St Andrews reverts to 16th Century Calvinism
Instead of original sin, students now have to acknowledge 'personal guilt'
You would be forgiven for thinking that universities are secular institutions. But it turns out that the University of St Andrews is reverting to something akin to 16th Century Calvinism: except that this time it is preaching the doctrine of ‘personal guilt’ rather than ‘original sin.’
The university has introduced new induction modules for students (or should I say converts?) for students on sustainability, diversity and consent, and will not allow students to matriculate if they do not pass. How do students pass? By agreeing with certain statements, such as “acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias.”
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Surely St Andrews — and indeed, all universities — should be focusing on providing quality teaching and learning for their students, rather than forcing undergraduates through a tick-box exercise that adds nothing to the pursuit of academic debate and inquiry? After all, does an 18-year-old who wants to undertake a BSc in Molecular Biology really need to ‘prove’ their purity and acquiescence in order to be allowed to study at a particular institution?
It’s easy to see the test as a form of indoctrination: few students will dare to sacrifice themselves as free speech martyrs, or risk alienating themselves from their peers by admitting that they are non-believers. But then they won’t have to, because the reality is the test achieves nothing. Rather than genuinely exploring and analysing the notion of privilege, undergraduates will simply learn what statements they need to agree with in order to pass, and therefore any ‘atonement’ will be purely performative.
There is also a deep irony that the test is supposed to help teach ‘good academic practice.’ Good academic practice should be about fostering intellectual curiosity, weighing up evidence, considering alternative opinions, and trying to come to original, convincing conclusions — it should not be about blindly following dogma.
For example, one of the questions asked on the test is: “Does equality mean treating everyone the same?” If this was an essay title, it would be an interesting one: there are various contexts, nuances and variables to consider, and it could lead to a very insightful discussion on the relative advantages and disadvantages between treating everyone equally (the same) and equitably (according to their needs). However, the reductive, binary nature of the test leaves no such scope or opportunity; the ‘correct’ answer is simply ‘no’.
I am also convinced that this constant self-flagellation does nothing to help students’ mental health. Students are already anxious enough about everything from body image to climate change to imposter syndrome, and the last thing they need is to be told that they are privileged because they wear vintage clothes or use swear words. Any university policymaker with an ounce of empathy for what young people have been through for the last 18 months should be making sure that freshers week is about fun and newfound freedom, not controlling conformity and contrition on campuses.
I readily accept that we all have more to learn about inherent biases and preconceptions, and many of these topics are worthy of discussion. But students don’t need a gold star for saying racism is bad (as they get in the University of Kent’s white privilege quiz), and the sooner universities go back to being academic institutions rather than ideological ones the better.
This concept of “personal guilt” is an interesting one, exposing the religiousity of the woke. But let’s look at post-War Germany. There were many people alive then who had been complicit in the Holocaust. Some were worse than others, but most shared a form of “collective guilt,” as many were part, to varying degrees, of an unspeakable evil.
But what about the children, and what about the children born after the war? My understanding is that, while they were certainly taught accurate history, they were never, ever told that each was “personally responsible” or (somehow) a “beneficiary” of the Holocaust. Perhaps others have thoughts on this, but was someone born in 1950, let’s say, ever indoctrinated in Germany into thinking/stating/affirming that “the Holocaust was my fault, I am guilty….?”
That is what is happening in the USA right now, where many whites are being forced to acknowledge their “personal guilt.” Personal guilt for what? If a grandparent came from Ireland in 1950 and another from Italy in 1955, what is this person and his progeny guilty of? Slavery? At some public meetings, people are required to introduce themselves, before speaking: I am a white mother of white children….and so forth….
With respect, I submit that this must be resisted at all costs. Civil War in America soon.
In Christianity, when one confesses and acknowledges one’s guilt, it is forgiveness from God that is sought; who exactly gives one forgiveness from “white guilt”?
Precisely – it’s not a matter of conviction of sin (which comes from God, and leads to redemption and Heaven), but of Accusation (which comes from Satan and tends towards self-destructiveness and Hell).
“White guilt” is obviously a racist concept, ignoring two crucial facts
– every adult person is up to their neck in the guilt of the world, privileged POC not least.
