Identity Crisis

It seems to me that today we have a huge identity crisis. Actually, people have always had an identity problem, but perhaps today it has reached crisis proportions. And Vanderbilt University is having an identity crisis, having become what it says it isn’t.

By “identity crisis” I mean the questions we should all ask ourselves, “Who am I? What is my identity? What makes me who I am? What makes me valuable as a person? What makes my being alive of any value? What gives me dignity?”

We don’t often put those questions to ourselves that directly anymore, but we all have to find our identity, and many spend their entire lives trying to find it. They go from one thing to another—job, relationship, etc.—trying to “find themselves.” We all know people like that.

So what’s that got to do with Vanderbilt?

Well, I’d never really thought much about the fact that the issue of identity is not just limited to people. “Things” people are involved with, organizations, need to have an identity. Businesses spend millions every year trying to establish an identity to potential customers. And Vanderbilt is trying to find its identity—“How does it want to be indentified in the minds of those who look at them?”

Vanderbilt has apparently decided that it wants to find its identity in the concept of “tolerance” and “inclusiveness.” It does not want to be seen as intolerant and exclusivists. And part of its drive to an identity found in tolerance and inclusiveness is probably driven by a view by its leadership that a Man’s dignity is found in his freedom to define his own meaning and concept of existence.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has embraced that view:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 883 (1992)).

But that view of human identity and basis for dignity is bound to fail.

We can deny it all we want, but God is the Ultimate Reality. God, not us, defines the meaning of the universe, and any understanding of our lives not consistent with that reality is an illusion because that’s what illusions are—perceptions of reality that are not real, like the rabbit who materializes in the magician’s empty top hat. Consequently, if we want to have a real identity that is not an illusion, it must be found in God. And that is part of the good news of the gospel, that we are made in God’s image, and if we find our identity in Him, then we have a basis for value and dignity that is grounded in an unchanging and unchangeable reality.

But we have the freedom to reject that possibility and choose something else. And that’s what Vanderbilt has done in choosing tolerance and inclusions for its identity. However, an identity founded on our tolerance and inclusiveness is an illusion because we don’t and indeed can’t tolerate everything and include everything. Toleration implies the existence of truth and truth is, by nature exclusive; truth excludes its opposite.

Vanderbilt, desiring to be known as tolerant, has said it can’t tolerate those that don’t agree with its value system. To tolerate only that which we can tolerate is not tolerance. In other words Vanderbilt isn’t, by definition, tolerant. It’s just an illusion of toleration.

Vanderbilt says it wants to be known as “inclusive,” but it has excluded, excluded the Christian organizations that require their officers to adhere to the historic, orthodox view of homosexuality. Like its tolerance, Vanderbilt’s inclusiveness is just an illusion. Vanderbilt has become what it says it did not want to be—intolerant and exclusive.

Whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not, when we stake our identity on values with which we can’t live consistently in the face of Real Reality, then we have an identity crisis. And Vanderbilt is having an identity crisis.

Next week let’s consider the identity crisis that can infect political conservatives.