Shortly after last year’s presidential election, as the pundits were dividing the nation into red and blue and making much out of the so-called values vote, PAW asked Princeton scholars and alumni to offer some perspective. The assignment was vague; we asked only that contributors use the election as a taking-off point, and reflect on the appropriate role of religion and moral values in public life.
We are pleased to present in this issue two very different responses: one by associate professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. *97, and the other by the Rev. Amy Eberling McCreath ’87, an Episcopal chaplain at MIT. Both writers express sadness at what they see as the narrowing of viewpoints under discussion in recent months.
As a chaplain on a college campus, McCreath is particularly concerned about the “sound-biting” of religious and moral debate. Students on her campus, she writes, find the current discussion “frightening socially and spiritually,” as it prevents genuine reflection and dialogue.
Curious about how this plays out on the Princeton campus, I spoke to Dean of Religious Life Thomas E. Breidenthal, an Episcopal priest. Breidenthal is dismayed by the campus discourse on moral and religious issues — mainly, because he doesn’t hear enough of it.
“I have occasion to feel some frustration,” says Breidenthal, who teaches a class on Christian thought, “that students who are very capable of careful argumentation, and who are willing to argue and argue about free will versus election and other issues in religion, are reluctant to speak about ethical issues, the war in Iraq, school vouchers, the environment ... I’ve been teaching for three years, and it seems to be a steady problem. Everyone seems to be afraid of polarization.”
Nor is it just a problem for students, Breidenthal says — campus spiritual leaders and faculty members also struggle with how to have moral debate and “respectful argumentation” while preserving civility and goodwill.
“Students say that Murray-Dodge as a whole needs to be a safe place,” notes Breidenthal, explaining why students are reluctant to enter into moral debate in the building that serves as home to many events centered on worship and discussion. “I agree. But it needs to be a safe place where difficult issues are argued — because it’s a safe place.”
We invite alumni to read the essays by Glaude and McCreath, and to contribute, as Breidenthal says, “respectful argumentation” as well.
Our cover story is about one alumna who has no qualms about expressing herself. Helen Blue-Redner ’85 is the elected chairman of the Upper Sioux tribe in Minnesota, and has been a visible force for change. From the time that she, as a child, confronted a schoolteacher who had acted unfairly, to today, when she takes on the governor to fight for American Indian rights, Blue-Redner has shown the value of speaking up.