Christian Worldview

Struck Dumb

How did someone like Chuck Colson—well-educated lawyer, public figure, savvy politician—how did someone like that end up committing the crimes of Watergate? That's the question Harvard University students asked me to address a couple of years ago. I confess, I accepted Harvard's invitation with some trepidation. I had publicly scoffed at the university's $20 million endowment to establish a chair on ethics. The money was wasted, I'd written. Harvard can't teach ethics because it steadfastly disavows the only basis for ethics—the idea of absolutes. Now I was going to have to back up my statement before some of the nation's best and brightest students. So I arrived on campus somewhat nervous. The lecture hall was full to overflowing, students in the aisles and against the walls. I took to the podium, breathed a prayer, and began. If you've been listening to this program over the past two weeks, you'll remember some of the things I said. I started out challenging the Socratic method of teaching ethics—which Harvard uses. That method deals only with right thinking, I said; it can't inspire right action. This was a direct blow at Harvard's own program. But, amazingly, there wasn't a murmur. The students didn't seem to mind that I'd just poked a hole in their $25,000-a-year education. I pressed on to Immanuel Kant, the great eighteenth-century philosopher. Kant taught that ethics is a matter of rationality—reason compels us to do right. But Kant was wrong, I said. Reason isn't enough. And I told my own story: an Ivy League education, honors in law school, an aide to the president of the United States. Oh, I could use reason; but that didn't make me good. I still made wrong decisions, and I still went to prison. So much for Kant and the power of reason. That was an attack on the very basis of Western rationalism. And the students didn't seem to notice. By this time, I decided to bait them. I told them that the lesson of history is that Christianity is necessary to make people good. Only God can change a person from the inside. No one seemed outraged. Not one student challenged my basic thesis. The passive silence frightened me more than if the students had been actively hostile. A debate would have meant they were ready to fight for their convictions; the silence meant they had none. There was a time when young people would have asked the right questions: What is truth? What is the meaning of life? Now, I fear, they don't even know the questions to ask. The speech may have done some good after all. Harvard has publicly abandoned its course on ethics, now entitling it Moral Dilemmas in Management. Webster tells us that dilemma means two unacceptable alternatives. So two cheers for Harvard; at least it's being honest. But woe to the students. These are our nation's future senators and CEOs, and all of them are sadly ill equipped. Think about it: unthinking, unquestioning students on their way to becoming our nation's leaders, shuffling into the future, oblivious to the ethical foundations crumbling beneath them.


Chuck Colson


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