The Cultural Value of Christian Higher Education Editor's Note: David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author of the best-selling book The Road to Character, was the keynote speaker at the 40th Anniversary Celebration Gala in Washington, D.C. The following is a transcript of his speech; it has been edited for length.
ADVANCE | SPRING 2016
Christian colleges can develop students in ways few other institutions can.
henever I’m at events, especially in a Christian community, I think about how odd it is that I got here. I grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1960s in a somewhat left-wing household. When I was 5, my parents took me to a “be-in” in Central Park, which was where hippies would go just to be. One of the things they did was they set the garbage can on fire and threw their wallets into it to demonstrate their liberation from money and material things. I was 5, and I saw a $5 bill in the fire, so I broke from the crowd, reached into it, grabbed the money and ran away, which was my first step over to the right. I grew up in a Jewish home but went to a church school, Grace Church School on Lower Broadway. I was part of the allJewish boys’ choir at Grace. We were about 40 percent Jewish – it’s Lower Manhattan, New York – and when we would sing the hymns, to square with our religion we wouldn’t sing the word “Jesus.” The volume would drop down and then it would come back up again. So that was unusual [background] to get here.
I’ve spent much of my life with secular morality. I think the most spiritual institution I would go into is Whole Foods. So it’s odd, but God willed it in some way. Five years ago, I started writing a book on cognitive humility. I had a colleague at the New York Times named Anne Snyder who’s a Wheaton grad, and she persuaded me it should be about moral and spiritual humility. The book changed a lot, and over the ensuing two years, Anne fed me so many books from her Wheaton College curriculum that I feel I deserve a Wheaton diploma by proxy. Writing the book and working in this sphere turned out to be more transformational than I could have imagined. There are moments of writing that book, I remember, where I was expanding my knowledge of theology and God’s work. I was coming to new understandings of history. There were moments when I was experiencing the lives of my characters, like Augustine’s final conversation with his mom, Monica, who was the helicopter mom to beat all helicopter moms. But at the end of her life, she says to him, “You are the Christian I wanted you to be.” They