwinian orthodoxy in the USA controls the teaching of biology to such an extent that no biology teacher is even allowed to raise scientific criticism against Darwinism. It contains a threat to various freedoms, amongst which are freedom of speech, freedom of thought, academic freedom, and religious freedom. This is amply demonstrated by Jerry Bergman in his work, Slaughter of the Dissidents (2008). Similar to what was required in the Soviet Union of the 20thcentury, biology teachers in the USA now have to be atheists. The "in-between-position" of theistic evolutionists, which holds that God directed evolution (a process which is actually, according to Darwinism, undirected) is even worse in the eyes of Darwinian orthodoxy, because it violates the church-state division by smuggling God back into the classroom. In his Review of Bergman's book, Brian Thomas remarks that all "Darwin Doubters" are seen as "creationists." Althouh highly qualified, these scientists were threatened, while losing opportunities, jobs and even whole careers because of their doubts about the standard evolutionary story. Bergman remarks that this situation already "claimed many thousands of victims." This completes the circle, reminding us of what happened in early Christendom during the persecution of Christians. Fortunately, there is positive legislation in South Africa which avoids this extreme position. However, a recent experience of the author of this article apparently highlights the emergence of something similar to what is happening in the USA (see the brief Appendix).
Keywords : Differentiated society; societal freedoms; structural differentiation; directional differentiation; directional pluralism; autonomy; personal freedom; academic freedom; freedom of speech; sphere of competence; legal equality.