Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes
I just completed the fifth week of my second semester at Yale. The highlight of my week—and what may end up being the highlight of my entire time at Yale—was having dinner with Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.
Dinner with Rich Lowry
This week, I had dinner with Rich Lowry. It’s hard to think of a better week than that.
On Thursday, Mr. Lowry gave a lecture on nationalism, the subject of his latest book, The Case for Nationalism. The lecture was open to the public, and I, of course, attended. Since I was one of the first four Fellows to show up, I also got a free copy of his new book. So, that’s hard to beat.
(I’ve posted a video of his lecture below.)
After the lecture, Rich Lowry had dinner with a group of select Buckley Fellows. I had to apply to be a part of this group, and, fortunately, I was selected.
I had previously applied to attend a similar dinner with Carlos Eire, one of the few openly conservative professors at Yale, but I did not make the cut. So, I was extremely excited to get in this time.
About fourteen other people were selected to have dinner with Rich Lowry at a local restaurant off the New Haven Green. It was fascinating to listen to Mr. Lowry. He is clearly a brilliant man. (Admittedly, however, he looks his age in person. They must do something to make him look a lot younger on television.)
The Icarus Effect
One thing about the dinner that stood out to me, however, was how bold Yale students are. I have always considered listening to be the politest thing you can do.
Rich Lowry allowed us to ask him questions over dinner. I asked him one question about whether he thought the diminishment of nationalist feelings has contributed to the decline of military service among the elites, but that’s all I said the entire night.
Rich Lowry is the editor of the National Review and a protégé of William F. Buckley. I wanted to hear what he had to say, not push him into responding to what was on my mind.
There is an odd effect at a place like Yale, though. We are regularly exposed to very prominent people to the point that being around that fame and prestige becomes a bit ho-hum. You get used to it. You grow comfortable with it.
There is some good associated with this. It makes it easy to recognize that these people are just people. They are not gods.
At the same time, however, it almost immunizes us to greatness. We become less deferential of people who deserve deference, and we begin to think we don’t have much to learn from anyone else, at least not any more than they have to learn from us.
Opportunities for Humility
This is wrongheaded. The environment at Yale helps me better understand why many ancient rulers insisted on maintaining an aura of mystery about themselves through scripted public appearances and overt showings of pomp and ceremony.
Familiarity breeds contempt. In an educational environment, that can be both a good and a bad thing. When we fail to recognize the need to sit and listen to people like Rich Lowry, however, I think we have veered into an unhealthy extreme such an environment allows.
The Buckley Program
Don’t get me wrong. I am delighted to be here, and I thank God every day for the opportunity to study at Yale. I am also very grateful to be a part of the William F. Buckley Program and to be exposed to so many extraordinary people.
Not only have I had the chance to spend time with prominent people like Rich Lowry, but I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with other Yale students with whom I would never otherwise interact.
That in and of itself is exciting. There are a lot of exceptional people attending Yale, as you would expect. Those in the Buckley Program have to be people who buck the trend of the university because it is so fantastically—and fanatically—left-winged here.
These students are smart and thoughtful. If Yale had more people like them—and I don’t just mean politically—the university would not have its unfortunate reputation—whether deserved or not—for ridiculousness and political correctness, run by pusillanimous administrators cow-towing to delicate students with glass skulls.
The Buckley Program is producing the type of people that an elite university should want to produce, and I’m glad to know these students.
Study Abroad Opportunities
This week, I also had the opportunity to meet with the administrator of the study abroad program at the Divinity School. We discussed the program at Cambridge and the programs in Germany.
It quickly became apparent that the Cambridge Program was not for me. It is geared toward Episcopal students and focuses on a semi-monastic way of life. Since I am joining the Catholic Church, I don’t think that would work, and it’s not the academic focus for which I am striving anyway.
I was already more interested in Germany since I would like to become proficient in the language before applying to Ph.D. programs.
The German Programs
Three German universities participate in the German exchange program: Heidelberg, Tübingen, and Freiburg. I’ve heard of Heidelberg, and Tübingen is a very famous and prestigious university, having one of the best theological programs in the world. I wasn’t previously familiar with Freiburg, but perhaps I should have been.
The expectation is that I should have significant ability with German before I go. While there are some English-language courses available, the impression I got was that I should probably be able to take classes in German.
I would like to be able to do this. Consequently, I’m going to start working on German. I plan to take Beginning German I in the fall and Beginning German II next spring. I could then take Intermediate German I and II during the following summer. Yale has an intermediate summer course in Germany, so it’s supposed to be a pretty intensive experience.
