The Mail

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

To a great many of us, the Memorial Church had never seemed a very central symbol of the life of the College. Our way of life as a community of scholars is secular, not religious. Insofar as the Memorial Church had come into my consciousness, it had done so with the dignity of a place of worship. I had attended weddings there, had heard a great preacher in the Church, and the tolling of the Church bell is deeply associated in my mind with the last service read for some of my most beloved teachers. I am not a religious man in the traditional sense and do not belong formally to a denomination. I am a secular Jew. Until now I had never felt that my religious origins or my lack of religious affiliation in any way affected my identification with Harvard as a community of scholars dedicated to free inquiry and free teaching. What has always moved me deeply about Harvard is that its community was unified and universal. I believe this still to be true.

Now, on the basis of doctrinal issues that are remote from the present ideals of the University, the Memorial Church has become a focus of attention and debate. I am in no position to judge either the theological or historical fitness of the decision that Memorial Church is a place of worship where only Christian services may be held. As far as I am able to judge, both the theological case and the historical one are sufficiently shot through with ambiguity so that a decision might as easily have been made to treat this religious memorial to our war dead as a universal place of worship. One can find, moreover, legitimate and esthetic justification for the view that a Christian place of worship be just that--or for a view based on a more broadly defined ecumenical principle. I do not wish to join this debate.

Rather, let me explore some of its consequences. The first and most serious of these is that the Memorial Church now becomes a symbol of disunity in the Harvard community. To those of us who are not Christians, it is a place that is not available for sanctification either of joy or of grief. There has been exclusion. I cannot avoid the feeling that matters of sectarian religious doctrine have been put ahead of concern for the Harvard community, a community so fine and just in its temper and standards that many feel it to be one of the great achievements of American life.

A second consequence, as grave as the feeling of division that has been created in the community, is the bad faith shown those sons of Harvard who have died for their countries in two World Wars and the Korean War. I cannot brook the kind of legalism that reminds us that it is not the Church which is the memorial to our dead, but only the south wall. The Church is a memorial to those who died fighting for their countries, and inscribed on the rolls are men who fought in the ranks of our then enemies. It is sufficient that they are sons of Harvard; we honor their sacrifice. Religious memorial services may not be held in the Church for those among the dead who professed other than Christian faiths.


Finally, the issue at hand is creating an impression throughout the country that there has been some change of heart at Harvard, that the College is moving toward a new sectarianism. I can detect no such change in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences or in any of the great graduate faculties with which I have contact. We have confused our friends. Harvard has served well those who have searched for intellectual and moral dignity as men of learning. It has provided a home with no locked rooms. Let nobody be confused about the meaning of sectarianism in the Memorial Church. Damage has been done to our unity for reasons alien to our corporate pursuit as a University. The result will be not a weakening of the University: Harvard's capacity to ignore is much too deeply developed for that. The result, rather, is to reduce Memorial Church to the position of a parish church. Symbolically, it has lost its fitness as a place where the diversity of religious impulse can be communally expressed. Jerome S. Bruner,   Professor of Psychology

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