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Author: Joshua Kellard

Joshua Kellard, Outreach Coordinator at Christian Heritage, continues our series on the University.  Discussions of the mission of the University are always ethical in character: they are concerned with how we ought to live. Specifically, they are concerned with what we ought to do, and why, in the context of higher education. What are the proper goals of the University? What is it for?  The Magna Charta Universitatum documents claim that the University has a universal and rational mission. But if we wish to maintain this, we will need an ethical framework which can justify the University’s activities, showing them to be good. But the fact remains that not every worldview is able to ground the University’s mission in moral reality. In the last post, we saw that secular humanism, committed to the idea of an uncaused and amoral universe, struggles to ground any moral values which are universally valid. It is just not clear how the humanist can move from a description of things that are, to a prescription of how things ought to be. If human beings are the source of all moral values, then ethics will be as changeable and relative as we are. One implication of this worldview-enforced...

Joshua Kellard is Outreach Coordinator at Christian Heritage, Cambridge.  The most important questions about the University are ethical: those that include words like ‘ought’, ‘should’ and ‘must’. What ought the University to be? What kinds of good should it pursue? Which beliefs must we hold in order to ground these goods in something more than whim? What we say about good and evil, about the purpose and meaning of human activity, dictates what we are able to say about the mission of the University.  While this is a basic point, it is surprising how often it is ignored in discussions of higher education. It is far easier to talk about the University in the pre-packaged terms of the culture wars, or make vague appeals to ‘human flourishing’ than it is to explain what the University should be for, and why. Big questions like these have a tendency to take us to the very roots of our worldview, and therefore into uncomfortable territory. I suspect that is why the question of ethics is usually kept at a safe distance from discussions of higher education. In philosophical terms, there is always the danger that dealing with ethics might force us to confront our metaphysics...

Joshua Kellard is Outreach Coordinator at Christian Heritage, Cambridge. A ceremony described as ‘once in a generation’ took place last week, as university officials from across the world gathered virtually on June 16th to celebrate the signing of the Magna Charta Universitatum 2020. The document reaffirms and develops a 1988 charter of the same name, and aims to declare what universities are, what they should stand for, and how they should operate in our 21st century. It is an ambitious statement, and should give pause to those of us who believed the days of global declarations to have reluctantly given way to institutional emojism and hashtaggery. Video may have killed the radio star, but it would seem that the draw of the ‘Big Charter’ lives on.  To anyone interested in universities, the declaration, and its predecessor, repays a close reading. In this post, my concern will be to introduce the two documents and their key ideas, before probing some of the assumptions behind them in the second, and then going on to provide a short response from a Christian perspective in the final instalment.  The Background The 1988 Magna Charta Universitatum was written to coincide with the 900th anniversary of Europe’s oldest University, that of...

As modern people, we like to think that we have got things firmly under control. We don't do well, as a rule, with those aspects of life which defy our management - the great realities which resist being tamed. Take the seasons, for example. Traditionally, the ebb and flow of creation's 'appointed times' - seedtime and harvest, summer and winter - ruled our movements, our activities and even our entertainments. These days, our drive to manage everything, coupled with our use of technology, leaves us less aware than any generation before us of the movements of the seasons. If you don't believe me, just ask yourself the following questions: when was the last time you cancelled a trip because of an inauspicious wind? Has your conscience ever smitten you for buying strawberries in January? Has a bad wheat harvest ever ruined your holiday plans? I could go on, but trust that the point is made. Our indifference to the seasons is part of a more general attitude change in regard to time. We see ourselves, we moderns, more or less as 'Time Lords': de facto owners and organisers of time. The suggestion that our activities, entertainments or diets should be constrained by...

Joshua Kellard introduces John Eliot, the Cambridge graduate whose work as a translator and missionary visionary in 17th century New England was well ahead of his time.  Jesus College, Cambridge, with its 12th Century chapel, cloistered courts and sleepy wooded surroundings, does not seem a likely springboard for a globe-trotting missionary pioneer; certainly not one who would find it necessary, just 10 years after leaving his college, to abandon the Church of England and seek a new life in a young colony perched on the edge of the world then known to his people. But appearances can be deceptive, for this is the path that John Eliot was to take.  Born in Widford, Hertfordshire, in 1604, John was the third child of Bennett Eliot and Letesse Agar. Being a yeoman and possessed of some lands, Bennett Eliot was able to send his son to Cambridge as a pensioner (fee-paying student), and he graduated BA in 1622. He narrowly missed being contemporary with Oliver Cromwell (who left in 1617) and John Milton (who arrived in 1625), but would have been aware of the poet George Herbert, who held the chair of University Orator from 1620 to 1627.  While little is known about the years...

