Papal Fundamentalism

It’s not what they meant to happen, but it seems to be happening a lot these days. As we heard from recent King’s College graduate Christian McGuire, some smart young evangelicals are turning to the Catholic Church. Evangelical-watchers have been seeing it lately everywhere we look. Thanks a tip from a SAGLRROILYBYGTH, for example, I ran across these charismatic folks who are enamored with Catholic tradition. It might feel like a new trend, but this “papal fundamentalism” has been predicted since the 1920s.

RollinLyndeHartt

Called it.

Rollin Lynde Hartt called it in 1925. Hartt may not be a household name today, but during the 1920s he was considered a leading expert on fundamentalism in the popular press. The Rev. Hartt was a liberal Congregational minister, dedicated to puncturing what he saw as the profoundly negative implications of the surging fundamentalist movement among his fellow Protestants. He hoped fundamentalism would wither and die away, but he feared (correctly) that fundamentalism wasn’t going anywhere.

When Hartt predicted the coming-together of the fundamentalist movement and the Catholic Church—what he derided as “Papal Fundamentalism”—he meant it as an insult. Hartt thought fundamentalism shared Catholicism’s un-Christian fetish for merely human authority. As Hartt put it in a 1925 magazine article,[1]

there is something essentially Catholic about the Fundamentalists’ demand for reliance upon authority; and in temperament every good Fundamentalist is a good Catholic.

HT: DW

[1] Rollin Lynde Hartt, “The Disruption of Protestantism,” Forum 74 (November 1925): 680-683.

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Fundamentalist U & Me: Christian McGuire, Patrick Henry College

Welcome to our latest edition of Fundamentalist U & Me, our occasional series of memory and reflection from people who attended evangelical colleges and universities. [Click here to see all the entries.] The history I recounted in Fundamentalist U only told one part of the complicated story of evangelical higher education. Depending on the person, the school, and the decade, going to an evangelical college has been very different for different people.

This time, we are talking with Christian McGuire, a recent graduate from Patrick Henry College (PHC). Mr. McGuire graduated last month and now works in communications at a think-tank in Arlington, Virginia.

I first met Christian through an article in National Review about odd intellectual fads at conservative evangelical colleges. Christian told me about a more popular attraction at Patrick Henry. Read on to hear more about his experiences:

ILYBYGTH: When and where did you attend your evangelical institutions?

I attended PHC from 2014 to this May.

ILYBYGTH: How did you decide on that school? What were your other options? Did your family pressure you to go to an evangelical college?phc logo

I applied to a variety of other colleges. PHC was the only evangelical school I considered. The others—Georgetown, UChicago, Berkeley, etc.—were all secular. At first, I was fairly unconvinced that I would want to attend PHC, a relative no-name compared to the other schools on my list. After attending, however, I was definitely drawn in by how welcoming all of the students were. I was also impressed by PHC’s law school track record, which fit nicely with my post-graduate plan at the time. PHC students have very high average LSAT scores and punch far above their weight in admission to top law schools, as well as important judicial clerkships. I think it probably helped that my father was also very impressed by PHC; his approval was probably more emotionally significant than I understood at the time. But I was definitely not pressured to make any particular choice.

ILYBYGTH: Do you think your college experience deepened your faith? Do you still feel connected to your alma mater? What was the most powerful religious part of your college experience?

I think my college experience was important to my faith, but definitely not in the way that I (or PHC administrators) expected. I converted to Catholicism in the second semester of my freshman year, after five years of theological study and discussion. That definitely defined the rest of my college experience. Some people—students, professors, administrators—were downright hostile to Catholicism, and I am not the type of personality that can keep a low profile. So I think some of my spiritual development came from adversity. On the other hand, PHC’s best classes generally contained spiritual wisdom that was certainly, and perhaps even especially, applicable to me as a Catholic. Some classes even strengthened my convictions, although I am sure that result was inadvertent.

