God & Man at College

In George Marsden’s “The Soul of the American University” (January), he proposes two remedies for the decline in religious life in the university: the demand for a true pluralism and the building of an alternative higher educational system in “various Christian subcultures.” As a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Chicago, a “seriously religious” person at a “mainline educational institution,” I would like to suggest an alternative to Marsden’s sectarian option.

Overall, I applaud Mr. Marsden’s analysis and his call for complete pluralism in the American academy. He correctly raises the all-too-real threat of exclusion based on ideological grounds. But his call for “building research and graduate study centers in key fields at the best institutions in various Christian subcultures” is wrongheaded, for it will replicate a pattern that has excluded conservative Christians from the larger intellectual culture. If our goal is the development of an intellectually respectable Christianity, then Mr. Marsden’s proposal is the wrong way to go about it.

The alternative, which Marsden hints at, is the building of these separate institutions physically on campus at major universities. Only in this way can we break out of our exile.

The situation in Chicago, and especially at the University of Chicago, is rather revealing of the relationship of liberal and conservative Christianity to modern intellectual culture. The Chicago area has over a dozen theological seminaries, divided into two clusters, with cross-registration privileges. The liberal divinity schools, such as Garrett Seminary and the Chicago Theological Seminary, are physically on campus at Chicago’s major universities, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. The conservative schools, such as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Northern Baptist Seminary, are scattered throughout the suburbs. In the neighborhood of the U. of Chicago, there are over a half-dozen seminaries and denominational training institutions, but not one is really conservative. Why is there no conservative Christian intellectual presence at the major Chicago universities? Is there any wonder why liberal Christianity is more intellectually engaging? How can one hope to change the soul of the university if one is not even part of the university community?

Marsden’s call for separate institution building will no doubt replicate the situation at Chicago”liberal schools on campus, conservative schools spread out in the provinces. I am a graduate of one of these suburban conservative seminaries, and I can attest that most of its intellectual energy went towards internecine squabbles rather than critical engagement of modern intellectual culture. As a means of preserving the “faith once delivered,” this pattern is probably useful in the short term, but if our goal is to create an intellectually respectable faith, this scattering of conservative Christian schools is disastrous.

Fred W. Beuttler
University of Chicago


My initial impression of George Marsden’s “The Soul of the American University” was that it was another exercise in nostalgia. Careful reading showed it to be otherwise. Given its relative brevity, it is an amazingly comprehensive analysis. Further, I was pleased that Marsden refrained from advancing what could have become another version of the decline-and-fall lament ending with a call to return to some presumably pristine past. His conclusion that some form of “pragmatic pluralism” is “the only live academic option” for a public policy in the university today strikes me as sensible. I also share his conviction that this policy “ought to be challenged to be more consistently pragmatic and pluralistic.” It is good to see Professor Marsden in the ranks of the challengers.

Like most scholars, Marsden is at his best when he relies on thorough familiarity with sources. When he moves closer to the present and strays into personal impressions, however, as he does in his treatment of religious studies departments and faculty, e.g., his argument becomes shaky, simplistic, and even inaccurate. For example, his statement that “by the 1970s almost every university had” a department of religion is quite misleading. It is especially so when seen in the context of his earlier statement that “80 percent of students today” attend “government-sponsored schools.” It is certainly not true that “almost every” “government-sponsored” university has a department of religion or religious studies; it is even doubtful that a majority of such institutions have such departments.

My impressions of religion departments and faculty do not match Marsden’s. I have spent the major share of my professional career in such programs (fifteen years at the University of Iowa and twenty-five at the University of California, Santa Barbara). But I could not confidently accept his conclusion that “the presence of religion programs in universities is, on balance, not a countervailing force to the secularization of universities.” I am prepared to mount a modest argument that such programs have helped increase levels of religious literacy among those who have taken advantage of them. I would also venture the opinion that this increase has resulted in a fuller understanding of the significance of religion in human culture”including the central role of Christianity in our own culture. (It is even quite possible that in recent years some of these students have been aided in this process by reading Professor Marsden’s excellent books!)

