In 2007, 14-year-old Yeonmi Park crossed a frozen river and three mountains in a desperate attempt to leave North Korea. Eventually, after suffering dreadful abuse in China, she made it safely to South Korea. In 2014, she received the opportunity to study in America, where she would be able to pursue an education in the “land of the free.”
Yeonmi entered a program at Columbia University. Founded in 1754, the school’s motto reads, “In Thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9). The first universities were established on the basis that God’s creation is an objective reality that can be studied. Humans created in God’s image have the capacity to investigate and reason. The truth that ultimately comes from God is the only solid protection for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief. Earthly authorities can’t tell us what to believe and think (Mark 12:17). Sadly, Yeonmi’s experience didn’t remotely resemble the school’s founding vision.
Having escaped the tyrannical regime of North Korea, where criticism of “Dear Leader” can land you (and your family) in a concentration camp, she never anticipated the thought control she’d find at this elite American university. Her professors insisted that history and culture had to be seen through the lens of patriarchal, racist, heterosexist oppression. Belief in absolute truth and morality was regarded as dangerous and wrong. Transgression of the dominant orthodoxies resulted in social ostracism or lower grades. If she was to achieve the degree she wanted, she would have had to self-censor all she said and wrote.
The land of the free was not as free as she had anticipated. What was going on?
‘No Universal Truth’
By the end of the nineteenth century, increased acceptance of evolutionary theory had contributed to a widespread naturalistic worldview: “There is no Creator God, and there won’t be a judgment.”
Without a transcendent authority, who or what is left to judge between competing claims to truth? Radical doubt has now taken root in nearly all the major institutions of the West. Objective truth is challenged. What counts is the perception or “lived experience” of each individual, particularly those deemed to have suffered oppression. The new inquisition insists that the feelings of any perceived “victim” must never, ever, be hurt. It’s viewed as hateful to question their claims. And that means that an increasing number of academics have been “cancelled.”
Kathleen Stock, a professor at Sussex University, England, was effectively hounded out of her position in 2021 for affirming the biological reality that women are women:
The problems all started when I began making such controversial statements as: “there are only two sexes” and “it’s wrong to put male rapists in women’s prisons.” . . . It has been all too much for certain colleagues. My critics have produced an apparently unstoppable narrative, according to which I’m a bigot and a terrible danger to trans students. . . . Eventually any hopes I could lead a relatively normal life on campus were definitively extinguished.
End of Free Speech
In The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray (who is himself gay and an atheist) describes this worldview, which insists that society is made up of different hierarchies. If you don’t accept the claims of anyone in a “victim” group, you may be condemned as bigoted, sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic. This signals the end of free speech, as people become anxious about stumbling over hidden trip wires. One ill-judged comment could make someone a social pariah.
Many go along with this madness because they’re scared to speak out, but it’s demeaning and soul-destroying to go along with claims you don’t believe to be true. Abigail Shrier, the author of Irreversible Damage, was invited to speak at Princeton in 2021. An investigative journalist, Shrier has documented the social contagion leading large numbers of teen girls into gender transition — and the regret that often followed, sometimes after irreversible damage had already been done. The invitation caused a furor. She had to speak in a venue with limited capacity away from the campus. Shrier took the opportunity to urge the students not to tell lies, to speak the truth openly, to refuse to be “bought” with flattery and to “keep their integrity.”
Sadly, too many university students churn out what they know their professors want them to say, even when they know it’s patently untrue. They “put truth on hold.” It’s too costly to challenge the current orthodoxies. But when you repeat lies, it destroys your integrity. Eventually you may come to believe them.
When Truth Retreats
The late Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984) observed that whenever truth retreats, tyranny advances. The Creator God will hold all, including all rulers, to account (Romans 13:1–3). He has placed his moral law on the hearts of all (Romans 1:18–21). The blessings of freedom are found within the framework of order (Deuteronomy 30:19–20). The Lord Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth (Revelation 1:5).
When you deny that there is a God, and deny any transcendent truth or absolute morality, you are left with unfettered human freedom. That quickly degenerates into anarchy. And then, out of fear, people may respond by submitting to an all-powerful state. Totalitarianism arises when you look to human reason alone to create utopia. We need only look back at the twentieth century to see the price tag in blood and suffering.
But if the retreat of truth leads to tyranny, the reverse must be true as well. The advance of truth will turn back tyranny.
Only Firm Basis for Dignity
The biblical worldview is the only firm basis for human dignity. Every person has value because each one has been created in the image of God. The biblical worldview is the only solid foundation for real freedom: no government, academic institution, or employer has the authority to tell us what to think. We will each answer to God.
History has shown that when the gospel has influenced a society, freedoms have been extended to more people. Far from limiting human endeavor, Christians were the first champions of universal education, the founders of the first universities, and the pioneers of modern science and medicine.
We are living in times that have been poisoned with lies. We have an opportunity to hold out truth. If we learn to fear the Lord, we won’t need to fear anyone or anything else. As we grow in love for God and his word (Psalm 119:97; John 14:15), and as we daily sing joyful praises (Psalm 92:2), our courage will be renewed. We’ll love others, even those who hate what we believe, speaking truth with grace (1 Peter 3:8, 14–16), serving humbly, and showing by deed as well as word that our God is a God of compassion and grace (Matthew 5:44; Isaiah 58:6–8).
God calls us to stand for truth and seek to rescue those imprisoned by deceit. In John 8:32, our Lord Jesus Christ promises to all who come to him: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”