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Newsweek's 'Religion in Our Colleges'

On the Shelf

By David M. Farquhar

1ST NEWSWEEK ED.: Easter's coming up. We've gotta have an Easter Feature.

2ND NEWSWEEK ED.: Got a great idea for an Easter Feature. We take the Harvard Student Council's religion report, misinterpret it, tie it up with the national religious revival, and satisfy millions of anxious mothers that their sons are secure in the faiths of their fathers, and that they have deep feeling for their Religious Heritage. We may even fill out our circulation with Saturday Evening Post readers.

1ST NEWSWEEK ED.: This might be tough to make a real Easter Feature out of, unless the Council report gives religion the benefit of every doubt, and even gives some benefits outright. Does it?

2ND NEWSWEEK ED.: Oh yes.

Out of the interplay between two such minds must have come the "special Eastertide report" behind the Pusey-and-chapel cover of last week's Newsweek. Only from the compounded half-truths of the Student Council and a magazine writer with a Good Friday deadline, could an article like Religion in our Colleges result. It says a "religious renascence" has taken place at Harvard.

A Harvard undergraduate, presumably speaking (along with Dean Horton) for the bulk of the undergraduate body, is quoted as saying, "It happened between my freshman and senior year. Suddenly, people weren't ashamed to go to church or to say they believed in God. It was like the lifting of a veil." Dean Horton, who we imagine played no small part in the veil-lifting, (and who, for those who have never heard of him, is Dean of the Divinty School) says, "This is the day of the Church, a dangerous day--when everyone speaks well of you. We at Harvard must be there with a word of warning and a word of encouragement." This is the text below of a benevolent picture of the Dean, in ministerial garb, with the caption, 'WE AT HARVARD.' That the Dean speaks for every one is borne out by such observations in the article as, "This rebirth of the Divinity School has been felt throughout the Harvard Yard."

And just a paragraph away from the warm glow which the end of the last column dissolves in, another Harvard student(or maybe it is the same one quoted earlier), "spoke for many when he said, "'There don't seem to be any other answers outside religion...Students have to find some meaning for their existence beyond bad grades. I guess you just have to have a God.'"

But two zealous undergraduates and Dean Horton aren't enough to make it stick. The editor resorts to facts. These come from the Council's Religion at Harvard report. The facts are:

1. 61 percent of the Harvard Students interviewed, infrequently or never attended church during the school year.

2. 60 percent felt that hey have some from of religious belief for a fully nature philosophy of life.

3. 74 percent thought their concern over the ultimate meaning of life had increased while at Harvard.

Weak as these facts may seem in support of the existence of a Cantabrigian religion renascence, they are actually even weaker. It is interesting to note that the religion committee felt themselves "on the wave of renewed religious interest sweeping the country." They also felt that "in one way" the committee was not representative, since "from the start, each member shared in what might be called a pro-religious bias." This one way does seem a significant one. Another significant note is that, of the 190 questionnaires about religion distributed to students, only 150 of them were returned. One would imagine that the greatest number of men who did not take the trouble to fill out the questionnaire were those of undecided, agnostic or atheistic opinions. That is, the council statistics might be as much as 25 percent off; the statistics, too, probably have a "pro-religious bias."

This means that the Newsweek article, taking nearly all of its information about Harvard from the Council report, doesn't have much of a chance at the truth.

Many of their statements are made possible only by interpreting the sixty percent agreement that "some form of religious orientation...is required for a fully mature philosophy of life,"(from the Council report) to mean a pilgrimage en masse to houses of worship and a dynamic religious rebirth. Even H.D. Aiken might go along with such a vaguely all-inclusive phrasing as "some form of religious orientation." From many such statements as "increased concern over the ultimate meaning of life" equated with manifestations of religious zeal of the Norman Vincent Peale variety, the article derives its resounding afflrmations about religion bursting out all over the Yard.

Since most of Newsweek's readers don't know that Harvard has not experienced a religious renascence, we can only hope such unconvincing misinterpretations will appear obvious, and will give the lie to Newsweek's Easter Feature generally. The spirtual ripple caused by a slight increase in church attendance and a lot of money sunk into the Divinity School has been magnified out of all proportions.

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