Further, while I know a large number of the faculty associated with religion departments and programs in American universities, I do not recognize Professor Marsden’s characterization of these colleagues as people who have “lost their faith” and whose goal is “to undermine the religious faith of their students.” It may be true that the scholarly study of religion begins with the criticism of religion. But it does not nor should it necessarily end at that point.

Indeed, it has been my experience that students often achieve what someone has called “a second level of innocence” in their religious faith as a result of such study. Their faith has become more fully undergirded by understanding. As for the professors, I pronounce no judgment other than that they be competent in their subject matter, honest with themselves and their students about their own assumptions and convictions, and that they not exploit their university connection as what the University of California statement on academic freedom calls “a platform for propaganda.”

Robert S. Michaelsen
Professor Emeritus
University of California,
Santa Barbara


In his superb essay, George Marsden proposes two strategies aimed at bringing religion back into the vitals of American higher education: “the first is for seriously religious people to campaign actively for universities to apply their professions of pluralism more consistently,” and “the other strategy is that serious Christians should concentrate on building distinctly Christian institutions that will provide alternatives to secular colleges and universities.” Employing Ernest Troeltsch’s sociology of religion categories, the first of Marsden’s strategies is “churchlike,” the second is “sect-like” in nature. Let me suggest that if there is a positive solution for seriously religious people vis- -vis American higher education, it lies in implementing both strategies simultaneously.

Taking, for instance, the situation of Catholic higher education (to which I have a strong commitment), the growth, proliferation, and continuing success of “sectarian” institutions like Christendom College and the University of Steubenville can, perhaps, force into the public eye of Catholic America an unfavorable comparison with such alleged “Catholic” universities as Notre Dame, Fordham, and St. John’s. Such a comparison might provide an “opening” for, and a strengthening of the hands of, those committed Catholics situated in the now mostly secularized Catholic institutions of higher education. The reestablishment of orthodoxy within Catholic institutions can perhaps, in turn, eventually translate into Catholic perspectives gaining the status of a respected option within non-Catholic universities and colleges. One thing, however, is pretty sure: without the application of any outside “heat” from the sectarian alternatives, the status quo is the heavy favorite for the future in both the “mainline” Catholic and non-Catholic educational institutions. The relationship, then, between Marsden’s alternatives should not be viewed as “either-or” but as (potentially) dialectically related.

Joseph A. Varacalli
Nassau Community College
SUNY
Garden City, NY

Wary of Capitalism

I am a long-time admirer of Peter Berger’s work, but I have serious questions about his particular way of defending capitalism (“Capitalism and the Disorders of Modernity,” January). Does it really belong in a journal devoted to transcendent religion? If one believes that the choice of religious credos is not arbitrary, or a matter of taste or utility, then why publish an essay which puts “the worship of a god represented by sauerkraut” on the same plane as the worship of”God?

I don’t mean to be humorless about this. Obviously, Berger’s playfulness and hyperbole are meant to drive home his central thesis, which on its face seems quite innocuous. As I understand it, his argument is that capitalism, because it makes no value judgments, leaves the greatest room for religious pluralism in society; capitalism thus deserves our approbation because it protects true religion along with just about every other imaginable cult. The premise behind this argument is unchallengeable, and that, in a way, is the trouble. Capitalism doesn’t care what religion you belong to because it relativizes everything: you can sell rosaries or abortions, Bibles or porno movies. Nothing matters except profits. This approach to humans and human behavior may produce some good results (it runs counter to racial discrimination because the only color it cares about is green), but on the whole it is a system that must be approached warily by anyone who is serious about religion. Capitalism is not just color-blind, it is morally blind.

