Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Do the liberal arts leave the academy when God does?

I received the following quotation from my son, Christopher, apropos the ongoing debate at Lenoir-Rhyne College over the administration's effort to reduce the size of the liberal arts in the core curriculum. The author, Michael Novak, suggests a link between the eclipse of God and the eclipse of Western humanism in education:

What, then, is the place of God in our colleges? The basic human experiences that remind man that he is not a machine, and not merely a temporary cog in a technological civilization, are not fostered within the university. God is as irrelevent in the universities as in business organizations; but so are love, death, personal destiny. Reliigion can thrive only in a personal universe; religious faith, hope, and love are personal responses to a personal God. But how can the immense question of a personal God even be posed and made relevant when the fundamental questions about the meaning and limits of personal experience are evaded?

"God is dead... What are these churches if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?" Nietzsche asked. But much of Western humanism is dead too. Men do not wander under the silent stars, listen to the wind, learn to know themselves, question, "Where am I going? Why am I here?" They leave aside the mysteries of contingency and transitoriness, for the certainties of research, production, consumption. So that it is nearly possible to say: "Man is dead... What are these buildings, these tunnels, these roads, if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of man?" God, if there is a God, is not dead.

He will come back to the colleges, when man comes back.

-- Michael Novak, "God in the Colleges," Harper's (1961)