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The Forerunner

A Brief History of Christian Influence in U.S. Colleges

By Editorial Staff
Published April 6, 2008

Harvard had been founded in 1636 by Puritan Calvinists who recognized the necessity for training up a clergy if the new Bible commonwealth was to flourish in the wilderness.

Since 1620, some 17,000 Puritans had migrated to New England, and they wanted ministers who were able to expound the Scriptures from the original Hebrew and Greek, as well as be familiar with what the church fathers, scholastic philosophers and reformists had written in Greek and Latin.

The kind of teaching that Harvard College was to provide was spelled out in its “Rules and Precepts” as follows:

Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all found knowledge and Learning…

Secularization of the American university begin with the takeover of Harvard by the Unitarians in 1805. Actually, the Unitarian takeover was preceded by a protracted struggle between orthodoxy and liberalism, which began in 1701 when Increase Mather stepped down from the presidency. The liberals, who had obtained a definite majority in the governing Corporation, elected John Leverett as president of Harvard College. Leverett, a religious liberal and a layman, set the college on its course away from Calvinist orthodoxy.

Gentlemen vs. Scholars

Under Leverett, Harvard became known as a place where young men became gentlemen rather than scholars. Leverett differed from his predecessors, who regarded Harvard merely as a seminary for orthodox Congregational ministers. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s Three Centuries of Harvard:

Former presidents liked to refer to Harvard men in commencement orations and the like by the Old Testament phrase filli prophetarum, “Sons of the Prophets.” Leverett called the alumni harvardinates, or “Sons of Harvard.”

It was also under Leverett that Harvard began attracting the unfavorable attention of the press, which reported on students living “in riot and luxury.” Leverett’s own diary reveals that the faculty was having plenty of trouble with “profane swearing,” “riotous Actions,” and “bringing Cards into the College.” An undergraduate’s diary of the time notes that the students were frequently slipping off to Boston for horse races, private hangings, and other diversions. Liberalism was already producing its inevitable by-products.

In 1720, Thomas Hollis, a London merchant, endowed the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, Harvard’s first professorial chair; in 1721, Edward Wigglesworth, a talented young cleric, was appointed to it. Although Wigglesworth satisfied the orthodox members of the Corporation as to his adherence to Calvinist doctrine, he soon showed his true colors. Morison writes:

One of the first theologians in New England who dared publicly to challenge the “five points of Calvinism,” he employed the deadly method of doubt in inquiry, rather than direct attack… Wigglesworth was a prime favorite with Harvard students, and he and his son Edward, who succeeded, had a very great influence on New England theology. It was the Wigglesworths who trained the pioneers of liberal Christianity in New England – the ministers who led the way out of the lush but fearsome jungles of Calvinism, into the thin, clear light of Unitarianism.

The founding of Yale College in 1701 at New Haven, Connecticut by orthodox Harvard graduates was a reaction to the growing liberalism at Harvard. Yale, in fact, was to carry on the orthodox tradition well into the 19th century before it too succumbed to liberalism.

The Great Awakening

That the religious liberalism of the Harvard elite did not reflect the true feelings of the average man in the colonies became quite obvious during the Great Awakening, which began in the 1730s. In September 1740, George Whitefield, the fiery evangelical revivalist, arrived in Boston and addressed 15,000 people on Boston Common. He was invited to Harvard, where the students were eager and attentive, but the faculty was rather cool. On a subsequent visit to the Boston area, Whitefield was not even invited to Harvard. Henceforth, he and his followers began to denounce Harvard as a house if impiety and sin. As a result, Harvard began to suffer a decline in enrollment. Yale, on the other hand, now required that “the students should be established in the principles of religion according to the [Westminster] Assembly’s Catechism.” Also, every officer of the college was required to subscribe publicly to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Saybrook Platform of the congregational churches of Connecticut before entering upon his duties. Morision writes:

On the whole, Harvard succeeded in keeping as far ahead of popular religious prejudice, and so far independent of sectarian control, as the times and circumstances made wise and possible. Too abrupt a change in religious matters would have isolated Harvard in the New England community, diminished her usefulness, and at the time of the Revolution, endangered her existence. There are still those who believe that, by keeping the Calvinist machine running, Yale and Princeton conserved certain values that were dissipated at Cambridge in the exhaust of Unitarianism; but it is difficult nowadays to imagine a Harvard linked up with fundamentalism.

