Calvin College Is Still Wrong September 21, 2010

Calvin College Is Still Wrong

I mentioned last week that Calvin College, a Christian school, had invited the New Pornographers to play a concert on campus. And then they decided to cancel on them. Because of the band’s name.

Talk about overreaction to nothing…

Christian writer Jason Boyett felt the same way I did until he heard from someone involved in the decision itself (first emphasis mine).

The primary outcry about the band’s name has not come from major donors, board members, or people of significant influence at the university, but rather from members of the Calvin community who have been deeply hurt by pornography. Porn addictions. Damaged marriages. Divorces. These families understand the irony of the band’s name, but because pornography has had such an devastating effect on their lives, ANY apparent acceptance of it — even the tacit acceptance of a band with a name that trivializes pornography — has come across as hurtful. Regardless of the rationality of the whole thing, it causes pain. And I totally get that. If someone you loved had been murdered…and then a band came along calling themselves The Happy Murderers, it’s no stretch to understand how that could be painful.

Calvin could have taken the easy road, but didn’t. They took the hard, compassionate road, knowing how it would come across. They did it anyway. I think they did the right thing. I am impressed.

Anyway, Jason’s wrong to apologize. He was right the first time. There’s nothing impressive about Calvin College’s rationalizing of their terrible decision.

Look, I’m sure *some* people have been “devastated” by porn.

But to cancel a concert because a band’s name refers to something you’re clearly uncomfortable with? That’s absurd.

(Side note: What is it with Christians and their porn addictions? Maybe if their churches weren’t so sex-negative all the time… believe it or not, it *is* possible to have healthy sex when you’re married, before you get married, by yourself, with someone you’re dating, etc. And porn is not always evil. Hell, go watch it with someone you love. Why is it so hard for Christians to admit that?)

This is the same school, mind you, that has invited Barenaked Ladies, Cowboy Junkies, Crash Test Dummies, and Lovedrug in the past. Does that mean Calvin College doesn’t give a shit about victims of drug abuse or car crashes?


They were more interested in the music. They could see beyond the literal meaning of the bands’ names.

Somehow, that tradition was thrown out the window. Which is a sad state of affairs for a school that’s supposed to be more “liberal” than traditional Christian colleges.

I hope there are students who go there who are just as frustrated with the decision as I am.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Eric

    Better not ever have The Killers play there, that would be insensitive to people who knew someone who was murdered.

    Or maybe this is just another example of Christians having a preoccupation with sex.

  • The one thing I’ve learned from this: not to go to Calvin. I mean, really, a town that has been this annihilated by porn…is obviously a town of completely sick and demented individuals.

  • Andrew Lovley

    **Robot Voice** Must be rational. No sentiment allowed.

  • Joseph R.

    They can’t allow The Murder Junkies to play there either.

  • blueridgelady

    So “Barenaked Ladies” is fine? What do you suppose most porn consists of?

    The concept of pornography as a WORD is used often just to shock or get people discussing. I personally don’t know why they chose that band name, but maybe it’s a nod to the idea that not everyone likes the same type of music! Art and music are meant to stimulate!

    This is a huge overreaction, and it’s hypocritical because of the other bands that have been to this venue.

  • jose

    So in the 60s a public intellectual can write an essay titled “The pornographic imagination” and everything’s fine, but 50 years later a band can’t play because it has the P word in his name. Nice.

    We have a band in Spain called “The Verse Rapists”. I guess they wouldn’t find it hard to get contracts in every Catholic school in the country.

  • pansies4me

    Wow, they had the Cowboy Junkies in the past? I assume they didn’t play their awesome song “Out There” (hope that’s the right name). Part of the lyrics are – And what I want to know, before you save my soul, is who gave this power to that f—er up there?

    It’s my favorite “atheist anthem”.

  • bonefish

    I am wondering if the usual prohibitions and inhibitions about most everything relating to sex that is common within Calvinist and many Xtian groups would tend to make “porn-related emotional damage” more extreme or traumatic in this group’s perceptions?

    Does seem a weird decision.

