Robert Barron, the recent ordained auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, is blaming Harvard for the fact that the California legislature has passed an assisted suicide bill. How’s that? Well, it seems as though, like the butterfly in Brazil, what’s created moral chaos in Sacramento is a fluttering of irreligion at my poor old alma mater:
It was revealed this week that, for the first time in its history, Harvard University, which had been founded for religious purposes and named for a minister of the Gospel, has admitted a freshman class in which atheists and agnostics outnumber professed Christians and Jews.
Actually, Barron needs help with his math. Add up the numbers in the survey to which he refers and self-identified Christians and Jews total 44.2 percent of the freshman class; self-identified atheists and agnostics, 37.9 percent. Still, there sure do seem to be a disproportionate number of non-believers up there in Cambridge.
“I suppose,” writes the bishop,
we shouldn’t be too surprised that non-believers have come to outnumber believers among the rising cohort of the American aristocracy. For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism. Though they have benefitted from every advantage that money can afford, they have been largely denied what the human heart most longs for: contact with the transcendent, with the good, true, and beautiful in their properly unconditioned form.
Really? According to Pew, 36 percent of all millennials now identify themselves as having no religion. While many such “Nones” say they believe in God, the Harvard survey doesn’t offer “no religion” as an option. I’m guessing that most of that 37.9 percent are in fact Nones who chose “atheist” or “agnostic” over a specific religious tradition. In other words, when it comes to religion, the newly minted Harvard aristocrats are not appreciably different from the rest of their generation.
Now I realize that Barron’s claim to fame is the provocative conservative messaging he sends out via his Word on Fire ministry, created when he was just a professor of systematic theology at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. And of course, Harvard the Bastion of Godless Elitism has been a favorite whipping boy of clerics ever since the Rev. George Whitefield attacked the faculty for assigning books by liberal Anglican divines in 1740.
Nevertheless, the idea that California owes its assisted suicide bill to a rise in atheism among the Eastern elite is preposterous. Since the 1970s, two-thirds of California’s own adults have consistently said they favor giving incurably ill patients the right to ask for and get life-ending medication. This year, Gallup found 68 percent of all American adults agreeing that doctors should be legally allowed to assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide.
What has restricted assisted suicide to a few states in the Pacific Northwest until now has not, as Barron suggests, been popular belief in God but the effective lobbying of religious and medical elites. And if such lobbying is overcome in California, it will be because the bill that passed is signed by a Roman Catholic governor who as a young man spent three years at a Jesuit novice house studying to be a priest.