Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Chapel at Haaaavaaard (Harvard)...

Most of us have some vague idea of the Calvinist origins of Harvard College, founded in 1636 as a Puritan and Congregationalist institution to train ministers. The Divinity School, in but not of Harvard College, came along later, in 1816, when it was the first non-denominational divinity school in the United States.   Remember that Princeton Theological Seminary was Presbyterian (1812) and the Calvinists fled Harvard to found Andover in 1807 because the Unitarians had taken over.  Harvard Divinity School has been an unofficial Unitarian school ever since (though it also claims ties to the almost Unitarian successor to Congregationalism, the United Church of Christ).  Harvard Divinity has a prestigious ring to it and this aura has attracted people from every religion over the years and the school has honored the religious pluralism of their student body by being among the most liberal and secular of the premier divinity schools of the Ivy League. 

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.


Janis Williams said...

Somewhat like the college psych. exercise of going a whole day blindfolded so you can understand how a blind person feels....

Rev. Allen Yount said...

So, what day and time is the Baal worship?

Anonymous said...

The Church Growth Movement had multicultural intentions from the beginning (Pssssssssst: It's called Universal Salvation).

Now how can all LCMS pastors and seminarians be made aware of the Universalism of the Church Growth Movement?


Cafeteria Lutheran

Anonymous said...

what an interesting paradox

harvard chapel

all and nothing