Although the Great Awakening had little effect on the Harvard elite, it gave tremendous impulse to God-centered education elsewhere in the colonies. In 1746, the Philadelphia Presbyterian Synod secured a charter for the College of New Jersey, which in 1756 became Princeton College. Most of its first six presidents, Jonathan Edwards among them, had been prominent preachers in the revival movement.

In 1766, members of the Dutch Reformed Church founded Queen’s College, which sixty years later became Rutgers at New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1764, Baptists founded Brown University in Rhode Island, and in 1769 a Congregational preacher by the name of Eleazar Wheelock founded Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Even the nonsectarian University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1756 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, welcomed preachers to edify the students. In short, the religious fervor, which also kindled the flame of freedom that brought on the struggle for independence, greatly diminished the influence of Harvard until well after the Revolutionary War ended.

Rebellion Against Calvinism

The rise of Unitarianism among the academic and merchant elite in Puritan New England might seem at first a highly unlikely occurrence. But universities, as we so well know, seem to attract men of intellectual pride who gaze longingly on the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thinking that if they eat of its fruit they will be as gods.

In 1785, under the ministry of Harvard-educated Unitarian James Freeman, the congregation of King’s Chapel in Boston purged their Anglican liturgy of all references to the Trinity, thus establishing the first Unitarian church in America. Twenty years later, the Unitarian takeover of Harvard was complete.

The rebellion against Calvinism was a rebellion against the Biblical view of man and God. William Ellery Channing, a Harvard alumnus who became the leader of the Unitarian movement, explained the basis of Unitarianism at the dedication of a new Unitarian church in Baltimore in 1817. After dismissing the concept of the Trinity as “an enormous tax on credulity,” he then zeroed in on God Himself:

We believe in the moral perfection of God… It is not because He is our Creator merely, but because He created us for good and holy purposes; it is not because His will is irresistible, but because His will is the perfection of virtue, that we pay Him allegiance. We cannot bow before a being, however great and powerful, who governs tyrannically. We respect nothing but excellence whether on earth or in heaven. We venerate, not the loftiness of God’s throne, but the equity and goodness in which it is established…

Now we object to the systems of religion which prevail among us, that they are adverse, in a greater or less degree, to these purifying, comforting, and honorable views of God, that they take from us our Father in heaven, and substitute for Him a being, whom we cannot love if we would, and whom we ought not to love if we could.

For Unitarians, the worship of God depended on His being what they thought He should be, not what He actually was. In any case, Jesus was reduced to the status of prophet and teacher. He was divine only to the extent that we were all divine. Thus, salvation was not longer attained exclusively through Christ but through a good education and good works.

Every Man a God

The Unitarians also rejected the Calvinist view of man as being innately depraved. Man, they were convinced, was not only basically good, but perfectible. For this reason, social action became the principal mode in which Unitarians practiced their religion. They were convinced that evil was caused not by man’s sinful nature, but by ignorance, poverty, and social injustice.

Thus, by eliminating ignorance (through universal public education), they would eliminate poverty and thereby eliminate social injustice. Once this was done and the happy results observed by all, the Unitarians would have proven that they were right and the Calvinists were wrong.

While the early Harvard Unitarians believed that their rational form of Christianity was quite scriptural, the newer generation, influenced by the Enlightenment and the intoxicating elixir of Hegelian pantheism, saw no reason why they should subject their emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspirations to the stultifying restrictions of the Bible.

Thus it was that in 1838 Ralph Waldo Emerson shocked the older Unitarians with his famous Divinity School address in which he offered a devastating criticism of all organized religion. Through the new movement of Transcendentalism, Emerson was able to release Unitarians from the weak bonds that still maintained their connection with the religion of the Bible. Transcendentalism was the new form of spirituality that elevated man to godhood. It was far more compatible with the Eastern religions than with the religion of the ancient Hebrews.

Meanwhile, Harvard became the Unitarian Vatican, a self-governing principality on the Charles River, a citadel of humanist liberalism. When America’s oldest, richest and most prestigious university becomes the nation’s foremost antagonist of orthodox biblical religion, it is bound to have a spiritually devastating influence on American cultural and intellectual life.

