Tag Archive: god

  1. YOUNG: God is not dead


    Recently, some have questioned religious faith at Yale both for its supposed incompatibility with the liberal arts and its inherent irrationality. The demeaning of religion is not new, especially on college campuses. In my own Yale experience, one professor described my faith as a “geographical misfortune” in class, while another deliberately proposed that I write a paper about how literature demonstrates God’s mythical, comical nature.

    Aside from being arrogant and devoid of pedagogical value, these comments neglect the formulation of religious liberty as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite my frustration I consoled myself with the hope that most of my peers — the real reason I chose Yale — would not share in this kind of bigotry.

    Many people at Yale find strength, virtue and peace through religious life; the pursuit of faith complements the work of a liberal arts institution. God is not dead, not in the lives of hundreds of Yalies from diverse places, experiences and faiths.

    My faith wakes me up in the morning. It is the most beautiful, steadfast and gracious power in my life. To the unbelieving, this description sounds mystical and irrational. But my present conviction comes from years of careful reasoning and wrestling with doubt. Yalies often assume that a belief in God is inherited, like culture, or that it exhibits a failure to think critically. My relationship with God is the greatest intellectual, emotional and spiritual test of my life. Faith is the thing I often neglect, but it is also what I want more than any grade, job or title.

    As a leader of one of Yale’s Christian ministries, I am fortunate to see God at work in communities across campus each week. I’ve seen friends study, sing, serve, rebel, cry and grow in their pursuit of transcendence. These students are not just conservative or white or Christian; they span the full spectrum of backgrounds and identities. One of the great joys of my life has been belonging to such a diverse community united by our belief in something higher.

    That word — higher — is often used to describe education at the postsecondary level, and it’s not coincidental. Historically, higher education diverged from secondary education in its concern for liberating the mind. In the mid-1800s, John Henry Newman, a Catholic, articulated the process of becoming intellectually liberated: A person’s mind grows freer as it becomes self-aware, understanding the process of learning in addition to acquiring knowledge. Such a mind is freed from oversimplification and self-absorption because of its heightened state of awareness.

    Volumes have been written about the far-reaching implications of this educational philosophy, but, for our purposes, it means that a central goal of the liberal arts is to draw a person out from their reliance on perception, authority and even “rationality” itself.

    This commitment manifests itself across Yale’s design: there are no preprofessional majors in an attempt to prohibit overspecialization; distributional requirements encourage intellectual breadth and exploration and residential colleges immerse students in an array of perspectives and backgrounds different from their own.

    Religious communities rely upon different means to accomplish similar ends. Religious leaders and texts supply profound, even radical ideas that reject seemingly natural human impulses. Some faiths also demand charity and mercy, both of which help us understand people different from ourselves. Religious belief requires individuals to ask existential questions, commonly through prayer, forcing a person to interrogate their meaning in life.

    The central impetus of most religions is the recognition of something greater within human beings that longs to be liberated. The outcome of genuine faith includes freedom from desire and perception, just as it does in liberal education.

    Faith and a liberating education are compatible, if not complementary, because of their common pursuit of greater human awareness. Faith at Yale merits the respect of professors and pundits alike, not only because it is legally protected, but also because it shapes people’s lives in powerful ways.

    Given the views recently expressed in the News, I fear some of my peers share in disapproval of religious faith. Yale’s motto “Lux et Veritas” intentionally responded to Harvard’s, an institution whose motto is merely “Veritas.” The motto is a commentary on what was seen as Harvard’s unfortunate reliance on reason alone; the “improvement” of this institution was its orientation of truth within God’s wisdom or “Lux.”

    Three hundred years later, modern Yalies of faith continue to seek “Lux.” As former Yale President Bartlett Giamatti ’60 wrote of our home, “The quest has been going on in this College for a long time, in this old New England city by the water.”

    ethan young is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact him at ethan.young@yale.edu .

  2. God, sex, death: small-town revelation at Yale Cabaret

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    Where are there millers and plowmen? Or rather, when were there millers and plowmen? Did villages like the one in the play exist in the American South in the 17th or 18th century? I don’t think it matters at all — I think “Knives in Hens” is set in a kind of primordial human community. This play, I think, is mythic, and maybe symbolic. If I were a theater historian the “isms” would flow. We’ll try this: It was effective.

