Alexander's Column

Expelling God from the academy

By Mark Alexander · Dec. 8, 2006

In the Gospel of Matthew (19:24), Jesus speaks to his disciples about wealth: “[I]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The Christian life, at its foundation, is characterized by humility, which is to say that wealth, which fosters elitism, is often at odds with Christianity. The Bible does not say that prosperity is sinful, but those who place wealth above God are engaging in idolatry – as defined in the Second of the Ten Commandments.

One may rightly infer that a wealth of knowledge leading to academic elitism, like economic elitism, can be equally hostile to Christianity. Idolizing knowledge or wealth isolates one from the Truth and Light.

While the federal judiciary erroneously cites the so-called “Living Constitution” to justify the eradication of God from the public square, it is wealthy university trustees and academic elitists who, under the aegis of “tolerance and diversity,” seek to eradicate God from the academy.

How is it that historic institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton have all but forsaken their Christian foundations – particularly in the last few decades? The answer is that, commensurate with the growth of their economic and academic stores, they rely on ever-wealthier trustees and enrollment prospects. (The average tuition among these institutions is now $42,000 – and that’s before room and board.)

This is certainly not to say that our nation is devoid of wealthy and intelligent Christians, or that being of modest means insures one from materialist idolatry. Idolatry is not, after all, what you own, but what owns you. This is to say, however, that the potential for idolatry increases exponentially with growth in economic and academic elitism. Consequently, left-elite academicians, and their cadre of wealthy “Rockefeller conservatives” (economic conservatives/social liberals), who comprise majorities on most academic boards, harbor contempt for Christianity in academia.

The nation’s oldest academic institution, Harvard University, was established in 1636 and named for Puritan minister John Harvard. The university claims that it was “never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination,” though all its presidents were Puritan ministers until 1708. A 1643 college brochure identified Harvard’s purpose: “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.” The university’s Charter of 1650 calls for “the education of the English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness.” (Harvard now has amassed a $30-billion endowment.)

Harvard alumnus, John Adams (class of 1755) wrote in 1776, “It is the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe.”

Yale, the nation’s third oldest academic institution, was established in 1701 by royal charter as The Collegiate School, in response to the efforts of colonial Congregationalist ministers since the 1640s to establish a college in New Haven. The charter was granted for an institution “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.” (Yale now boasts a $12-billion endowment.)

Yale alumnus Noah Webster (class of 1778), a devout Christian and outspoken Federalist, considered “education useless without the Bible.” In the forward of the 1828 Webster’s American Dictionary, he wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed…. No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Princeton was originally founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey, established by royal charter for “the Education of Youth in the Learned Languages and in the Liberal Arts and Sciences,” and unique in that the charter allowed the attendance of “any Person of any religious Denomination whatsoever.” The absence of an official denominational affiliation or criteria for attendance did not, however, connote the absence of strong denominational ties. To the contrary, Princeton was founded by “New Light” Presbyterians of the Great Awakening for the purpose of training Presbyterian ministers. Jonathan Dickinson, a Presbyterian minister and leader of the Great Awakening of the 1730s, was the school’s co-founder and first president. (Princeton has a $13-billion endowment.)

Princeton alumnus James Madison (class of 1771) observed, “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.”

Yet today, these institutions, like the rest of the Ivy League schools – Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Penn – and upper-tier institutions across the nation under the tutelage of wealthy trustees and elite academicians –- tend to eschew all things Christian.

A recent case in point of Christian heritage eradication in academia occurred at the nation’s second oldest university, William and Mary, chartered in 1693 in Williamsburg, Virginia, as an Anglican college.

At the behest of university president Gene Nichol, the removal of the historic Wren Chapel altar cross was ordered “in order to make it less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff, and visitors of all faiths.” The Wren Chapel was constructed in 1732 as “a faith-specific space,” and the cross was a gift from nearby Bruton Parish Church, founded in 1674. Bruton is the oldest continually operated Episcopal Church in America. George Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson worshipped there prior to the Revolution.

Nichol wrote, “Our Chapel, like our entire campus, must be welcoming to all. I believe a recognition of the full dignity of each member of our diverse community is vital. Though we haven’t meant to do so, the display of a Christian cross … sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others. … The Wren is no mere museum or artifact. It touches every student who enrolls at the college. It defines us. And it must define us all.”

Of course, removal of the Wren cross does not “define” William and Mary. To the contrary, it redefines William and Mary. Perhaps Mr. Nichol (and his colleagues in similar posts across the nation) should size up the eye of a needle before exiling the last vestiges of Christianity from their hallowed halls.

A William and Mary graduate once mused, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” The name of that esteemed alumnus? Thomas Jefferson.

The most insidious line of activist interpretations concerns our Constitution’s First Amendment. Invoking Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation,” the Despotic Branch has endeavored to remove any vestigial remnant of faith from all quarters of the public square at the federal, state and local level.

Of course, the First Amendment states only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The errant interpretation of the “wall” metaphor puts liberty in great peril.

Our Declaration of Independence and its subordinate guidance, our Constitution, are based on natural law, and outline the natural rights of man as being from our Creator, not manmade.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are natural rights “endowed by our Creator,” not government. Likewise, our Constitution was written and ratified “in order secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” As such, it established a republic ruled by laws, not men.

Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

However, if the expression of faith is banished from all government forums, not the least of which being schools, then how long will “the people” continue to understand that these “inalienable rights” are, in Jefferson’s words, “the gift of God”?

The late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist concluded, “The wall of separation between church and state is a metaphor based upon bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned. … The greatest injury of the ‘wall’ notion is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intention of the drafters of the Bill of Rights.”

George Washington proclaimed, “[W]here is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths…?”

That is a question we should all be asking today.