Letter: Yale’s faith debate is inherently irreligious

It is remarkable that Samuel Bagg, in his column Monday (“‘Secular bubble’ popped,” 9/22), should refer to his previous column (“On faith, U.S. should follow Yale,” 9/17) as a “call for pluralism” when that column contained not a single use of the word “pluralism.” Instead, the column lauded Yale’s “breaking free of traditional allegiances,” praised the transformation of religious institutions into secular ones, expressed disgust at “religious fervor” and called upon politicians to find a “new language” — that is, a non-religious language — by which to speak of the moral questions facing our nation. This sounds not so much like tolerant pluralism as something approaching militant secularism.

Bagg notes that Yale talks a lot about religion. He’s right. But we must consider the particular vantage point from which religious discussions at Yale are approached. I would conjecture, based on my experience and on Bagg’s descriptions of a couple of those discussions, that the vantage point is a predominantly irreligious one.

It does not ask, “Is this religion true, and if so, what implications does it have for the way we should view the world?” but rather, “Given that people believe this religion, how can we most prudently deal with it?” In other words, our public discourse approaches religion not as a possible guide to the most important truths but as a social phenomenon to be handled with care.

Students of all faiths are welcome to attend Yale. But if they desire to make an argument in the public sphere, their religion must be set aside. When is the last time a policy was enacted on the basis of the authority of a verse in the Koran, the Torah or the Bible?

Our common discourse appeals almost solely to the liberal creed of the Enlightenment. Our common worship extols the autonomous self. Those who dissent from this creed, it is true, will not be expelled. They will only be laughed at and told to keep their unenlightened ideas in the private realm where they belong.

Bryce Taylor

Silliman College ’11


  • Deconstructing the Skinner Box of Religion

    I wish it were as charmingly simple as the writer suggests in his final flourish. Religion is not a moral guide. It is an elaborate subconscious attempt by the ancient collective unconscious to create a societal Skinner Box thousands of years before Skinner. The Ten Comandments (Decalogue) are COMMANDMENTS not recommendations precisely because so many people DISOBEY them. Just as Skinner used electro-shock with his "Box" experiments, the ancient collective unconscious used "Hell", or the punishments of having a hand cut off or being stoned to death or any other charming pre-Skinnerean variation of "shock" to modify behavior.
    William F. Buckley had it wrong. He should have titled his 1952 book "God IS Man at Yale: Deconstructing the Skinner-Box of Religion with Ivy League Crow Bars"

  • Anonymous

    Well said. I think it is important to highlight the inherent hypocrisy in Bagg's brand of "militant secularism", which is that while liberal, Enlightenment values uphold reason and intellectualism above all else, somehow these ideals are suspended when it comes to the topic of religion. It's encouraged to examine and to debate every topic under the sun objectively, except for religion. Considering religion as valid is completely off-limits. And let's face it, drawing such a dogmatic bright line between what is permissible and what isn't smacks of, well, religious zealotry in the form that most modern intellectuals are so relentlessly critical of.

    Ever try to examine intellectual flaws of Darwinism with a fellow Yalie? Good luck. The truth is, there are reasonable, rational arguments against Darwinism as the bullet-proof scientific theory we hold it up to be (glaring holes in the fossil record, etc.) and yet, bringing up these facts among most liberal, educated people is like trying to tell an evangelical Christian that the world couldn't have been created in 6 days.

    At the point when secularism becomes its own religion (that is, a source of unchallengeable absolute truth) not only does it became, then, deeply, fundamentally, hypocritical, but furthermore, even from a rational perspective it, I think, loses in a direct comparison to traditional religion. After all, if you do accept the notion of absolute truth, I think it makes more sense that it would originate from a higher being and not from mortal man. (The internally consistent alternative, of course, would be to believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and therefore everything, including religion, should be fair grounds for debate, and potential sources of meaningful wisdom).

    The bottom line is, to borrow an old religious adage: practice what you preach.

  • A Human Being

    I find it interesting that the first comment approached religion just as the Mr. Taylor said discussions of religion are approached at Yale. He views it as a social/biological phenomenon that must be dealt with. He did not at all attempt to establish or attack the veracity of religion. Disregarding the truth and instead very questionably describing what it used/uses.

    I think the point Taylor is trying to make is people do not treat different religions fairly from an epistemological stand-point, as another possible true worldview, more like (at best) an inherited and possibly respectable relic of less modern times. All this despite the fact that contemporary philosophers of religion and New Testament historians are making strong cases for the truth of Christian Theism.

    Taylor, I think, wants the idea that people might make legislative, political, personal, or social decisions from a religious frame-work to be taken seriously, because these religious frameworks are often just as coherent and thought out as many secular frameworks. Yet there is frustration when people do not take any idea or decision coming from a religious worldview seriously simply because of its origin.

    The complaint in my mind is that only the secular worldview appears to be taken seriously with regards to how we should view and live in the world.