– the Poor and Non-white are as wicked as the Rich or the White, merely (in some cases) in need of help.
Perhaps Morgan Freeman.
Do black students also have to give the same answers or do they have a different set of answers they have to give? Likewise Pakistani, Chinese, Indian etc? How about overseas students from Russia, do they have to answer these stupid questions?
Do they all have to acknowledge their personal guilt or is it only students of white, Western European ethnicity who attend these classes?
This is no different to what was required in in former communist countries university systems where the students were expected to sign up to communist party beliefs. The result was a corrosive cynicism as students and others in public life were expected to tow the party line whatever their private beliefs might be. It also led to mutual distrust. It is basically the imposition of a totalitarian system. Sadly all too many University courses in fact involve the regurgitation of received wisdom rather than free enquiry so getting students to sign up to giving the right woke answers to difficult questions is not a great stretch for many academics.
The key doctrine in Calvinism (and perhaps its most pernicious one) is not so much Original Sin, as the idea that a small group of the godly elect can escape its effects by being predestined to salvation. I think that this is part of the package being offered to students at St Andrews (and other universities). Cast off the old, sinful ways, and you too can join the elect. For those who refuse, however, there is no redemption available…
I’m afraid that you can’t join the elect by doing anything; you are predestined to be saved (or not) and nothing that you do can changed that one way or the other. Redemption cannot be “bought” by actions, it is only by God’s grace that redeption is attained – at least this is the Calvinist teaching, so passing a test doesn’t cut it.no matter how woke you may be.
In principle you’re right of course – in practice claims to membership of the elect were often advertised through ostentatious and performative godliness. Both this and modern forms of piety are means of claiming high social status, so I think the comparison can still be revealing. In any case, we certainly have plenty of people today who think that certain essential attributes you are born with fix your position in the hierarchy of oppression permanently, with victimhood corresponding to predestined election – so the parallels don’t end there. The one clear difference is that the modern variant does not believe in God’s grace or in any supernatural means of redemption.
I assumed that good works were a necessary but insufficient condition, that you were saved by God but you still had to be (or were predestined to be) good. God is hardly saving the sinful, therefore those that he predestined to save would naturally be less sinful. Which obviously led to a lot of internal guilt, if you had lustful thoughts you might feel you weren’t really saved. This probably led to a lot of performative religiousity.
It’s a horrible philosophy since God has no real reason, except caprice to save some and condemn most. How could the God of predestination be angry with the people he predestined to sin, anyway.
Exactly – true hard-line Calvinism is based on predestination, no matter how many correct answers you give to some “induction module” (what a ghastly term) – sorry, another reader has made this point already!
As I have repeatedly said, the universities today are educationally worthless. To this I would add, the staff are morally worthless.
Don’t forget to include the faculty, if you were making a distinction between faculty and staff, as is done in American unis….
Inclined to agree with the sentiment, based on US unis and what you believe UK ones to be like.Don’t forget normality doesn’t make a story in the press.
I did spend the latter part of my career teaching in University and didn’t come across any problems of this nature at all, Though it is a couple of years since my last lecture, my wife and several friends still work in the sector, again with no wokeness issues at all. Though I mostly taught science based courses (chemistry, pharmacology etc.) I did also deliver a module on the politics of science and health in the modern world with no interference from the woke police at all. This led to many wide ranging discussions without argument or rancour.
As most students tend to be broadly socialist, I would always challenge them on these views but I did always find them to be broad minded and open to new ideas,
I’m always amazed at how poor the understanding of what Calvinism is in popular culture…
Original Sin has been a core doctrine in all Western Christian denominations since the 4th Century.
Calvinism’s “unique” contribution was the idea that all things have been ordained by God from before the beginning of time, including those who would and would not become Christians.
I suggest that everyone forced to jump through this hoop immediately emails the Vice Chancellor upon completion of the task with an explicit disavowal of the nonsense.
It appears that ‘some’ in academia thought that “1984” and “Animal farm” were guide books, or instruction manuals, rather than warnings. It’s incredible, to me, that some, I assume, intelligent people can be so dim.
