Attending graduate commencement at the University of Michigan last week, I heard the usual kind of speeches from faculty and administration grandees, but a term one of them used in connection with the mission of the university caught my ear: the service of “holy curiosity.”  It struck me, and no doubt others, that curiosity cannot be holy in and by itself; it can only be so in the service of an end which is good

Then there was the procession of more than 200 new doctors, the vast majority of whom were taking their degrees in scientific and technical subjects, and were assured in the strongest terms by the authorities of their future-shaping importance as graduates of the greatest public university in the world.  With this came the greatest of the curiosities to be contemplated by those in attendance:  There were only two, perhaps three, doctorates in philosophy, and, of course, there was no scarlet at all–none in theology.  There was evidence here of curiosity in magnificent abundance, but practically none in its telos, its relation to the Good, which is the task of theology, and philosophy as its handmaiden, and which used to be the principal interest of the university.  Ah yes, there was ethical talk aplenty, but the university apparently does not place high value on a disciplined approach to the ratio for its disciplines.  In this regard it is undisciplined in the formal sense of unscientific, unstudied, and apparently oblivious to the irony in which it is involved.     

Now, to be sure, theology is dark and bloody ground, and one can understand a school’s desire to avoid it, first by disconnecting it from allegiance to particular confessions for “objective” study, or limiting it to an undergraduate program, and finally banishing studies on the graduate level to the exiguous province of the sectarian institution.  In places where the mind is used, however, the proprietary categories of theology and philosophy simply will not go away.  The university cannot successfully banish them by plugging its ears, stamping its feet, and screaming, “We’re doing science here.”  

The matters of concern to theology and classical philosophy persist in reasserting themselves–as when someone on the podium of a doctoral commencement refers in an unguarded moment to holy curiosity, which leads directly to the question of how curiosity in itself might be “holy”–on, for example, the essential difference between the laboratory work of Jonas Salk and Josef Mengele, or Edward Jenner and the Tuskegee Experimenters?  To imply that it is obvious is not a university answer, any more than it is obvious that students at Michigan should be exposed to star chamber proceedings (as they notoriously have been) for offending its police state tenets of political correctness, as though these, too, were beyond consideration for ethical probity.    

I am not singling out Michigan for special blame here–I just happened to be there last Saturday as a father of one of the graduates who is also a son and grandson of its alumni.  It is just one of many schools that, while undoubted paragons in the scientific study of natural phenomena, are in another sense deeply bigoted institutions, distorted at the root by their inability to consider the reason and the ends of their studies.  “The good of the human race” as the goal of its science will not do, for there is hardly a great evil that has not been perpetrated in that name.  The consistent tu quoque of the greater intellectual community to religion’s guilt in that regard is a method of covering its own shame (religion having slain its thousands, but scientific ideology its tens of millions), its professed devotion to diversity a cloak for its own rigid narrowness in banning certain ideas from the realm of serious intellectual consideration.