In one sense, I think I will always be connected to my alma mater. I was lucky to exit college with many strong friendships, and those relationships will always be an indirect link to PHC. On the other hand, I think that after a couple of years of trying to reform what I saw as the faults of PHC, I eventually grew disheartened and gave up. So I am not as emotionally invested in the college as I was a couple of years ago.

The most powerful religious experience did not really occur within the context of my college career—my confirmation into the Church. However, it was attended by many PHC students, and I think it helped jump start a movement towards the Church at PHC.

ILYBYGTH: Would you/did you send your kids to an evangelical college? If so, why, and if not, why not?

I don’t see college selection as the job of the parent, so if I had a child that wanted to go to an evangelical school, I would let them. On the other hand, since I am no longer evangelical and would not raise my children as such, I would be a little surprised at such a decision.

ILYBYGTH: Do you still support your alma mater, financially or otherwise? If so, how and why, and if not, why not?

No, not yet. I might donate in the future, although I would probably focus on donating to specific departments or goals within PHC, rather than the institution as a whole.

ILYBYGTH: If you studied science at your evangelical college, did you feel like it was particularly “Christian?” How so? Did you wonder at the time if it was similar to what you might learn at a non-evangelical college? Have you wondered since?

A preface: I reject the notion that fundamentalist “science” is “Christian” in any meaningful sense of the word. Usually evangelical institutions such as PHC differentiate themselves from mainstream science by rejecting the theory of evolution, but strictly historical interpretations of the first chapters of Genesis don’t represent the only or best approach to the biblical text. St. Augustine, for example, famously dissented from a strongly literal exegesis of these chapters despite predating Darwin by more than a millennia. So I slightly object to the wording of this question.

PHC taught a fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis, which was only really an issue in their biology and “earth science” classes. Humorously, the college was forced to offer earth science instead of biology the year I took the class, because their accreditors discovered that the professor who taught biology was not sufficiently credentialed to teach the subject.

During that class, I occasionally was bothered by the bias present in our discussion of Earth’s origins. I remember one test question asking me to outline the “evolutionist” view on something and contrast it with the “biblical” view of something. However, I think the professor made a real effort to educate us on what we would be taught at a secular institution overall.

ILYBYGTH: Was your social life at your evangelical college similar to the college stereotype (partying, “hooking up,” drinking, etc.) we see in mainstream media? If not, how was it different? Do you think your social experience would have been much different if you went to a secular institution?

PHC social life was very different from that stereotype. The college enforces fairly strict standards of conduct that ban alcohol consumption, enforce curfews for Freshmen and Sophomores, and prohibit sex outside of marriage. Of course, not everyone follows those rules. But overall, social life is still much tamer at PHC than elsewhere, even at other Christian colleges that I know of. I think part of the reason is that homeschooled backgrounds (PHC is overwhelmingly composed of former homeschoolers) tend to encourage a deference to authority.

ILYBYGTH: In your experience, was the “Christian” part of your college experience a prominent part? In other words, would someone from a secular college notice differences right away if she or he visited your school?

Incredibly so. Everything that PHC does is very consciously evangelical: mandatory chapels are held every single week day, professors are evaluated at the end of every semester on how well they integrated a biblical worldview into their class, prayer often opens classes. And this isn’t just a focus that comes from the administration—students are very invested in their faith as well, on average. Debates about theology are common in the dining hall, and social interactions on campus often include prayer, spiritual encouragement, or some other form of religious flavoring. PHC, I think, was always afraid of going the way of more prominent Christian institutions—starting out staunchly Christian, but ending up only nominally religious. A lot of safeguards were built into the school’s founding documents. For example, the school cannot change its Statement of Faith without losing its land deeds.

ILYBYGTH: Did you feel political pressure at school? That is, did you feel like the school environment tipped in a politically conservative direction? Did you feel free to form your own opinions about the news? Were you encouraged or discouraged from doing so?

The school’s environment was unquestionably conservative. The school’s founder and first president, Michael Farris, was a conservative legal activist who currently heads the Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the most prominent conservative legal groups in the nation.