  • definantnonbeliever

    ‘Calvin’ College? The band name aside, why not update the school’s name to Hitler College? They’ve got a bigger built in problem than what bands they allow to play there, they’re named after a famous historic monster.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Members of the Calvin community have been deeply hurt by beetles, which have devastated both trees and vegetable crops…

  • Whit

    Ha, if anything this headline resulted in me looking up the band and buying one of their albums. Never would of heard of them otherwise, so thank you sexual repression. *raises glass*

  • SpencerDub

    The only reason “porn addiction” seems like such a terrible thing is because of the rigid, inflexible traditional view of marriage and sexuality: You are married to me, therefore, you will only have sexual desires for me. Just another example of how religion hinders humanity, here shutting down a good portion of human sexuality.

    People manage all the time to be in committed, loving, sexually healthy relationships, even when one or more members look at porn. Sometimes, watching porn together can spice up a sex life. Only when that sexual activity crashes into traditional ideas of sex and marriage, when one partner gets jealous of the other for having desire for a third party, is it a problem.

    I dunno. I mean, I guess there could be some people who build up unrealistic expectations because of porn and suffer for it, but I really don’t think it’s pornography that leads to broken marriages or divorces. I think the problem is deeper– jealousy, a warped view of human sexuality, unreasonable expectations– and blaming porn for it is just convenient.

  • JD

    Really? If that was really the case, then why wasn’t this explanation given in the first place? Not giving the real reason in the first place and changing the story later invites suspicion. And frankly, the new explanation seems even flimsier because the complaint isn’t about the content, but the name. This is akin to judging a book by its cover.

    Also, those with emotional damage tend to be overly sensitive to things that call attention to it. There is only so much that should be done to accommodate this.

    Frankly, they caved to political correctness. A lot of conservatives complain about political correctness, but PC on the right is different enough that conservatives don’t recognize it for what it is, even though they may still practice it for a different set of hot button topics.

  • Bob

    Come on, this is a COLLEGE. You know, attended by young adults who should be able to make their own value judgments through critical eval…

    Oh, wait. This is a Christian school engaging in turning out another generation of intellectual veal: soft, tender, easy to kill, and a taste treat for predators.

  • What about all the marriages porn has saved in the community because one of the spouses was able to augment his/her sexual desires without physically involving another person thus remaining faithful to his/her spouse?

    I guess they never though of that.

    Christians like Jason Boyett don’t like the idea of porn because they want TOTAL MIND-CONTROL.

  • Bob


    The hypocrisy goes beyond that when you have slime like former Gov. Mark Sanford dipping his wick in his Argentinian mistress, blaming his wife for the ‘lack of desire,’ and then trying to make himself out as being the same as King David.

  • I have to say, when I hear “Christian” as a prefix to anything, like “Rock” or “College” or “Dating”, I immediately assume its code for, “Without the fun stuff”.

  • Richard P.

    Oh come now people, why so negative?
    We all know it is better to deny reality, than to face it.
    Isn’t that the christian mantra;
    “Deny the problem and it will go away.”

  • Anonymous

    “They can’t allow The Murder Junkies to play there either.”

    Bwahaha! Now that would be brilliant booking.

    “The primary outcry about the band’s name has …come… from members of the Calvin community who have been deeply hurt by pornography.” [citation needed]

    If this is true, I couldn’t see how it could be more than two people, and those people are really exhibiting a cry for some counseling. (I don’t say this as a dismissal; anyone who is reacting this strongly really should have some help).

    bonefish, I think you hit the nail on the head there.

  • Gauldar

    Hmm, they sure seem to like Canadian bands with strange names.

  • PragmaticOptimist

    Oddly enough it was at this college that I became an atheist.

    While the academics are good, the administration has become increasingly meddlesome of late in censoring acts and messages in order to look more like a conservative Calvinist community. (Over the protests of both students and faculty).

    What surprises me is not that they rescinded an invitation to “The New Pornographers” but that they were invited at all.

  • If I saw this as an article printed in The Onion, I swear I’d think it was “legitimate” farce.

    In a very real sense, it is impossible to caricature this sort of stupidity.

  • CatBallou

    Dead Presidents?