E.J. Kahn writes in Harvard, Through Change and Through Storm:

Other appraisers of Harvard have compared it to a tiny part of Europe – specifically, to the Vatican. Members of the Corporation, among whose responsibilities is the selection of Harvard’s president, have compared themselves to the College of Cardinals.

No president of Harvard is known to have invested himself publicly with Papal stature, but the analogy has its points. Harvard has traditionally operated like a small, powerful, and subjectively infallible political entity with a worldwide constituency…

It is one of Harvard’s special problems that it has long been conscious of being a super-power – King, as it were, of the academic mountain.

The road to secularization among other great private American universities was somewhat similar. Yale, Princeton, William and Mary, Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia were founded by Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. However, as the Protestant sects became liberal, the universities followed suit.

God and Hegel at Yale

At Yale, the departure from orthodoxy was spurred by the profound influence of German Hegelian philosophy. Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was probably the most influential philosopher of his time – and probably the most influential of ours if we consider his influence on the Marxists who permeate American universities.

Hegel rejected the theology of the Bible and believed that everything in the universe is God. In this pantheistic universe, God was in the process of perfecting Himself through a dynamic evolutionary process known as the dialectic – a constant, endless struggle between the thesis and the antithesis, which then resolved themselves into a synthesis. This synthesis then became the new thesis, which then inevitably formed a new antithesis to continue the progressive struggle onward and upward toward perfection. It was this dialectic concept of progress that became the basis of the “progressive” movement.

Hegel also believed that man’s intellect was the highest manifestation of good in the universe and that man himself was involved in the dialectic process. Karl Marx (1818-1883) adopted the dialectical concept of progress but rejected Hegel’s pantheism, formulating his own concept of “dialectic materialism,” which became the philosophical basis for scientific socialism and communist revolution. If revolutionaries could harness the forces of the dialectical struggle, they could lead mankind into communist utopia. By viewing the dialect as a scientifically provable force, like gravity, the communists saw themselves as a vanguard of social progress leading mankind into a glorious future.

Hegel also viewed the state as being god on earth, the ultimate authority and law in man’s lives, because it represented man’s collective power. It was this statist philosophy that set the stage for communism, socialism, Nazism, and two world wars. Ideas do indeed have consequences!

Skullduggery

At Yale, the departure from Christian orthodoxy was begun in 1833 with the formation on campus of an American chapter of a German secret society known as The Order of Skull & Bones. Antony Sutton, in his book America’s Secret Establishment, describes The Order as a conspiracy to control the evolution of American society by putting its members in positions of leadership throughout the country:

The Order is neither “left” nor “right.” “Left” and “right” are artificial devices to bring about change, and the extremes of political left and political right are vital elements in a process of controlled change… In the dialectical process a clash of opposites brings about a synthesis… This conflict of opposites is essential to bring about change… In the Hegelian system conflict is essential. Furthermore, for Hegel and systems based on Hegel, the State is absolute. The State requires complete obedience from the individual citizen… He finds freedom only in obedience to the State.

Sutton’s hypothesis explains how such disparate personalities as William F. Buckley Jr., Robert Taft, and George Bush – all conservative Republicans – and Robert Sloane Coffin, John Kerry, and W. Averell Harriman – all liberal Democrats – could belong to the same secret society. It might also explain why William F. Buckley Jr. denounced Robert Welch when the latter told the American people that there was a conspiracy of Insiders who were controlling the course of events in America and the world.

Most interesting of all is how The Order has managed to gain control of American education. Three members of The Order were responsible for this development: Timothy Dwight (1849), professor at Yale Divinity School and later 12th president of Yale; Daniel Coit Gilman (1852), first president of the University of California, first president of Johns Hopkins University, and first president of the Carnegie Institution; and Andrew Dickson White (1853), first president of Cornell and first president of the American Historical Association. All three also studied philosophy at the University of Berlin.