I think it’s about power not thought. The less intelligent have discovered they cannot compete and overcome the most intelligent by working hard (we are not equal), so they have found another way to win, by condemning things like whiteness, straightness and being a man.
Many women have been employed / promoted on the grounds of their “disadvantage” as women, for about four decades.
Coming soon to the St Andrew’s Maths Department: 2+2=5, by Professor O’Brien.
Well I just failed the test, I thought the answer to: “Does equality mean treating everyone the same?” would be yes
I’m sure an overwhelming majority of people would agree with you. This is the world of Newspeak: equality no longer means treating people equally.
Indeed. It means treating designated demographics better.
Few people who apply to uni do so on behalf of knowledge, human progress or the common good.
They do for personal advantage – for inequality, in fact !
Shouldn’t someone tell the Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews that equality will be meaningless until he abolishes his university ?
It would be a public service for some anonymous person to circulate a ‘guide’ to the ‘correct’ answers so that students can ‘tick a few boxes’ to appease the political commissars and move on.
I think you’re wrong. The answers aren’t necessarily obvious and maybe deliberately so, lest anyone get too smug. The given example question shows this quite clearly. Should everybody be treated equally ? The ‘obvious’ answer is wrong, a certain amount of ‘DOUBLE think is required to arrive at the correct answer which, OBVIOUSLY, is that everyone is equal , but some are more equal than others.
You’re never saying they actually read the damn things! Isn’t it done anonymously, like a vote? (“to matriculate, jump through this hoop”) Don’t the powers that be just see that one filled out the questionnaire, but not how how one answered.. Surely it can’t be a pass/fail thing! When did the Inquisition come to Scotia? I thought it was just an exercise in symbolic obedience to the current Idols of the Theatre. “Guilt” is an exotic notion, perhaps a token of privilege. So First World…
How can a University change the admissions criteria at the last minute to allow students to begin course study without prior notice to apply somewhere else?
If St Andrew’s is admitting wholesale people who are “personally guilty” of something serious enough to require three modules of remedial moral education, isn’t that failure of the admissions system? Surely they have the ability to find qualified applicants who are not guilty of anything?
Ah, but those applicants would all have to be non-white, since to be white is to be Guilty, as charged !
The only root fix: anyone who has any influence over hiring policies needs to ensure that their job reqs don’t require degrees. I’ve done this in the past, it was no big fight (albeit that was in the software world where job skills can be tested directly in an interview). In fact I’ve never worked in a firm where degrees were mandatory, that includes a major well known tech firm.
Fundamentally, universities can get away with this because students believe they must have a degree to get a good job. The only way to break the back of this insanity is to make it clear that degrees are viewed as unimportant by the actually desirable employers.
An interesting idea – the only problem being that this madness has already crept out of the universities and into the workplace (it did so a couple of years ago), and they already seem to have this line of attack covered. In my own (private sector) workplace, the unconscious bias / diversity / inclusivity training started rolling out a couple of years ago, with annual refresher sessions. Most importantly, anyone within the company that is involved in the hiring process MUST have completed and passed the training sessions (organised of course by young, woke graduates who have been specifically employed within what we used to call the HR department to ensure the company meets its corporate responsibility objectives – the company has to do this to win Govt. contracts). I foolishly completed the unconscious bias training more than a year ago but refuse to take the refresher course (which I am sure will soon become mandatory). I therefore cannot be involved in any hiring decisions. This will be to the detriment of the company as I am one of the senior technical bods who can spot those with real talent for the technical positions. Hiring decisions will more and more be determined by the young woke graduates, who will inevitably want to hire young, woke graduates just like them.
I have a friend (white straight guy in his early 60s) in a major role in a big UK bank who is required to be mentored by a young American QWERTY person. He is going to retire much sooner than he originally planned.
Ah, yes. ‘Reverse Mentoring’ is a thing in my organisation too, though they haven’t picked on me yet, so I haven’t given it too much thought. Thanks for alerting me to it.
