King’s should rename some houses

King’s should replace the Houses of Reagan, Thatcher and Churchill. The case for replacing them as namesakes rests on a simple proposition: none of these leaders grappled with the Christian tradition in any significant way.

The namesakes, after all, are supposed to “embod[y] the ideals of The King’s College.” During his administration in Nicaragua, the left-leaning Sandinista government (a mix of Marxist socialism, anti-imperialism and liberation theology) was gaining international praise for its literacy campaign. The Contras were a right-wing junta attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government. Congress had rightly banned funding for the Contras, here’s an example of why (NSFW).

Reagan claimed that the Contras were, “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers,” and during his presidency aid was restored through secret channels (Iran-Contra). After thousands of innocent citizens died, Nicaragua took the United States to the World Court and won, the U.S. vetoed the body numerous times and the Nicaraguans never received their reparations.

Liberation theology also cropped up in to El Salvador; Reagan trained and financed death squads followed (Carter had initiated funding, but the Reagan administration ramped up military aid). Three nuns and lay worker were brutally raped and murdered in 1980. The Reagan administration, fearing that aid to the junta would be cut off, attempted to cover-up the involvement of security forces.

The “War on Terror,” contrary to popular belief, did not begin under Bush, but rather under Reagan, who declared the African National Congress a terrorist organization and put Nelson Mandela on the terrorist watch list. Reagan sided with the Apartheid regime and vetoed proposed sanctions for their crimes against humanity (he was overruled by congress).

Remember that Reagan began his campaign with a stump speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered and proclaimed support for “states’ rights.” Thurgood Marshall was so frustrated that he took the daring step of criticizing a sitting President from the bench, saying that he was one of the worst presidents when it came to the rights of African-Americans.

For those looking to celebrate a “Christian politician” the man who declared General Rios Montt (recently convicted of genocide, although the trial has been set back) a “man of great integrity and commitment” who wants to “promote social justice” and decided that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist is probably not the best place to start. Reagan may have driven by realpolitik or anti-communism, but I struggle to see how these are the actions of a man who actually takes his religion seriously.

As for the other two aforementioned namesakes, Thatcher was far more influenced by Hayek than Jesus, and Churchill was no saint.

As Richard Burton put it so eloquently,

In the course of preparing myself…I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate them virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of endless power all through history…. What man of sanity would say on hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, everyone of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of the earth’? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity.

Churchill was considered the most brudish of the imperialists. His doctor said of him, “Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin.”

When we as a school decide who to honor with a House, it should be a woman (or man) of integrity, one whose decisions were motivated by their faith and whose faith radically shaped the institutions of society. Was it Reagan’s Christianity that lead him to veto sanctions on the apartheid regime? Was it Just War theory that guided his invasion of Grenada? Was it Christ-like to publicly oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964, weak the Voting Rights Act and oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday?

The school’s description of why Thatcher belongs as a namesake is hilariously Orwellian, “Sojourner Truth’s persistent opposition to slavery, Margaret Thatcher’s iron will in the face of opposition, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sacrifice of his own life in an effort to end Hitler’s tyranny were all commendable examples.”

We can note that while Bonhoeffer and Truth both opposed something (slavery, Nazism), Thatcher just opposed. Opposed what? Not apartheid! Liberals–she opposed liberals. But we don’t say that because it would be very uncouth.

We are asked, “What would the world be without a Susan B. Anthony, Winston Churchill, or Queen Elizabeth 1?” Where indeed would we be without the man who declared “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror”? I am reminded again of Paul’s famous verse, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female…only civilized and uncivilized, and you should really kill the uncivilized people.” To be fair though, it’s doubtful Churchill ever read Galatians since he was an atheist. I doubt King’s would make Nietzsche or Marx namesakes, but they certainly changed the world (and were atheists, like Churchill).

It is evident why King’s picked Reagan, Thatcher and Churchill. The school has a sad tradition of putting politics ahead of religion. Prior to his hiring as college president, Dinest D’Souza had written a book entitled The End of Racism in which he declared slavery a benign institution and and asked why slaves hadn’t paid reparations for their freedom. Two African-American scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, which sponsored the book,resigned in protest. D’Souza then wrote The Enemy at Home, which claimed that the cultural left bore responsibility for 9/11 and said that U.S. Conservatives should join up with Muslim fundamentalists to fight the left. The book was so incendiary that six Conservative scholars publicly disavowed the book in the National Review. Given D’Souza’s minimal scholarship on religion prior to joining King’s, and his Catholic (rather than Evangelical) faith, it is hard to conclude that his hiring was not primarily due to his politics. As of yet, we have no professors who have been outspokenly liberal.

At a school where tradition is venerated, I’m certain such a decision to remove these namesakes will create numerous objections (what will Reganites say if not “tear down this wall”?), although it didn’t matter when the college replaced the house of Martin Luther King with the house of C.S. Lewis (not to discredit Lewis’s contribution children’s books and children’s philosophy). I think it’s time to end the sad tradition at King’s of placing politics before faith.

I look forward to visiting the school and finding the House of Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass or William Wilberforce, of Mother Theresa or Rosa Parks (this, of course, is just a partial list of the numerous possible candidates). If President Thornbury wishes to push King’s away from simply being a partisan institution, one way to signal that shift would be to invoke new namesakes.

The hard part is, as Marx noted, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”

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