If I’m able to do all of that—a year of German next academic year, intermediate German in Germany over the summer, and then a semester studying in a university setting in Germany—I should be near fluent by the time I return for my last semester at Yale.
Understanding German well is essential in this academic field since there are a lot of scholarly publications in German. So, I need to start working on this now.
Planning for the Future
There are still a lot of details to work out, and I still have time to do it. I hope, however, that I can make it work, and that I can get all the academic credits in Germany that I need to keep my degree on track.
It’s funny. I’m only in my second semester of a three-year program. I have more than two years left. On the one hand, that seems like a long time. As I start to plan out the remainder of my time at Yale Divinity School, however, the time seems short.
There’s so much that I want to do during my time here, and I know that I’m not going to have the time to do everything that I want to do. There are a few things, however, that I am hoping that I can make happen, and studying abroad is one of them.
I intended to study abroad in college, but I never did. I’ve always regretted it, and I hope that I can rectify that mistake here at Yale.
We are currently reading James Cone in Systematic Theology, specifically A Theology of Black Liberation.
I am attempting to approach his writing with humility and consideration, doing the best that I can to put myself in his shoes—knowing, of course, that I really cannot. And, there is much in his writing that I have found compelling. His identification of Jesus with the poor and the oppressed is a vital emphasis and an often necessary refocus.
The anger and hatred that permeates his work, however, is off-putting, and his less than subtle calls for violence are troubling.
Dr. Volf told us that we need to understand James Cone by reading his earlier writings in light of his latter. The Cross and the Lynching Tree is next on the reading list, so I’ll take the professor’s advice and wait until I read that to conclude how I feel about Cone’s work.
The Seeds of Wokeness
One thing I have noticed thus far, however, is how many of James Cones’ ideas have permeated modern woke thought. For example, Cone states that the oppressor cannot engage with the oppressed; that is, white people and African Americans cannot dialogue with one another.
Similarly, the oppressor cannot criticize or judge the morality of the oppressed.
Of course, by the oppressor, he does not mean specific individuals but white people in general. This kind of talk is surprisingly similar to the way the woke crowd speaks, defining everything through the lens of race, oppression, and power dynamics.
While not necessarily an outgrowth of Cone’s work, there is a movement toward the fetishization of victimhood that has taken hold at academic institutions, where a person’s status in the woke hierarchy is determined by the oppression they or their ancestors suffered.
There is a commitment to this view, even at the expense of objective truth. For example, during the lecture this week, one of the Teaching Fellows referred to the “murder of Michael Brown.”
Michael Brown wasn’t murdered. The Justice Department under President Obama debunked the initial reports depicting him as an innocent victim.
This intentional disregard of truth and facts is troubling and undermines the message its advocates seek to promote. Indeed, police do sometimes use excessive force, and some police officers perpetrate terrible crimes. Pushing a debunked narrative, however, undermines all accounts of police brutality, even credible ones.
One fake victim suppresses the stories of ten real ones.
Pushing this narrative also diminishes the supposedly scholarly work of those who promote it, undermining their credibility and calling into question their concern for the truth. It reminds me of the words of a satirical website, “Being morally correct is more important than being factually correct, claims someone who is neither.”
Reading week at the Divinity School started on Wednesday of this week. It’s an odd reading week because it appears to be unique to the Divinity School. The rest of the university is not observing it.
Consequently, while my classmates in the Divinity School were off on Wednesday, I was not. I had my Roman Law class downtown, which is the only class I have on Wednesdays anyway. So, Wednesday was a typical day for me.
I was, however, off Thursday and Friday this week.
I used the time off to drive to Hartford to have my interview with the Customs and Borders Agency to finalize my Global Entry application. So, that should make getting through airport security much quicker. I lost my TSA PreCheck when I got out of the military, and I need to get that back.
Preparing for Ph.D. Work
On Friday, there was no class because of the reading week. I did, however, go to campus to meet with Dean Sterling. I asked him for a little bit of time to get his advice about applying for Ph.D. programs.
He stressed the importance of language study, particularly Greek and German. So, I plan to tailor my course load accordingly. I have a lot of Greek already, but I need a lot more. Hopefully, I can fit all of that in during the time I have left.
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There are so many opportunities at Yale. It really is an incredible place. As a new semester gets started, I continue to appreciate just how lucky I am to be here.
I love Yale, and I encourage anyone interested in pursuing further theological education to apply to YDS.
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