At the same time, PHC was unblinkingly devoted to exploring all sides of most debates. While the majority of students were conservative, it was completely socially acceptable to make arguments that went against normal conservative positions on economics or foreign policy. I would say that there was only a real taboo on dissenting from pro-life political positions, and maybe a half-taboo on dissenting from the conservative consensus against gay marriage.

ILYBYGTH: What do you think the future holds for evangelical higher education? What are the main problems looming for evangelical schools? What advantages do they have over other types of colleges?

I think that evangelical schools, and PHC in particular, are up against more cultural headwinds than ever before. If you read conservative Christian commentators, you will discover that a lot of them are still trying to forge a post-Trump consensus on what the future of political Christianity is. Some want to continue the political alliance they have made with the Republican party, but many Christian intellectuals and young evangelicals are disgusted by that prospect. As a result, colleges like PHC that focus on “leading the nation and shaping the culture” (one of PHC’s slogans) are at a crossroads. Less political evangelical colleges won’t have quite the same burden, but they still have to deal with increasing secularization among young people.

However, I think that as conservative Christianity becomes more and more at odds with the culture writ large, there will be an additional emphasis on forming explicitly Christian bonds. Those who remain devout in their faith are probably more likely to want to attend Christian schools where they can deepen their intellectual understanding of the faith. A lot of Christians are wondering in the Trump era, “where do we go from here?” Maybe evangelical colleges can be part of that answer.

Thanks, Christian!

Did YOU attend an evangelical college? Are you willing to share your experiences? If so, please get in touch with the ILYBYGTH editorial desk at alaats@binghamton.edu

Pro-Life: From Liberal Catholics to Conservative Protestants

Who are the folks who stand outside of family-planning clinics these days, warning young women that some planning services are nothing but the cruelest form of murder? As historian Daniel Williams argues in a recent article in the journal Religions, the “pro-life” movement shifted from its early roots as a socially liberal Catholic cause to a politically conservative Protestant one.

Is this kind of thing inherently "conservative?"

Is this kind of thing inherently “conservative?”

For those of us interested in the historical development of America’s culture wars, Williams’s article is a must-read. As he explains, in 1972 the first generation of pro-lifers pulled from the civil-rights and anti-war wing of liberalism. At the time, Williams argues, “it seemed unthinkable that anyone would equate the pro-life cause with political conservatism.”

What happened?

As anyone with a pulse is well aware, these days the pro-life movement is firmly in the hands of culturally and politically conservative evangelicals.

Williams argues that pro-life Catholicism had its roots in the 1930s. Back then, Catholic intellectuals and activists often tied their theological arguments against abortion to the dominant New Deal liberalism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

After Vatican II’s liberalizing reforms in the early 1960s, liberal Catholics forged even tighter bonds between liberal Catholicism and secular Great-Society anti-poverty programs. As Williams recounts, anti-racist liberals tied new abortion laws to genocide against African Americans.

Around the time of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, liberals began shifting their thinking. Instead of an issue of the rights of an oppressed and voiceless minority, abortion became a question of women’s rights.

On the conservative side, anti-abortion activism lost its connection to anti-war and anti-poverty campaigns. It lost its overwhelming connection to liberal Catholicism. Instead, it became wrapped in the Protestant-dominated language of “family values,” Williams writes.

For many of us who follow culture-war politics, it can come as a shock to read Williams’s re-creation of recent evangelical history. Even up to and during the early 1970s, many conservative evangelical organizations and intellectuals did not take a recognizably pro-life position.

Everyone interested in the full story should check out Williams’s article as well as his other work. It serves as a reminder that the seemingly hard-and-fast positions of our culture-war trenches have actually shifted dramatically over the years.

And for many of us, it prompts important questions:

  • Does pro-life seem inherently “conservative?”
    • Why?
  • Do some SAGLRROILYBYGTH who consider themselves “liberal” also consider themselves “pro-life?”
    • Why?
  • If you are “pro-life” and conservative, do you think the two go together?
  • Would it be possible these days to be a real pro-life liberal?
  • Is there something different about Catholic pro-lifers vs. Protestant ones?