This is not to say that believing Christians and Jews cannot be advocates of capitalism. But it does seem to me that we must be very careful to couch our argument in terms that are narrowly pragmatic and empirical. We can argue that capitalism does a much better job of generating wealth and maximizing economic choice than does socialism. We can think of capitalism as a useful machine or tool for realizing certain goals, but, like all machines, it is mindless and soulless. It needs to be regulated by people with humane values and standards who use them to make the moral judgments that capitalism refuses to make. This does not always have to mean legal regulation or coercion, but at the very minimum, it requires some kind of public voice that identifies what is real and what is bogus, what is wholesome and what is poisonous, what is beautiful and what is ugly. More than ever, capitalism requires a “bully pulpit” to help guide people’s choices. Berger has left out all that and has instead doctrinalized the internal (or infernal) logic of capitalism itself.

Berger boasts that capitalism “leaves room” for every sort of religious institution. “Included in this free, or relatively free, social space are traditional institutions.” Well, gosh, thanks. I am amazed that Berger, who I assume shares your journal’s commitment to bringing traditional religion into the “public square,” seems ready to bring it in as one of innumerable cults competing for public attention. This would not be a public square but an arcade in which the historic religions of the West man their booths alongside Moonies, peyote-eaters, sauerkrautists, and so on”equal space for all.

This is indeed what has been happening in capitalist America since the 1960s, but I can’t see any reason to celebrate it. Legally, America is and should be a pluralist country, but it seems to me that the time has come for traditional Christians and Jews to speak out more forcefully about the particular tenets of their creeds. Instead, Berger seems to love diversity for its own sake. I keep hearing this from college deans and presidents. I’m sorry to read it in a journal devoted to First Things .

George McKenna
Professor of Political Science
City College of
City University of New York

False Tolerance


Debate over the Supreme Court’s peyote decision illustrates something we seem to have forgotten. While intolerance is obviously the opposite of genuine religious freedom, tolerance is freedom’s counterfeit, providing the appearance while denying the substance.

Comte de Mirabeau expressed this when he told the French National Assembly: “I am not going to preach toleration. The most unlimited freedom of religion is in my eyes a right so sacred that the word toleration, intended to express it, seems to me to convey a suggestion of tyranny. In fact, the existence of any authority which has the power to tolerate is an encroachment upon the liberty of thought precisely because it tolerates and therefore has the power not to tolerate.”

The debate between Justices Scalia and Brennan is, at its heart, a debate over who holds that “power not to tolerate.” For Brennan, the power is held by a social elite controlling a liberal Supreme Court. For Scalia, it’s held by a majority represented by often inept state legislatures. Both grant “religious freedom” rather than recognize it as an inalienable right.

Neither believes in genuine freedom because both are restrained by prevailing secular orthodoxies that deny what Guido De Ruggiero termed the “ultimate foundation” of liberty”the “consciousness” of “one’s own infinite spiritual value” followed by a “recognition” of that value in others.

It is this recognition of others that prevents religious freedom from becoming license. That’s why the infant sacrifices of fertility religions (in both their ancient and modern varieties) are not protected. The use of peyote in religious services, however, is protected as was the sacramental use of wine during Prohibition.

Mike W. Perry
Seattle, WA


On Franky Schaeffer

This letter is a clarification of Kenneth A. Myers’ critique of Franky Schaeffer and review of Schaeffer’s book Sham Pearls for Real Swine in the January 1991 issue .

It is indeed true, as Mr. Myers notes, that Francis Schaeffer has influenced many who today are actively involved in the innumerable issues facing modern humankind. This was true in my case since I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Schaeffer and Franky during those years when “Schaeffer and Son” were literally creating the Christian activist movement (as it has been called). It is here that Franky Schaeffer is not given his proper due in Mr. Myers’ review.

Dr. Schaeffer, the pensive and thoughtful philosopher, was in most respects ignited to poignant views on the issues by his son Franky. In fact, How Should We Then Live?, the 1976 book (and film series) that brought Dr. Schaeffer to the forefront of the evangelical community, was dedicated to Franky. Dr. Schaeffer wrote:

To my son, Franky Schaeffer, who had the original vision for this project, both the book and the film, and who had much to do with every aspect of the hard work and heavy practical realities of carrying it to completion.

