Tuesday, October 02, 2007

God's Harvard

While the media attention on evangelicals and politics has declined along with Bush's approval ratings, it would be wise to continue to study this highly organized interest group. In God's Harvard, Hanna Rosin takes a close look at Patrick Henry College, the mission of which is to develop Bible-centric political leaders to change the DC, and the broader, culture from within.

Unlike many ideologically-incompatible reporters studying the evangelicals, Rosin avoids direct criticism, fear-mongering or caricatures in her writing. Instead, she lets her subjects, which include discontented as well as dedicated students, the visionary Chancellor and the staff speak for themselves. One of the strongest believers, the kind and thoughtful Derek gladly reveals viewpoints that would strike mainstream American readers as strange or even disturbing. His inability to see Bush as a potential political liability as well as an asset is odd, for a politics major, while his casual homophobia gives hints of pogroms.

A key tension that Rosin identifies is the desire to participate in and influence mainstream political culture, without oneself becoming influenced and changed. This plays out on the individual level, as students find life on the Hill to be less ideal than they hoped and on the institutional level as the school tries to balance intellectual rigor with Biblical orthodoxy. Like the Communists of the Mao era, the schools leaders move towards a degree of small "l" liberality only to swing rapidly rightward and expel any apostates.

One of the more interesting characters is a charismatic professor who clearly believes in the school's mission, but whose Jesuit-like intellectual challenges prove too much for the leadership. It's a testament to Rosin's skills that I felt great sympathy for a man whose views are most likely opposite my own pursuing a mission I oppose.

For those interested in the interplay between politics and religion, a story which isn't going away, this is an excellent read.

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