A Trip to a Catholic-School Science Fair

Science Fairs are great.  At their best, they allow students some freedom to experiment and learn on their own.  At their worst, they still provide hilarious examples of wacky adolescent science.  Recently, we saw a field report from the National Center for Science Education blog.  Peter Hess asked the question: What passes for “science” at a Catholic science fair?

In these pages, we’ve eagerly read reports from the field as science mavens visit various sorts of science fairs.  P.Z. Myers has argued that creationist students actively use science fairs to subvert the mind-numbing mental boundaries imposed by creationism.  Greg Laden visited a creationist homeschool science fair and found that some of the science was not bad.  At least not much worse, Laden thought, than the crappy science on display at non-creationist science fairs.

Cutting-edge science from a non-religious science fair...

Cutting-edge science from a non-religious science fair…

Hess found to his great relief that his kids’ Catholic school promoted mainstream science, without adulteration from theology.  Students came up with ambitious projects, such as measuring the distraction levels posed by cell phones and texting.

How distracted are drivers? This kid was not looking to the Bible for answers...

How distracted are drivers? This kid was not looking to the Bible for answers…

Hess also talked with some of the teachers.  Those teachers, too, did not see any conflict between Catholicism and teaching mainstream science in their classes.  One teacher offered an opinion that echoed the view of the late Stephen Jay Gould.  As middle-school teacher Joseph Nagel told Hess,

I sometimes consider science to be the constant investigation of the external world, a quest to analyze and understand the physical world, exclusive of human experience.  Religion I see as the eternal internal investigation, a search to explore and understand what lies within and between us, an examination of the human experience.  If science is our understanding of the world, religion is our understanding of us.  Maybe science is the ‘how’ and religion is the ‘why.’

Of course, different Catholic schools might have different approaches.  But my experience matches up closely with that of Hess.  I taught for a decade in Catholic schools in Milwaukee.  Though we sometimes had arguments about the novels we’d teach or the theology we’d teach, there was never any glimmer of controversy over the science we’d teach.

In fact, at least one of our science teachers also taught biology (or was it chemistry?) at a local public, secular community college.  When I asked him if he taught science differently at our Catholic school, he responded just as did the teachers Hess talked to: “Why would I?”

 

Can Christian Colleges Say the R-Word?

Do conservative Christians encourage rape?  It’s a difficult thing to talk about, but it is a question these days at the center of discussions about conservatism, Christianity and higher education.  Most recently, blogger Samantha Field related the stories of students at Pensacola Christian College who had been punished by the school after suffering sexual assaults.  The accusations have attracted enough attention that PCC has felt obliged to make a public denial.  The school said it has been “harassed and victimized” by these accusations.  PCC, the school insisted, has always acted in accordance with the law.

This is not only an issue at Pensacola Christian College.  As journalist Kiera Feldman argued in a recent New Republic article, a similar culture of institutional arrogance prevails at Patrick Henry College.  And Bob Jones University has gone back and forth with its efforts to examine its own culture.  More broadly, Billy Graham’s grandson attracted attention a few months back for asking if evangelical Protestants had a worse record of dealing with sex abuse than did the Catholic Church.

These are difficult questions to ask.  For an earlier post about this issue, I’ve been called insensitive (fair, and I apologize again), ignorant (sometimes fair, sometimes unfair) and guilty of condoning or excusing cover-ups (utterly unfair).  What I asked was whether or not these accusations of institutional misconduct rely on stereotyped assumptions about conservative evangelical Protestants.  In other words, is there something specifically about the religion of these schools that is somehow to blame?  Or is it an institutional culture at these conservative schools that blames victims and excuses criminals?  Is there something about the Christian nature of these schools that promotes and excuses rape?  Or is this a question of institutional mismanagement?  Finally, we have to ask, is this whole thing somehow more aggravated at these schools than it is at secular or pluralist schools?

