FAITH COMMUNITIES IN THE ACADEMIC WORLD

By Myron B. Bloy, Jr.

The story of humankind can be told as our struggle, through the ages, to achieve communion with each other; we know that, in the deepest sense, what it is to be human is to live in community, as brothers and sisters, and our lifelong task is simply to realize that creaturely calling as fully as possible. Some persons, called saints, achieve this human calling more fully than others; some ages, called golden, provide more supportive political, economic, social, cultural, and religious contexts for the realization of our humanity in community than do other ages-perhaps called dark, and perhaps like our own.

The best contemporary statement I know of the essentially communal character and calling of the human creature is provided in Ignazio Silone's essay,"The Choice of Companions." Silone, whose life of underground resistance in fascist Italy and, later, against Stalinism, and whose literary art in novels like Fontamara and Bread and Wine celebrate the struggle for human community against oppression, was concerned with the deep despair that had overcome the Western intellectual and literary world after World War II. Here is the way he succinctly describes the problem:

Post-Nietzschean and existentialist literature has portrayed for us man's well-known present predicament. It can be reduced to this: Every tie between man's existence and his essence has been broken. Existence is bereft of every meaning which transcends it. The human is reduced to mere animal energy.[1]

After describing the ravaging despair of meaninglessness among contemporaries like Orwell, Malraux, and Camus, Silone concludes with this poignant question: "In spite of everything then, is there anything left?" Here is his reply:

Yes, there are some unshakable certainties. These, in my belief, are Christian certainties. They seem to me to be so built into human reality that man disintegrates when he denies them. This is not enough to constitute a profession of faith, but it will do as a declaration of confidence. It is a confidence which rests on something more stable and more universal than the simple compassion of which Albert Camus speaks. It is supported by the certainty that we are. . . free and responsible beings; it is supported by the certainty that man has an absolute need of an opening into the reality of others; and it is supported by the certainty that spiritual communication is possible. If this is so, is it not an irrefutable proof of the brotherhood of man?[2]

Silone then goes on to draw the necessary moral conclusion from his "declaration of confidence" in the essentially communal identity of humankind. He says:

This certainty also contains a rule of life. From it is born a love of the oppressed which no historical failure can put in doubt, since no vested interest is involved. Its validity does not depend on success. With these certainties how can one resign oneself to witnessing man's potentialities snuffed out in the most humble and unfortunate? How can one consider moral a life that is deaf to this fundamental commitment?[3]

While Silone belonged to no church (he called himself a "Christian without a church and a socialist without a party"), this is one of the purest summaries of biblical anthropology I know.

But the fact that our human identity is essentially communal and our consequent task to make sure that all share fairly in that reality does not mean, of course, that we will accept our identity and task. We can, like Faust, deliberately choose not to do so, or the contexts, in various aspects, of our daily living can subtly lead us away from our essential identity in communality. In fact, those cultural stratagems painfully built up over the ages -- the family, the tribe, the village and town, the religious order, the guild, the neighborhood, etc.-- to help us to learn how to enter into the reality of others and to engage in spiritual communication are not as tough and durable as we tend to think.

An example of the massive breakdown of the cultural norms of community in one people is the story of the Ik. The Ik are a small group of hunters, isolated in the mountains separating Uganda, the Sudan, and Kenya, who have been driven from their natural hunting grounds into these barren wastes by the creation of a national game reserve; without the appropriate culture, tools, and experience to become farmers, they have been told nonetheless to do so in this land without rain. Anthropologist Colin Turnbull, in his book, The Mountain People,4 describes how, in less than three generations, the Ik have deteriorated from a community of prosperous and daring hunters to scattered bands of hostile people whose only goal is individual survival, and who have learned that the price of survival is to give up compassion, love, affection, kindness, and concern-even for their own children. The Ik can and do steal food from the mouths of their parents, throw infants out to fend for themselves, abandon the old, the sick, and crippled to die without a backward glance.

