Angels In America

* The evolution of Mem Church reflects our religious diversity.

As the millenium approaches the semioticians among us turn quite naturally to the New York Times Book Review bestseller lists (both paperback and hardcover) in an attempt to divine the future.

The burgeoning market for the differing treatments of spirituality, religion and psychology reflects the population's growing interest in these issues.

There has been, of course, the success of the Pope's Crossing The Threshold Of Hope. (Harper Collins, not to be outdone by Knopi's coup, will be publishing the Dalai Lama's Essential Guide to Human Liberation, which is touted as offering "10 clear steps toward the peace and compassion of true enlightenment.")

This surge of interest in things spiritual can be attributed to a number of factors including an aging population.

The (now) ludicrously named baby-boomers are careening into their 50s and are selecting answers to questions about morality. More importantly, they are seeking to provide a structure of morality, an authoritative framework which can begin to attempt to provide some of the answers to the eternal questions. Value systems predicated on lifestyle beliefs, cobbled together incoherently just won't suffice.


The Crimson, in a recent report on the escalating number of College undergraduates who were joining religious clubs, revealed that "students say that Harvard's academic atmosphere, traditionally seen as 'Godless' and anti-religious, has become far less hostile and skeptical."

This is not a surprising development. In his bestselling book, Pope John Paul II writes, "The experiences of teachers and pastors confirm, today no less than yesterday, the idealism present in young people, even if nowadays it perhaps tends to be expressed mostly in the form of criticism."

And in the face of both individual and collective fears about the future, a retreat to the solace offered by religion is to be expected.

And here at Harvard--home to increasing religious plurality, we have in the form of the Memorial Church (a triumph of ecumenism) an attempt to accommodate this growing diversity.

Associate Minister in the Memorial Church Preston B. Hannibal told The Crimson that "[t]he first week of September, we had [Harvard-Radcliffe] Hillel upstairs conducing their High Holy Day services...Down in the Buttrick Room, the Muslim students were having their Friday prayers, and right across the hall from them, the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship was having their daily prayers."

Further evidence of the ecumenical nature of the Memorial Church may be found by glimpsing briefly at the roster of speakers for the Morning Prayers held daily in Appleton Chapel. Everyone is welcome, including those who derive sustenance from their faith, as well as prodigals who return occasionally for critical examination of the rich tapestry of theirs.

Speakers have included representives from all faiths, priests, ministers, rabbis as well as laypersons.

The Chapel's intimacy invites surrender to the day's message, which can be, by turns, whimsical or profound. It provides sanctuary and its inviting warmth is undeniable.

Robert Coles '50, professor of psychiatry and medical humanities, provided the most compelling reason for the continued support of Memorial Church last week in his address.

The Chapel is perhaps, he notes, the ideal place to "savor triumphs," as well as to find a respite from the "intellectual assertiveness" which undergirds and drives our various enterprises.

Lorraine A. Lezama's column appears on alternate Tuesdays.