After reading more about these cases, it seems the attitude toward rape of school leaders really is wrapped up intimately with their institutional tradition, and maybe even with their theological tradition.  It seems this is more than just another case of fundamentalist-bashing.  In the past, I have defended young-earth creationists against accusations that they are guilty of criminal abuse.  I’ve chided secular journalists—with whom I’m generally sympathetic—for misrepresenting the claims of young earth creationists.  These cases from conservative colleges seemed to me, at first, to represent similar sorts of knee-jerk anti-fundamentalist stereotyping.  I didn’t try to cast doubt on the sincerity of the victims, to be clear, but I did ask whether the accusations against the schools unfairly tied belief in an inerrant Bible to cases of institutional misconduct.

I do not come from a conservative evangelical or fundamentalist background.  But for a living, I study conservative educational activism, especially the educational thinking of conservative Protestants in the United States.  I’m aware of the history of American fundamentalism, including the ways theology has been profoundly combined with hierarchical gender notions.  As I wrote in my 1920s book and as Margaret Bendroth argued in hers, in its early decades American fundamentalism relied on notions of male dominance and female submissiveness.

We know that all colleges these days are struggling with proper ways to handle sexual assault cases.  The charges against schools such as Patrick Henry College, Pensacola Christian College, and Bob Jones University suggest that the campus culture at these conservative schools makes that difficult task much harder.  It seems the fundamentalist culture of these schools has intensified the already brutal culture on many secular college campuses.

This does not mean that every fundamentalist condones sexual assault, of course.  This does not even mean that every student, faculty member, or administrator of these schools agrees with the overall school culture.  Nor can we even say with confidence that this culture is somehow a necessary outgrowth of the theology of the schools, rather than primarily a question of hierarchical, closed-off, inflexible administrative structure.  But it does seem that the dominant atmosphere of these schools needs to share blame in this aggravated culture of condoning and excusing sexual assault.

The best comparison, it seems to me, is the atrocious record of the Catholic Church with its recent sex-abuse scandals.  No one says that every Catholic—let alone every Catholic priest—is part of this scandal.  Nor do we even say with confidence that this is something caused directly by the theology of the Catholic Church.  And we can of course point out that far more non-Catholics committed sex abuse than did Catholic priests.  But such objections miss the point.  There was something profoundly wrong with the way the power structure of the church handled those cases.  It seems there’s a similar connection here between institutional structure and moral accountability.

Those few who might use these cases to suggest that Christianity as a whole is a rape-centered religion are just as wrong as they have ever been.  And we must remember that there is a wide variety in conservative evangelical colleges.  A culture that dominates at BJU, PHC, or PCC will be very different from the culture at other evangelical schools such as Wheaton.  But even remembering those important caveats, there is something deeply troubling with the institutional power structure in these fundamentalist schools.

What will colleges do to respond?  As I’ve argued elsewhere, these schools rely on their reputation as havens of religious orthodoxy in a secularized society.  As the first Bob Jones insisted when he founded Bob Jones College in the 1920s,

Fathers and mothers who place their sons and daughters in our institution can go to sleep at night with no haunting fear that some skeptical teacher will steal the faith of their precious children.

Today’s school leaders, no less than the founders, must be able to say confidently that students will be theologically and physically safe.  How can they reassure parents and future students that they have responded to these accusations?

Is the Common Core Un-American? Professor Deneen Says Yes

What should conservatives do with the new Common Core Learning Standards?

Trash them, demands Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen.  In doing so, Deneen makes some fishy assertions about the educational imaginations of our Founding Fathers.

As ILYBYGTH readers are well aware, there is no unified “conservative” position on the Common Core.  Some smart conservatives hate them.  Other smart conservatives hold their noses and endorse them.

Professor Deneen signed on to the recent letter against the standards to the US Catholic Bishops.  Deneen and other prominent Catholic intellectuals voiced their dismay at the intellectual, political, and spiritual implications of the new standards.

In his recent essay in The American Conservative, Deneen spells out in more detail his objections.

The standards, Deneen warns, represent a monstrous over-emphasis on only two of the five main purposes of education.  The standards push schools to focus only on basic facts and logic. They ignore the formation of good citizens with character and a sense of wonder.

