I suppose it was because it was the 1960s. That might have been the reason. College and university students around the country were up in arms, literally. There were sit-ins, break-ins, love-ins, and shoot-outs. Trustees, administrators, police, and sometimes the National Guard were called in to deal with rebellious students. Yes, there were reasons for revolt, and there were reasons for not revolting. The lack of logic was revolting.
There was the war in Vietnam which some had reasons for claiming was unjust and unnecessary just as others claimed, with reason, the opposite. There are always good reasons for marriage, but others had other reasons to replace it with “free love.” Not satisfied with the paper-thin reasons for a bar on every corner (prohibition was part of the forgotten past), many argued in favor of laws legalizing (and rationalizing) dope and marijuana — the new symbols of the pursuit of happiness, always ending with a crash.
It was a time of irrationality that would later morph into various regrets, paranoia, and psychoses. We’re paying the price today, with practically everyone forgetting the role of good reasons and logical arguments, in favor of their selfish, stupefying will. The current political season should shake us awake. Last night I heard both a liberal and a conservative commentator say of both presidential candidates: “They’re lying to us.” And yet we’re going to vote one of them into the most powerful, temporal job on Earth. What we sow, we reap.
The Pursuit of the Will
I attended, with my future wife Pam, Greenville College (G.C.) in Greenville, Illinois. It was a small Evangelical School associated with the Free Methodist Church of North America. The school was located in Bond County, which at the time was “dry.” That means prohibition was still the rule of law. There were no bars; it was illegal to sell alcohol in the county. That helped to keep the riff-raff out, and the student “rebellions” to a minimum. Actually, although we read about such craziness at state universities, we were dolefully ignorant and naïve… and I mean that in a good way. We did, however, experience a little unrest. I’ll tell you of two events, both of which will help illustrate why logic doesn’t always work.
One spring our otherwise very strict administrators contracted with The New Christy Minstrels, a touring folk singing group of a dozen or so individuals, to put on a concert — a Hootenanny — at the school. The event was “big” for our small school of 800 students. In our mind the Pharisees (as we nicknamed the administrators) were going to open the gates of the “Holy City” and let us brush up against barbarians of the real world. We were excited. It was our opportunity to “rebel” — as much as we knew how. For my rebellious part I “rationally” skipped a week of classes and worked on promoting the event. The specifics of my promotional effort have totally escaped my consciousness, but I’ll never forget the consequences of skipping classes. I had my reasons and logic, but there were stronger reasons that I ignored. My will temporally trumped reason. It was the first week of Integral Calculus — something impossible, for me, to catch-up on. I flunked the class and had to retake it during summer school.
The concert went off without a hitch, but not without conflict behind the scenes. In order to get paid, the Minstrels were told they could not sing certain songs in their repertoire. The reasons were given. Certain songs, which we had all heard on the albums in our dorm rooms, made light of certain behavior that, although in keeping with the 60’s, were not in keeping with the moral standards of an Evangelical Christian college. The songs were not sung — but the locker room the group used for a dressing room was trashed. The school’s reasons for avoiding certain ideologies were proven true by the group’s reasons for singing them. The trashed locker room made physical the dangers of irrational, rebellious ideologies. Not only was the group not invited back to Greenville, but word was passed to other small colleges, and The New Christy Minstrels found it difficult to get dates in other similar venues.
From both perspectives, personal wills were confronted by reasons. Will always wins in the short haul, reason always wins in the long.
I was given good reasons about the dangers of skipping so many classes, but there was something more important at stake, for me, at that time — it wasn’t The New Christy Minstrels, it was my will. I rebelled against natural law and there were consequences to be paid. The reason of natural law, and the reason for my attendance at college were replaced by the reasons that fed my ego, my will, my pride. The Minstrels similarly discovered that there is a logic in a capitalist society that demands respect for business agreements.
The 60s had had their impact on G.C. and the campus saw several “radical” changes. When I first arrived, the Pharisees had effective control of the rebels in our midst, with the attentive cooperation of parents who were spending a lot of money sending their charges off to a private school. The control was enacted by parental backing. Modesty was the norm and shorts of any kind, even knee-length Bermuda shorts were not allowed outside the dorm. In 1969, my senior year, the Bermuda Shorts Resolution was accepted by the administration and Bermuda Shorts could be worn on campus after 6 PM. Supposedly by that time, all the older, rich, patrons of the college would be off campus and not take offense at our scandalous attire. I know, this does not sound “radical” as the topic sentence of this paragraph “promised.” Times change. I have a letter written in 1941 by my missionary grandmother, Edith Willobee, who at the time was in India. She wrote to my mother and her sister (my aunt) in Michigan where the two had just landed teaching jobs. To celebrate they put on their best teaching attire, took a picture and sent it to their mother. Edith’s letter, in response, is awash in scandalous language because of her daughter’s worldly and immodest attire — the girls were showing too much skin in their elbow-length sleeved blouses. Their will temporarily trumped their mother’s reasons… until my mother had kids of her own, and suddenly modesty was all the rage… as it should be, although burkas for the male wrestling team seemed a bit much.
After I graduated from G.C., Pam and I were married and then rented an apartment in town as she finished up her last year of college and student teaching. It was now 1970, and the student leaders at Greenville College decided that the rebellious 60s were better late than never. Another rule that was still in force was that students were forbidden to wear facial hair. When I was a freshman the rule was no hair below the ear-lobe. Half-way through college the standard was “lowered” and hair would not be allowed to the upper lip. Mustaches suddenly became vogue, and pictures of me during this period show my sideburns were strangely connected to my mustache, as I shaved down along a straight line from my upper-lip.
The student body leaders (always very conservative and devout Christians — the elections always seemed rigged) decided that there was a double standard about this hair business, and that the constantly changing rule (once in two years) about where hair could appear and not, seemed duplicitous. It wasn’t that the Pharisees or the professors were sprouting rebellious beards, but the walls were covered with pictures of the college’s founders and Christianity’s founders and they all had beards, in fact, the more important these individuals seemed to be, the more facial hair they had. For God’s sake, Jesus had a beard in every picture ever painted, mounted, and displayed of Him.
The G.C. student body president was Glen Snyder, the son of a well-known missionary doctor to Africa, as Glen and his wife would eventually become for short medical missionary stints. Always well-groomed, with his thick black hair trimmed neatly, no lower than the bottom of his ear lobe, Glen was the epitome of convention and cooperation. Consequently, Glen and the other student officers (3 of which were male) were always trotted out to meet VIPs and benefactors that came regularly to visit the campus. College funding depended on such “show and tell” events.
I’m not sure who decided that the 60s rebellion was better late than never, but suddenly, one Monday morning, Glen and the student officers showed up for a meeting with the college president and the Board of Trustees. That morning, the “pursuit of happiness” as defined by the will of the Board of Trustees took a hit by reason. The three guys had shaved their heads. Behind the three students, hanging on the wall were three paintings of men the college held up as role models: Jesus, Free Methodist founder, B.T. Roberts, and college founder John Brown — all with full beards.
The Board of Trustees had willed that beards were a sign of rebellion and were not to be tolerated. And in the short haul, such strong wills can prevail… at least until some infallible and embarrassing reason is unavoidable. By the end of the year, half the professors and every male student who could grew a full beard.
The moral premise of these stories is this: Selfish will and a false pride lead to embarrassment and insecurity, but the selfless portrayal of truth leads to virtue and solidarity.