The Intellectual and Spiritual Crisis of the University

Professor Charles Malik

The university is the most important institution in the Western world, indeed in the whole world. Leaders of government, church, industry, business and the media are all either graduates of universities or of schools whose teachers are themselves graduates of universities and whose textbooks are produced by such graduates. Even the ordinary citizen and the parents and children at home, regardless of whether they are or have been students of universities, are perpetually bombarded by university influence through the impact of the media. Man today never finds himself outside the direct or indirect influence of the university.

It follows that no question today is more important than, or even as important as, the question of the state of the mind and spirit at the university. The state of the mind and spirit of the university pervades and controls the whole of contemporary civilization. This is only to say that education dominates the world and the fountain head of all education is the university.

A Christian lives every minute in the presence of Jesus Christ. There is, no doubt, an eternal tension in his soul between Christ and the devil, but Christ is regally present in this tension, and He determines it in the end more than the devil. To such a person the question of what Jesus Christ thinks of the university is the most crucial question.

Would the living Jesus, who sitteth on the right hand of the Father and holdeth the destiny of man and all human civilization in His hands, be pleased with the dominance, among the sciences, of naturalism, materialism, rationalism, monism, and the self-sufficiency of the mind in its understanding and control of everything it investigates, both external and internal? Is there a first-class "Christian" scientist who has been awarded or who is worthy of being awarded a Nobel Prize in his field, or at least whose scientific contributions are recognized in Tokyo, Peking, Delhi, Moscow, Heidelberg, Freiburg, the Sorbonne, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Cairo and Beirut, who is prepared in total sincerity and conviction and in absolute clear conscience to say the Nicene Creed and mean it exactly as Saint Athanasius and the Council that adopted it and the church that teaches it mean it? If there is not, then believing Christians should be interested in knowing why this is the case. Why does modern science, whose spirit dominates the universities, almost invariably breed either atheism or agnosticism or indifferentism? Is this phenomenon pleasing to Jesus Christ? Can a believing Christian, knowing-as he ought to-the place and supreme importance of the university in the world today, really sleep when he contemplates these facts?

Consider again the humanities-I mean, the departments of history, literature, art, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and others. Inquire profoundly and exhaustively into the ultimate presuppositions, in terms both of fundamental ideas and living personal attitudes, which undergird their doctrines. I hold that these ultimate presuppositions are based, in almost every instance on one or another, or on some curious combination, of the following outlooks: naturalism, materialism, technologism, cynicism, sheer analysis, Freudianism, sensualism, subjectivism, relativism, rationalism, scientism, humanism, the will to power, and atheism or (what amounts to the same thing) total indifferentism. The whole interpretation of man, history, culture, value, destiny and being is in these terms. Virtually no reference whatever to genuine transcendence; certainly no reference to God or Christ or the original Spirit. Is this state of affairs pleasing to Jesus Christ? And what is not manifestly pleasing to Jesus Christ, can it be pleasing to the believing Christian? And if the intellectual and spiritual source of all power, vision and dominance in the world today, namely, the university, is itself determined by such a radical alienation from Jesus Christ, not only in terms of its central academic policy and general spirit, but in terms of the material contents of the courses it teaches which feed and form the mind day after day and year after year, is there the slightest doubt that only disaster- international, political, economic, social, moral, intellectual and spiritual, awaits us all?

Only Jesus Christ on the Cross can bring proud man, and therefore the proud scientist and the proud humanist, on his knees, and can convert him from rebellion to obedience and sanity.

Western universities all sprang in the womb of the church, and non-Western universities today for the most part pattern their curricula and their concept of themselves as universities on the model of Western universities. Would Jesus Christ feel at home today, or at least at ease, in the universities which owe their original founding to His church, and therefore to Him? Why have the universities swerved from the bosom which embraced and tended them? Is this swerving progress and liberation, as some claim? What is "progress" and what is "liberation"?

I am speaking as a Christian, and I address what I say in the first instance to Christians. If the displeasure of Jesus Christ with the university which, I repeat, is the most important and most influential institution in the world today, should continue; namely, if naturalism, subjectivism, scientism, relativism, humanism, indifferentism, atheism and the will to power should continue to dominate the mind and spirit of the university and therefore the mind and spirit of the world, with no reference whatever in the curricula of the sciences and the humanities and the lives of the scientists and the humanists to anything genuinely transcendental; then the Christians of the world would have to bear primary responsibility before the judgment seat of Christ for the disastrous consequences that would ensue so far as history and human destiny are concerned. Five billion dollars as an endowment for a properly constituted organism that would keep on studying, in an authentic and responsible fashion, the state of the mind and the spirit in the universities on a continuing basis are nothing compared to the absolute gravity of the total divorce that obtains at present between Christ and the temples of science, thought and learning throughout the world. To continue to be complacent about this situation and indifferent to its inevitable consequences, or to be concerned but in a superficial, flippant, juvenile and wholly ineffective manner, verges on being a sin against the Holy Ghost. And God help the Christians then, and with them the whole lost world.