I cite these horrifying details because I think we are all too sentimentally idealistic about the capacity of human beings under pressure to maintain their capacity for community, for emphatically entering into the reality of others for love; our naive idealism as a means of withstanding the real powers of chaos is about as effective as whistling in the dark against the dangers of the night. I want also to suggest that each one of us is far more ready, under similar pressures, to adopt the behavior of the Ik. Remember the private back yard bomb shelters, equipped not only with food, but with shotguns to keep the neighbors from trying to get in, which were built a few years back under the threat of imminent nuclear attack. What will happen to our vaunted community spirit when there is too little fuel to heat all of our homes? We have witnessed the predatory selfishness and violence that erupted in gasoline lines. What about current popular theories of triage which have it that we should abandon the weaker segments of the world population when world hunger hits? That is simply the Ik solution writ large. While, as Silone says, "man disintegrates when he denies" his communal identity, we nonetheless find our ability to realize and maintain that identity fragile indeed.

We find ourselves, I expect, in the same situation as Saint Paul: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom. 7:15). While the biblical tradition-with answers like "hardness of heart" and "sin" and "pride"-begs the question, along with every other system of thought about the ultimate cause of our suicidal tendency to deny our communal identity, that tradition does recognize its danger more clearly and describe the way it works more subtly than any other tradition I know. Let me trace some of the highlights of that tradition, beginning with the story of the creation and fall in Genesis. The story has three acts: In the first act of the older account, after man has been created and put in the Garden, it is apparent to God that this new creature remains incomplete: "It is not good that the man should be alone." The "other" is created that humanity might be fully realized as community; the man and woman cleave to each other so that they become "one flesh," and-so the account says-although they were both naked, they "were not ashamed." That is, their opening into the reality of each other was so total that they became as one, their spiritual communication so deep that they were totally unself-conscious: their fellowship represents human identity in its basic, underlying communal character.

In the second act, under the symbol of the tree, they rebelled against the empowering source of their life together, claiming that power for themselves, to be as God. Milton names the source of their rebellion "pride," and while that, of course, doesn't advance our understanding of its cause one whit, the suicidal character of the act is perfectly familiar to anyone who, like Saint Paul, has been honest with himself: we do the things we hate.

In the third act, we see the devastating result of their rebellion against the empowering source of their communal life of, as Tillich calls it, "dreaming innocence."

Now the most immediate result of their willed separation from God, from the creative and sustaining source of their life, is separation from each other, most tellingly revealed in the symbol of nakedness. When the attention of the self is totally on God there can be no self-regarding and, hence, no shame-no barrier to becoming "one flesh." But when the self in effect sets itself up as God, then it is, ipso facto, separated from every other self and implicitly assumes its presumptive hegemony over every other self. No wonder Adam was ashamed when God appeared in the cool of the evening. While the shame of nakedness is the sign of separation, first from each other and then from God, the self-righteous character of the new God-presumptive self is revealed in Adam's and Eve's responses to God's question about the fruit of the tree: Adam tries to shift the blame to Eve, and she, in turn, tries to shift the blame to the serpent. Another consequence of their rebellion, a fact that tends to reinforce their isolation, is the condition of meaninglessness which now infuses their lives: there is a dizzying nausea, to use the existentialist's term, in contemplating the fact of death-we are dust and to dust shall return-and in the realization that our situation is hopeless, that the angel with the flaming sword will not permit us to return to the tree of life.

This myth of creation and fall captures, with breathtaking insight and poignancy, the tragic irony of our situation. The deepest thing that we, each of us, know about ourselves is that our creaturely fulfillment lies in being so open to the empowering source of our creation that we can unself-consciously, unashamedly, for the sheer joy of it alone, enter into the reality of others and achieve "spiritual communion" (to use Silone's term); we have all experienced enough, usually brief, moments of such communion-in parental compassion received and given; in the self forgetfulness of romantic love; in the sudden, surprised opening to and from one another, usually a friend but often a stranger too-to know that our deepest heart's desire is to live permanently in such communion with others. We have all glimpsed the Garden of Eden; we remember it nostalgically at the deepest level of our being. But, and this is the irony, we also know that our lives have assumed a habitual pattern of betrayal of our heart's desire: our own God-itch and our defensive fear of it in others tend to commit us to a life of lonely separation under the constant threat of meaninglessness. We despair that our own perverse wills will ever allow us to live the real life which we know only in momentary snatches-that we will ever get back behind the angel with the flaming sword. The fall, and its inevitable consequences, is also our daily, chosen experience. We are, in fact, Adam and Eve.

