Chapel Science

In “The Chapel“, Lorne Anderson writes, in part, as follows:

I was in England last month and spent a day in Cambridge, seeing some but not all of the famous university… The school isn’t centralized on one campus…but is spread out in a series of colleges throughout the city, 31 of them…

…I wandered into several of the colleges, all of which seemed to follow a similar architectural pattern, not matter when they were built. Part of that similarity is that they all have a chapel, a place of Christian worship…

Seeing the chapels in Cambridge got me to thinking about the centrality of the Christian faith to education, learning and innovation. We tend to think of “western” civilization as the driving force of progress for the past couple of millennia, but that in many ways is a misnomer. Progress is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition, even if many or even most of our innovators today are not practicing Christians…

My point is that I suspect we are poorer as a society for no longer emphasizing the role of faith, especially Christian faith, in education. When we lose touch with our roots, when man becomes machine rather than created in God’s image, I think we all lose. Certainly our creativity deteriorates…

Neil Remington Abramson commented in response, as follows:

I think Lorne is right to link progress with Christian faith. Jesus instructed to care for society’s disadvantaged. He said in Revelations (as I recall) that when you help someone in need it is as if you are helping Jesus personally. Christian faith, hope, and love make progress possible and likely. Faith is illumined by the hope to make a difference, and actualized by love of neighbour as oneself.

I imagine that it matters a great deal that the Christian academics that taught and created progress are no longer, for the most part Christian. Oh, people keep doing things out of habit or tradition long after the reasons have been lost. If, however, you no longer have faith in Jesus’ plan to bootstrap everybody to greater happiness, then what are you loving and hoping for.

I’m afraid self-interest has taken over, as Christian altruism has declined. The profs don’t care as much about teaching – research is worth more in terms of monetarized merit – and students are more interested in fighting for high grades than learning what they need to know to do better later. Not all profs, nor all students.

When I agree with Lorne that the Christian spirit is synonymous with higher learning and progress, I should add that it is not exclusively so. Nalanda University is a Buddhist institution whose roots stretch back to the 5th Century AD. It is reputed to be the oldest university in India.

I suppose that we should clarify what we mean by the “progress” to which Christian spirit contributes. Western civilization often focuses on material progress and defined progress as improved living standards. Could we not also consider as progress the Buddhist focus on eliminating suffering, through eliminating desire? Either way, suffering is reduced and quality of life improved.

I would not want to advance an argument that Christianity uniquely contributed to learned progress by defining progress in limited ways. I also note that when I Google the oldest universities in the world, three of the oldest are Islamic. I imagine it is a universal hope that the human condition improves. The desire burns stronger or weaker depending on the time/place, but is always there.

Here is the list. University of Al Quaraouiyine: said to be the oldest continuously functioning university. Moroccan. The oldest university, though not the oldest, continuously operating university, is the Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences. Persian and pre-Islam (Zoroastrian?)

Things have changed, however, when the unifying vision of God’s love, expectation, and grace has been lost by so many. In hubris, God has been declared dead and replaced. People will sure be surprised when God arrives on The Last Day.


About brucelarochelle
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