As part of our Cambridge Characters series, Joshua Kellard introduces Beilby Porteus, sometime bishop of London, and vociferous opponent of the Slave Trade. The youngest but one of 19 children, Beilby Porteus grew up in relative wealth and privilege. His parents were natives of the colony of Virginia, and owned a vast tobacco-growing plantation, worked by African slaves. By the time Beilby was born, the family had relocated to York. In those days, Cambridge had something of a reputation for drawing scholars from the northern counties and, aged 17, Beilby was admitted as a sizar (i.e. a student who worked in order to pay tuition fees) of Christ’s College. The 17th Century was marked by intellectual rebellion against Christianity. As the breakers of the European Enlightenment pounded on English shores, and the tide of unbelief swept into the universities, many students found it difficult to stay afloat. Porteus, however, emerged from his studies strong in conviction, was ordained to the ministry, and proceeded to a string of fulfilling church appointments, including Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, bishop of Chester and bishop of London.  Two aspects of his ministry as bishop deserve special mention: his pioneering involvement in the movement to abolish...

Barbarism rarely reveals a bare face. It finds room in our hearts under the generous cover of  ‘modern values’, it spreads with the aid of euphemisms and half-truths, and it covers its tracks with the conscience-numbing virtue of non-judgementalism. But barbarism is with us: quiet, determined, and just occasionally splashed across the opinion pages of national newspapers.   I’m referring here to Rebecca Reid’s defence of the killing of unborn children for any reason whatsoever in the Telegraph last month. The background was the UK Government’s unprecedented move to allow women to obtain pills which would kill their unborn child without the need for an in-person medical consultation. The ‘pills-by-post’ scheme enables women to obtain mifepristone and misoprostol, the two chemical agents used in so-called medical abortions, and to self-administer them at home if they are less than 10 weeks pregnant.  In her article, Reid responded to news that Christian Concern had hired actors to make ‘mystery shopper’ type calls to abortion providers Marie Stopes and Bpas in order to gauge the kinds of reasons for which women were being sent the means to abort. The callers used false names, dates of birth and gestational periods and were, without exception, able to obtain...

A kerfuffle was precipitated this week when it emerged that Chloe Clark, an English professor at Iowa State University, had threatened to dismiss students from her classroom for voicing views contrary to her own on gay marriage, abortion, and the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). This is what her initial syllabus notes for English 250 stipulated:  “GIANT WARNING: any instances of othering that you participate in intentionally (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, sorophobia, transphobia, classism, mocking of mental health issues, body shaming, etc) in class are grounds for dismissal from the classroom. The same goes for any papers/projects: you cannot choose any topic that takes at its base that one side doesn’t deserve the same basic human rights as you do (ie: no arguments against gay marriage, abortion, Black Lives Matter, etc). I take this seriously.” It is, to be sure, a demand for intellectual subjugation far more frank than the usual indirect fare offered in the humanities. The statement also quite plainly contradicts its own call to forsake ‘othering’ as it effectively marginalises and censures any student wishing to express dissident views. To its credit Iowa State University quickly addressed the situation in line with its code on the First Amendment’s provisions...

Today is a day of national tragedy, made all the more poignant by the fact that few will regard it as such. This afternoon Members of Parliament in Westminster voted 253 to 136 to impose radical new abortion laws on Northern Ireland. These regulations will make abortion on-demand available until 24 weeks of gestation, allow the killing of disabled babies up to birth, and provide scant safeguards against sex-selective abortion, and no conscience clauses for medical practitioners unwilling to be accessories in the deaths of pre-born children. The law in Northern Ireland will no longer teach and protect the value of all human lives, provide a safeguard for women who may be confused, overwhelmed or pressured into having an abortion, or serve as an official affirmation of the equality of disabled children in the womb. The law has become anti-life.  Until now, Northern Ireland has been a life-affirming province. Precisely because it did not adopt the 1967 Abortion Act, an act which has led to the deaths of over 9 million unborn children in England and Wales alone, it has maintained a commitment to the value and dignity of each individual human being from the moment of conception. Northern Ireland’s legal...

The title Abraham Kuyper gave to his third Stone lecture, Calvinism and Politics, could be misleading. While he did have much to say about politics, he emphasised that political authority was just one ingredient in the governance of a healthy society. His key concept, you will remember, was sovereignty. We saw in our first post that Calvinism’s ‘dangerous idea’, according to Kuyper, is the sovereignty of God over all things. This sovereignty is delegated and expressed in various ways in His creation. Kuyper’s second lecture looked at how God’s sovereignty transforms religion, and in the third he explored how it was expressed in human society as a whole. Kuyper wanted to show that it was only the Calvinist who could consistently preserve a healthy tension between the state's desire to order human life, and the determination of people everywhere to maintain their liberties and flourish in the different spheres of free society.  Two key insights guide Kuyper's approach to society: first, the belief that since all authority comes from God, any power possessed by human beings is held ‘in trust’. Second, the observation that there are different types of sovereignty, which belong to distinct spheres of human society. The family is...