    I’m writing this review ten minutes after the play’s finish, and I’m still carrying an emotional charge, the kind which a newspaper review is not the ideal conduit for transmitting.

    Three characters. A white strip six feet wide, the length of the Yale Cabaret. A white bed on either side, in front of the silhouette of a white farmhouse. One woman — whose character is named “Young Woman,” but who is only ever called “Woman”(Elizabeth Stahlmann DRA ’17) — starts in one bed and ends in the other. One belongs to her, or her husband, Pony William, a plowman (Niall Powderly DRA ’16). He is rough in his looks and his demeanor, wears a tight-fitting linen shirt that reveals most of his hairy chest. These are his work clothes, and his work seems to involve horse-care more than anything else.

    He often cups Young Woman’s face and neck; it’s a firm embrace, or if not that, a chokehold, and he kisses her often, spanks her, grabs her, smirks. They like to have sex; indeed, there’s not much else for her to do, childless and jobless as she is. They fear God. They hate the miller (Paul Cooper DRA ’16) to whom they must give their harvested wheat; he is rumored to have killed his wife and child. They are simple, libidinous, agricultural. She is ravishingly beautiful. Her face stretches, her brow furrows, with the most compelling urgency.

    This is a play about language, and knowledge. Writing. Permanence. Interior worlds being called forth, named, communicated. This is a play about murder, and agency, and gender.

    Do I seem overwhelmed?

    Plot — more of it. Young Woman is tasked with delivering the wheat to the miller, who is an itinerant worker – he travels between towns, performing his specialist service. He is creepy, but not necessarily more so than her husband. He wears an apron over an undershirt; his pectoral muscles curve out from the sides. He is lanky, has wild blue eyes, gruff in the same way as William, less predictable, smarter. His and Woman’s first meeting is tense — she refuses to enter his house, she tells him he has evil breath, the prospect of rape is imminently real. He ridicules her husband. He ridicules her.

    Their second meeting is different: He shows her his pen — a “useless stick” a traveling musician sold to him at the market. She condemns the pen as irreligious — “It’s a devil stick you made” — but then shifts to defense. “Look how much of me there is,” he says, gesturing to his notebook before accusing her of illiteracy. She proves him wrong by writing her name.

    On Young Woman’s way between houses, a microphone drops from the ceiling, hanging in the air by a cord, and she speaks into it — to herself, to the audience, to God, or something — searching for the words to describe God’s creation before the microphone is unceremoniously retracted into the ceiling. The thoughts that she learns to articulate in these fleeting performances she tries to express to her plowman husband, who fails to understand, condemns her ideas as irreligious, becomes almost violently aggressive; they have sex. This is the vague trajectory of their conversations.

    Everything is white — clothes, ground, bed, skin, house, but not the ink. Young Woman tries, after the name-writing episode, to rid her hands of ink before returning to her husband. But a charm has been cast — she is under the power of something new, and complicated, and dark — and she’s tormented by nightmares of the miller sprinkling black powder throughout her home. Her world’s whiteness is tainted.

    She goes to his house to try to reverse the ink-charm, but two things happen: She kisses him, and she falls into a night-long trance of writing. In the morning she discovers what she has written and delivers an epic soliloquy, declaring, “This town has lied. William has lied.” Her pilgrimage toward self-knowledge has begun in earnest.

    Things get harder to follow toward the end — there is a rock-pushing ceremony, somehow a rite of passage for the newlyweds. She faints afterwards, in the presence of both men. The plowman espouses his theology — he suspects that God’s glory is not God, as he’s learned in church, but Creation. He proposes that Young Woman’s body parts have been named inadequately, that their beauty makes language futile, that Young Woman seems to him to reveal the glory of God.

    It’s a moment of clarity for William — an insightful heresy, that sex and the body are the true sites of revelation. But it must be too late, because Young Woman and the miller kill William, rolling the wedding-rock over him as he urinates outside. The sex they have afterwards constitutes their new shared identity, their awakenedness.

    Does literacy compel people to kill their spouses? It’s as if the knowledge the two have tapped into breaks their old faith — in the town’s traditions, in the humble finitude of an unhappy small-town marriage. Tellingly, the miller lives outside of the village; his and the Young Woman’s knowledge turns them into wanderers, outsiders.

