A Headmaster’s Worldview Summit Journey

by Michael J. McKenna
Head of School

 

As the new headmaster here at Mars Hill (I’ll stop referring to myself that way after the seniors graduate in May), I’ve heard of the Worldview Summit (WVS) with the hearing of my ears, but up until now, I have not seen it with the seeing of my eyes. Today, that changes.

January 22, 2021

Today officially begins the Worldview Summit as we kick things off with our first speaker, Dr. Frank. Dr. Frank is a research scientist in the Cincinnati area. He’s been asked to speak to us about his experiences on social media. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg suspends his account from time to time, so we’ve asked him to explain the why behind the what.

Dr. Frank is engaging. Following are my most memorable takeaways from his presentation:

  • He certainly has energy and enthusiasm.
  • Science is about discovering the character and glory of God in the created order. (Spot on!)
  • People need hope and joy, but so much of what’s out there is the opposite.
  • Masks don’t help. (Ouch! I’m gonna hear about that!)
  • Election fraud! (Did he not read his brief?)
  • Scientists look at the same data but reach different conclusions because scientists are just as sinful and biased as the rest of us. (Thanks for your honesty, Dr. Frank.)

I went up to him after the talk to thank him for throwing me under the bus in regards to his “masks don’t help” comment. He immediately responded that he wears a mask all day at school while he teaches! As he put it, “We have to comply with the magistrate and the health department! They’ll shut us down if we don’t! I get that!” I told him it would have been nice if he had said that to the students. ;-) We laughed.

January 26, 2021

This afternoon, we watched The Social Dilemma together as a group. I think this documentary is quite powerful. As I watch these Silicon Valley “Big Whigs” talk about the unintended consequences of the things they created (the “Like"  button for example), I think about how this has happened repeatedly in human history, and yet we survive. Gutenberg did not realize that the invention of the printing press would bring about the Protestant Reformation, the fracture of the Catholic Church in Europe, the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, etc. But it did! Henry Ford couldn’t have known that the Model T would bring about a restructuring of the American family, but it happened. The difference is social media apps do things to us in ways that books and cars never did. I also came to the conclusion that what’s happening at Mars Hill is—to an extent—part of the solution to the social dilemma. I'm encouraged!

Dave and Laura Fischer, proprietors of Marmalade Lily where we’ll have dinner, are the evening’s first speakers. Dave and Laura challenged the students to think about what it means to be welcoming and loving to unbelievers in the business world. The Fischers have chosen to open their wedding establishment to the gay community, even though they have received negative online reviews by that very community. During dinner, students wrestled with questions about bakers or photographers who choose not to lend their artistic talents to the celebration of a homosexual wedding or how to continue being welcoming and loving even when persecuted online.

[I’m very impressed with how much of the organization of this event is done by the students themselves. Andy Stapleton doesn’t seem to be doing much at all! (Just a joke, Andy! Just a joke!) You’ve clearly organized the students very well and made sure they know exactly what to do and how to do it. Impressive!]

Maryam Kubasek—a former MHA parent—speaks on the effects of social media on mental health. I’m glad for her candor and honesty. Clearly, social media is different from preceding media in this regard: I can’t think of another kind of “media” that has been linked to such levels of mental and emotional illness. Did the advent of the newspaper ever cause the rise of suicide and depression among young people? I don’t think so.

Justice Sharon Kennedy is an elected member of the Ohio Supreme Court. What a compelling speaker, too! She reviews many of the legal implications of free speech and gives the students a lot to think about in terms of how free speech and social media will—or won’t—play well together in the sandbox of the public square.

Take the bus to the hotel near the airport. The end of a challenging day.

 January 27, 2021

Bus to the Creation Museum. I’m very impressed with how well and quickly the students were able to pivot and move this event from D.C. to KY. Not an easy feat! Impressive!

