Intolerance Tolerated?

Jonathan Miller is a brilliant man. He has been a contributor to the worlds of art, theater, and medicine. His accomplishments are immensely impressive and more than most could ask for in one lifetime. However, at his discussion on Friday night, his remarks pertaining to faith were more than a little offensive and disconcerting. A member of the audience asked a question about Dr. Miller’s opinions on God. The student said he had read Dr. Miller was an atheist, and wanted to know how someone with such a broad spectrum of life experiences justified his beliefs. While this question was quite provocative, it seemed reasonably fair considering that, throughout the lecture , Dr. Miller was continually candid. At this point, Dr. Miller replied that with all the evils in the world, he found it hard to believe that there could be someone or something behind it all who was just willing to let such behavior continue, an argument that is hardly original. He proceeded to say that such a notion of a higher power that would do such a thing was, “f—ed up.” Some members of the crowd responded to this remark with a round of applause. After the end of the lecture, I went to tell Dr. Miller how much I appreciated his insights, though I did not agree with everything he said. Several members of the audience who happened to agree with his atheist views came to thank him as well. The topic of religion came up again; the crowd was divided between believers and non-believers. Miller was happy to entertain the group with his opinions. He said that he “knew” the notion of a higher power was nonexistent. He maintained this idea was “childish” and that religion was “regrettable.” He even compared a higher power to a “hog” rubbing himself with satisfaction. Speakers who come to Andover know the mixed bag of opinions, ethnicities, races, religions, and backgrounds that characterize our school. Most visitors acknowledge this and are thus careful to handle delicate subjects with acceptance and care, recognizing that everyone is entitled to his own opinions. Dr. Miller, however, managed to flagrantly violate all of the guidelines of politeness with little concern. His statement that he “knew” no God existed was pompous and arrogant. He put his personal views about a delicate topic into a lecture with a mixed crowd, and essentially asserted that all dissenting opinions were invalid. This is an amazing contradiction for a school that values acceptance of other people’s personal beliefs. I wonder if the school would have stopped Dr. Miller from making such distasteful remarks if he had not been talking about religion, but instead racial differences, sexual orientation, or gender. I believe the school would; it would be wrong to have people listening to that. So why is it okay to insult people because of their religious preferences? Simply put, it should not be. Many people who believed in a higher power in that auditorium were affronted and attacked without a forum to refute Dr. Miller’s statements. It is appalling that our school sponsored such an ugly and hateful piece of rhetoric. Hopefully Phillips Academy will not allow such an abusive set of opinions to be forced upon its students again.