The Harvard-educated Paul Mirecki serves as the head of the Religious Studies Department at Kansas University – at least for the time being. By the time a KU administrator finishes reading this article – much of the information revealed here for the first time – Mirecki’s job may be in jeopardy. If he continues in his post, it will be further proof of the double standard that universities maintain when it comes to the question of “hate speech.”
“The KU faculty has had enough,” Mirecki announced when he went public 10 days ago with a new course offering. He designed the course as a direct response to the Kansas School Board’s recent decision to allow for critiques of Darwinism in public-school classrooms. Mirecki titled it, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.”
“Creationism is mythology,” Mirecki added. “Intelligent design is mythology. It’s not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not.” Needless to say, this very offering rankled local intelligent-design advocates, and local newspaper stories reflected this: “Intelligent design backers criticize university course title,” read a headline in the Kansas City Star.
When questioned about Mirecki’s intent, University Chancellor Robert Hemenway admitted to not knowing all the details. “If it’s a course that’s being offered in a serious and intellectually honest way, those are the kind of courses a university frequently offers,” he said.
As soon became clear, however, Mirecki’s motives were less than intellectually honest. Mirecki had sent out an explanatory e-mail to one of his acolytes, who then distributed it approvingly to his colleagues in SOMA – KU’s Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics.
The e-mail read as follows:
The fundies want [intelligent design] all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category “mythology.”
It was signed the “Evil Dr. P.” – Mirecki’s nom de guerre in the KU SOMA underground.
Mirecki owned up to this e-mail, and the local media noted it. The fact that the head of the Religious Studies Department had slurred a large body of Christians and announced his intentions to teach a course for no better reason than spite struck the media, liberal even in Kansas, as little more than an irritant to those offended. “KU prof’s e-mail irks fundamentalists,” read a fairly typical headline, this one from the Wichita Eagle.
A few days later, in the way of concession, Mirecki offered a half-hearted apology and removed “mythologies” from the course title. Despite the fact that the apology was reported as far afield as the Guardian in London, the story made no great stir, even locally, and all seemed forgiven.
In a successful effort to authenticate the original e-mail, however, Kansas conservative activist John Altevogt worked his way to the KU SOMA discussion group and there unearthed a treasure trove of Mirecki’s other ruminations on the subject of Christianity and Zionism. These are reported here for the first time and may very well change the nature of the debate.
Among the arguments waged in Mirecki’s defense at KU is that his privacy was violated in the reporting of the e-mail. “My understanding was that was a private e-mail communication that somehow was moved out of those channels and has become a public document,” Provost David Shulenburger told the Lawrence Journal-World, coming to Mirecki’s aid.
As Altevogt discovered, however, Mirecki had made it clear as early as April 25, 2005, that this discussion group was not a closed circle. On that day, the “Evil Dr. P.” shared with his “fellow freakoids” the following bit of wisdom: “And whoever is the ‘FUNDY MOLE’ listening in to these e-mails, I have one comment for you and it rhymes with ‘suck you.'” Such was the good doctor’s style.
Mirecki seemed a good fit for KU’s Religious Studies Department. What had started as a School of Religion created as a place for KU students to deepen their faith and even prepare for seminary morphed in the 1990s into quite the opposite.
“The majority of my colleagues here in the dept [sic] are agnostics or atheists, or they just don’t care,” wrote Mirecki to a discussion group on April 18, 2004. “If any of them are theists, it hasn’t been obvious to me in the 15 years I’ve been here.” He added, “As I often tell my students in the first day of class, ‘If anyone gets converted in this class, its not my fault!'” Indeed, if Mirecki’s e-mails are a clue, his classes were more likely to strip a student of his faith.
In response to a SOMA communicant outraged that students were distributing free Bibles on campus, Mirecki told of how he had conceived an “anti-Bible tract” to counter the Christian presence. “I’ve made one already and can distribute copies to the damned if you’d all like to check it out.”
Just last month, another student told Mirecki how “FREAKING ANNOYING” it was to be approached by a Bible distributor. “Yeah, I was offered one and asked the guy why he wanted the ‘dark ages’ to return,” answered Mirecki. “He just smiled at me with that inane look of the “convinced.”
Nor is it just “Fundies” who come in for the “Evil Dr. P’s” abuse. Wrote Mirecki to a SOMA student on May 18, 2005, “I don’t think most Catholics really know what they are supposed to believe, they just go home and use condoms and some of them beat their wives and husbands.”
Mirecki confirmed another student’s suspicions about Catholics, “Yup, its [sic] world domination they are after.” And when a student described the ailing Pope John Paul II as a “a corpse in a funny hat wearing a dress,” Mirecki responded, “I love it! I refer to him as J2P2 (John Paul II), like the Star Wars robot R2D2.”
And as to Jews, on Jan. 15, 2003, when a student mocks “the Zionists who want to rebuild the temple and sacrifice red heifers; the joy of fundamentalism,” Mirecki affirms him with a “Yeah.”
Altevogt argues that having Mirecki chair Kansas University’s Religious Studies Department would be like having David Duke chair one on African-American studies. It remains to be seen whether the KU administration agrees.