For biblical people, the tragic irony of our endless betrayal of our Creator and, hence, of our created, communal selves which inevitably plunges us into isolation and loneliness, into meaninglessness and despair, is the dilemma of the human condition. The rupture of human community caused by the many different languages is understood to be the result of an attempt to build a Tower of Babel high enough to threaten God. When Amos sees the people plunged into faithless idolatry, he understands God's direst threat to be "a famine not of bread, a drought not of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. They will stagger from sea to sea, wander from north to east, seeking the word of the Lord and failing to find it. That day, delicate girl and stalwart youth shall faint from thirst" (Am. 8:11-13). That is, without the sustaining and nourishing Word of God, meaninglessness and aimless despair are human kind's lot. In Christianity's greatest literary myth, the Divine Comedy, Dante reserves the deepest circle of hell for traitors, those who have betrayed human community, who are embedded separate and silent in a lake of ice, a cold isolation which Turnbull saw in the daily life of the Ik.

If, then, the tragic irony of creatures created for community and life who nonetheless constantly betray it for isolation and death defines the basic dilemma of humankind, then the basic business of human culture is to devise stratagems, like the family or like the tribe, to help us mitigate that dilemma. All of the Ik's stratagems crumbled under the threat to their physical survival. I indicated earlier how that kind of external threat begins now to impinge on us: when the living is easy we can indulge in delusions about human nobility, but when things get tough such delusions must give way to a chancier-and more real-version of our identity.

But the deeper, internal threat, which has been growing in the West over the last several hundred years, is the idea or ideology of radical individualism. Paul Ramsey, in describing what he believe to be the basic "value-conflict in all modern societies," puts it well:

The key is atomistic individualism versus the tattered fragments of community that still remain. Since the eighteenth century, church and synagogue have been under massive assault from individualistic rationalism. So has a proper sense of political community, of education, of marriage, and of the family. The family was seen as a community in which fully human life is transmitted. In the atomistic view the state is merely an instrument for aggregating interests; marriage becomes contract and the family an amalgam of perfectly interchangeable roles or relations that reaches perfect expression when children call parents by their first names.[5]

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine how we have been so overcome by the ideology of individualistic rationalism which Ramsey describes, but I think it is indisputable that today our primary self identity is hardly communal at all, that we have in fact managed to make something of a heroic virtue out of that terrible isolation of the self which has constituted the dilemma of the human condition for biblical people in the past. Certainly, the Protestant ethic (as Max Weber defined it), Cartesian rationalism, the factory system, and the economics of consumerism have all contributed to that ideological condition, a condition we have tried to hide from ourselves under the old communal ideals of the past. We still see our nation as a secure community, despite the spectacle of its leaders using it for their personal aggrandizement; the family has never been more praised, as it clearly shows increasing signs of collapse; the prolegomenon of every college catalogue proclaims it to be a community of learning, but the college has in fact become increasingly a training ground for predatory individualism, e.g., through grading on a curve which pits every person against every other person.

In The Culture of Narcissism.[6] Christopher Lasch describes our time as "the dotage of bourgeois society" in which the psychological condition of narcissism, of individualistic preoccupation and self-indulgence, has become increasingly our covert cultural norm. Even the characteristic symptoms of psychological illness are, according to Lasch, changing from those associated with guilt, which presumes some communal norms about right and wrong, to those of a kind of free-floating anxiety, presuming a self caught, as Arthur Miller said about his character Willy Loman, "between galaxies of promise and the fear of falling." While social scientists, our institutional leaders, and even the popular media in their discussion of the new "me-ism" are increasingly recognizing the deepening isolation of the self, our decreasing capacity for communal life in every form, I think it is important to note finally that this theme of the isolation of the self has been persistent in American literature, at least since Hawthorne and Melville.

In summary, so far, I have sought to make the point that both Silone's perception that our communal identity is an ontologically given fact of our human identity and the Ik's demonstration that the apparent solidity of the basic forms of human community is illusory are true, that both truths are comprehended in the tragic irony of the Genesis myth and in biblical anthropology generally, and that today in America our own forms of communal identity have been so weakened by a culture of narcissistic individualism that we are dangerously open to the fate of the Ik under the pressure of any major social disruption at all.