    I agree that this is a silly reaction. However, my BS meter also goes off when people anywhere say “The only reason people do X is Y.” It’s rationally indefensible to state categorically that you know EXACTLY what’s going on in other people’s minds. We can make generalities, certainly, but they don’t necessarily apply to individuals.
    All of us, even Christians, are motivated by complex and often unrecognized factors. Counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, etc., spend their professional lives helping us find out what our real motivations are—what we’re really afraid of, what we really want, how we really feel.

    What I’m driving at is this: Spencerdub, when you say “The only reason ‘porn addiction’ seems like such a terrible thing is because of the rigid, inflexible traditional view of marriage and sexuality,” you’re making a broad statement that you can’t possibly support. Addiction, by definition, presupposes a problem of some sort. For example, if your mate substitutes porn for intimacy with you, you might legitimately have some concerns. I’m not saying that porn must be the fundamental cause, but it could be a factor—just like drugs, alcohol, or gambling, all of which can be fun until they reach an addictive level.

  • @Richard P:

    Isn’t that the christian mantra;
    “Deny the problem and it will go away.”

    Actually, it seems you are instead referring the atheist’s mantra. The Christian ‘hymn of hope’ is to acknowledge the problem (namely our sin) and accept the solution…which is Christ’s substitutionary atonement for said sin. Then instead of living in denial, we can live with hope.

    It’s quite refreshing, really.


  • which is Christ’s substitutionary atonement for said sin

    So Christians are hopeful that they can live (and die) without accountability of their actions? Seems a bit selfish and shallow but I can see how it would be popular.

  • God Dethroned should play there. Hmm, maybe it wouldn’t be their thing.

    How about Bad Religion?

  • Secular Stu

    And I’m opposed to Everclear and the Gin Blossoms playing any shows in my community.

    (I’m not an alcoholic, they just suck.)

  • Demonhype

    Yes, for a magical non-existent problem (sin) a magical non-existent solution (Jesus).

    Considering atheists tend to face reality readily, warts and all, and insist on finding real solutions to actual problems, while refusing to plaster smiley-faces over inconvenient or unpleasant truths or wallow in the mud of comforting illusion, I’d say that atheism’s mantra would be the farthest possible thing from “deny the problem and it will go away”. That would be christians every time. Screw therapy or social programs or even sitting down and laying out all your resources and trying to pinpoint your actual trouble and create a plan to fix it–no, it’s always because of sin, and jebus is always the only cure! Believe in the Ultimate Human Sacrifice, and magic will happen to fix you!

    Of course, magical non-existent problems supported entirely by the wishful thinking and assertions of other people are not problems at all, and therefore do not require solutions.

    It’s as if I’m having trouble with finding a job and instead of helping me confront the actual reasons I might be having trouble and then fix them, you tell me “well, you’re house is obviously infested with leprechauns, and everyone knows that leprechauns love to ruin people’s lives”. And then tell me I’m “denying the problem” because I need more than your assertion of leprechaun infestation and I refuse to start leaving out a dish of Irish whiskey while singing a bawdy Irish song of Faerun glory to the leprechauns every night to appease them.

    If only I could understand that all my problems are caused by leprechaun infestation and would commit myself to whisky-and-song appeasement, all my troubles would go away.

  • Aaron

    Oops, I thought this was a discussion of Calvin Coolidge’s industrial policies. My bad.

  • Uh… what the hell. Porn “addiction”? People “harmed” by porn?

    It’s only harmful if you make it harmful, by hiding it and sneaking around like it’s something bad.

    And can someone please explain what the deal is with Christians and the whole, “SEX IS EVIL” thing?

  • Tom

    It’s funny that this happened in a number of ways. I live in Grand Rapids and have been to a show at Calvin’s venue (the “Ladies Literary Club” if you can believe it). It’s an auditorium with seats and no booze. When I saw Los Campesinos there, they were genuinely perplexed at where they were pleying.

    The New Pornographers moved their gig to a better venue that allows booze, so I’m totally going. Suck it, Calvin, enjoy your missed out ticket sales.

  • Rita


    “Oh, wait. This is a Christian school engaging in turning out another generation of intellectual veal: soft, tender, easy to kill, and a taste treat for predators.”

