Excellence and Equality

Posted on March 4, 2021


I promised myself not to write any more about politics this year. Everyone with a computer, tablet or cell phone is writing, all the way from Twitter to the New York Times, and most of it is just political importuning from the Left or Right in American politics. The heretofore “objective” role of journalists is a joke. Same thing for the media mavens and the 24-hour news services.

However, I like the subjects of “excellence” and “equality” since they represent twin principles that drive us forward as a people. Both are being mangled or ignored in favor of equity, diversity and inclusion, the trilogy of ideals driving the Left. But I’ll not ding on them any more. If that’s what universities and colleges, not all but a majority, want to emphasize, so be it. The life of young people today, running the gamut from depression, anxiety and sometimes, appallingly, ending in frustration with life, and finally suicide needs to be addressed with a different set of priorities.

What is excellence? It is wanting to live up to God’s given role for you in life. You may ask: Clayton, I can understand wanting to be the best third grade teacher, or the next physicist to travel into space, but how about a garbageman or a gardener or a jail guard, a small business owner? Isn’t there a difference? There is, obviously, a difference, but there is also a similarity. Today let’s consider the Scriptural origins of some areas of our life we like to think of as important—not only excellence and equality, but later let’s consider liberty, freedom, responsibility, and even diversity, a positive goal if taken in its original meaning to welcome and encourage all to the table and opportunities of life in this country.

What does Scripture say about excellence? If the UA mission is teaching, research and service, as in fact is true with most colleges and universities in this country, then how do we achieve it or work to make it happen in all categories? Forget “where legends are made.” That’s p. r. and marketing, not about teaching, research and service.

All universities can point to high points in research along the line, from the engineering students building a new robot, to the educational specialists pioneering new ways to teach and learn within the world of IT and virtual learning. Excellence does not, however, have be inventing and exploring something new; it can be expressed creatively in art, dance, theater, social work, all the multiple elements of our lives. Be as good as you can be. Don’t lean on your background, your race, ethnicity, sexual preferences, or your social or economic status to carry you forward.

“Then this Daniel,” Scripture tells us, “became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” Read the story of Daniel. Or, if you want a shortcut, read about him in some online source, like Wikipedia. But, like in writing good history, there is no substitute for examining the original.

Or if you prefer the New Testament, try “finally, brothers whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). The writer was the Apostle Paul, a kind of prickly character who wrote a good part of the New Testament, but I like him. He was the author really of Christianity by his interpreting of what Jesus said and did, but I like his line “think about these things.”

And I think he meant, at least in part, think on the life and times of Jesus presented as truths to live by. The ultimate truth for Christians is the salvation of your soul or spirit in both your life today, and eternity, However, Jesus’s teachings as interpreted by Paul and other of his disciples like Peter and James transcend Scripture and apply to all life, secular as well as religious. Stick with me. Jesus didn’t preach, nor did Paul or anyone else in the first century, about global warming, virtual learning, socialism, capitalism, cancel culture, or the Alaska pipeline.

What he did teach was about human beings. He scourged hypocrites and liars, and taught forgiveness, love, honesty, truth, and a devotion to God’s will, not necessarily man’s laws, if not in line with God’s will.

We can’t be driven by “today’s realities,” some of them listed above, and not examine ourselves inwardly first and foremost. Our beloved Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

To which Franklin supposedly responded, with a rejoinder at once witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

I think Franklin meant that if we didn’t guard the new Constitution by leaning on God’s wisdom as expressed in Scripture, then we might likely loose it. It was popularly quoted very recently by politicians leading the impeachment trial of ex-President Trump. Quoting Franklin was good, following St. Paul even better.

Let’s examine equality in the near future. Equality is long associated with Thomas Jefferson and the Age of Reason, but, in fact, is very much a part of Scripture.

Published as “Ancient wisdom holds the key to academic excellence,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Feb. 28, 2021