West Speaks Out On Decline of Morality
Praises Divinity School at Its Convocation
At the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) Convocation Ceremony yesterday, Cornel R. West '74 criticized declining standards of morality and praised the HDS as one of the few remaining bastions of spiritual strength and integrity.
Speaking to hundreds of HDS faculty and students gathered at the Memorial Church, West, who is professor of the philosophy of religion at the Divinity School and professor of Afro-American studies, said the tradition of spirituality embodied by HDS, attained through "sweat and labor," is one of the school's main assets.
"The HDS is one of the few places where we can make connections between seeking truth and spirituality," he said.
West said he was angered by the absurdity of racism and white supremacy and was highly critical of today's devolving morality in the business and political worlds.
He criticized the U.S. government for its attempts to limit welfare for illegitimate children, the Clinton administration for being ineffective and consumerism for having "a devastating effect on children's souls."
Calling for a government "that can take a stand," West said he questioned the ability of the American democracy to withstand the growing unemployment and underemployment rates.
He also said that sustaining spiritual health in a market culture is becoming increasingly difficult, especially due to "the gangsterization of everyday life under the aegis of global capitalism."
According to West, ignoring the decline of morality and the waning of cultures where caring is key causes democracy to become its own victim and spiritual impoverishment to triumph.
"I believe we're living in some of the most frightening moments in the history of this country," he said.
West said the HDS is a contrast to many of these societal ills.
"The Divinity School is a place that emphasizes non-market values such as traditions of love, compassion, equality, justice, kindness, sweetness and gentleness."
West said he wanted to impart some of his hope to the HDS faculty and students.
"The world is still incomplete; history is still unfinished; you can still make a difference," he said.
While West said there are no guarantees of success, he encouraged an active struggle for decency and dignity.
He said the "black tradition of combat and spirituality" is an example of endurance in the struggle against brutality and insensitivity, which he deems prevalent.