American Higher Education

I can only sketch the devolution of American higher education from community to competitive individualism, but the turning points are clear enough. American higher education was, of course, modeled originally on the English college (particularly Emmanuel College at Cambridge University), which was, in turn, rooted in the monastery. The great continental universities, like those of Paris and Bologna, were set in cities and focused on the scholarly productivity of their faculties, with students usually living in rooming houses nearby, paying for the privilege of being intellectual apprentices. The English college, set in the country in self-contained living-learning compounds, was focused, like the monastery, on the communal formation of the students. The chief end of the English--and, hence, of the American colonial--college was the moral and spiritual, as well as intellectual, transformation of the young through a total community life into persons fit to participate usefully in serving the ends of the larger community.

Thus, a 1643 promotional tract designed to raise money for the new Harvard College advanced this argument:

After God had carried us safe to New England, and wee had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our liveli-hood, rear'd convenient places for God's worship, and settled the Civill Government: one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches when our present Ministers shall lie in the dust.[7]

"Learning" is here understood to constitute one of the necessary, but not first, functions of this new exodus community within the biblical dispensation, part of a faithful response to the call of God to build a new Canaan. Cotton Mather, emphasizing in 1672 the need for ministerial leadership to fulfill this covenantal mandate in founding Harvard, said, "Without a nursery for such Men among ourselves darkness must have soon covered the land, and gross darkness the people."[8] And a kind of "nursery"--a controlled communal environment for the intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation of the young--is precisely what the colonial colleges were. When one reads the first statutes of Harvard (1646), which were closely modeled on those of Cambridge, and of the other colonial colleges, one sees just how meticulously ordered their total community life was for the formation of leaders who would be able to extend the reign of God over this dark continent. In fact, the belief then was that formal learning began, as Jonathan Mitchell put it in 1663, in "Sundry Schools or Colleges in Israel wherein scholars (or sons of ye prophets) were trained up ."

After the Revolution, the hard transcendent focus of the colleges was softened to a somewhat more moralistic and nationalistic purpose, but that the purpose of learning was to help the young to serve the larger community remained firm. In 1802, Joseph McKeen, president of Bowdoin College, said about that purpose:

It ought to be remembered, that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be able to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental power may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society.[9]

The college was a community for the formation of effective citizens, men endowed not only with the skills for serving the common good, but also spiritually formed and motivated to that end. The college president's first responsibility was the maintenance of a total community environment for that purpose, and he generally taught a course in moral philosophy, usually in the senior year, which explicated that purpose carefully.

But after the Civil War -- when industrialization and an attendant bourgeois individualism developed rapidly and when the educational influence of the land-grant colleges and the German university became paramount -- the idea of higher education as the communal formation of the young for service to the larger spiritual or moral purposes of the nation became attenuated. Daniel Coit Gilman -- first president of Johns Hopkins -- put this new purpose in the following terms: "The university is the most comprehensive term that can be employed to indicate a foundation for the promotion and diffusion of knowledge -- a group of agencies organized to advance the arts and sciences of every sort, and train young men as scholars for the intellectual callings of life."[10] Knowledge, which had in the earlier college been a means to larger moral and spiritual ends, has now become the end of education; the young are to be trained to become votaries of knowledge, and what Gilman and his allies primarily meant by that was the knowledge of scientific rationalism. Similarly, the communal character of education was rapidly undermined by the new individualism: this is the time when, for example, under the aegis of Charles Eliot (elected president of Harvard in 1863), the so-called "elective principle" swept higher education (by 1897 Harvard's only required course was freshman rhetoric) and the idea of preparation for an individual "career" took hold. Neither the purpose nor, ipso facto, the means of higher education had anything like its formerly strong communal character by the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, higher education today is still largely in thrall to the ideology of individualistic rationalism gestated in the last third of the nineteenth century.

And higher education today is not merely empty of its formerly communal purpose and character, but it also serves as one of the great socializing instrumentalities for the atomistic individualism which has deeply undermined all of our traditional forms of community and even our primary cultural and spiritual capacities for knowing ourselves as communal beings. The massive, continuing fragmentation of knowledge in higher education, beginning with the first academic departments at Johns Hopkins a hundred years ago, and the intense struggle for careerist security combine to witness to no purpose larger than predatory individualism. That is the real socializing force of higher education, not the typical college-catalogue claims nor commencement rhetoric about a community of learning which, in fact, are revealed more and more to be abstractly self-serving against that foil of reality. The "new careerism" in higher education, which rests on the Ik-like assumption of all against all, is not "new" at all, but simply the emergence of a process which has been at work for at least a hundred years--a process which, moreover, is common to our whole society.