In this case, according to Professor Deneen, two-fifths of a loaf is worse than none at all. These standards, he argues, are not simply a good attempt at a difficult task.  Rather, they are fundamentally flawed, since they are based on a “dessicated and debased conception of what a human being is.”

So far, so good.  But Professor Deneen argues that this sort of common educational standard violates the best American traditions, and this doesn’t seem to fit the historical record.

The good professor is a mighty smart guy, well versed in the political thought of our founders.  So I have a hard time sussing out what he means by the following:

Because humans in their social and political communities are various, it was understood by our Founders that the way that these educational purposes to be achieved would be various, and so the commitment to local control of education was not born of a resignation in the absence of a strong central government, but a positive embrace of variety and multiplicity.

I’m no expert in early America, but that just ain’t so.  Prominent founders such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Benjamin Rush all pushed for greater systematization and centralization of schooling.  Each of them hoped to organize a chaotic network of educational opportunities into a more coherent centralized system of schooling.

Perhaps none of these founders would have wanted a single system for all of the states, as the Common Core standards hope for.  But each of these founders, at least, would have applauded the attempt to make education less happenstance and more predictable.

I understand Professor Deneen’s disgust at the lopsided nature of the Common Core State Standards, even if I don’t agree with it.  But I don’t see the basis for his claims that this sort of effort violates the spirits of the Founders.  On the contrary, this sort of rationalization and systematization is just the kind of thing those big-idea men would have drooled over.

 

Catholics against the Common Core

Don’t do it, a group of Catholic academics advised their bishops recently.  Don’t let Catholic schools follow the new Common Core Learning Standards.

As with everything Catholic, the signatories of this letter were a diverse bunch.

They were led by Notre Dame’s Gerard Bradley and included prominent conservatives such as Anthony Esolen, Robert George, and Patrick Deneen.  Also signing on was Lehigh University’s intelligent-design black sheep, Michael Behe.

Why did this group want to keep the new standards out of Catholic schools?

For one thing, they argued the new focus on nonfiction threatens to water down the rich cultural heritage of Catholic schooling.  “Common Core,” the letter charges,

shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government. . . . Perhaps a truck-driver needs no acquaintance with Paradise Lost to do his or her day’s work.  But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry, and everyone is capable of it.

But there is more at stake than just a profound, moral education.  Bradley’s letter worries that future new standards will directly contradict the specifically religious values at the heart of the Catholic faith.  As the letter put it,

In science, the new standards are likely to take for granted, and inculcate students into a materialist metaphysics that is incompatible with the spiritual realities—soul, conceptual thought, values, free choice, God—which Catholic faith presupposes.  We fear, too, that the history standards will promote the easy moral relativism, tinged with a pervasive anti-religious bias, that is commonplace in collegiate history departments today.

As Richard Perez-Pena noted in the New York Times, the letter-writers do not represent the entirety of Catholic opinion.  Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director for Catholic education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she viewed the new standards as an opportunity, not a threat.  And Sister M. Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Chicago’s Catholic schools, agreed that Catholic schools must maintain their high educational standards, but did not see the standards as a problem.

 

 

Bullies, Schools, Homosexuality, and the Confederate Flag

Who is a school bully?  Can it be a teacher who disciplines students for wearing Confederate flags or for denouncing homosexuality?

That is the question conservative commentator Anthony Esolen asks today on The Public Discourse.

Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College, considers a recent case from Michigan.

In this compellingly tangled case of homosexuality, history, religion, and education, a teacher hoped to fight anti-homosexual attitudes among his students.  This teacher participated in a school event in which teachers and students wore t-shirts opposing anti-gay bullying.  The teacher showed his class a video about anti-gay bullying, then engaged in a discussion about it.  During the discussion, the teacher noticed that one student wore a Confederate-flag belt buckle.  The teacher ordered the student to remove the buckle.  When another student asked about the obvious contradiction between the student’s right to wear the buckle and the teacher’s right to wear the t-shirt, the discussion exploded.  The teacher eventually disciplined both students, one for the buckle, and one for insisting that his Catholic faith forced him to disapprove of homosexuality.