    That’s hardly true. While I don’t agree with my alma mater’s decision in this instance, believing it to be inhospitable and short-sighted, Calvin does a remarkable job of encouraging thoughtful engagement with artists and thoughtful decisions about sex and culture.

    It’s foolish to let a single (admittedly stupid) decision shape one’s hasty slurs about 4,000 students, 300 faculty, and an entire community.

  • MH

    Porn addiction has always struck me as a pretty sketchy concept.

  • flawedprefect

    Crash Test Dummies are pretty well known for their Christian outlook. Album called “God Shuffled his Feet”; album art often done in the mode of the old masters who depicted biblical scenes; lyrics sometimes which have allusions to biblical stuff (Peter Pumpkinhead comes to mind). Not surprised there.

  • JulietEcho

    I have a grandpa who was SERIOUSLY pissed at his church when they printed a menu in a bulletin offering “red wine dressing” as a choice of salad dressings at an upcoming banquet. He spent a long time working as a cop, and concluded long ago that alcohol is simply *evil* – no ifs ands or buts about it.

    Granted, he saw some horrible things that were fueled by drunkenness (kids killed in car accidents with drunk drivers, abuse, etc.) but it was clearly over the top to write a letter to the pastors about how it was inappropriate of them to mention alcohol in their bulletin (or maybe inappropriate to serve the salad dressing at all? I was left fuzzy on the details of the objection).

    Anyway, pornography “addictions” are, 95% (or more) of the time, in my experience with Christians (and I’ve had a LOT), simply an accusatory way to frame the fact that people who like to get off to porn will continue using it, even if they’re in happy, fulfilling relationships. That’s just how it is. If you think it’s wrong, and you expect yourself or your partner to stop, you’ll find out how hard that is, and you’ll start to consider it an “addiction.” And with “sin” in the picture, things get even messier, and people screw over their own relationships over unrealistic, unhealthy expectations.

    And even if actual pornography addiction was more prevalent, it still wouldn’t justify keeping a good band from playing a campus gig. God.

  • Justin

    Crash Test Dummies are pretty well known for making terrible music.

  • AJW

    Ok, so I’m going to be completely honest here.

    Actually, porn does ruin relationships. I have tried to stop looking at it for years and I haven’t found a good way that works. Also, I’ve had relational issues with women since I began looking at it.
    And for people who give the cover statement “Christians think sex is evil”, I talked to some of my friends about the same thing and they think the misuse of sex is evil.
    One last thing. I have some friends who actually attend Calvin College and they say (you can look it up: Calvin College Sexuality Series) that Calvin does not avoid the topic of sex and pornography; in fact, they are currently having a series on it right now (the next meeting is Sept 23).
    So now that I’ve been honest, go ahead and tell me I’m not a man and I have mental issues. That’s ok. I’ve heard it all before.

  • Knative

    Woohoo Grand Rapids!!! Always appreciate when my hometown gets in the national news, especially when it involves uptight Christian Reformists!!!

    Side note, I will probably go to their Orbit Room concert now. Wouldn’t have went to Calvin though.

  • @AJW — As I said in the post, it’s not that porn addiction doesn’t exist. But if you can’t handle it, then don’t watch it. If some students at Calvin College can’t deal with the name of a band that merely mentions that word, then they shouldn’t go to the show.

    To cancel the show entirely because it might cause a few students discomfort? That’s pathetic. I have to wonder how the college deals with *real* issues — do they just back away anytime a student might be upset by the topic? If they don’t do that, then how is this move not hypocritical?

  • Pali


    I have tried to stop looking at it for years and I haven’t found a good way that works.

    In other words, you’ve gotten so used to visual stimulation while masturbating that you find it difficult to maintain sufficient arousal without it? Or is it more like a drug addict, where you just need to see porn at some regular interval regardless of whether or not it’s to assist in masturbation? I ask for this distinction because I’d only really label the latter a matter of addiction – the former seems a far more complex situation than “porn did this”, and other factors may be involved (perhaps as you’ve aged your normal levels of arousal have gone down, and more stimulation is required than just what you can imagine – though this line of thought raises the question of whether imagining sex is really any different qualitatively from watching sex).

    Also, I’ve had relational issues with women since I began looking at it.

