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Ignorance is Dis'

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Some time back, I read that Oral Roberts University, founded as a tiny Christian Bible College by the eponymous evangelist in 1963, had suddenly appeared in the national media. It is now a modest private university with 4,000 students in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and ORU received a fair bit of negative attention and comment.

Its sudden notoriety had nothing to do with a scandal, academic failings, financial mismanagement, or anything unethical that usually attracts the national media spotlight. No, it was the institution's surprising success at basketball that sparked closer inspection. ORU's basketball squad was only the second "15 seed" to reach the "Sweet Sixteen" level of the NCAA basketball competition's history. If you don't follow basketball, just know that it's a big deal for those who do. Sadly, at this writing, it's past tense. ORU lost to Arkansas by two points in the final seconds, a great effort!

In my past, the sudden, surprising success of an underdog very often elicited delight, even in their adversaries. The out-of-balance rivalry offered more excitement to fans because of the uncertainty and the possibility that this year's championship team would not be one of the usual suspects. Even highly skilled players of better-funded programs with prestigious coaches are moved to cheers and good feelings when the lightweight weakling defeats the goliath. It's sports and sportsmanship in the truest sense.

The negative discussion regarding ORU was, curiously, an opposite reaction having almost nothing to do with basketball. Critics proposed ejecting the school from the "Sweet Sixteen" precisely because the team was winning; and, it's a Christian school! Its critics believed that ORU neither deserves to win nor even play due to its Christian morals and ethics. Sadly, the virus of social politics has invaded college basketball.

Oral Roberts University, true to its founding, history, and faith, promotes and strives to embody Christian moral and ethical principles. It asks students who wish to study there to adhere to, indeed, sign onto an honor code. The students are not forced to sign. As young adults, if the code is not to their liking, they can opt for other institutions with values more in line with their own.

Oral Roberts University encourages its students to consider its Honor Code profoundly and at length. Students are urged to ponder just how they may embody and apply it before signing on to it. Students are advised to use their religious morals and ethics in ways that "God is honored and lifted up."

From what I've read concerning the "controversy," it appears that the army fighting "homophobia" is the loudest. So let's go right there.

Apparently, pledging not to "engage in or attempt to engage in any illicit, unscriptural sexual acts, which shall include any homosexual activity and sexual intercourse with one who is not my spouse through traditional marriage of one man and one woman," is shocking and unacceptable. Critics assert these vows homophobic and discriminatory. But, there is so much more to the code than these.

All in all, ORU students sign on to eight individual pledges. Here are some excerpts.

Students pledge to apply themselves "wholeheartedly" to "intellectual pursuits" using the full powers of their minds "for the glory of God." "Grow in spirit," develop a healthy body, healthy habits, through "wholesome physical activities"--maybe, like basketball?

Students pledge "to cultivate good social relationships and to seek to love others as I love myself." That's Golden Rule Stuff. My Christian friends choose what they do or do not do. They select with whom they socialize or do not. In short, most Christians I know reserve "judgment" for God. "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Judgment is above their paygrade. Non-association and, or non-participation is a simple human right.

The Honor Code includes the following: "I will not lie; I will not steal; I will not curse; I will not be a talebearer [a gossip]. I will not cheat or plagiarize; I will do my own academic work and will not inappropriately collaborate with other students on assignments."

The Honor Code concludes with a statement that the student has considered "carefully and prayerfully" their commitment to it. The student's signature avows knowledgeable and volitional agreement, further asserting acceptance as a prerequisite to the privilege rather than the right to attend Oral Roberts University.

Finally, one vows solemnly to adhere. It is a vow sworn to God above the student's signature. Seems like "informed consent" to me. Seems like lofty and worthy aspirations to me as well. You can read the complete text by clicking the link: ORU Honor Code Pledge.

Aside from being rather wordy and poorly written, none of its text seems radical or out of line with other ethics codes, religious and non-religious. How about the Boy Scout Oath? I was a scout for a brief while. Fifty-some years later, I can still recite the main points: A scout is "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient [not obsequious], cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent [referring to God *] ." Click on the link above and read the fine print. It's similar to ORU's.

The Girl Scout Oath is a little like that of the Boy Scouts. It's divided into an oath, mission, and a promise emphasizing honesty, fairness, friendliness, helpfulness, consideration, caring, courageousness, strength, responsibility, and respect, among other worthy character traits. Ultimately, a Girl Scout strives to "make the world a better place." God * is in there, too. The oath also adds a postscript: "*Members may substitute for the word God in accordance with their own spiritual beliefs."

Many more learned than I--more intimately knowledgable regarding ORU--have noted that ORUs moral and ethical codes (particularly those relating to sex and marriage) align with Protestant Christianity and Islamism, Judaism, and Catholicism. Commentators omitted Bahá'í and Unitarianism, but they fit nicely as well. Is basketball proscribed to these faiths as well?

