Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Beating up on Harvard

In his column today, David Brooks (whom I usually like) said that that "the country doesn't want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law." Brooks' column took a very favorable view of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. I have never liked Santorum, because it seems that he can't open his mouth without saying something offensive about gay people or blacks or some other group.

Brooks' point was that people are looking for a candidate who embodies some of Santorum's more admirable qualities, e.g., someone who has triumphed over adversity and worked his way up from a humble background. However, Brooks implied that people are NOT looking to elect the kind of "bloodless technocrat" that he implied that Harvard and similar universities produce.

I beg to differ.

I don't want to go into this in great detail, but I do want to say that for many of us Harvard was not only the gateway to a great intellectual adventure, it was also a place of great spiritual vitality. I hasten to add that the late, great Peter Gomes had a lot to do with Harvard's spiritual vitality when I was there, but Peter was not the only reason that Harvard was and is a spiritually vital place. In one of the last talks I heard Peter give he said that Harvard's spiritual diversity was one of the reasons for its spiritual health. He said that a Christian student who encountered a Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu student who practiced her faith and had a strong spiritual life would be encouraged to practice his Christian faith.

There were other Harvard faculty and administrators who were good examples of healthy spirituality. William Hutchinson, master of Winthrop House, was a practicing Quaker, and Master Kiely of Adams House was a practicing Roman Catholic. Several faculty members regularly attended the 8.30 am Morning Prayer service at Memorial Church.

What was true of Harvard was also true of Yale. While doing my M.Div. at Yale, I got to know several faculty members who were members of the Battell Chapel congregation. And I'm sure that the rest of the Ivy League universities have vital spiritual communities.

So, Mr. Brooks, spiritually, at least, a presidential campaign of "Harvard versus Harvard" might not be a bad thing at all.