Editor's Note: This is a letter to the editor submitted by philosophy Professor Roderick T. Long. An opposing view to this letter can be found here.
It’s depressing to read the hymns of praise in favor of the Auburn Creed (printed in The Plainsman) because it really is an embarrassingly awful document. I don’t have space here to cover all its defects, so I’ll just hit the highlights.
The claim that education “trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully” implies that learning has no value for its own sake, no role in elevating the dignity of the human mind; its purpose instead is merely instrumental: to prepare students for the job market. Here the traditional ideal of a liberal education is being tossed aside.
Similarly, the claim that the point of “honesty and truthfulness” is to “win the respect and confidence of my fellow men” implies that honesty is to be valued not for its own sake, but instead as a strategy for winning people’s confidence. As Plato pointed out 2,500 years ago, this is the attitude of a con artist and swindler, not of a virtuous person.
The lack of gender-neutral language in the phrase “fellow men” is no surprise in 1943. It’s still being kept unchanged in the 21st century is a bit harder to justify, however.
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The call to “believe in obedience to law” because it “protects the rights of all” was, let’s recall, written in Alabama at the height of the Jim Crow era. Did those racist laws protect “the rights of all”? Should the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have practiced “obedience to law?”
“I believe in my Country,” The Creed continues, “because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home.” What does “my country” refer to? Presumably, the United States. The Creed seems to forget that not all Auburn students are U.S. citizens. So is The Creed telling foreign students to believe in the United States, because it is their “own home?” But it isn’t their home. Or is The Creed telling them to believe in their own home country because it is a “land of freedom?” But some of them may be refugees from dictatorships. There’s no interpretation of this provision that makes sense – unless it just means that foreign students aren’t wanted here.
And what are we to make of The Creed’s claim — again, at the height of Jim Crow — that the United States is a “land of freedom?” Clearly the United States was no such thing in 1943. Is it a land of freedom now, when, for example, African-Americans are still disproportionately targeted by the justice system? Do you have to believe it’s a land of freedom now in order to be a member of the Auburn community?
Finally, this provision speaks of “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.” So apparently those who don’t believe in God — and specifically the Judeo-Christian God, since it’s a quotation from the Bible — are also not welcome at this public, tax-funded University?
Surely, we can do better than The Auburn Creed.
The views expressed in columns and letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Auburn Plainsman.
Professor Roderick T. Long is a professor of philosophy at Auburn University.
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