Robert Bluey is our first speaker this morning. He works at the Heritage Foundation in D.C., as Director of Communications there. Major points of his presentation:

  • Following the January 6 riot, “Social Media” took unprecedented steps against President Trump and his followers, such as Mike Lindell (the My Pillow Guy).
  • Twitter permanently banned President Trump. Mr. Bluey read the two tweets that got him banned and said they were harmless. Twitter claimed that the surrounding tweets caused a problem, so Trump and his original tweets were banned.
  • This resulted in a sudden loss of thousands of followers on Twitter. The Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and other conservatives suddenly lost tens of thousands of followers in an instant. They turned to Parler as an alternative.
  • Parler became the #1 downloaded app in America overnight until Amazon, Apple, and Google banned them from their servers. Facebook’s “Oversight Board” is considering the matter.
  • Solutions?

o   Anti-Trust laws to break-up these companies.

o   Take away “Big Tech Immunity” by revising Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. (Heritage has proposed reforms of Section 230.)

o   The Justice Department is looking into cases filed against Big Tech. How will the new Biden Administration influence those investigation, if at all?

o   President Biden has hired Big Tech Leaders to work in his administration.

He concluded by briefly discussing Hate Speech and Transgender Issues: If “hate speech” is defined as “Any speech someone somewhere doesn’t like,” how do you enforce laws against that?

[I'm so glad that our students are getting to wrestle with these questions, and that from a biblical perspective! Not What would Jesus do? but What would Jesus think?]

Arthur Milikh from the Claremont Institute is next. He begins by saying that we need to understand the founding principles of “Big Tech.”

First thing he says sticks with me all throughout this conference: When I praise what’s happening in K-12 education, I have Mars Hill Academy in mind!” What an endorsement! (And he wasn’t paid to say that!)

Mr. Milikh forces the students to ask, “What does Big Tech want? What is their moral vision?”

He likens them to the Founders of this nation, in that Big Tech wants to bring about a “new humanity,” in the same way that the Founders wanted to establish a New Order of the Ages. [1]

He remarks that the goal of any nation is to survive, and that Big Tech “hates the idea of ‘Nation’.” Tech sees the demands that nations make on us—loyalty, allegiance, patriotism, etc.—as anathema to their interests.

After President Trump’s electoral victory in 2016, Tech’s Big Mission changed to the be the removal of evil speech with them as the arbiters of good and evil. Aspects of their efforts include de-listing, de-ranking, and openly cracking down on what they define as “hate speech.” [2]

Ken Ham, the director of the Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis, is next. Mr. Ham doesn’t really address social media, but his talk is refreshing. He discusses:

  • Problem in the modern church: According to a Pew survey, 2/3 of churched youth leave the church once they attend college. Gen Z is two times more likely to be atheistic in their worldview than preceding generations.
  • What can we do? Know what happened! Only two religions in the world: Those who worship the Creator, and those who worship the creation. Raise a generation that thinks foundationally about God’s word and raise children who have a biblical apologetic (Mars Hill!).
January 28, 2021

Andrew Walker, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed our group first thing this morning. His topic is how media reflects the crisis in culture. His basic thesis is the idea that the decline of media in this country is fueling a toxic environment. (As he presents his thesis, I wonder if media is causing a decline in culture, or if media is simply a reflection of cultural decay that’s happening with or without their help.)

1) Consistency: as an example, he points out how, during the Amy Coney Barret hearings, her Catholic faith was presented as a threat to an impartial judiciary. However, when the media covers President Biden’s Catholic faith, it’s celebrated.

2) Crisis of Truth: There’s no reward for intellectual honesty in media, and he pointed out that both the Left and the Right are guilty of this. He pointed to the story of the Covington Catholic School Boys in January 2020 as an example of media playing the role of “the resistance.”

3) He pointed to the “Crisis of the Isolation Silo.” We want to know what we think we already know, so we only go to sources who tell us what we want to know. This breeds resentment, harshness, and a view of our enemies as irredeemably corrupt. He encouraged us to take a sober assessment of ourselves and seek news sources with which we tend not to agree. (I agree!)

He also discussed ways to cultivate virtue as regards media:

1) Intellectual Capaciousness: read widely and avoid “silos.”

