The Intolerance of Student Activism and Ressentiment

Greg Strand – January 7, 2016 Leave a comment

We have read much about the new student activism. We have also read with mixed feelings the results of that activism. Some of those results are good and we applaud. Other results are not so good, in fact, they are bad, and we grieve and wonder how we can move beyond this foolishness.

In the first article below, it gives an example of how far this has gone awry at Yale. It is almost hard to believe it is occurring on college/university campuses where one is taught to think, to engage in and debate ideas, values and truth, without necessarily taking it all personally. I am not saying there are not prejudices, hate and bigotry behind some of this. But I am saying it is not behind all of it.

The second article focuses on this from a different perspective, that of the Nietzschean notion of ressentiment. This idea is “grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity.” This, notes the author, is the greatest challenge facing Christians in North America today. And it is reflected most prominently on college/university campuses today. 

The New Intolerance of Student Activism

Professor Nicholas Christakis lives at Yale, where he presides over one of its undergraduate colleges. His wife Erika, a lecturer in early childhood education, shares that duty. They reside among students and are responsible for shaping residential life. And before Halloween, some students complained to them that Yale administrators were offering heavy-handed advice on what Halloween costumes to avoid.

Erika Christakis reflected on the frustrations of the students, drew on her scholarship and career experience, and composed an email inviting the community to think about the controversy through an intellectual lens that few if any had considered. Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement.

For her trouble, a faction of students are now trying to get the couple removed from their residential positions, which is to say, censured and ousted from their home on campus. Hundreds of Yale students are attacking them, some with hateful insults, shouted epithets, and a campaign of public shaming. In doing so, they have shown an illiberal streak that flows from flaws in their well-intentioned ideology. 

“Ressentiment” – The Danger That Destroys Your Hope

The greatest challenge facing Christians in North America today is not external. It is not an action by the Supreme Court, or the threat of losing tax exemption, or the political and financial pressures to compromise basic Christian ethics.

It’s an internal challenge – the temptation to see yourself as part of a persecuted minority that finds its identity in being wronged. 

This is the challenge of ressentiment—the Nietzschean concept warned about by James Davison Hunter. According to Hunter, ressentiment is “. . . grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity.”

 

 

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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