Duke students walk out on Jerry Seinfeld at commencement

Duke students walk out on Jerry Seinfeld at commencement May 14, 2024

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most popular comedians of our time, winning an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and two Screen Actors Guild awards; his sitcom Seinfeld was the highest-rated show in the US when its final episode aired in 1998. His daughter graduated from Duke University, where his son is currently enrolled as well.

All of this made him an ideal speaker for the school’s commencement last Sunday. Or so you might think.

“American democracy will have disappeared”

It turns out, Jerry Seinfeld committed an unforgivable sin in much of American culture by supporting Israel after it was brutally attacked by genocidal terrorists last October. He is Jewish; last December he traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with families of hostages held by Hamas.

As a result, before he stood to speak at Duke, a group of students walked out. Others booed him.

Here’s a part of the story you may not know: Duke has been affiliated with the Methodist Church since 1838; in 1859, it adopted the motto Eruditio et Religio (“education and religion”). Its first professional school was a School of Religion, now known as Duke Divinity School.

Harvard University was founded by Puritans in 1636; its motto is In Christi Gloriam (“for the glory of Christ’). Congregationalists founded Yale; Presbyterians founded Princeton; Baptists founded Brown; evangelicals founded Dartmouth. The Anglican minister and moral theologian Samuel Johnson was the first president of what became Columbia University in New York City.

That was then; this is now.

  • Anti-Israel protests at Columbia have spread to scores of campuses and have led to thousands of arrests.
  • While just 7 percent of Americans are LGBTQ, students at Ivy League universities are identifying as non-straight at five times the general public. More than a third at Princeton and more than a quarter at Yale and Harvard identify as LGBTQ.
  • At Harvard, 68 percent of students identify as progressive, but only 8 percent as conservative; 45 percent say they are atheist or agnostic, while only 6 percent are Protestant.

John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. When he was asked if his novel is “Jewish propaganda,” he replied: “It happens that I am not Jewish and have no Jewish blood . . . I can prove these things of course—but when I shall have to—the American democracy will have disappeared.”

How did we get here?

To summarize two centuries of cultural history with a few seminal assertions:

  • “Truth” is the result of our subjective interpretation of our subjective experiences and thus cannot be objective (Immanuel Kant).
  • Authenticity is acting in accordance with our personal feelings (Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
  • We experience life as classes struggling with other classes (Karl Marx).
  • Meaning is imposed as the exercise of the “will to power” (Friedrich Nietzsche).
  • Sex is foundational to human identity and happiness (Sigmund Freud).
  • All people should be free to express themselves sexually as they wish (Wilhelm Reich).
  • We are either oppressors or the oppressed; to achieve justice, the latter must oppress the former (Critical Theory).
  • Intersectionality defines minority groups by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. The more you are a minority, the more you are systemically oppressed by the majority (Kimberlé Crenshaw).

As a result, Israel is seen as the colonizing oppressor of the Palestinians, who must fight their oppressors in any way that is necessary. All who support Israel are complicit in such oppression and must be opposed on behalf of their Palestinian victims.

Of course, nothing I just wrote is biblical. The foundational tenet—abandoning objective truth—requires a corollary rejection of biblical authority. But when you abandon the truth of God, you choose the “truth” of his enemy, “the god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4; cf. Revelation 12:9).

This is the default position of lost people:

“The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

What should we do now?

At the University of Texas at Austin, one of many campuses where anti-Israel protests are continuing, I once saw emblazoned over an archway Jesus’ famous words (though without attribution to him): “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). However, the university left out the necessary precondition from our Lord: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (v. 31).

Only then can we “know” (ginosko, to “know intimately”), not “a” truth or “your” truth but the truth. The key is to “abide” (“continually stay”) in Jesus’ word as revealed in Scripture. This makes us “truly” his disciples, men and women who fully follow Jesus and no one else.

When we do this, our Lord promises, “the truth will set you free.” But only then.

So, according to Jesus, we have a binary choice:

  • We can think and live biblically and be set free from sin: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36).
  • Or we can reject biblical truth and be trapped by sin: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (v. 34).

Which choice is our secularized culture making?

Which choice will you make today?

Tuesday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind, fixed upright.” —Charles Spurgeon

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