If, then, institutions of higher education are, as instrumentalities for socializing the young, aiding and abetting the general drift of our society away from traditional communal forms and identities and into forms and identities which radically isolate the self, pitting one against the other, then Jews and Christians in those institutions should recognize the familiar tragedy that is taking place. Humankind, made in God's image for community--for love and justice--is once again caught up in a suicidal idolatry of the isolated self. Furthermore, a concomitant of that recognition will precipitate biblical people in academic institutions into a ministry of communal witness and action, for the fact is that God has not left humankind stuck in its tragic and suicidal dilemma, but has provided means for growing more deeply into our created identity as brothers and sisters. We will now turn to look at those means, in biblical tradition, and then speculate on how they might be realized in and for the academic world.

Community as a Sign of Salvation

God's fundamental purpose, according to the Bible, in entering into our history is to help us so to recover our right relation with Him/Her that we can again know ourselves as brothers and sisters. The most crucial events in this community-making mission of God's are the Exodus, particularly in its culmination at Sinai, and, for Christians, the ministry of Jesus, particularly in its culmination in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

At Sinai the Lord said to Moses:

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Ex. 19:3b-6a)

First, God points to the palpable demonstrations of his love for this ragtag group of ax-slaves: God is clearly seen to be the initiator of this burgeoning relationship. Then, God tells them the appropriate response to that initiative--"obey my voice," i.e., remain constantly ready to hear and respond to my continuing initiatives in your future history, and "keep my covenant," i.e., remain steadfast in keeping the fixed conditions of our relationship. That consequentially "you shall be my possession... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" has the meaning not of a prize for good behavior, but, rather, of an inevitable, spiritually organic result of such obedient attentiveness and steadfast keeping. What emerges, as the flower does from the seed, from the restoration of an authentic human relation to God, according to the means given by God, is precisely the restoration of human community.

The terms of the biblical drama of this people have now been set: despite the efforts of prophets to help the people to hear and respond to God's voice in every present moment and of the priests to help them to be steadfast in keeping the ritual law, the fixed terms of the covenant, they nonetheless become periodically possessed of the God-itch, of "hardness of heart," and the first sign of this inner defection is the outward breakdown of community, of "the holy nation." Then God, ever faithful to the covenant, provides means in person or historical event to recall the people to himself and, therefore, the people to themselves as community, and the stage is set for some further defection.

This struggle, it eventually becomes apparent, is crucial not only for Israel, but for all humankind. The Lord says to Israel, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Is. 49:6). The promise is that God, like a shepherd, will finally guide the people of Israel and call all the nations to a restored Jerusalem where all will live together in a community of justice and mercy. Israel, as a community, bears witness to the promise that all humankind will be restored to each other as brothers and sisters.

The event of Pentecost is, in many ways, parallel to that of Sinai. God has decisively demonstrated his love for humankind in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; but what can that mean--in a practical, here-and-now sense--for his friends who have witnessed these events? It is certainly a cause for exaltation that, in the resurrection of their friend, death itself has most awesomely been defeated; but what can that mean for them and the rest of humankind? The answer is given in the coming of the Holy Spirit who, like the voice of God at Sinai, empowers the people to enter into the restoration of their relationship with God, the outward and visible sign of which is their restoration to each other in a new community. Thus, the ability of those filled with the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit to understand each other despite the barrier of linguistic diversity signals the restoration of the community which was destroyed at Babel because of our God-presumption.

As at Sinai, obedient attentiveness to God is the ground of their life together as they "devoted themselves"--in teaching, fellowship, sacrament, and prayer--to God in Christ. What flows from this restored and disciplined relationship with God is, of course, the restoration of human community in truly radical form. It is charged with numinous power, its members freely share their goods in a time when existence is precarious indeed, and they do so with an elan--"with glad and generous hearts"--that inevitably attracts others to their community. No wonder that the writer of 1 Peter (as well as of Titus and Revelations) uses the language of God's earlier promise to Israel to describe this community: "But you are a chosen race, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). And while this community, too, is immediately attacked, both from within (by Ananias) and without (by the religious authorities who had its leaders jailed and beaten), it similarly knows the promise of eventual salvation in a new Jerusalem with God. This hope is what enlivens them to persist in the struggle for their life together as a witness to God's "wonderful deeds."

