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RELIGION IN OUR COLLEGES
PRESIDENT HENRY CHURCHILL KING
RELIGION, in the theme given me, is intended, of course, to include morals; for any religion that does not fruit in honest and worthy living is not worth talking about, in college or out. The subject, so conceived, is manifestly of the most vital significance; for to the colleges and universities many of us are committing for all their higher training our sons and daughters, and in these institutions the leaders of national and church life are being trained. It mightily concerns us all, what the religious spirit of our colleges is.
Nevertheless, I shall not dwell on caustic criticisms of the colleges and universities, like those of the late Mr. R. T. Crane of Chicago, though some of the replies from college and university men to Mr. Crane seemed to me almost more disturbing than the original charges. Nor shall I dwell on the grave misgivings of undoubted friends of the colleges, like Mr. Clarence F. Birdseye, who, after a very careful study of college and university conditions, wrote, several years ago: “When I had gathered my proofs together I was appalled at what I had found in many institutions, and at the conclusions which must logically be drawn therefrom." And I shall not even dwell upon the dissatisfaction with positive achievements expressed by other friends of higher education, like Dr. Edwin E. Slosson and President Wilson. In the light of his extended study of great American universities, Dr. Slosson wrote: “The most vulnerable point in our collegiate system is the diversion of the interests of the student body from the true aims of the college. Social life, athletics, dissipation, and the multitude of other student activities have cut down to the minimum the attention given to their studies.” President Wilson expressed the same conviction in his now famous sentences: “So far as the colleges go, the side shows have swallowed up the circus, and we in the main tent do not know what is going on. And I do not know that I want to continue under those conditions as a ring master. There are more honest occupations than teaching if we cannot teach." These last charges are a good deal more serious than seems sometimes to be perceived. For so far as they are true, they mean that our colleges are simply going out of business.
Concerning all these criticisms, three things ought in fairness to be said in passing. First, a part of the trouble, at least, lies in the homes from which students come - homes too often without adequate discipline, convictions or ideals. Many parents, it is to be feared, are not earnestly coveting the highest character and the highest tasks for their sons and daughters. Second, since Mr. Birdseye wrote, there have been, on the whole, some moral gains in college and university life. Third, religion probably has a larger formal recognition, at least, in the general college and university life of today than perhaps ever before. The Christian Associations are more prominent; there is more individual Bible, mission, and social study; there is a clearer perception of the need of taking religious data everywhere into account, and the attitude concerning religion is on the whole less apologetic. Courses in Biblical literature, and in the history, psychology, and philosophy of religion are much more in evidence. I make no attempt to summarize these gains. In all of them we may well rejoice.
But unfortunately at the same time the colleges have been subjected to the drastic criticisms already referred to, and it must be admitted, probably, that there is still a good deal of justified dissatisfaction with the prevailing tone of college life. Though it should be emphatically said, that there are great differences among colleges, and sweeping statements cannot be justly made.
Without taking, then, a pessimistic or merely critical position, I confine myself to two positive insistencies which I believe to be most of all needed to insure such a moral and religious life as our colleges ought to have. I am contending, that is, first, that religion in our colleges must mean the vigorous application of the principle of the obligation of the privileged to higher education; and, second, that it must also mean that the colleges should honestly do what they pretend to do. I shall not be anxious concerning religion in the college if these two things can be done. Without them, we may be sure, religion cannot count in our colleges as it ought.
I. In the first place, then, I urge the necessity of a changed point of view in college life as alone rational. Very much depends on view-point. The changed view-point for which I plead is the clear and definite application of the principle of the obligation of the privileged in higher education. have been applying the doctrine to wealth and to office. Does it not hold even more for inner resources? Have we ever applied it strenuously to higher education? And yet the colleges and universities and their students are public beneficiaries to an enormous extent. Are they justifying their privileges? The university stands, for example, for expert leadership in all departments of thought. Can it refuse this leadership in the most vital of all fields — that of conduct and ideals? And, as to the students themselves, it must never be forgotten that college and university students constitute a small and highly privileged class of the community, set apart for the time from the productive forces of the nation, for the very purpose of training for larger service. The fulfilment of that purpose is the only justification either for putting such large resources into higher education, or for setting apart these youth for these special privileges. Is it not high time that it was recognized on all hands that the community has every right to expect, as a matter of course, from persons so privileged as the students of our higher institutions of learning, not only not selfish lawlessness, and not only common obedience to law, but preëminent regard for the public good, patriotic devotion, deep concern for the inner life of the nation, and therefore most honest and earnest use of present opportunities, and a corresponding intelligent insight into the laws of life and obedience to those laws? This is a standard that must steadily be held before our student bodies. That spirit would speedily subordinate the side shows to the main tent.
