Darmouth student body President Noah Riner '06 gave what I think was a decent speech to entering freshman last week. It was a bit unusual - he mentions some notorious, murdering Darmouth alumni to open - but otherwise emphasized the importance of character citing Martin Luther King Jr., Shakespeare, Bono and Jesus.
The mention of Jesus! in a speech to impressionable!! young freshmen!!! evoked paroxysms of outrage. For instance,
The Student Assembly's vice president for student life...Kaelin Goulet '07, resigned immediately. "I consider his choice of topic for the Convocation speech reprehensible and an abuse of power," she said. Addressing Riner directly, she wrote: "Your first opportunity to represent Student Assembly to the incoming freshmen was appalling. You embarrass the organization; you embarrass yourself. . . . I pity the freshmen in Leede Arena yesterday."
...Paul Heintz '06, whose crudely hieroglyphic "Guy & Fellow" comic strip "parodied" Riner's speech. In the strip, a stick figure with Riner's head says, "Jesus, together you and I shall rule the world and vanquish all those infidels and looters and rioters." Pot-smoking Jesus replies, "Yo, chill out, dawg. Take a hit of this sh** and chill the f***out."
So what did Riner say?
Character has a lot to do with sacrifice, laying our personal interests down for something bigger. The best example of this is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He knew the right thing to do. He knew the cost would be agonizing torture and death. He did it anyway. That’s character.
Jesus is a good example of character, but He’s also much more than that. He is the solution to flawed people like corrupt Dartmouth alums, looters, and me.
Jesus’ message of redemption is simple. People are imperfect, and there are consequences for our actions. He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God’s love: Jesus on the cross, for us.
A bit preachy? Perhaps.
Pitiful as according to Goulet? Hardly.
A good lesson? Doing the right thing...people are imperfect...there are consequences to actions? You bet.
By the way I wonder if he would have evoked the same rage from these folks if he had invoked Mohammed.
Bill Buckley weighs in here. The best point in Buckley's piece though is Riner's own observation over the atmosphere at Dartmouth: [emphasis mine]
Riner himself gave a shrewd appraisal of the nature of the taboo. “The problem is not that Dartmouth has a formalized speech code. That would be easy to deal with, and easy for students to break. The problem is that Dartmouth has a speech culture, where some topics are off limits and some perspectives shouldn’t be uttered. [Such] speech restriction is much more difficult to break — as I have recently discovered.”