September 25, 2005

Our very own cowboy president

[T]he differences are in degree. We [Dartmouth students] have the same flaws as the individuals who pillaged New Orleans. Ours haven't been given such free range, but they exist and are part of us all the same.

Jesus is a good example of character, but He's also much more than that. He is the solution to flawed people like corrupt Dartmouth alums, looters, and me. [emphasis mine]

Premise 1: Dartmouth students are all flawed people.
Premise 2: Jesus is the solution to flawed people.

Conclusion: Jesus is the solution for Dartmouth students.

It's not very difficult. Seriously. Noah Riner's statements at the Convocation for the Class of 2009 do not equivocate in their message: Jesus is the way for Dartmouth students to build character.

If you still believe, as Joe over at Dartblog does, that Riner's comments were "[h]ardly inflammatory...universally apt and eminently peaceful," try this on for size:
Jesus' message of redemption is simple. People are imperfect, and there are consequences for our actions. He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn't have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God's love: Jesus on the cross, for us.

The last sentence is what I'd like to focus on. Riner simply makes bare that he equates "me" with "us"--the pronouns slip entirely--"us" replaces "me"--grammatically, the sentence should be "The problem is me; the solution is God's love: Jesus on the cross, for me."
This is not a case of a personal profession of faith. Riner makes no distinction between himself and the rest of us, between what he believes is the route to his salvation and the path for everyone else to follow.
One thing that is even more disturbing: Riner does not stop at saying something equivalent to 'Surrendering to God's love is the optimal or best way to obtain character.' By providing no further examples of character and by using the exclusive article 'the' without any attempt at moderation, Riner makes it explicit that Christ is, according to him, the only Way, Truth, and Life.
I am not surprised that he holds this belief nor am I arguing that he does not have a right to hold it privately. But Riner does not just hold it; he does presume that we also hold such a belief if we are to have or do have character. In speaking for all others on campus who would like to think of themselves as persons of character without asking for or receiving their consent, Riner does abuse his position as a public speaker and as Student Assembly President.

One further note: Joe and others try to make the case that Riner's comments were no more (or no less) a violation of his office than a professor espousing or recommending political opinions (and therefore anyone who complains about Riner but lets professors off the hook is a hypocrite).
However, a speech by an elected representative is a far different matter from a professor voicing his or her opinions on gay marriage or Bush's penchant for prevaricating. Simplistically, Professors are not elected to represent our voices to anyone else; Riner clearly was. As such, Riner's acts usurp our own voices without our consent; a professor speaks only for him or herself.


  1. But because he was elected by the student body, he can speak on behalf of the student body. That's why we elect representatives: to speak on our behalf. And if they don't speak on behalf of their constituents, that's why we have elections: to replace them with those who will

  2. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Hmmmm...but Riner never spoke like this when he ran for preisdent. He cautiously avoided religious rhetoric in favor of saying he could represent a broad swath of the College. It worked. He was elected to serve as a collective voice, not to propel his voice into the public arena. And as you point out, he should speak "on behalf of the student body"; yet he speaks as though every student's savior is Jesus Christ. --An 06

  3. 05--certainly you can't believe that the only way we can express our disagreement or displeasure with an elected official is through another election. There are civil institutions besides elections, such as the press, that are well suited to criticizing such officials. which is all anyone is doing. Forcing a new election is impractical and probably unmitigated, but that does not mean Riner should have carte blanche to do whatever he pleases up to the point at which he enrages enough people to bring about such a state.
    There are intermediate steps between nothing and a fresh election designed to modify and influence the behavior of elected officials. This (the writing of one's opinion) is one.

  4. Riner is one step away from advocating a course on intelligent design.

  5. Not a Jesus freak11:32 PM

    Criticize him for what he said if you will. Try to shut him up or change his mind or replace him with someone you agree with.

    But don't say he cannot speak for Dartmouth students. He won election as the representative of the student body, and earned the right to talk that way.

  6. (not a) Jesus Freak--
    I am totally unclear as to your reasoning for exactly why an election gives a representative the right to speak however they want.

