It once was the entire purpose of college to create strong moral character. The idea of going to college in order to get a better job or to go to college in order to take courses which would make you appear smart and sophisticated was the anti-thesis of college.
That is why the Academy of Athens, that institution from which we derive the term “academia,” was itself not an institution at all. The Academy was a very informal group of Greeks who were profoundly concerned with truth and with morality. Ultimately, of course, anyone who is not concerned with truth cannot be moral.
The Medieval universities, those marvelous institutions that created modern science and virtually created the modern world, were likewise not concerned with the student’s future financial life, but instead with goodness and with discovering truth.
The honest pursuit of truth, the understanding that an objective truth exists, the subordination of tenure, credentialing and similar goodness of colleges today to spirituality, morality and truth were the heart of the Academy and the first University.
What happened at Virginia Tech is an example of what happens with morality and the building of character ceases to be the principal function of colleges. This student was a student of those professors and those curricula which have come to turn American colleges into mindless de-constructors of truth and moral purpose. This evil student learned evil because modern colleges, largely, teach evil (or at least the absence of goodness) as holy writ. That does not excuse his mass murders, but it does explain them. We have had guns on college campuses for two centuries, but we have never had anything like this: so what has changed? Students are taught that there is no right or wrong, no truth and no lies.
Except there is another side to the human spirit in this great tragedy. One man, Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, gave his life to save the lives of his students. This was the very tonic to cure the nihilism which infected the monster shooter. The story of Librescu is more than just a Holocaust survivor giving his life, although that is a story of unapproachable nobility.
This professor, trapped in Rumania under one of the worst Communist regimes, he was denied promotion because he refused to swear allegiance to Nicolae Ceausescu, a man of pure brutality. So this good man might have survived under the Nazis’ Holocaust only to wilt under the equally awful Ceausescu. Who intervened to get him out of Rumania, a land not known for its love of Jews?
Prime Minister Begin, then leader of that Israeli political party which has become the party of the Ronald Reagan of Israel, Netanyahu of the Likud Party, intervened to get Librescu out of Rumania, to Israel and finally to America. There, until he sacrificed himself to save his students, Librescu was recognized as an engineer and physicist of great renown. He had everything to live for, but he also knew a lot about dying. Perhaps if this monster murderer had been able to know the life of Librescu, he would have found that chance purchase on moral purpose which could have brought him out of the black hole of nihilism and into a life of meaning.
It does not matter now, of course. Both men are now numbers, statistics, part of a body count that would have Librescu grimly understood. A body count is how men without moral grounding look at their fellow human beings. One thing is sure: the greatest lesson that Librescu ever gave to his students was the lesson that he gave on April 16, 2007. Live life, because it is a gift from God. Give your life to save the lives of the innocent. The message is politically incorrect. It suggests strongly – no, it insists - that God has given life meaning.
There are two other Jewish holocaust survivors who I know of only from the words of my wife, their daughter. They, too, lived through Hell. They, too, had every reason to buy into the nihilist worldview of academia. They never went to college (the Nazis did not set up community colleges for Jews at Auschwitz), but they did learn in the most awful way we can imagine that good exists and that evil exists, that life has meaning and that life also can end in a second when evil prevails, even for just a second. They, like Liviu Librescu, embraced life and dedicated their lives to helping the world. Life is a gift. God gives life to us. We must choose goodness. We must teach goodness. That is the message from the horror of April 16.
Bruce Walker has been a published author in print and in electronic media since 1990. He is a regular contributor to WebCommentary, Conservative Truth, American Daily, Enter Stage Right, Intellectual Conservative, NewsByUs and MenŐs News Daily. His first book, Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie by Outskirts Press was published in January 2006.