Saturday, March 31, 2018
Good news: viewed from a certain perspective, at least, religious faith at Harvard is alive and well. Indeed Harvard’s founding religious movement, Puritanism, is more robust than ever. To be sure, the New Puritanism has taken an explicitly self-denying, self-abnegating, indeed self-extirpating form. The university-wide Diversity Task Force, doing what Puritans have always done best, finally scrubbed from the lyrics of “Fair Harvard,” the University’s song, any reference to the Puritans themselves, as offensively narrow and exclusionary.
The reactionary mind will object that this obliterates, quite deliberately, any reference to the true origins of Harvard, which was founded as a seminary for dissenting ministers. That truth has now been been deemed not merely embarrassing, but offensive. Oddly enough, or perhaps not oddly at all, Harvard’s decision to drop its original motto Christo et Ecclesiae in favor of Veritas means that it has ended up with neither Christ, nor Church, nor Truth. The University’s new motto is, in effect, “None of the Above.” For the poor old reactionaries, this denouement is unsettling.
But this is benighted thinking. After all, to quote another broad-minded administrator coping with religion issues, “Quid est ‘Veritas’”? The search for truth invidiously excludes error. Far better to consider both truth and falsehood without bias or discrimination — the master principle of a training college for neo-Puritan ministers. In the New Model Harvard, the faculty and the visitors may “spend their time in nothing else, but to see and hear some new thing” — the Endless Conversation, in which Truth is that worst of all things, a “conversation-stopper.” Faced with the choice between Christ and Barabbas, Harvard will create a new Office of Inclusion to study the matter and issue a report that suggests choosing both, as long as Christ will promise to behave.
No, the problem with the Diversity Task Force’s purity campaign against Puritans is not that it went too far. It is that it did not go far enough, given its own stated aims. It must be taken to its logical conclusion.
In the middle of Harvard Yard stands, or rather sits, a figure from the Dark Time — no mere lyrical reference, but the brazen image of a Puritan minister himself, whose iron shoe incautious tourists touch and even kiss. (The students, who know the barbarian rituals of their fellows, never do). Unless and until the statue of the Founder is smashed in righteous wrath, there can be no true inclusion, no true diversity, at Harvard (er, I mean, at the College; the H-word will of course have to go as well). The final, fateful, consummation and self-overcoming of Puritanism will occur when the Hideous Idol is brought low with jackhammers, in a sacred frenzy of auto-iconoclasm.
What should take its place? If, as the neo-Puritans tell us, the problem with old-Puritanism is its exclusionary character, then what is needed is a symbol of the one worldwide faith that is truly diverse and inclusive, truly universal, truly ... what’s the word? ... Catholic. We will still have a statue of a seated pastor in the Yard. Believe me, we will. A Pastor Aeternus, in fact, enthroned in full sovereignty, teaching Veritas indeed, infallibly so. All will then be welcome to kiss the iron slipper. Students of the Pontifical Catholic University of Cambridge: welcome home!