2) Find reliable voices, not just voices that agree with you.

3) Be quick to listen, slow to anger, and slow to speak. (I read that somewhere.)

4) Practice “online accountability.”

5) Practice charity.

6) Crucify suspicion of others. Practice incarnational communication, i.e., spend time with real people!

7) Take “Digital Sabbaths.”

8) Expect better of our news sources and ourselves.

Harvest Prude, a writer for World Magazine, addresses the MHA group next. She was at the Capitol on January 6th and talked to the assembled about her impressions of that day’s events. Good for the students to hear from a journalist who is openly Christian and tries to report from that perspective.

Aaron Baer, president of Center for Christian Virtue, next discusses the “Hostile Media.” His points are as follows:

1) Mindset of the “Legacy Media”: Media bias. Only 7% of reporters in 2014 voted for Republicans. Journalists want to do a good job. Journalists also want to be first. Media success is measured by clicks and views, so write what gets clicked and viewed!

2) Our mindset? Do interviews to advance our cause, not to get our names in the paper. First Corinthians 2:12-14—the natural man cannot understand these things; 1 Cor 1:18-25—God chose the low and base things of this world to confound the proud and haughty. What do we know to be true? Men can’t be women just by saying so; The United States is not mean to poor people. Reporters are not idiots.

3) Persuasive message. Go for the heart, not the head. (I have a possible problem with this one, but I’m not able to get a clarification. If he means we should use emotional appeals to manipulate, I’m not on board. If he means we must establish pathos for our cause, then I agree.) Keep the message simple. And fight for people, not against things.

Aaron’s wife Maria spoke next. She’s also a journalist for World Magazine. Christian journalists, like all journalists, can’t not have bias. Bias comes through in several ways for journalists: 1) What to/not to cover (it’s been said that the most insidious power of the media is the power to ignore); 2) Withholding/hiding the truth in order to protect. She also briefly touched on do’s and don’t’s of reporting: Don’t report rumors; don’t make fun of people; avoid gossip; don’t despair (despair is a sin); report truthfully, even if it makes “our side” look bad (i.e., recent revelations about Ravi Zacharias).

We toured the Ark at some point in the day. Powerful presentation of Noah’s Ark and how all the objections to the reality of the ark could be answered.

January 29, 2021

Back at the Creation Museum, Dr. David Menton gave a powerful presentation on the question, “When does life begin?” Metachronal rhythms, capacitation, trophoblasts, and Wharton’s jelly were all new to me, but now the students and I have a better understanding of the miracle of life, and how, if all these things were not present from the beginning, human life could not have happened.

As I sit and listen, I think about this: students in schools unlike Mars Hill—i.e., secular schools—will likely never hear this side of the argument about when life begins. Therefore, who is being indoctrinated and who’s actually being given a full education?

Allan Greene of the Creation Museum speaks about all the work that went into their new exhibit, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.

After that, we eat lunch on the bus and make our way to the March for Life in downtown Cincinnati.

Following that, we have some free time along the Ohio River and on the Purple People Bridge. Then it’s back to school for end of the day activities. (To be honest, my wife picked me up then, so my WVS ended about five hours prior to everyone else’s.)

Takeaways:

This is a homerun, D.C. or no! Several of the students even commented to me about how this was their favorite WVS yet.

I’m so impressed with how much of this event the students not only plan, but actually execute! You can talk about leadership opportunities in many other schools, but I have never seen such hands-on opportunity to actually bring something of this magnitude to pass. Well done!

It’s great for the students to hear such clear biblical worldview spoken to them by people other than their parents and teachers. It’s sort of like prophets in their own hometowns, but not quite.

Andy did a lot. Really!

I can’t wait for next year!

Click below to watch a short video slideshow from Worldview Summit.

 



[1] The phrase Novus ordo seclorum, "New order of the ages," is one of mottos that appear on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States.

[2] Big Tech’s definition of hate speech being Any speech that would be offensive to the self-respect of a marginalized group. Wow! There’s a lot there to unpack!