Now, while there are indeed some important differences between Jews and Christians about the ground and nature of the communities to which God has called them, the fact is that both assert that the primary constitutive and continuing evidence of God's love for them is precisely their life together in a community of justice and mercy, of generosity and gladness. (Historians of the church have, I fear, made far too much of heroic individuals and not enough of this life together as its primary enlivening event.) Furthermore, Jews and Christians share a similar understanding of the rich and complex dimensions of the communities which are the essential medium of their life with God. In the first place, Jews and Christians require rootedness in here-and-now communities of the faithful both as a necessary means for being nurtured in that obedient attentiveness and steadfast keeping which God requires, and also as the joyfully inevitable fruit of such nurturing.

But, of course, such here-and-now communities do not, simply in themselves, provide the fullness of life in community for biblical people. To begin with, such an expectation would be unrealistic; we, too, despite the favor God has shown us, and despite the fact that we know better, become possessed by the same ironic "hardness of heart" which causes human beings to betray repeatedly that obedient attentiveness and life together which is their authentic existence. While our life together in proximate communities is indeed the very sign of and witness to God's love for the world, we also, willy-nilly, provide in the checkered history of every such community a witness to the lingering power of chaos and death. The fact is that, while local faith communities provide us a necessary, albeit ambiguous, context for our life with God, they are also gateways to the discovery of our deeper rootage in the historic community of the people of God in history, a pilgrim community which begins with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and will only end when "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" at the end of history. Each here-and-now community both receives and gives nourishment to this more abiding community.

The most important means for the realization of our continuing existence in that deeper community is a kind of transmogrification of time. In Catholic Christian communities, the calendar of saints, concretizing as it does that "cloud of witnesses" of which we are a part throughout time, is an important aspect of that incorporation. But the habit of mind which might be called anamnesis, remembrance, is common to all biblical people.

When that command to anamnesis is incarnated in liturgical form- in the celebration of the Passover or the Eucharist, for example-what is understood is not that a past event is nostalgically re-enacted in the present for each participant individual's edification, but, rather, that the celebrant community is drawn by the rite into the original, constitutive event and is, thus, incorporated into the historical community of faith, a community of all who have shared, do share, and will share that incorporation. Local communities in the biblical tradition can only achieve their fullest identity through deep rootage in this historical community of pilgrim people; otherwise they become isolated, quirky, self-indulgent, and anxious seekers after continual emotional highs from groovy worship or instant gurus.

A third dimension of community in the biblical tradition-besides the here-and-now congregation and the historical communion of saints-is that which includes all humankind. One of the most radical statements of it is in the often-repeated Mosaic words, "There is to be one law only, and one statute for you and for the stranger who lives among you" (Num. 15:16). This inclusiveness is a radical departure from the normally exclusive nationalism or tribalism of the Middle Eastern people at that time. That theme is, of course, developed further in the universalism of some of the prophets and, for Christians, reaches its fulfillment in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan and Paul's assertion that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). Indiscriminate neighbor-love is, of course, the logical moral consequence of the knowledge that we have already been made one human community by God's own act; we gain that knowledge by anamnesis- by immersion in the pilgrim community of the people of God in history, in all the revelatory events of our communal and continuing relation with God; and, finally, we are enabled to immerse ourselves in that historic community only by sharing deeply, day by day, in a here-and-now congregation of believers. Thus, biblical people know themselves to be living in a richly complex community of three dimensions-here-and-now life together, the communion of saints through all of history, and the family of all humankind-each dimension presupposing the other two in a mutually reinforcing dialectic.