The three most important men in the progressive education movement – John Dewey, James McKeen Cattell, and G. Stanley Hall – were all at Johns Hopkins at the same time. Hall, who was trained by Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig, taught Dewey and Cattell the new psychology. It was also at Johns Hopkins that Dewey was introduced to Hegelianism. James McKeen Cattell later studied under Wundt in Leipzig and went on to become America’s leading educational psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dewey went on to create the new progressive curriculum for the public schools, which downgraded literacy and emphasized socialization. Cattell’s experiments in Wundt’s laboratory were to become the scientific basis for using the look-say, whole word method in teaching reading in the primary schools.

Totalitarian Tutoring

For the last 60 years or so, American education has been in the hands of humanists, socialists, and Hegelians turning out confused Americans who are not sure where they are going or why they are going there. Yet the secular State cannot accumulate total power because our constitution stands in the way. It was written 200 years ago by men steeped in orthodox religion who knew of man’s depraved, sinful nature and were determined to make it as difficult as possible for evil men to gain total political power in the United States.

There was no such constitutional tradition in Germany to prevent Hitler from becoming a total dictator and leading a cultivated, civilized nation into utter depravity and ruin. The universities of Germany were spawning grounds for the ideas that led to Hitler, and they offered no resistance when he arrived on the scene. Why should they have resisted when he was basically what they wanted?

But the scene in America is different. We can prevent the rise of one big Hitler, but we have no way of preventing the many little Hitlers from occupying positions of power and influence in our many diverse institutions, public and private. The totalitarian spirit can be found in bureaucrats, judges, legislators, educators, union leaders, etc. In fact, we even have real-live, self-admitted totalitarians in the Communist Party USA working with great dedication to turn America into a dictatorship of the proletariat, with plenty of sympathizers in our universities. One would think that the lessons of recent history would turn people away from such obvious insanity. However, Calvinists would simply remind us that man is innately depraved, a sinner to the core, attracted to evil to satisfy a variety of his carnal and intellectual lusts.

The Influence of Catholics

For a time it seemed as if the establishment of major Catholic universities in America – Notre Dame, Loyola, Holy Cross, Boston College, etc. – would offset the secularization of American higher education. Catholic educators offered some of the strongest arguments against progressive education. They vigorously defended the rights of parents and private schools. When the socialist Cardenas government in Mexico banned the operation of schools “directly or indirectly linked to any religious creed” in 1935, Msgr. Pascual Diaz, archbishop of Mexico, instructed Catholics in a pastoral letter to refuse to comply with the new socialistic education laws:

First – No Catholic can be a socialist, understanding by socialism the philosophical, economic or social system which in one form or another does not recognize the rights of God and the church nor the natural right of every man to possess the goods he has acquired by his work or inherited legitimately, or which foments hatred and the unjust struggle of classes.

Second – No Catholic can study or teach socialism, nor cooperate directly to those ends, since it contains many errors condemned by the church.

Third – No Catholic can subscribe to declarations or formulas according to which he approves, although only for appearance, socialistic education, since this would be to work against the dictates of his own conscience.

Fourth – No Catholic can approve pedagogic naturalism or sexual education, since they are very grave errors which bring serious consequences.

In saying that no Catholic can do what is prohibited, we make it clearly understood that those who do so commit a mortal sin.

It should be understood that these prohibitions are not arbitrary, but conform exactly with the general mandates of the church, which has the right, given by God Himself, to command its sons to do what is necessary for their eternal salvation and to prohibit them from doing what would carry them away from that end: proceeding in everything as a loving mother who seeks only the good of her children; when they work against what she commands, they bring down their own unhappiness.

That letter was not only signed by the archbishop of Mexico, but by eight other archbishops and thirty bishops. It is doubtful that any Catholic archbishop would put his signature on that kind of letter today, for Catholic educators, with very few exceptions, have succumbed to the same secular humanistic philosophy that now permeates all of academia.

The founding of Regent University, Pensacola Christian College, Liberty University, and other schools indicates that God-centered education is still desired by a small but growing segment of the American population. But some day the humanist State may decide that God-centered education promotes religious prejudice and bigotry; that it presents a danger to society; and that, therefore, it must cease.

Of course, the religious freedom clause in the First Amendment should make such an occurrence unlikely. But it did not stop Nebraska authorities from jailing Reverent Everett Sileven for operating an “unapproved” Christian school, nor is it stopping a number of states from prosecuting Christian home-schoolers for not complying with the education laws.

