Don’t blame Harvard for assisted suicide in California

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Harvard wreath logo

Harvard wreath logo

Harvard wreath logo

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.

  • Larry

    Ugh! There is nothing more ridiculous and dishonest that the argument, “they don’t believe in our religion, therefore they don’t really have morals”. When they toss around terms like “relativism” it is completely ironic.

    The way religious morality is described by these nabobs is entirely relativistic and even a bit sociopathic. The claim that without God watching over people, they would act atrociously. It posits that people only act out if self interest, even when believing in God. That religious believers must be kept on a short leash because they have no inherent regard for humanity or empathy. A description of sociopaths.

    Plus any act, no matter how atrocious, can be excused if God commands it. This is the very definition if relativism. No evaluation of an act or its impact on others. Just whether it falls under the arbitrary authority of ones religion.

  • Vincent S

    Wow, talk about an overstatement of the argument. Bishop Barron wrote: “Though it might seem strange to suggest as much, I believe that the make-up of the Harvard freshman class and the passing of the suicide law are related.”

    The author characterizes this as “blaming” Harvard.


    Saying that two things are related, then explaining how, is not the same as blaming one for causing the other.

  • Ben in oakland

    I have to agree, Larry.

    This was one of the uglier statements of the always assumed, always present, always unwarranted belief of the Extra Special Super Duper Christian in his completely imaginary superiority as a moral person and a human being.

    A shorter version: Don’t share my religious beliefs? Why, you’re just no good, immoral, and stunted.

  • Note how the promoters cling to their verbally engineered polls that claim a majority is in favor. I polled thousands of Montanans one-on-one as I served 60 days at fair booths across the state. Once folks knew about the loopholes in all of the Oregon model bills 95% were not for them.
    There were a few folks that believed in the survival of the fittest who remained in favor after learning how these bills are written and can be administered to expand the scope of abuse.
    In Oregon and Washington heirs are allowed to participate from the start to the end, eviscerating intended safe guards. Everyone involved in the lethal process gets immediate immunity and family members are not required to be contacted. A witness is not required to confirm the dose was self-administered so if they struggled and changed their mind who would ever know? In addition these laws prohibit investigations or public inquiries leaving no recourse for surviving family members who were not contacted.

  • Larry

    The argument is an overstatement in of itself. The usual, “more people don’t share my religious belief, so they are less moral.

    Referencing Harvard was used for the hysterical railing against growing non-belief. That non-belief is somehow a sign of moral degeneration.

  • samuel johnston

    Hi Mark,
    Politics is a form of combat. When the field military commander rallies his troops for the battle, he does not use a professorial, balanced, approach to his subject. It’s all God, Country, Duty, and Glory (and KIll the enemy). An army of academics would have to form a circle, in order to face the enemy.

  • Fyi Vincent: Barron’s article is headlined, “What Harvard Wrought in California.”

  • Vincent S

    I don’t write for a living, but I consistently read those who do make the comment that they rarely (if ever) write their own headlines. Perhaps I’m mistaken on that.

    However, Barron’s point in the article is clear enough.

  • And it’s wrong. The rise of the Nones is not an elite phenomenon in America. That’s my point.