Why don’t we just get rid of A-Levels entirely and replace that section in the UCAS form with links to our most acknowledged-personal-guilt moments over the course of our social media history? We could still have them graded by an organisation of independent examiners. I imagine an A* would require something along the lines of a GIF of the student self-flagellating at a BLM rally in a rainbow t-shirt, and a pass would be something along the lines of tweeting ‘I think John Oliver is still very funny’
This does indeed smack of indoctrination and should be stopped. It would be far more useful to encourage them to learn about ethics and ethical behaviour. I spent a few years teaching and examining ethical standards for a professional body. Often there are no easy answers and thinking is required and the tick boxes can be put in the bin!
It also raises the question: do the Politics and Philosophy departments continue to debate what equality is now that the answer has been settled by the university authorities?
A good question. And if they do, are students allowed to argue a different view? Are staff required to teach the answer to the matriculation test?
I readily accept that we all have more to learn about inherent biases and preconceptions, and many of these topics are worthy of discussion. But students don’t need a gold star for saying racism is bad […] and the sooner universities go back to being academic institutions rather than ideological ones the better.
The structure of the sentiment is passive aggressive. The passive sentiment followed by the ‘but’ into the more aggressive one. The former passive observation is irrelevant to the topic of this article and muddles the observation about the ethical duty and purpose of universities.
Further, where is there a discussion as to the legality of the authoritarian imposition of these modules by the threat of failed matriculation?
If all the white students self-identify as black (sorry, of colour), could they skip the course? Given that in Scotland you can be whatever you want, no questions asked?
Perhaps we rewrite the Bar Mitzvah — “Today I identify as a woman of colour”…Reading this thread I now have an ear worm from the 18th century, “All the World is Turn’d Upside Down”!
Christianity teaches Original sin, but personal forgiveness. The disgusting religion of woke/Leftism teaches the opposite – the inherent goodness of man, but your eternal personal guilt (if you are white/Western).
You would almost think that the Left’s almost total inversion of everything Judeo-Christian has a Satanic origin.
Can’t the students sue? Breach of contract ? When did the modules come in, mid course? Or not part of the degree course and so a political rather than academic matter?
Another post in the sin bin, this time responding to a question regarding whether these tests will influence teaching and debate in philosophy and politics courses. No rude words or impolite behaviour. Perplexing.
Another visiting lecturer cancelled at MIT for stating the obvious:
It would be really helpful if authors stopped using the term ‘Calvinism’ to describe contemporary intolerance and illiberalism. It is far too often used as a catchall phrase by those who do not understand what Calvinism is. Find yourself another bogeyman (or woman!)…
I know less about Calvinism than I’d like to, but I don’t think this parallel to Calvinism is arbitrary.
In the English speaking countries, as far as I can see Calvinism (e.g. concepts like predestination) has been used to justify wealth inequality which creates a morality that facilitates capital accumulation while keeping a working framework of charity and ethics.
What’s striking about wokeism is that it fits snugly in this space vacated today by Calvinism. It helps justify the existence of even extreme wealth differences as long as this promotes woke ideals: poor people are (by their nature) racist therefore unworthy of equal voice.
Furthermore, this entire article can be seen as Enlightenment advocacy. In view of what’s happened especially in the last 100 years, Enlightenment is no panacea unlike how Voltaire imagined it. People who followed “reason” killed, enslaved and destroyed in previously unimaginable scale over centuries. Now is the time for atonement, and this is what it looks like apparently with clearly religious undertones.
How can one possibly “atone” for the errors of one’s ancestors? We are talking about human beings , all of whom are congenitally prone to pride. My non emo description of original sin. The florid rhetoric of the old Book of Prayer’s general confession always made me wonder, isn’t OK to just give intellectual assent to our flaws, even though many of us cannot understand “guilt” as an actual feeling? I believe we get a Mulligan from the Almighty there. Feelings of “guilt” are a subjective notion.
Doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon.
The last line of this article is just sad to read. They’re not coming back. For a generation, at least. The jobs these graduates want are geared toward this – hence the universities going along with it.
The public sector and the institutions that feed it are lost.
The grand hope is that generation alpha lives up to its moniker. Have children and teach them to think for themselves and this can change.
Thinking of Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag Archipelago. He wrote about the persecution of the Russian Kulaks who were the independent farmers. They became the scapegoats. They were sent to the Gulag and their land and homes confiscated. I think the same thing is going to happen again.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe