As I begin to grow comfortable at Yale, I am becoming more aware of the Ivy League façade that masks much of the mundane and unpolished aspects of elite universities.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes
I just completed the eighth week of my second semester at Yale. I am growing more comfortable here, and, as a result, I am beginning to see behind the Ivy League façade that protects some of Yale’s less impressive aspects from public view.
First, though, I want to discuss the week’s events.
Roman Law Midterm
I had my Roman Law midterm this week. The other graduate students—all of whom are Ph.D. candidates—seemed concerned about it, which made me a little concerned as well. I consequently studied for it more than I studied for any of the exams I took last semester.
In the end, however, the exam wasn’t that bad. I ended up getting a ninety-four on it, making it the lowest test grade I’ve received to date. I’m a bit disappointed with the grade, but I don’t know how the rest of the class did. So, it’s hard to gauge.
I guess I’ll see how everything shakes out in the end. I’m not sure what the grading standard is in this class. I’m shooting for an H, but I can’t really do much except put in the time and effort. I imagine that the final paper will weigh most heavily on my grade.
I’m enjoying my Hellenistic Philosophy class because I think it’s helping me connect the dots between Scripture and the wider cultures into which it was written.
It has made me realize that I can spend years upon years in school, get the best education, get a Ph.D., and devote the entirety of my life to scholarship, and I still will not understand Paul’s writings as well as the average first-century Christian did.
Scholars spend entire lifetimes trying to understand things that would have been second nature to the typical person on the streets at the time.
Philosophy as a Precursor to Science
I have also been fascinated by how much philosophers wrote about the natural world. Theories about atoms abounded in a time before microscopes of any kind, much less the very powerful ones required to see atoms. Philosophers speculated about things before they had any way to test or verify them. Therefore, it is remarkable how close some of them came to much of what we actually know now.
This leads me to believe that science is, in a sense, philosophy that can be subjected to verification. It prompts me then to wonder whether we may one day be able to devise methods to verify much of what we currently call philosophy. We take the scientific method for granted today, but it was a tremendous innovation at the time of its creation.
If this is true, would that mean that what we call theology will perhaps one day be subject to testing and verification? Has God possibly provided a way for humanity to reach out and enter into his realm? Just because we can’t do it now, does that mean we never can? Or is to try simply an attempt to build another tower of Babel?
I find this an intriguing question, and perhaps there really is no answer. We are physical beings, and we have found a way to verify our theories about the physical universe around us. We are, however, spiritual beings as well. Will we someday be able to do the same thing with the spiritual reality that surrounds us?
Obviously, I don’t know, but it’s an intriguing question nonetheless.
Theologies of Religious Pluralism
The Theologies of Religious Pluralism class is going to be a little more work than I had anticipated. There are a lot of short writing assignments, most of them of the three-hundred-fifty-word variety. I did, however, have a fifteen-hundred-word paper due last week. I have a one-thousand-word paper due in a few weeks, and then I have a five-thousand-word paper due at the end.
It’s very much a discussion class, so we spend a lot of time breaking up into small groups to deliberate on the subject matter. I have generally hated this type of thing in the past, but it’s not so bad in this class.
Buckley Debate and the Ivy League Façade
This week, I attended a Buckley Firing Line Debate about fossil fuel divestment at Yale. There is a movement here and at other Ivy League Universities—most aggressively pushed by the 18-to-21-year-old undergraduates who have transformed themselves into full-time complainers—demanding that the university endowments cease investing in any kind of fossil-fuel related businesses.
As often happens, when woke ideology conflicts with the bottom line, the grown-ups at Yale, who normally appease such infantile ramblings, finally stand up and say no. Yale has made clear that it will not divest from fossil fuels. The Kabuki theatre that often plays into the façade of the Ivy League can be tolerated only so far.
A Failed Debate
Discussing this issue was the purpose of the debate. The person arguing in favor of divestment had very impressive credentials. He graduated from Yale in the 1960s and received a Ph.D. at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
His argument, however, was incoherent and demonstrated why the left so frequently reverts to polemics and demagoguery to win the day. He was very inarticulate and relied on emotional appeals and weak and strawman arguments to state his case.