Esolen brings up these snarled issues in all their complexity.  Does a Catholic student have a right to disapprove of homosexuality?  Does a teacher have a duty to discipline dissenting students?  Can a student wear offensive belt buckles or t-shirts?  What ideas are too offensive to be protected in schools?

Also, importantly, Esolen considers whether an economics teacher should be engaged in these sorts of pedagogical discussions.  If teachers are, as Esolen argues, “a group of tutors hired by a group of parents,” shouldn’t those teachers respect parents’ beliefs more rigorously?

Being Gay at a Catholic College

Is gay okay the Catholic way?

Religion writer Michael O’Loughlin recently surveyed the experiences of gay students at a variety of Catholic colleges.  The answer, maybe not surprisingly, is that different schools do things differently.

At Chicago’s DePaul University, O’Loughlin found, students can minor in LGBTQ Studies. Students and faculty are out and supportive.

Other schools, such as Washington DC’s Catholic University, have a more mixed record.  Students are gay, O’Loughlin reported, and that’s only sort of okay.

One constant, at Catholic universities as across American culture, is rapid change.

O’Loughlin returned after just a handful of years to his alma mater, St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.  When he attended, gay students kept their sexual identity private. Now, the school itself has initiated programs to make all students, explicitly including homosexual students, feel welcomed, loved, and guided.

As some of the comments on O’Loughlin’s essay proved, not all Catholics are okay with this trend.  As “JP” noted,

Can one imagine a group of Catholic adulterers or thieves organizing at a Catholic college in order for their “voice to be heard”? Homosexual acts as well as larceny or adultery are still considered Mortal Sins by the RCC.

Catholic schools are not alone in their struggles with this issue.  As we noted a while back, Brandon Ambrosino shared his experiences with faith and sexuality at the conservative evangelical flagship school, Liberty University.  Just as Catholic colleges have had a range of responses to the issues of student homosexuality, so folks at conservative Protestant schools  have had surprisingly mixed reactions as well.

 

“All I write about is Jesus:” the Case for a Conservative Kerouac

This morning at the American Conservative Robert Dean Lurie makes the case for including Jack Kerouac in the canon of culturally conservative authors.

As Lurie acknowledges, Kerouac’s rambling, drug-, jazz-, sex-, and booze-fueled writing does not usually bring this to mind.  Yet Lurie insists Kerouac is “up for grabs ideologically.”  Kerouac, Lurie writes,

“did indeed go on to lead a wild existence filled with alcohol, drugs, and perpetual shiftlessness; he fled from monogamy as from leprosy. Yet one cannot grasp the soul of Kerouac unless one understands his fundamentally traditional core. He never wished to foment a revolution. He did not desire to change America; he intended to document, celebrate, and, in the end, eulogize it.”

Image Source: Feuilleton, by John Coulthart

I admit I’ve never been a fan.  Years spent teaching English to bright and talented high-schoolers caused me to resent the influence of On the Road.  Too many young people seemed to lean on this book, among others, as proof that writing and thinking did not need to be disciplined or systematic.  More than that, the book always seemed to be too careful and planned in its spontaneity.  A tantrum, not a rebellion.

Lurie argues that we’ll never understand Kerouac if we stop at this surface impression.  The theme of Catholicism permeates Kerouac’s work, yet many readers miss it entirely.  As Lurie notes,

“The influence [of Catholicism] is so obvious and so pervasive, in fact, that Kerouac became justifiably incensed when Ted Berrigan of the Paris Review asked during a 1968 interview, ‘How come you never write about Jesus?’ Kerouac’s reply: ‘I’ve never written about Jesus? … You’re an insane phony … All I write about is Jesus.'”

In the end, Lurie concludes, Kerouac stood out among his Beat colleagues:

“Allen Ginsberg, the poet visionary, pined for utopia and spiritual revolution. William S. Burroughs, the outlaw libertarian, pined for anarchy and gay liberation. Neal Cassady, the exiled cowboy, pined for girls and cars. Jack Kerouac, the mystic, pined for God and home.”