Primarily this is a matter of college administration. There is neither need nor use in allowing outside interests to dominate the college's main work. At least dissipation and incorrigible laziness alike should automatically close the door to the high privileges of college education in both state and private institutions.
To meet its plain and simple obligations, therefore, - the obligations of the highly privileged - the business of higher
education - I think one must admit - properly demands an atmosphere that shall be characteristically one of self-discipline, of work, of positive and aggressive convictions and ideals, and therefore of enthusiasm and leadership in the world's highest progress.
In the first place, the serious work of training the leaders of the nation's life cannot be done in an atmosphere lacking self-discipline. But the colleges frequently do not give that impression. I am no pessimist nor kill-joy. But there is call, I cannot doubt, for a new Puritanism in our college life. We shall not make again the mistake of asceticism of regarding self-denial as an end in itself -- but we shall feel that teachers and students alike ought to take on, understandingly and whole-heartedly, all that self-discipline that is valuable for the individual himself as physical, mental, and moral hygiene — (for which Yale's Professor Fisher has
been contending) all that self-discipline that, though the individual himself may not feel its need, is fairly demanded by the good of the whole community; and all that self-discipline that is further involved in the full subordination of all the lesser goods to the greater, and in the clear recognition that a man is made for heroic service, and cannot himself be largely and finally satisfied in passive self-indulgence. Such self-discipline is no enemy of joy, but itself the condition of the largest and truest joy, as Christ so clearly saw the joy of self-conquest, the joy of growth, the joy of work, the joy of friendship, the joy of service, the joy of sacrifice, the joy of God.
The atmosphere of the college, too, should be characteristically one of work. The college course should not mean four years of "loafing and inviting your soul,” whatever that may mean. If laziness - physical, intellectual, and moral — is not the original sin, it lies, certainly, very close
to the source, for it makes growth impossible. Frantic activity is not what is desired. Leisure is doubtless necessary to the highest results in education, but not loafing around. And only that leisure will be fruitful that has a background of work, not of laziness; of duties faithfully performed, not of duties forgotten and neglected. The phrases "greasy grind," on the one hand, and "a gentleman's marks," on the other, have much to answer for in the deterioration of college life. Serious, honest, persistent work is only a decent demand. Less cannot be required of a student than that he should live up to the spirit of Kipling's lines,
There is always an element of treachery somewhere in failure to do honest, square work, to meet one's plain obligations, to “play fair.” This is only to ask the student to come up to the level at least of our pure food laws, and to live up to his label of "student."
A college, too, that has not permeating it through and through positive and aggressive intellectual and spiritual convictions and ideals, simply cannot give serious and vital content to the life of its students, nor will it have the sincere intellectual respect of the very students whom it is coddling. Self-control, the student must learn, is not primarily negative but positive, and character is no mere cutting things off or emptying things out, but the taking on of the great purposes, the great causes, the great devotions, the great enthusiasms. The college must make it plain to the student that goodness, thus positively conceived, is the most interesting thing on earth.
And, finally merely to clean up the moral life of a college, in answer to criticisms from outside, must be regarded as a pitiful result at best. No virtue is safe that is not militant. How can the colleges consent to be laggards in the matter of moral and social ideals? How can they help realizing that they stultify themselves if they fail to be leaders, if they fail to be training leaders, if they fail to be far in advance of the average sentiment of the community? Enthusiastic leadership in human progress is rightly to be expected from