One such argument he made, for example, was that divesting from fossil fuels would allow Yale to invest in more profitable areas, as if Yale’s asset managers were intentionally forgoing profits to invest in fossil fuels. Clearly, if they believed there were more profitable investments, that’s where they would put the money.
Credentials as Façade
Witnessing such things pulls the veil back a little bit on places like this. There is an Ivy League façade that covers many cracks in the intellectual integrity of this place. Logic does not hold the position it once did, and it’s hard to believe that this can go on in perpetuity.
Still, such events are good opportunities to hear undergraduates attempt to impress the room by asking a question centered around a concept—with all the applicable academic jargon—they just learned last week in one of their classes.
The Ivy League Façade
Which brings me to my next point. There is a façade about this place, a mystique that the culture of elite educational institutions puts out that is just that: a façade. I am just now coming to grips with the reality of this Ivy League façade.
I have heard people who graduated from elite institutions say things like, “Some of the stupidest people I know went to Harvard (or Yale, or Princeton, or whatever).” Some of this is obviously self-evident. If you go to Yale, a significant number of the people you know will have gone to Yale, so, by definition, some of the stupidest people you know will have gone there. But there’s some truth to it as well.
Don’t misunderstand me. This place is overrun with brilliant people, people teaming with raw brainpower and intellectual ability. But so many of them have a tough time applying their intellect to the world around them. They cannot relate to people, and they cannot see circumstances at a base, practical level. Ideology is everything and, to them, self-evident, not meriting critical evaluation. The Ivy League façade can paper over the crumbling intellectual foundations of prevalent ideologies at elite schools.
Such people can only exist in whatever system they have created for themselves inside their own powerful minds. This is why you can have so many brilliant people ascribe to such asinine views. Take socialism as an example. It doesn’t matter to them that every attempt at it has been a failure. Such efforts failed only because the people in charge weren’t as smart as they are.
A Different Breed
This also explains why so many Ivy Leaguers are so socially inept. I have met many students and professors alike who are simply incapable of carrying on a meaningful conversation about anything not directly related to their field of study. (And sometimes even then, they struggle.)
Existing here for just a little while has allowed me to peek behind the curtain just a little bit. The mystique that surrounds this place makes it seem otherworldly, but it is not.
I still love it here, and my point is not to suggest otherwise. Rather, I am merely stating that there is something very real and very mundane about this place once you spend some time in it.
Spring Break Approacheth
Spring break is coming soon. I have two weeks off, which seems like an exceptionally long spring break, though I am glad to have it. It will be a real break, not because I won’t be working—I anticipate filling my entire day with work on papers—but because I won’t have to leave the house. Any day that I don’t have to leave the house is a good day. ‘
For the first three days, I will participate in a seminar put on by the Buckley Program. I picked up the book a couple of weeks ago, but we haven’t gotten the reading assignments yet. They told us we wouldn’t be reading the whole book, but we’ll see.
I’m looking forward to this event, but it will make for some long days. The sessions run from the morning to the mid-afternoon, with dinners to follow.
Working on Papers
Other than that, I am looking forward to this break because this semester thus far has been exhausting. I intend to use this time to lock myself in my house and spend at least six hours per day working on papers.
I have several books that I checked out of the library that I need to read over spring break to prepare to start my papers. My goal is to read two books in their entirety while taking scrupulous notes to prepare for my Roman Law paper. (I will be writing about how the various laws of slave manumission in the Roman Empire affected early Church communities and writings.)
I also have a couple of books about stoicism that I need to read in preparation for my Hellenistic Philosophy paper. For that paper, I plan to write about the presence of Stoic thought in the book of James.
I have two more papers due for Systematic Theology, one at the end of March and the other at the end of the term. I also have a major paper due in Theologies of Religious Pluralism. So, I want to finish as much of my Roman Law and Hellenistic Philosophy papers as possible before the end of the break. The course load this semester is a bit heavy, so I’m trying to use spring break the best I can to get ahead.
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