One of the hallmarks of religion has always been the co-opting of existing material of faith. Rational scholars of the Bible will tell you that it’s a pastiche of myth and legend from the dim light of history, spread across disconnected populations that still somehow tell the same stories. Every culture has a flood myth; the virgin birth is always a popular tale. Christmas borrows from paganism. And so on.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that an institution like Colorado Christian University would indulge in a little proactive plagiarism in adopting a new name for public use, and so ironic to share it this week, as the annual March for Life kicked off today, January 20, in Washington, D.C.
CCU put out a press release on January 19 — just as marchers began gathering at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. for the opening Mass in the National Prayer Vigil for Life — proclaiming that it’s registered “Pro-Life U” with the Colorado Secretary of State and has already submitted it as a federally registered trademark, currently pending.
It’s just like white Jesus said: “They are blessed who register a trademark, for they may sue the shit out of anyone who dares utilize their intellectual property.” Ah, the Good Book.
“Colorado Christian University is training up the pro-life leaders our country desperately needs,” said Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute, in the CCU announcement. “We are proud of our commitment to the sanctity of life, and our strong pro-life reputation makes us just as easily recognizable as Pro-Life U.”
Let’s put aside for the moment the issue of women’s reproductive rights, and how utterly hypocritical the far right is to a frustratingly incessant degree about what CCU Chancellor Dr. Donald Sweeting calls “a big justice blind spot.” There’s too much to go into: the slippery slope of all of us losing our bodily autonomy to the strictures of a faith to which we may not subscribe; the elevation of the rights of a group of cells over a living, breathing woman; the foundational misogyny implicit in the anti-abortion argument, such as it is. It’s no surprise that CCU and the Centennial Institute support the subjugation of women, which is also in the Bible, and is even a position still vocalized by those who are unable to feel things like shame or empathy.
But we don’t need a cool and hip new name to remind us of CCU's position. It’s all too evident, especially in an America like the one we have now, where over 60 percent of people believe that abortion should be safe and legal. Where a minority opinion restricting a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body has become — through fraud and dishonesty at our highest levels of government — the law of the land. For now.
But say “PLU” to most people, and they won’t relate it to Colorado Christian University. They won’t even connect it to the anti-choice movement. Say "PLU" to anyone who’s worked retail at a supermarket, and they’ll immediately think of a Price Look-Up code, that little sticker on most pieces of produce you buy. If you’re in the Navy, it’ll make you think it’s about the Platoon Leader’s Unit. There’s Phi Lambda Upsilon, the National Chemistry Honors Society. There’s Pacific Lutheran University, another religious institution that might take issue with CCU stealing its shorthand — especially since the school has become known for a more open and accepting take on contemporary faith and education (more to the chagrin of those who like their religion restrictive and their God exclusionary).
Perhaps most important, there are two movements that already use PLU for their work, both of which are antithetical and anathema to what Colorado Christian University and the Centennial Institute stand for. The first is any number of groups that use it to mean “Peace, Love, and Understanding.” (Elvis Costello may have a bone to pick with CCU over this, as well.) Most egregious is the co-opting of PLU from groups that identify the acronym as People Like Us, which began as an LGBTQ+ organization in Singapore back in 1993 and has grown to become one of many self-identifiers worldwide for members of that community as well as their allies.
But then, the LGBTQ+ community is sadly familiar with the theft of its contributions to art and culture and thought and deed by those who in almost every other way would condemn it.
Will CCU’s move here actually amount to much? Not really. We already let it get away with calling itself an actual university, just as we graciously defer to the Centennial Institute calling itself a “think tank,” so clearly we’ve crossed the Rubicon in overly generous precision in labeling.
And names are funny things. It’s like Mile High Stadium being officially named Invesco Field, and then Sports Authority Field, and then Empower Field, with fans all the while saying, “Fuck off, we’re calling it Mile High Stadium.” It happens all the time — people will choose to call something whatever the prevailing cultural winds decide. And in the end, you can’t escape who you are at the core. I had a couple of friends back in college who were brothers: Fred and Mike. Fred always hated his name, so he tried to change it. Mike scoffed and told him over beers: “You can call yourself whatever you want, but you’ll always be a Fred.”
Colorado Christian University, I say this with all the collegiality I can muster: You, too, will always be a Fred.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.