    Elections do not give representatives that right; what they do give is the right to pursue whatever is in his/her constituents' best interest provided that pursuit does not contravene any expressly held public views or desires. The fact that many students do not practice Christianity and that many more do not practice it in the exclusivist way that Riner does is such an expression--that our desire is not to be represented or talked to exclusively as Christians, which is precisely what Riner did.

  7. Anonymous2:44 PM

    Seems to me he's expressing his opinion only that Jesus is the solution for people "like corrupt Dartmouth alums". He cited examples of corrupt Dartmouth alums in his comments, people who murdered, stole , etc. Those are the ones he is addressing in your very selective quotes. So, your first premise
    that "Dartmouth students are all flawed people" according to Riner is bogus. With that, your implication that Riner is stating Jesus is the solution for ALL Dartmouth students is also bogus.

  8. Noah Riner5:07 PM

    Jesus died on the cross for us! Praise the LORD! Kill the heathens! Burn them! Kill them! Kill!

  9. Anonymous--
    My purpose in mentioning the horrible things done by certain people on the Gulf Coast isn't to condemn just them; rather it's to condemn all of us. [emphasis mine]

    I have no idea where you got your wack y idea that Riner was talking only about corrupt Dartmouth alums. He mentions them first in the passage I quoted, but finishes with "me" which I have taken pains to show is equated elsewhere with "us."
    My argument holds.

  10. Anonymous3:17 AM

    "...yet he speaks as though every student's savior is Jesus Christ."

    It's a tenet of most of Christianity that He is, though. Whether or not "every student" thinks so is another matter, but to any remotely orthodox Christian, Jesus is the only one a person can look to for salvation. He's universal--one for all, whether the all like it or not. Non-Christians (and less orthodox Christians) may not enjoy hearing that there's only one way, and that He applies to everyone, but they ought not be surprised that someone like Riner believes so. Christianity is not a faith that "plays well with others" in terms of pluralism--it's a case where believing one's way is right necessarily requires believing others are wrong, and it doesn't gel with relativism.

    There's my attempt to clarify where I think the SA President is coming from. I hope it's easier to see how a "me" can turn to an "us" in this mindset.
    --another '05

  11. Anonymous5:28 AM

    it seems ridiculous to me to attempt to refute andrew's argument, which, at base, is simply that it is unfair for Noah Riner to impose his religious beliefs on the whole of Dartmouth students. While Dartmouth is a private institution, and one heavily steeped in Christian faith and beliefs, one would hope that the idea of the separation of church and state is one valued by all, officially non denominational, high level institutions of academia. Riner was indeed elected to 'represent' the student body, but in no way was he elected to speak as a religious or faith based voice for the student population. His duties are to the students as students, not as members of religious organizations.

  12. Anonymous8:30 PM

    I applaud Noah Riner for his courage and confidence in Christ!
    With all due love and respect, it's pretty typical of the secular humanist crowd to speak out in anger, maligning Noah for stating timeless truth. You know in your hearts that he did not do it to disrepect or take advantage of anyone. In fact he shared in a loving way, a truth that will set you free if you think on his (but really God's) words. IMHO, academia hi-jacked the truth from America's young people, the day it set forth to eliminate Christianity from schools and replaced it with the religion of secular Humanism. No one complained when they did that, because S.H. takes the accountability out of the equation. You see now, a person can blame his crimes on "bad genes" or a poor upbringing, instead of on the fallen sin nature. Any true Christian (and I believe Noah is one) speaks this truth in love: not trying to condemn, but rather because he loves you much more than the religion of S H will allow one who believes in it to love him back.
    He knew this I'm sure, when he contemplated giving this speech and was willing to receive the persecution from those who don't understand true love. It is hard for one who doesn't know Christ to understand this: that true love is putting the well-being of another before one's own well being. I thank God for witnesses like Mr. Riner.I will keep you in my prayers. May God bless you all...

  13. Anonymous7:44 AM

    As if to prove a point about just *why* church and state need to be separate, the previous anonymous steps in to the rescue.