In many respects, the same was true of Dr. Schaeffer’s Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and A Christian Manifesto. I [know] from first-hand experience. Indeed, I was the researcher for Dr. Schaeffer on A Christian Manifesto, which was a brainchild of Franky Schaeffer. This places Franky in the distinctive position of being a cofounder of the Christian activist movement.

The crucial point here is that one cannot, as Mr. Myers attempts to do, criticize the son without criticizing the father. Francis and Franky Schaeffer worked in tandem.

There seems to be, then, an implication in Mr. Myers’ review that Franky Schaeffer, as he engaged the evangelical community in debate, may have simply ridden the coattails of his father. However, to imply such would be inaccurate. The facts suggest otherwise.

John W. Whitehead
The Rutherford Institute
Charlottesville, VA


I read with dismay Kenneth Myers’ personal attack on Franky Schaeffer in the form of a “review” of his new book Sham Pearls for Real Swine.

Five years ago, I had the pleasure of being the Executive Producer of Franky Schaeffer’s feature film Wired to Kill. Since that time, I have watched Mr. Schaeffer’s career with both interest and respect. To my knowledge, he is the only young conservative and believing Christian to have recently gone so far in a Hollywood film-directing career.

Mr. Myers has evidently mistaken Schaeffer’s self-effacement in his book as evidence of [a sense of] failure, even “rejection.” But if Mr. Myers really understood the film business or at least read Variety, he would know that in the last four years Schaeffer has directed three feature films and is currently directing his fourth. Clearly, this is success that merits some kind of recognition.

At the same time, Franky Schaeffer continues to speak and write on the issues of our day and remains a staunch prolife advocate who speaks out for this position across the United States and Europe.

Mr. Myers’ review is a low blow to a man and a book that deserve better. You owe your readers a genuine review of this excellent book by someone who doesn’t have a personal ax to grind.

Myers faults Schaeffer for repudiating “new class evangelicals who are . . . too soft on abortion . . . too chummy with various leftish ideologies . . . .” With my acquaintance with First Things , I would have thought you would defend a contemporary Hollywood director who held such views, not provide a platform for someone to take a cheap shot at him.

Paul McGuire
Santa Clarita, CA


Flag Issue Not Religious


A proposed constitutional amendment to reverse the recent holdings of the Supreme Court with respect to the practice of flag burning may or may not be wise, but many of the fears expressed in the opinion by William Johnson Everett (“The Flag Amendment Is a Religious Issue,” December 1990) are unfounded.

The current practice of conducting the flag salute in the public schools does not constitute the establishment of religion. Indeed, in 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Education V. Barnette, the case in which it was held that under the First Amendment no one could be required to salute the flag, the Supreme Court contemplated with equanimity the continuation of the practice on a voluntary basis, even though the Jehovah’s Witnesses considered the flag salute idolatrous.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court has consistently disapproved on establishment grounds the practice of teacher-led prayer in public schools, whether the prayer be the composition of the state or a religious group, and even though participation is voluntary. The difference in result lies in the fact that the Court will permit in Caesar’s schools the rendering of the things that are Caesar’s, but not the things that are God’s.

Returning to the question of a proposed constitutional amendment to undo the holdings in the flag-burning cases: The probable object of the proposal would be the authorization, although not the requirement, of a statute prohibiting the defilement”or, if it be preferred, the desecration”of the American flag. Of course, such a statute would be coercive. It is in the nature of law to be coercive.

But, unlike Barnette, the coercion would not operate to require an act or speech, but to stop an act. (In the absence of a specific proposal, I assume the authorization would extend only to conduct considered as speech rather than pure speech.) Such a statute would, of course, limit speech, but that would be the purpose of the proposed amendment.

How the statute by creating a kind of public area of respect for the flag would also establish religion is difficult to understand. Although under Barnette the inculcation in schoolchildren of respect for the flag through the exercise of the salute is not a religious act, the Everett argument seems to say that the prohibition of a particular kind of disrespect for the flag, its defilement, is. This seems close to a declaration that the essence of religion lies in one’s ability to say no, rather than yes.