A new concept has emerged in the courts – that “state’s compelling interest in education” – which is being deftly used by state prosecutors, superintendents of schools, and judges to override the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

An Establishment of Religion

With our great state universities all under humanist control, and our nation’s public school under similar control, it is obvious to anyone who can see that, under the guise of secularization, the humanists have created the most powerful and pervasive government-funded establishment of religion that has ever existed in the United States.

Humanism is religion. It is, in fact, Unitarianism in the guise of secular philosophy. In 1987, U.S. District Court Judge W. Brevard Hand, in Smith v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Alabama, ruled that the secular humanists philosophy is a religion. He said:

For purposes of the First Amendment, secular humanism is a religious belief system, entitled to the protections of, and subject to the prohibitions of, the religion clauses.

Edwin H. Wilson, a Unitarian minister and one of the founders of the humanist movement, took great pains to show the interchangeability of humanism and Unitarianism in an article he wrote for the Nov/December 1962 issue of The Humanist. He stated:

The American Humanist Association itself was organized … by a group composed primarily of liberal ministers and professors who were predominantly Unitarians and considered themselves as religious humanists…

Of the 34 persons who signed the Humanist Manifesto in 1933, all but four can be readily identified as “religious humanists” … My conviction is that a probe into what is actually believed would show that the “liberal Unitarian position” and what is generally presented as Humanism – whether as a religion or as a philosophy – differ very little.

Then there was the Torcaso case, in which the Supreme Court recognized Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, and Secular Humanism as religions existing in the United States even though they do not teach what is traditionally considered belief in God.

There is no doubt that our government education system is an illegal establishment of religion in flagrant violation of our constitution. The American people permit this system to exist mainly because of ignorance, confusion, and deference to a number of powerful and corrupt special interests. But a nation that prefers to live with lies – because it is too cowardly and corrupt to fight for truth – will have to accept the consequences of its depravity.

See also: The Boston Awakening


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Your comments are welcome!

I had no idea, well, I did, but I had just never seen how much Christianity had affected such a wide range of people. It makes it really hard to do what I am trying to do. I’m writing a novel about a world where Jesus was never resurrected. Secular and terrible, perhaps, but interesting none the less. I’ll spare details, you’ll thank me, but I’m really going to have to rewrite SO much history because I am including so much history in the novel. AGH! GAWD! The tortures of being anti-religious, lol! just joking, I am agnostic though. Anyway, thanks for having the info, it’ll give me a start.

Posted by Cory on 08/19/2009 01:33 AM #

Okay, I just read your litte thing about abortion. Whatever reasons you give for the massacre to be stopped, it won’t change my opinion. You people make me sick because you think because you think it is immoral, you feel you have the right to force everyone to go by your rules. Guess what? What a woman wants to do with her body is up to her. Until that child can survive outside the womb, it isn’t something to consider over the woman having the child. If a woman wants to abort a a fetus, she has every right to, and you have no right to tell her she can’t. Just like she has no right to tell you if you have kidney failure that you can’t get a kidney transplant from someone who donated their kidney. It’s plain and simple, dude. It’s just not right, and y’all are just on your high horse religious bullshit.

Posted by Cory on 08/19/2009 01:44 AM #

An informative article, but almost completely lacking in references.

In addition,while Roman Catholicism should be opposed to socialism, it yet claims total dominion itself.

As for the rant above promoting abortion, under the system you warn about abortion can easily be mandated, as it is in China.

And while the abortion advocate protests the imposition of religious morality, thru the democratic process no less, what such require is the imposition of their own (im)moral ideology. Often bypasing the democratic process.

Such abortion advocates treat unborn infants as cancerous blobs of tissue (which technology itself increasingly shows to be absurd), which they “caught,” or were forced into them, rather than being humans resulting from their choice to engage in sexual relations, with unwanted pregnancies due to rape constituting about 1% of all cases. And even then, one does not have the right to kill someone even if they break into your home, or were placed there against your will, unless they are threatening your life and you have not real alternative.

As for the rational – “its my body-I do can what i want” – that would also justify killing people in your car, which is another vessel of delivery, which persons you invited in, directly or indirectly.

Posted by PeaceByJesus on 04/27/2011 10:15 AM #

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