Sunday, January 29, 2012
The Chapel at Haaaavaaard (Harvard)...
How liberal and how secular was recently shown in the puff piece in the Christian Century on chapel at Harvard. Apparently, there is little desire to resolve or smooth over the competing religious traditions represented on campus. Instead, the students try to "embody" those diverse traditions and so mirror the popular separation of religion from spirituality and truth from piety that is so abundant in American culture. According to the article, they keep the traditions distinct but the students try to get into those traditions by being Jews on the Sabbath, Muslims on Friday, Baptists at the altar call, Episopalians in the Prayer Book, Hindus for puja, Roman Catholics in the Church Year, etc... What is most strange is that the bulk of the student body is still trying to train for service within a particular tradition and denomination and the hard question is how this multi-robed religious vesture aids and assists this goal.
According to the article: We want to be with each other as we truly are, they said. We want to be present for each other’s prayers and rituals and practices. We want to be led in Torah study by the Jewish students and in Friday prayers by the Muslims; to listen to a dharma talk with the Buddhist students and hear a sermon with the Baptists; to be with the Episcopalian students for the Eucharist and with the Hindus for puja; to light Advent candles with the Roman Catholics, offer prayers at the flaming chalice with the Unitarian Universalists and keep silence with the Quakers.
While you will get no argument from me about keeping each of the religious traditions "pure" in their assigned chapel slots, the idea that we can morph in and out of religions is faithful and true to none of them. This is the big lie of multiculturalism. While in the past, the ecumenical goal might have been to reduce the distinctives of each religious tradition to find a muddle in the middle, the goal now is to put on the clothes of another faith and test them out from the inside by thinking or acting like that faith for a day (or, in this case, the chapel hour). Surely this is no better attempt at religious diversity than the past effort to paper over differences and the end result will be that people are true to no tradition at all. Instead of cafeteria Catholics or luncheon line Lutherans, we will end up with tasters at the religious buffet, with criss-crossed holy books and prayer forms creating a religious patchwork unique to the person. The churches become mere buildings which house these unique individuals attached to nothing larger than themselves and their own tastes. In this case, we should all be happy about the leadership Harvard Divinity is providing for it favors none and detracts from them all.