Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The word of the day: "diversity"

It's not a word I'm paticularly fond of - indeed, I think it has been much overused and abused in today's world. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines it thusly: "1. A state of difference; dissimilitude; unlikeness. 2. Multiplicity of difference; multiformity; variety." OK so far - I can agree with that as a definition. So diversity in an organization, or a school, or a church, or a business would necessarily - by definition - include people that are different from one another. But these days the very people screaming for "diversity" in whatever public arena they function in seem to forget what the word means. Instead of working with the differences each person brings to the table (or school desk, or podium, or altar) it seems to me that they want to purge those who are different - especially those who hold different beliefs - from their ranks completely.

It should be obvious to anyone who visits my site that I am an Anglican. Nowhere is this convoluted idea so prominent than in the churches of the Anglican Communion all over the world. (And I will not go into sordid details here - the Stand Firm and T1:9 links to the left will do that topic far more justice than I can!) One brief illustration, however, would not be amiss. The pro-gay members of the Episcopal Church are screaming for inclusion, for the welcoming of diversity in the church, for the acceptance of them for who they are. And as far as that goes, that works for me. (For an even better treatment of this, see the article here.) But as they slowly gain access to leadership positions in the church, they have been ... "persecuting" is perhaps not too blunt a term ... the orthodox. So out the window goes their cry for diversity. Yes, you can be diverse, just so long as you're not one of them.

It's not just happening in the Anglican Communion, either. Our beloved local weatherman has found himself embroiled in another controversial arena - that of global warming. Indeed, some proponents of global warming said they believed someone's AMS (American Meterological Society) certification should be revoked if they didn't agree that global warming was caused by CO2 emissions or other human activities. (You can read a summary here.) So, regardless of what is actually causing global warming, some meterologists want to ban others for asking if it could be a naturally-occurring event. Hmm. Yes, lots of diversity here, too.

In the academic community - especially in higher education - it's even worse. Faculty have been denied tenure, fired, demoted, for a whole variety of diverse issues. Are you a biologist who believes in Creationism? Don't try to get a job at a state-run university. Are you a philosopher who wants to return to the classical model of education and instruction and wants to teach Plato and Aristotle somewhere? Forget about it. Ben Stein's controversial film Expelled does a good job talking about this in terms of scientists who support intelligent design and how they're treated in their university positions. (A brief tidbit about that is here, or you can go to the Expelled website.) Yup, universities want a broad range, nay... a Diverse ... group of faculty teaching their students, but you can't believe *that*!

A final example, one that hits closer to home in terms of my chosen profession, is the issue an Ohio public library made about a seminar to be held in one of the library's meeting rooms. The article in the local paper describes the situation thusly: a group wanted to have a Bible-based financial planning seminar and was denied. The group lodged a complaint, and instead of negotiating, the library - the publically-funded library - decided to close its public meeting rooms to the public. The American Library Association has as part of its Code of Ethics "[W]e are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations." (emphasis mine) No diversity issues here, huh?

Sigh. I really don't want this post degenerating into a diatriabe for or against any of these issues. What I want is a semantic difference, semantic diversity, if you will. If you want diversity, you must accept it in all its forms. If you want something else - "I want to include everyone who agrees with me and phooey on those who don't" - pick a different word! It becomes at that point something completely different from the meaning of "diversity." I'm reminded of the movie American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning. Near the end Douglas says, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."

We live in a free society. But that freedom comes at a price. We cannot simply shut down, dictator-like, those who believe things contrary to our own beliefs. Unfortunately, it seems that in many arenas of our daily life, that is just exactly what is happening.

No comments: