UNITED STATES--Believers think we can't have morality without God. But just as we created God, we’ve created something to replace him—with collective morality having been spared any hits.
Anyone who has spent time in the Northeast is familiar with to what architectural extravagances we treat centers of education. An elementary school in Briarcliff Manor, New York boasts bruise-colored brick. A high school in neighboring Scarsdale wears lancet windows and ridging reminiscent of painstaking white gingerbread frosting. In Yonkers, a middle school’s name is engraved atop its facade in a stone rendition of the Headbands game.
Historians have suggested that in America academia has replaced aristocracy—commandeering the same resources, the same respect—but academia has actually replaced the European tradition of something else. The church.
The similarities between the physical manifestations of American academia and European religiousness are uncanny. The cyclic window of Princeton University’s Alexander Hall nods obviously at the earlier Rose Window of Paris’s Notre Dame. Similarly does Yale University’s two-pronged Harkness Tower transparently trace its roots to London’s Westminster Abbey.
The similarities extend beyond the architectural. In almost every aspect of modern American academia a parallel in tradition European religiousness can be found. According to the Finer Times, in the middle ages, priestly “work was considered noble,” constituting the clergy “a special place in society.”
Like teachers and professors do today, priests “provided care for members of the community,” conducted Mass as educators conduct classes, and worked as a voice-piece for “passing on messages to the community,” as educators do by ensuring academic standards and tools necessary for understanding the outside world are passed down to students.
Similar as professors are to priests, the attitudes of and towards American students are near identical to those of religious followers of years past. According to Public Agenda “Parents of high school students . . . [are] resolute when talking about education and training for their own children. Almost two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed believe that a college education is absolutely necessary for their children.”
Believers are as adamant about the necessity of the church in ensuring success for the follower, with Catholic magazine maintain that "Outside the Church there is no salvation" (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus).
Anyone who has spent more than a few hours with an ambitious high school student can attest the religious seriousness placed on securing college acceptance. After discussing the hysteria which surrounds the college admissions process, one friend quipped that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, or, to use the overachiever forum CollegeConfidential.com’s collective terminology, “HYP” has succeeded the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as the touchstone of our national Trinity.
College admittance today is tied so intricately with the concept of salvation in this kind of student’s mind that his or her understanding of moving into one of several elite colleges is akin to moving into heaven. And not to condone the mania this belief creates, but to rationalize it, to stand outside Princeton’s Alexander Hall under the blanket of snowfall does, I understand, stir one with a celestial impression.
Various other parallels between the European tradition and the American adaptation, such as both belief systems’ focus on textual evidence and book-learning, the use of strange devices—the incense thurible and TI-nspire calculator come to mind, respectively—the inclusion of robes and Latin, pomp and splendor, and a common taste for wooden furniture.
Greatest of the differences between the two systems, however, marks them both decidedly separate and irreconciable. In European religiousness, the follower toils and works for God, for the ephemeral promise of clouded afterlife. In European religiousness, there is no ‘I’ but only the image of the self made by God, for God. In American academia, the ‘I’ is God. The faith is placed in the individual, not the individual’s deity, the reward sought one specific to the mind and heart seeking that reward rather than universal. Sacrifices are made in both, postponement and over-emphasis on the future distinctive of both.
In European religiousness, the student seeks the sacred. In modern American academia, the student is the sacred.