Or is Mr. Everett perhaps suggesting that the Supreme Court should now go beyond Barnette and hold that flag saluting in public schools even on a voluntary basis constitutes the establishment of religion?

Joseph M. Lynch
Professor of Law
Seton Hall School of Law
Newark, NJ


William Johnson Everett replies:

Professor Lynch’s legal observations are correct so far as I can see, and I alluded to some of his concerns in my piece. However, the thrust of my piece was to observe that any amendment furthering the sense of the sanctity of the flag and the right of government to impose laws concerning it begins the long cultural process of creating a national religion. It is this long-term effect that I wished to herald, because I think it is inimical both to the free discourse of a republic and the claims of a transcendent God.

Don’t Promote Gay Bashing

It is unfortunate that your piece “Notes on the Culture Wars” (Public Square, January) turns an important commentary on the lack of moral values instruction into a diatribe against homosexuals. Whatever one’s views might be on homosexual activity, the homosexual is a creature of God entitled to the same love and understanding we should accord all God’s creatures.

Richard John Neuhaus extends [criticism of] the “circus” actions of some gay rights activists to a condemnation of all homosexuals. He points to the wealth of some homosexuals as a sign of societal nondiscrimination, yet fails to note the ease with which so many violently attack homosexuals and use their “God-fearing hatred” of homosexuals as justification for such violence.

Condemning the views of a segment of a cultural class and attributing those views to the entire class only encourages treatment of all individuals in the class as less than human. Thus such diatribes give encouragement to assaults on those who are or appear to be homosexual and to denial of medical care, insurance, jobs, and housing to those with a suspected homosexual orientation.

Clearly, basic values of what is right and wrong must be included in our school curricula. The lack [of inclusion] is not the blame of “homosexual activists” or “liberals” or anyone else. It is the failure of all of us to take part in the political system to assure that at the least the basic values recognized by all are taught to our children, since those values for a variety of reasons are not being communicated through church or family.

If those values are left untaught, our children will continue to rampage through public parks raping women, to terrorize motorists from overpasses, and to fall into substance abuse and crime without a single thought that what they are doing is wrong. Let’s stick to the topic and not keep searching for scapegoats.

Peter K. Ilchuk
Key West, FL

Bonhoeffer on Western Unity

The interesting discussion between Richard John Neuhaus and Wolfhart Pannenberg (“The Christian West?” November 1990), especially concerning Christian unity, includes ideas that are very close to those expressed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Ethics:

Our own Christian past . . . [is] a common western heritage. Jesus Christ has made of the west a historical unity . . . Even the wars of the west have had the unity of the west as their purpose . . . It is only when Christian faith is lost that . . . there comes total war, war of destruction . . . Pope and emperor strove for the formation of [western] unity . . . It was the Reformation that broke asunder the unity of the faith . . . The Thirty Years War finally laid bare the political disunity of the west which had resulted from the schism of faith . . . The guilt and the distress which this . . . entails are shared in common by the whole of western Christendom . . .

On the Protestant side Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms was misinterpreted as implying the emancipation and sanctification of the world and of the natural . . . On the Catholic side the process of secularization rapidly became anti-clerical in a revolutionary sense, and indeed anti-Christian. That is why the first revolutionary upheaval took place in Catholic France . . . [introducing the] cult of reason, the deification of nature, faith in progress . . . The French Revolution was the laying bare of the emancipated man in his tremendous power and his most terrible perversity . . .

The French Revolution [is] the moment of birth of modern nationalism . . . Nationalism evokes the countermovement of internationalism. The two are equally revolutionary . . . . At the end of the path which was first trodden in the French Revolution there is nihilism.

As this indicates, Bonhoeffer sees revolutionary nationalism (of which National Socialism is the most extreme and destructive example) as an integral part of the legacy of modernity that was put forward in the French Revolution. Thus, what Pannenberg describes as a “revolt against modernity” and “a romantic reaction to modernity” is also, according to Bonhoeffer, an integral part of modernity, every bit as modern and revolutionary as the “international” variant.

Charles E. Ford
St. Louis, MO

Articles by Various

Loading...