Academics and Ayers: ‘Whatsoever Things are True…’

-By John Armor

This is now the 14th year of these weekly column. I’ve never used a Bible verse in these secular sermons. Here’s the exception to that rule.

Today’s text is from Phillippians 4:8. The King James Version is preferred for the beauty of its language:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The first task of every preacher who’s ever mounted a pulpit is to connect the Reading with the real world. Today’s sermon is about politics.

Your immediate reaction is, that dog won’t hunt. There is no more truth in politics than there is tea in a tea bag that’s been through nine rinse cycles at the laundromat. That negative also applies to just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. I add with a wink, “You betcha.” But this is a slight exaggeration.

Most of my career I’ve working with politicians who’ve been dead for two centuries. I’ve represented the likes of Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin in cases on the enduring meaning of the Constitution. I’ve read most of the writings by those gentlemen.

They did not always agree with each other. Franklin’s speech on thoughtful compromise, delivered the day the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia, is one of the classic political speeches of all time. Yet despite their sometime conflicting views, the Framers were all engaged in a constant search for what was true, honest, virtuous, and just.

One area where the search for truth ought to survive, is on America’s university campuses. So, today’s example will be drawn from there, rather from this week’s Presidential Debate. I’ve written long ago that lawyers are the squid of the literary seas, using a fog of words not to expose and explain, but to obscure and deflect. It is no accident that almost half of all members of Congress, and many other elected leaders, are lawyers.

Lawyers are trained in deception. It is often their task in life to present falsehoods and make them seem rational and true. Having been a lawyer for 38 years, I have earned the right to say this. Most of you have probably experienced the same syndrome.

So, let’s talk about academics. Professors are given tenure under the belief, however false, that security of position will allow them to seek the truth unfettered by the tides of passion in the outside world.

There is a petition circulating on the Internet, entitled “Friends and Supporters of Bill Ayers.” Over 3,000 tenured professors from around the country have added their names to this Petition. It says that those who are attacking Ayers are seeking to “intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue..”

That sounds like exactly what university professors should do, defend a colleague who is under attack for his views. An attack on one is an attack on all. It is not only possible, but in today’s politics commonplace, to lie by omission. As Dr. Joseph Goebbels noted, the most effective lie is constructed of partial truths.

Nothing in this Petition mentions that Ayers and his wife formed the Weathermen. They participated in bombings that killed people. Both avoided convictions on a technicality. Then Ayers was quoted in the New York Times on 11 September, 2001, with exquisitely bad timing that “we did not do enough [bombing].”

Here’s the Petition. See for yourself its bias. See if any of the professors who signed it are being paid by your tax dollars.

The Petition says, “It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans.” I must have missed the news that hundreds of thousands of Americans killed people with bombs in the 60s, and then affirmed those acts just seven years ago.

When it is hard to find even a pretense of truth in the halls of academia, you can reach the sad conclusion that whatever is true and just and honest and pure is in a bad way in this nation these days. You can also conclude in reading and viewing the media that danged few people are “thinking on such things.”

Sorry the sermon ended with a downer. When you preach in the secular world, that happens. A lot.
John Armor is a graduate of Yale, and Maryland Law School, and has 33 years practice at law in the US Supreme Court. Mr. Armor has authored seven books and over 750 articles. Armor happily lives on a mountaintop in the Blue Ridge. He can be reached at:

Copyright Publius Forum 2001