What’s the University For?   /   Fall 2000   /    Articles

The Moral Purposes of the University

An Exchange

George Marsden, Richard Rorty, and Julie A. Reuben

In his paper, Professor Marsden says: “Among the candidates for being constructive subtraditions in American society, the religious communities ought to rank high on anybody’s list. Of course, we all like some religious communities better than others, or might think of some we might not want to encourage, but the vast majority seem among the best candidates to help produce constructive citizens.” I disagree almost entirely with that claim. I think that only a tiny minority of American religious communities ought to rank as constructive subtraditions in American society.

My litmus tests would be the following: If a religious community has gay clergy and solemnizes gay marriages, it belongs to the constructive minority. If it preaches the social gospel, if the preachers remind the congregation that the richest country in the world at the richest point in its economic history still doesn’t feed its poor, then it also qualifies. I don’t think there are very many religious communities of this sort. The vast majority of them do not meet either of these litmus tests.

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