    Much is made of language, and of names. Once something has a name, the miller says, it has a use. Maybe YOung Woman’s important realization is about her name: that her being called “Woman” is not unrelated to the terribly small sphere of possibility in which she lives, and has sex, and carries bags of flour. Is this the story of her liberation? Is it a retelling of Genesis? A monograph on the terrible power of autonomy?

    “Knives in Hens,” written by David Harrower and directed by Jesse Rasmussen DRA ’17, presents its conflict physically: Young Woman is pulled between two poles — white, pastoral, brute simplicity and the inky moral uncertainty of interiority and the written word. I’ve spoiled the ending, but I haven’t done the play itself justice — the wide net this review cast missed plenty of exciting details, not to mention the feeling of watching it. “Knives” runs tonight and Saturday night at the Yale Cabaret.

  3. How Harvard Got Its Stupid Name

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    1636 was a great year to be alive. People gave their kids fun names like Prudence and Chastity. No one had to bother with Daylight Savings Time. Colonists were content to live in harmony on the East Coast, not yet haunted by a bucket-list desire to see the Grand Canyon. Besides the widespread pestilence and despair, things were going pretty well.

    But John Harvard, a minister from Cambridge, Massachusetts, was not so happy with colonial life. Dismayed by the youths he met in his ministerial work, Harvard worried for the future of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “These young men are kind, simple and God-fearing,” he wrote. “How will they learn to become assholes?”

    Harvard decided to found a university, one that would educate future generations in disciplines like Attending College and Telling People Which College You Attend. However, after a cursory visit to Ye Olde College Confidential, Harvard discovered that the university of his dreams already existed: A School Near Boston, a Cambridge divinity school famous for its vague and condescending name.

    Eager to make a difference, Harvard donated his entire fortune to the university. He also donated his personal library — 87 Bibles, plus one of those word-search placemats from Applebee’s.

    In honor of his generosity, the school would be renamed Harvard College. “We wanted to thank him with a gift from the Hallmark Store or, like, an Edible Arrangement,” wrote A School Near Boston president Francis Smith. “But then you have to send someone to the market, and that could be a whole big thing. This seemed easier.”

    Campus beautification ranked first among John Harvard’s priorities. Describing his architectural ethos as “lots of red rectangles,” Harvard designed the new campus in about ten minutes. For six days Harvard labored, laying bricks until his wrists were sprained and weak. And on the seventh day John Harvard rested, for he had an interview with Goldman on the eighth.

    In an early interview with The Early Crimson, Harvard described his vision for the University. “Finally, a place where white, Christian, land-owning men can flourish,” he said. “If they’re on the list, that is. Also, no freshman boys.”

    But Harvard was also surprisingly progressive for his time. “We look forward to admitting women in the 1970s,” he continued. “We want to wait for the only historical period with worse pants than the ones we wear now.”

    In the years that followed, Harvard College grew in size and clout. On-campus culture expanded with the creation of various social and academic clubs. James Dorner, class of 1639, wrote one of the oldest known diaries documenting Greek life. “I have decided to rush a fraternitee, that I might growe closer to God and bro,” he wrote in the fall of his sophomore year. “Verily, I be so shwasted right now.”

    But for all its salmon-shorted whimsy, Harvard was an incomplete institution. Alone like a yin without a yang, like the YDN without WKND, Harvard College staggered through the rest of the seventeenth century. Adrift. Aimless. Despicable.

    Then everything changed. The year was 1701 — the dawn of a fresh new century filled with horrifying sickness and no penicillin. America was ready for a new university. A university with the size of a small liberal arts college and the resources of a world-class research institution. A university with a more flattering school color. A university better than Harvard in every way.

    Eli Yale made it happen. The donation of his own, far superior personal library (two Applebee’s word-search placemats) to a New Haven college changed the course of human history. The school was renamed Yale in his honor. Harvard students, paralyzed by their school’s competitive social atmosphere, grew jealous of Yalies’ fun parties and sexy, rebellious Gothic architecture. Thus the greatest rivalry in history was born.

    And then a lot of other things happened, and now maybe we might win The Game.