    Yes, but is the problem here that watching porn is making it difficult for you to find women you know sexually attractive (for short or long periods of time), or is the problem here that the women you are attempting to date have negative conceptions of porn and are negatively judging your use of it? The former is porn causing you a problem, the latter is the women causing the problem.

  • Kaydon

    All of the students I know that are still attending the school are protesting this decision by the school and every alumni that I know is pretty angry over the stupidity of the decision (I’ve only come across one alumni, on a friend’s facebook page, who supported it). Every single time I attempt to find a job Calvin College does something retarded to get into the news and I become a little ashamed to have their name on my resume.

    Porn is severely blown out of proportion by the Christian community. If you tell a guy all the time (and mostly only guys b/c good girls don’t like sex) that porn is wrong, wrong, wrong and give them books to read about how its wrong, wrong, wrong you are putting people in a position where they think about porn a lot, because you are talking about it with them a lot. Then when they think about it a lot they assume they have a problem…

    I’ve been in a relationship that was damaged by porn ( a nice Christian boy), and since it was my first relationship I was too stupid to realize that i was being treated like a piece of meat. Of course, it being a Christian relationship, he always turned around and somehow managed to turn the blame subtly onto me (because good girls don’t want sex). But I, even after that experience that turned me off from relationships for a number of years, am not offended by the name of a band. Its a name. I was damaged by fundamentalism too but if my favorite band should change its name to “The Fundamentalists” I would not be offended by that either. It’s the same excuse they gave when cornered over “memogate” last year “It wasn’t that our board hates gay people, several churches asked about our stance, blah blah blah”.

  • Erin

    Wow, for a “friendly” site, everyone sure is angry! I don’t see what’s wrong with a religious school acting on their beliefs. Remember, they’re not imposing it on anyone except themselves.

    On a side note, I’ve found that Catholics have one of the most interesting and “liberated” views on sex that I’ve ever seen. Check out Theology of the Body. Hardly repressive! Porn is viewed negatively not just because of what the people watching it do, but even more because the people in the videos are real people who are being treated as objects and sold as a commodity. There is no real human love between viewer and viewed. The people in the videos (men, women, and even children) are treated not as human beings, but as something to be bought and used up. Hardly a healthy concept.

    @AJW I believe you and would suggest that you try learning more about the beauty of sexuality instead of trying to will yourself out of your attraction to pornography. I don’t think you will be able to will yourself out of it. You will need to have something more beautiful and more attractive to replace it. Only the “truth will set you free,” so I would suggest checking out a beginner’s guide to Theology of the Body (by Christopher West perhaps). Good luck and hang in there. You’re worth it.

  • AMW

    Calvin College is named after John Calvin. Calvin’s pursuit, torture, trial without due process, and burning-at-the-stake of Michael Servetus is enough to make me uncomfortable about ever visiting that campus again, despite the pleasant times I’ve had there. If they were truly as sensitive as they make themselves out to be by canceling goofily named bands, they’d change their own name. (Good book about Calvin and Servetus here.)

  • Demonhype

    Wow, simply disagree with what a Christian says, and suddenly you’re “angry”! Only outright accomodationism will suffice at minimum to not be considered “angry”. Project much?

    Guess what? Telling us “the school has a right” has absolutely no meaning here, because the fact that they have the right to do that does not preclude the right we have to disagree vocally about it. How does it make us “angry” to simply exercise our rights to disagree, while the school is not “ignorant” but is just exercising its rights? Why not go all the way and invoke a Palinism and declare that we’re infringing on the school’s rights by criticizing their decision, as if the First Amendment means any overchristianized nutjob who says or does anything must be shielded from any and all negative commentary and everyone must smile and agree?

    Get this straight: The school has a right to make an insanely ignorant decision. And we have the right to say it’s an insanely ignorant decision. Just because someone is exercising a right doesn’t mean they have a right to be protected from negative opinion. And just because someone is exercising a right doesn’t mean everyone else needs to shut up and like it. And helpfully reminding us that “the school has a right” will not end the conversation on the subject.

    There is no real anger here. Only indignation and amazement that someone could have such tender feelings over a simple word in a band’s name, all by itself, that they would cancel a great concert. And even if there is anger, it is fully justified, considering an institute of professed higher learning feels the need to censor to protect the students and community from the horrors of hearing a word found commonly in any dictionary.

