Confronting Reality

You may know that Harvard University was founded to train men for the clergy. And you surely know that Harvard has long since abandoned its religious roots. But if a faculty panel has its way, religion will once again play a role in the education of Harvard students. The faculty panel has issued a report calling for a “faith and reason” requirement at Harvard, concluding that some knowledge about religion is a necessary part of being educated. The panel noted that while “Harvard is no longer an institution with a religious mission . . . religion is a fact that Harvard’s graduates will [have to] confront in their lives.” And confront it they will. We live in a world today in which religious forces are creating a titanic clash of civilizations, one which threatens the very existence of the free structures of the West. People cannot understand why it is that Islam wants to destroy us if we do not understand the teachings of Muhammad or the history of the 1,000-year-old conflict between Islam and the West. Closer to home, how could we possibly understand the economic development of America without understanding the work ethic of the Protestant Reformation? How could we understand the abolition of the slave trade without knowing the story of William Wilberforce, the great Christian reformer—the film of whose life, titled Amazing Grace, will be released in February? How could anyone understand the roots of Western civilization without understanding the formative influence of Christianity, brilliantly documented in Rodney Stark’s book The Victory of Reason? Predictably, there were those who objected to Harvard’s “faith and reason” requirement. A Harvard Crimson editorial said that the requirement gives “religious ideas” a “preeminence incommensurate with their proper place in understanding the modern world.” In other words, while religion is important, it’s just not that important, so says the postmodernist. Besides, the Crimson argued, students can learn enough about religion from the general education requirements. Oh sure! Just as they learned what they needed to know about history from such requirements. That’s why 65 percent of seniors at elite colleges like Harvard flunked a high-school level history test, and 23 percent of them thought it was John F. Kennedy who said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Also writing in the Crimson were two Harvard students who got it. They articulated what the editorialists could not or would not understand: “Studying religion,” they said, “involves coping with unanswerable questions, confronting humanity’s limitations, and thinking beyond oneself. No literature or science course can teach these skills.” Nor can ethics be taught without a religious base. Remember Mr. Skilling of Enron, who is heading off to prison, was a Harvard graduate. Happily, Harvard is waking up to the reality that you can’t provide a decent education or even understand the modern world without understanding religion. Culture, after all, springs from “cult,” that is, a belief system. And while many Christians might worry just what a university like Harvard might teach about faith and reason, we ought to welcome the opportunity for an open, free debate. Then we Christians can present the evidence of our faith’s positive effect on building the greatest civilization the world has ever known.  
For Further Reading and Information
Apply today for the 2007 Centurions Program and study Biblical worldview for a year with Chuck Colson! Deadline for applications is this week!—November 30. Justin Pope, “Harvard Committee Recommends Returning Religion to Curriculum,” Boston Globe, 4 October 2006. Adam A. Solomon and Christopher J. Sullivan, “Religion for Religion’s Sake,” The Harvard Crimson, 30 October 2006. Katherine M. Gray, “Keeping Faith,” The Harvard Crimson, 24 October 2006. “Duck, Duck, Faith,” editorial, The Harvard Crimson, 18 October 2006. Harvey C. Mansfield, “Have It Your Way,” Wall Street Journal, 16 November 2006, A18. Zachary M. Seward, “At Harvard, Religion Course May Be Required,” Wall Street Journal, 5 October 2006, D2. John I. Jenkins and Thomas Burish, “Reason and Faith at Harvard,” Washington Post, 23 October 2006, A21. Michelle Maitre, “Elite Students Flunk History,” Oakland Tribune, 27 September 2006. Linda Starr, “Students Flunk U.S. History Test: Congress Calls on Teachers to ‘Redouble Efforts’,” Education World, 2000. “Requiring Religion?” editorial, Daily Princetonian, 10 November 2006. Lucas Kwong, “Do Christian Students Have a Prayer in the Classroom?” Yale Herald, 13 October 2006. (Warning: one instance of profanity.) “Can the Ivy League Teach Ethics?”—a speech by Chuck Colson at Brown University. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060811, “Preparing for College by Reading the Bible: What Students Need to Know.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 060913, “The University Code: Unlocking the Secret of Veritas.” BreakPoint Commentary No. 050928, “Attacking Cultural Illiteracy: The Bible and Its Influence.” Catherina Hurlburt, “A Hymn that Will Never Sound the Same to You Again,” The Point, 8 November 2006. BreakPoint Commentary No. 060222, “The Victory of Reason: Christianity and the West.” Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Finding God Beyond Harvard (InterVarsity, 2006). Read excerpts from the book. Kelly Monroe, ed., Finding God at Harvard (Zondervan, 1997).


Chuck Colson



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