Religion is becoming a political issue in the culture at large. Abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, homosexuality, intelligent design–even the “war on terror”–each of these debates is linked to religious beliefs. With the conservatives strengthening ties to the Christian religion and a Supreme Court that has become predominately conservative, religion is maneuvering its way into a real position of power within American politics. We at The Undercurrent, being staunchly opposed to every form of mysticism, religious or otherwise, wondered how religion has been faring on campus. Hoping to discover some pro-reason sentiment, we surveyed a range of publications at major universities.
To our dismay, we found little to no criticism of religion anywhere in campus culture. In fact, many students think that their peers are not religious enough. Articles abound to deplore the commercialism of Christianity, beseeching students to rediscover religion’s essence. In a Cornell Review piece subtitled “Campus Catholicism missing good old-fashioned fire and brimstone,” Jeff Racho writes that religion has become too trendy and folksy:
“There is little…majesty in the Kumbaya Mass at Annabel Taylor Hall. The organ is long gone, having been replaced by the guitar… Even the traditional wafer has been replaced by a bite-sized bit of grainy bread…for which the Bohemian Bourgeoisie pay a premium at Wegeman’s to show how ‘granola’ they really are.”
Lucas Kwong in the Yale Herald agrees, “What Christianity needs is not an exorbitant media blitz, but instead a mass of disciples committed to living out the implications of faith in the 21st century.”
The Emory Wheel seems promising at first, with its sarcastic critique of religious websites. (“Nonbelievers are subjected to the site’s air-tight logic–for instance, if someone in the comic is gay or believes in evolution, that person is drawn ugly.”) Unfortunately, the author concludes the diatribe, not by discarding religion, but by entreating readers to “break free of the corruption, the greed, the boredom, the technology the church is trying to push on you, and instead cultivate a one-on-one relationship with the god you claim to love so much.” The article is not anti-religion, but anti-technology and anti-consumerism–another call for renewed fire and brimstone.
The Dalai Lama spoke at Rutgers this fall. The Focus reviewed the event with reverence, describing the “some 36,000 people amassed at Rutgers Stadium” who showered the “holy leader” with questions “about ongoing wars in Iraq and Israel, the proliferation of al-Qaeda and terrorism in the name of religion, and his sources of guidance.” Ashanti Alvarez gushes, “His simple nature belied the complexity of his existence…He spoke of…eradicating all the world’s weapons and excising the dominant emotions of anger, jealousy, hatred and distrust.” Religious zeal is not constrained to Christianity.
Even ostensibly a-religious movements, like feminism, seem to be associating themselves with mysticism. A Rutgers interview with feminist poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker reports the poet’s sentiment that “feminist writers like herself have a duty to confront not only the practical and political issues of the day but also the spiritual issues.
We have to rebalance what we conceive of as divine and godly,’ she says.” A recent Rutgers graduate, interviewed in the same paper on her choice to pursue a Master’s degree at Harvard’s divinity school, makes a similar connection: “Religion is such a broad and powerful topic…[nothing] is more central to my life than the chance to explore the interactions between religion and gender.”
On campus as well as on the political stage, religion continues to chip away at science and individual rights. The same conservative Cornell paper that requested “good old-fashioned fire and brimstone” lambasted the University president, Hunter Rawlings, for speaking out against intelligent design. Elizabeth Badame of the Cornell Review remarks, “it becomes evident that the objective of the State of the University address was simply to encourage professors to persist in their political and religious fight in and out of the classroom.”
Religiously-motivated political crusades such as these may rage, but the “Harvard Interfaith Council” meets regardless, “drawing about 100 people to discuss religion over chocolate fondue.” Don Larsen, a pastor at a University church declared to the November gathering, “The world’s peace is dependent upon people learning to respect one another’s religious peculiarities…Through meetings like this, people can go beyond what is comfortable to explore what may seem alien.”
World peace demands that we tolerate religion? But the devoutly religious are the ones causing all the trouble! Sri Lanka, Nigeria, the Balkans, Sudan, the Middle East–religious persecution is persecution by religion of religion. Isn’t the reason for such persecution taught by religion itself, in the mandate that those who deny God’s truth are infidels without the right to life?
Sadly, the lone voice against religion on campus is the stale, crazed voice of the Communist students. From an article in the Daily Pennsylvanian entitled “A Specter of Coke and Commies”:
“About 10 people are in the room. Lines of coke are drawn on the table for the taking, and a bowl is slowly making the rounds…’A specter is haunting Penn,’ [Mao X] says. ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ He takes a hit has he speaks. ‘The pureness of the white powder helps us approach our basest, most egalitarian needs…Tomorrow…we kill Jesus…we’ll be up at 7:00 a.m. to storm the Penn Bookstore. No capitalist pig is going to get presents this Christmas.'”
Communism, as one can see, is not much of an alternative to religious mysticism. The Communists never sought to do more than replace the worship of God with the worship of the masses (apparently practiced in a cocaine-induced trance).
University newspapers, and the campus events that they favorably review, at worst order students to return to religious fundamentals, and at best request them to “tolerate” religion. But now is not the time for toleration. If American students want to inherit a world in which children are taught the difference between science and fantasy (intelligent design), in which people have the freedom to do as they choose with their own bodies (abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality), and in which doctors are allowed to do their jobs (stem-cell research), then they must not tolerate religion. But it is only a history of religious warfare that has given the word “intolerance” a violent connotation. To be intolerant of religion does not mean to attack it blindly, as religious terrorists attack the West. It means to evaluate religious agendas rationally, and oppose them on an intellectual basis. It means: to think.
Rebecca Knapp is a senior at the University of Chicago. She is studying classics and plans to attend law school.