    Anger is not a bad thing in and of itself. As Greta Christina said in her brilliant essay, it’s the lynchpin of all advances of social change and civil rights. Without anger, women would have no right to vote and would still be owned by their husbands and barred from higher education and real careers as a matter of course. Without anger, black people would still be property, or considered to be 3/4 of a full human being. It is perfectly okay to get angry when there is something to be legitimately angry about.

    To be angry that a college would censor a musical group’s performance over their name is perfectly legitimate anger. A college is supposed to be the place where people grow up and stop demanding that the world cater to their feelings and beliefs, and where people are supposed to learn about the world in all its greatness and diversity and face all of it unflinchingly–or at least, learn to cope with the fact that you are not the measure of all things. Colleges are, in many ways, the last bastion of higher learning and fearlessly free thinking. For a college to do this kind of thing suggests they are more interested in converting themselves into babysitting services and indoctrination mills instead.

    On the other hand, the anger of community members over the use of a particular word is not legitimate anger. It’s a bunch of children making petulant demands that other people cater to their feelings and beliefs in every possible way. Much like JulietEcho’s example above of her grandfather throwing a temper tantrum because the church mentioned the word ‘wine’ in a newsletter, even though it was just in the name of a salad dressing. He demanded that the church not mention the name of a salad dressing in order to cater to his feelings of hatred toward alcohol. He demanded that others must tailor their very words to suit his personal beliefs and feelings, as if he were the very measure of all things, around which all things must spin.

    What the school just did is equally as absurd, protecting people from a word because some might experience hurt feelings when they hear it.

  • David

    “Which is a sad state of affairs for a school that’s supposed to be more “liberal” than traditional Christian colleges”

    Don’t kid yourself. I spent the first 30 years of my life living in Grand Rapids and I attended Calvin’s “feeder” schools through High School. There is nothing liberal about their ideology nor are they ever slow to play political games to help them look like the victim. Students protesting make no difference, the students don’t make the rules and don’t enforce the policies (nor will they ever until they are sitting on the Board or writing a huge check). I find it funny that even though I pretty much told them what I thought at my High School graduation (that they were full of horse puckey and I had no intention of going to their College), they continue to ask me for money. Why any free-thinking band (or anyone else for that matter) would ever consider accepting an invite from Calvin in the first place is beyond me. Anyone that thinks they are ever going to change their ways is not addressing reality. I left the region 6 years ago so I could finally enjoy a less repressive community.

  • CalvinStudentSecretAtheist

    I’m a current Calvin student who just lost my Christian Reformed faith a few months ago. I’m planning on transferring for many reasons but now also because I can’t stand having to seem religious all the time anymore.

    I know someone who is on the Student Activities Board and I can tell you that this “new” reason is them trying to cover their butts with BS. Basically, the director of Student Activities has been trying to get the New Pornographers to Calvin for about five years now. When their name went public on the schedule, some of the more uptight alumni freaked out and started sending angry letters. He tried to write back to them all to explain the innocence of the band’s name, and begged the board to let the band stay, but the board decided there were too many angry letters and that it was impossible to write back to everyone quickly enough, leading to the original explanation, “It’s impossible to explain the irony of the band’s name to everyone.” This new reason about people susceptible to porn is totally tacked on.

    Most of the students I’m friends with were really ticked off. This had nothing to do with what we wanted or even what many among the lower administration wanted, like the guy who got them booked in the first place, who nearly cried when the school board forced him to cancel. We lost a ton of money on it too. And made international news because they’re a Canadian band.

    Calvin is dealing with a LOT of controversy recently… Out of all the evangelical Christian schools, it’s definitely the most liberal, but it’s gotten WAY more conservative relative to the rest of the world since my parents’ generation went here. I will miss a lot of my friends here but otherwise I can’t wait to transfer.

  • Richard Wade


    I hope you find new friends soon. Look for a Secular Student Alliance or similar group wherever you are transferring. Your recent loss of faith may be a difficult disorientation, or a welcome relief, or a mixture of both, but having friends who understand can help. Keep in touch here.

error: Content is protected !!