Faith Community in Academic Life

It is precisely the presence of faithful Jews and Christians in academic institutions, openly living the richly communal life God has given them, which can bring a steady, healing challenge to the demonic forces of atomistic individualism that more and more possess academic life. What programmatic strategies, organizational structures, professional skills such faith communities ought best to employ are strictly secondary and derivative questions, and the fact that we generally accord primary, even exclusive, attention to methods only demonstrates how profoundly we too have become possessed by the very demonic powers we are called to exorcise. Only as a given collectivity of persons begins to live more deeply into its richly dimensioned calling as a community of the people of God will it discover the appropriate proximate and technical means for its life and witness and, also, only then will any such means possess effective spiritual weight. The fact is that our situation is as serious, as perennially desperate, as Saint Paul recognized in giving the following advice:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-14)

Only, hence, as we consciously and decisively live and grow together in the communal spiritual reality of God's new creation will we have any vision or strength at all to counter the powers of chaos which, in the form of atomistic, predatory individualism, increasingly hold our world, including the academic portion of it, in thrall.

But when one does discover such communities of faith in the academic world, communities whose very life is a rebuke to the powers of chaos and a celebration of the power of God in that world, they seem to have four distinguishing marks. In the first place, they are spiritually disciplined. That is, knowing full well that their life is sustained and their mission focused only through obedient attentiveness to God, they follow Saint Paul's additional advice in Ephesians: "Pray at all times in the Spirit, and with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..." (Eph. 6:18). The embarrassment among some Jews and Christians about prayer inhibits lively communal and individual engagement in it and prevents mutual support for growing in spiritual discipline; it bespeaks a lack of faith-certainly in Saint Paul's counsel and probably in God's empowering presence in prayer. No amount of moralistic word and work can cover up or compensate for that lack.

In the second place, such communities are morally engaged. That is, they know that the new life as brothers and sisters which they experience in their proximate and historic life together has its deepest rootage in the community of humankind, that they will remain ever restless until all human beings share in the justice and mercy which brothers and sisters deserve. Some Jews and Christians seem to stop short of this fullest realization of our life in community and, in so doing, they too bespeak a lack of faith; they imagine that God's salvation is intended for a religious club rather than for the world. No amount of effusive piety can cover up or compensate for that lack. In mature and faithful Jewish and Christian communities, spiritual discipline and moral engagement become such necessary concomitants of each other that it is difficult to see where one leaves off and the other begins.

Two other marks of the mature faith community which seem especially crucial in the academic world are that they are theologically reflective and collegially led. Because, contrary to Marx, ideas do have power, because academic institutions have become primary gestating places for the ideas that shape our common life, and determine our primary self-identity, and because in such institutions human beings in the most formative stages of their lives are grappling with those ideas, mature faith communities will reflect on and engage those formative ideas out of the experience of their life with God. Communities of faith in the academic world have, thus, a specific role to play on behalf of the whole people of God.

They are also collegially led. That is, while they may recognize that certain specific formal functions are reserved for ordained persons, they know that God is no respecter of persons (David was the youngest son, Jesus from a no-account village), that the community must remain always open to the leading of the Spirit concerning its own leadership. Thus, students, faculty, administrators, staff, spouses-whoever is joined to the community-are all looked to for the insight and leadership they are given on behalf of the whole community.

Such communities of Jews and of Christians-living in all the dimensions of the communal existence God has called them to-spiritually disciplined, morally engaged, theologically reflective, and collegially led-do indeed exist and carry out significant ministries in the academic world. They do so, of course, only "more or less," for we all always have a good deal of growing in grace to do in this world before we are finished. Nonetheless, these are the communities which we Jews and Christians must celebrate and hold up for our mutual edification, which we must attend to and learn from if our presence in the academic world is to account for anything in the providence of God, if we are to be able to accept God's commission in the academic world to be "a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth."

Notes

[1] Ignazio Silone, "The Choice of Companions," in Emergency Exit (New York: Harper & Row, 1968),144.

[2] Ibid., 126.

[3] Ibid., 126-27.

[4] Colin Turnbull, The Mountain People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972).

[5] Paul Ramsey, "Observations," in World view (October 1977): 33.

[6] Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978).

[7] "In Respect of the College, and the Proceedings of 'Learning' Therein," in American Higher Education: A Documentary History, ed. Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 1:6.

[8] Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, in Hofstadter and Smith, 1:13.

[9] Joseph McKeen, quoted in Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University (New York: Vintage Books, 1962), 58.

[10] Daniel Coit Gilman, in Rudolph, The American College and University, 333.

MYRON B. BLOY, JR. was one of the founders of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life in 1983. He died in 1985. This article is excerpted from The Recovery of Spirit in Higher Education (Seabury Press, 1980).


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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 93, Vol. 43 Issue 4, p437, 16p.