Thursday, November 10, 2005


[I posted this a few days ago at InsideWork...]

Last weekend, David Brooks wrote a piece in the New York Times reviewing Jerome Karabel's The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

It's a tale we already know, give or take, and Brooks' telling begins like this:

"A few years ago, I wrote a book about the rise of a new educated class, the people with 60's values and 90's money who go to Starbucks, shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos. A woman came up to me after one of my book talks and said, "You realize what you're talking about is the Jews taking over America.

"My eyes bugged out, but then I realized that she was Jewish and she knew I was, too, and between us we could acknowledge there's a lot of truth in that statement. For the Jews were the vanguard of a social movement that over the course of the 20th century transformed the American university system and the nature of the American elite."

Brooks follows Karabel's narrative about the shift from blue blood Protestant prep school boys to the sons -- and, eventually, daughters -- of people "more likely to prize work, scholarship, verbal dexterity, ambition and academic accomplishment" than the virtues of being "effortlessly athletic, charismatic, fair, brave, modest and, above all, a leader of men."

Measuring what's been won and lost in the exchange, Brooks pauses to critique Karabel's critique, before pronouncing the moral of the story:

"Those old WASP bluebloods may have been narrow and prejudiced, but they did at least have a formula for building character. Today we somehow sense that character matters, and it still vaguely plays a role in admissions decisions, but our thoughts about character - what it is and how to build it - are amorphous and ineffectual.

"One place where Karabel excels, however, is in his understanding that today's admissions policies have created their own set of problems. As time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that the meritocrats are doing exactly what the WASPS did, rigging admissions criteria to favor the qualities they and their children are most likely to possess.


"All of which suggests that human nature hasn't changed. People who possess privileges try to protect their own, even if they do shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos."

It's an interesting piece -- especially (to me at least) that go-away line: "...human nature hasn't changed. People who possess privileges try to protect their own, even if they do shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos."

Right now, American Evangelicals are an easy target on this score -- not in the academic elite, of course, but in politics and the theology of exclusion. After decades of living as a shadow culture with "our own" versions of nearly everything (Christian Booksellers Association v. American Booksellers Association (along with their attendant best-seller lists), Dove Awards v. Grammy Awards, Full Gospel Businessmen's Committee/Christian Business Men's Committee v. Rotary,, Evangelicals in America have tasted the nectar of political potency (not to mention biggish money from the sale of books and music) and found it to their liking. And, like just about anybody else, they intend to protect their own.

I think one of the most remarkable things about the kingdom of heaven is that it is neither blue-blood aristocracy nor meritocracy -- a place where the Lion takes the Lamb to lunch and the Lion picks up the check. Not that it can't be done, but I think it takes some effort to read around that in the biblical narrative.

And I think one of the most interesting things about developing a biblical worldview is how, the more we move around the landscape of the biblical text and more we move around the landscape from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth, the more the "We" circle grows and the "They" circle shrinks.

These are, I think, counterintuitive values in our culture and reveal how much more at home most of us are here than in the kingdom of heaven. But maybe that's just me.

1 comment:

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