I did not grow up with a religious tradition. My father was non-religious but a very good man nonetheless. From his parents, he inherited his morality, which had some Episcopal foundation. His ethics arose from his military and law enforcement training and service.

When I was in middle school, he encouraged me to look into Christian church participation. He expressed to me that it might be a good influence. Beyond that, he never pushed. I did participate, not for the "goodness," the teachings, or worship. I attended because I loved music, and Christian church music is of a very high order. I played guitar in a church glee club and sang in three choirs in different parishes. I met good folks I fondly recall, some not-so-good folks I've mercifully forgotten. Just like life, church folks are varietal. One associates with some and shies away from others. Non-association can be simply good sense.

As for a specific moral and ethical code, I found that I needed one of each as I negotiated young adult life. My progress to specifics was slow. Most of it was unconscious. It was a long time and a lot of unnecessary indecision and suffering before I found a well-meaning mentor who said simply, consider these. After 17 years of "slinking away from Gomorrah," I adopted the 3 Pure and the 10 Great Buddhist Precepts. [1]

The Three Pure Precepts

1. Cease from evil. By refraining from that which causes confusion and suffering, the Truth will shine of itself.

2. Do only good. Doing good arises naturally from ceasing from evil.

3. Do good for others. To train in Buddhism is to devote one's life to the good of all living things.

The Ten Great Precepts

1. I will not kill.

2. I will not steal.

3. I will not covet.

4. I will not say that which is not true.

5. I will not sell the wine of delusion. (Whether drink, drugs, or the emotional appeal of delusive thinking.)

6. I will not speak against others.

7. I will not be proud of myself and devalue others.

8. I will not be miserly in giving either Dharma (teaching) or wealth.

9. I will not be angry.

10. I will not defame the Three Treasures. (I will not deny the Buddha within myself or in others.)

[Here, I paraphrase a longer and more formal text to save time] Additionally, we take refuge in the Buddha's teachings and example. We cultivate and trust the wisdom born of a compassionate heart. We develop the humility to check our understanding and conduct with our family members, teachers, mentors, and the community of those who follow the Buddha's Way. We acknowledge our humanity. Even the most excellent teacher can make a mistake. However, when the Precepts are taken seriously, they provide necessary safeguards and guidance.

Like the ORU students, I considered all this "carefully and prayerfully" profoundly and at length. I pondered how I might embody and apply it all before signing on. I "signed onto" these Precepts twice in my life in confirmation ceremonies 25 years apart.

Curiously, the traditional deep ceremonial Buddhist bow involves dropping to one's knees, bending one's forehead to the floor, and lifting one's hands above one's head. The Buddha and all the Buddha symbolically represents "is honored and lifted up" above oneself with the gesture.

Am I perfect? Hell no! But, each day, I do my best to "slouch a little closer to Bethlehem." [1] I strive to embody positive ideals, as I would hope all other humans strive, regardless of religious belief or not.

Moral and ethical codes can be applied too dogmatically. Bias, prejudice, close-mindedness, unfairness may result. All are simply ignorant behavior. Humanity consistently exhibits a fair bit of ignorance, religious or not.

In my experience, striving spiritual humans who adhere to a code and faith tend to more positive virtues. Evenhandedness, broadmindedness, fairness, thoughtfulness, and acceptance are a few.

The notion that young people voluntarily publicly pledging to adhere to a moral or ethical code by voice or signature are terrible acts is repugnant to me. Are they so reprehensible that a young basketball team's progress from a minor position to possibly higher success in their sport should be forcibly thwarted? Kicking out winners doesn't sound like a moral or ethical intention to me.

My immediate reaction was that I could sign onto such a pledge and adhere to it fully. Yet, I'm not opposed in any way to homosexuality, same-sex intercourse, same-sex cohabitation, or marriage. My wife and I have many close friends whose predilections and activities are of all those categories. These activities, whether homo-, or hetero-, I regard simply as none of my business. I know a fair number of Christians who would say the same. Social discernment is a human right. Moral discernment is up to God.

What am I sure of? Disrespecting someone's voluntary adherence to a moral or ethical based on cursory examination and simple projection smacks of human ignorance. God * has enough of that to deal with.

*Readers may substitute for the word God in accordance with their own spiritual beliefs.



[1] These are wordplay on the last line of "The Second Coming," a work by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919, first printed in The Dial in November 1920. Yeats uses Christian imagery regarding the Apocalypse and Second Coming to allegorically describe the atmosphere of post-war Europe. I read it as something more of a personal allegory of efforts to stabilize a capsizing boat by seeking calmer waters and something solid to tie onto.

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